One of the interesting aspects of doing a historical display involving photographs, books, and documents – many a century old – is the way small details of daily life pull you in and almost make you forget the reason you started searching through them in the first place.
Many of these details aren’t noticeable unless you look closely: a faded note scribbled into the margin of a book, a boy in a photograph caught in the act of trying to balance on a street curb. Taken cumulatively, the bits and pieces start to work on you, and you’re reminded that these leftovers from the world of people now dead had their origins in a real moment in time.
A friend of mine who is an art conservator once told me the story about working on a major work from the Renaissance, and finding the impression of a fingerprint in the long-dried paint. Whether or not the fingerprint belonged to Caravaggio or one of his assistants, my friend still found it incredibly moving – for a moment he felt as if he were back in the moment of creation, standing next to a living, breathing artist.
Abundant trivia exists in reminiscences and formal written histories of Park Ridge, especially of the early part of the 20th Century. A likely reason why these details were recorded was because the town was still small and people knew one another. Residents also tended to stick around for a long time. A note of familiarity comes up in the histories, as if the authors were writing about people they assumed everyone knew.
One often reads, for example, about a pair of enterprising young brothers named Bob and Fred Stagg, who at the age of 10 or so were known for operating the only available delivery cart in town at the end of the 19th Century. A few years later they would develop another lucrative business for themselves: operating a homemade toboggan slide on the south side of the railroad tracks. They charged about 10 cents per person for its use, and it was hugely popular each year. In their own way they stand out as prominently in Park Ridge history as does George B. Carpenter, if only because the boys’ personalities shine through.
Along with the names, there are vivid moments and images that come across in the documents: street lamps being turned off at midnight, so that anyone still out had to go home in the dark; courting couples sitting on the white picket fence of the park; Mrs. Carpenter taking time during a picnic to speak German with an immigrant family that knew no English.
Along with its more contemporary roles, the Library is an important repository of the past, especially of local history. Like the Historical Society, the Kalo Foundation, and other organizations, it preserves memories and artifacts of the past in the belief that these things matter – not just the big moments but the little ones, where for a brief moment we stop thinking of past lives in the abstract, and recognize ourselves.