Friday, September 9, 2016

Hopalong Cassidy Museum Destroyed By Fire

Cambridge, Ohio. The birthplace of William Boyd, the actor who was known to a generation of baby boomers as Hopalong Cassidy. In town you can find a statue in the image of Hopalong Cassidy, a monument to a local who went to Hollywood and became famous. Local artist Alan Cottrill was responsible for the life-size statue, commissioned by Laura Bates, who founded the Hopalong Cassidy festival in Cambridge, along with other members of a Hopalong Cassidy fan club. The statue was dedicated in the spring of 2016. Today you can visit Cambridge and pose for a photograph with the statue. Last year I paid a visit to Cambridge to check out the museum and have my photo taken with the statue. I grew up with Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger, now considered my two favorite childhood cowboy heroes.

Vendor room at the Hopalong Cassidy Festival.

In May of 2015, the 25th annual Hopalong Cassidy festival was held in Cambridge. Started in 1991, the festival attracted legions of "faithful buckaroos" who enjoyed watching the movies, wandering the vendor room and sharing a common interest. 2015 also marked the final year of the festival. Attendance was in decline and faithful attendees saw the handwriting on the wall. The root cause, officially, was the result of an aging fan base. This will come as no surprise to a legion of dedicated fans who flock to the Williamsburg Film Festival and Winston-Salem Western Film Fair, both of which announced next year would also be their final convention. Perhaps a changing of the times that will become more evident over the coming years.

Cambridge was also host to a Hopalong Cassidy Museum, where fans driving along I-70 could take a quick ten-minute detour and visit the structure housing Hopalong Cassidy merchandise, collectibles and historical items. Due to declining tourism, many of the items in the museum were also for sale so the collection was, for many years, slowly dwindling in size. Just a short time ago, on the evening of September 3, 2016, around 7:30 p.m., the building housing the antique shop and Hopalong Cassidy museum was in flames. A fire broke out and thankfully the Cambridge Fire Department was only one block away from the museum. According to Chief Jeff Deeks, the crews from four different fire departments worked to contain the fire from outside until around midnight. Because of he intricate maze of walls and possible combustibles in the basement, the fire department immediately went on the defensive. Crews were able to enter the building early Sunday morning to recover what could be salvaged of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers memorabilia. 

At present, there has been no word on what caused the fire.

Thankfully, no archival materials have been reported among the inventory before the fire. This means original 35mm camera negatives, tape masters and exclusive photographs were not lost in the flames. But while a community of Hopalong Cassidy fans mourn what will probably be the last remnants of William Boyd's memorial beyond the recently-dedicated statue on Main Street in Cambridge, the event should also serve as a reminder that anything archival can be lost for all time by threat of flood or fire. Many private collectors and archives across the country house one-of-a-kind historical items that once lost are gone from history. For public institutions such as university libraries and museums, preservation is many times handicapped by red tape and a lack of motivation by someone who can spearhead a preservation effort. Red tape can sometimes be in the form of lack of staff (or interns) or money. 

Items left over from the fire.
Other times employees of an institution do not prioritize what is considered historical in value. And sadly, many times employees find reasons and excuses why preservation should not be made due to ignorance. Among private collectors, acquisition ensures bragging rights. But without an effort to preserve the materials, bragging rights can lead to embarrassment and condemnation throughout a community when floor or fire claims another page from history and the collector could -- and should -- have done something prior.

I would like to state that preservation comes in the form of four bullet points. The lack of any point listed below, and the failure to adhere to all four of these points is not true preservation. Libraries claim a superior water sprinkler system and a controlled environment ensure long-term preservation. But paper will submit to foxing (an age-related process that causes browning and flaking of old paper) no matter the environment or precautions placed on the materials. 

1. Digital scan of the highest dpi. (If the scanner and software you use offers 6400 x 9600, use it.)

2. Preserving all images, including written documents, in tiff format. While Facebook and other platforms encourage jpg and pdf, tiff is considered across the board for archival purposes. If you prefer jpg and pdf for your own use, consider scanning the item in both formats.

3. Avoid alterations. There is a difference between a restoration and an alteration. If you choose to use Adobe photoshop to eliminate cracks in a photograph, remember anything you do to the digital image is an "alteration," not a "restoration" because you are altering the photo to give a more pleasing general appearance. Nothing wrong with this process, but retain the original scan. You never know what software will come around ten years from now and you will then wish you maintained the original to work from again.

4. Create an off-site back-up. And make a back-up of a back-up. There is no benefit to create two back-ups of a digital file is flood or fire claims them all at once.

Items left over from the fire.
Only adhering to the above will preservation be ensured. Mourn for the Hopalong Cassidy Museum today but if you have archival and historical items in your possession, consider digitizing in the highest quality and creating off-site backups. (For collectors who are more concerned about the financial value than historical... remember that a digital scan of the item and the receipt can help recover your purchase cost regarding insurance in the event of floor or fire so your efforts are two-fold.)

1 comment:

James R. Stewart Jr. said...


Thanks for this post. I'm 30 and sad to hear about the Hopalong Cassidy Museum and the disappearing conventions. I attended the Winston Fair in 2013 and was definitely the one of the youngest visitors. For saving digital files, i'm a digital librarian and I can recommend a term used in the field called (LOCKSS) or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. Generally a researcher or collector should aim to have at least 3 saved copies of digital files, 2 of which should be off site; one can be in a cloud site, AND another on a hard drive in another location, but never just on cloud storage. There are horror stories of professional writers and photographers who trusted cloud sites ONLY with their life's work, only for the company to go out of business or have a major glitch with little or no warning.

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