Friends From the Past: Connecting Through the Archives
By Kieran Robertson
One of my favorite things about working in an archive is getting to know a person of the past through their personal papers. It’s almost like we are shaking hands through time as I flip through letters, certificates, or scrapbooks. Most of us archivists come to feel very strongly about the individuals we meet in this way. Each new Hollinger Box that I put on the shelf represents a new acquaintance who will always be in the back of my mind.
One collection I particularly enjoyed pouring through was the Agnes Zunick Papers (MSS 1631). This small collection was donated anonymously, so there was no one there to fill in the gaps in Agnes’s life story. Luckily, the resources of the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library aided me on this journey.
Agnes Zunick was a student at the Ohio State University during the 1940s with an interest in Fine Arts and Education. During her sophomore year she lived in 810 Canfield Hall, but at the end of Spring Quarter she put down a deposit on a room off campus in a women’s dorm at 31 East 17th. The grand total? Five dollars.
Agnes got involved on campus, taking part in the Pen and Brush Club and a drama group known as the Strollers. However Agnes had a non-academic social life during her time at Ohio State that may feel familiar to many students, past and present.
A large part of Agnes’s collection includes letters and cards from friends, addressing her in a familiar tone as “Aggie” or the confusing nickname of “Tommy.” They wish her happy holidays or invite her to dinner or a party.
Agnes’s time at Ohio State was marked by the beginning of World War II, so many of her papers include letters from soldiers. Somehow she acquired a letter in which an acquaintance signing his name as “D.H.” wrote to a mutual friend by the name of Jackson, recalling the times they had all had together. He wrote:
“I would give anything in the world if we could spend another weekend in Columbus. You know the four of us together…After this blows over we are going to get that (keg) of beer that we were always talking about…Maybe Naomi and Agnes can be there.”
Agnes also kept up a correspondence with a soldier named Bob Evelsizor, whom it seems she met not long before he shipped out for training. Evelsizor gives us some clues as to Agnes’s kind and spunky personality, writing,
“Have you been drinking that liquid dynamite again. That was the most unusual letter I’ve ever received. Do it some more.”
He also described the first time the two met, saying
“I don’t believe I ever was or ever have been as drunk as I was that night. I’ll always remember what you said, ‘Anyway it was different.’ You certainly were a good sport about it.”
In one letter, Evelsizor sent Agnes an entire family of origami swans.
Like many students today, Agnes held down a job while she was at school. However, her work hours were spent supporting the war effort. In June of 1943, Agnes signed up for the War Manpower Commission and received an official recommendation from the Student Employment Office to work over the summer at Curtiss-Wright. Agnes joined the ranks of many Columbus women who began working at this factory during World War II. This wave of women, or “Rosie the Riveters,” filling industrial jobs changed the face of the American workforce.
In 1943, Agnes signed up for the War Manpower Commission
so that she might work to support the United States during World War II.
The Ohio State Student Employment Office recommends Agnes to Curtiss Wright. On this form she is identified by her middle name, Catherine.
Agnes Zunick’s papers end with her graduation in 1944. The collection includes a typewritten page of “Instructions to Seniors” with information such as “caps and gowns may be rented from Longs Bookstore at the following prices: Bachelors- $1.00…”
This routine paperwork seems like an anticlimactic end to Agnes Zunick’s story. However, one of the joys of archival collections is constant discovery. Each time I page through this collection, I learn some different, or connect with Agnes’s experiences in a new way. For example today I noticed that Agnes’s soldier pen pal, Bob Evelsizor, wrote, “Ohio State had a pretty good year at football didn’t they- There’s a guy here who used to play with Tommy Harmon at Michigan I been ribbing him plenty too- Thanks to the Buckeyes of ’44.” Some things never change.
It is very interesting to see how much we can learn about Agnes Zunick from the small amount of papers she left behind. Can you imagine what someone might learn about you in seventy or eighty years from the letters, emails, and text messages you sent or the pictures, certificates, and paperwork you saved?
We even know that Agnes was ill in February of 1943- here is her doctor’s note to get out of class.
Clearly there is something for everyone to relate to in this world’s many archives- even if you aren’t a researcher. Check out the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library in Columbus or our online collections at Ohio Memory, and see if you connect to any people of the past like I did with Agnes!