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Long IslandHistory

LIU Post project digitizes pieces of Long Island history

Students and staff at the university's Palmer School are scanning documents, some more than a century old, from historical societies and museums across the Island

LIU Post Professor Gregory Hunter, left, shares some

LIU Post Professor Gregory Hunter, left, shares some Long Island history -- and how it will be digitally archived -- with PhD student Sultan Aljehani,  at the B. Davis Schwartz Library at LIU Post  on Friday. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The yellowed, handwritten receipt from a Rockville Centre mortuary gives a glimpse into the Long Island of more than a century ago.

In 1907, a family paid $200 to Petitt Brothers and Clayton Funeral Service. The limousine to carry the deceased cost another $5 and the pallbearers came with the price tag of $1.50. 

The 5-by-7-inch piece of paper had been tucked away for decades in a file cabinet in the Museum of the Village of Rockville Centre. Today, the note and many other relics in the museum's collection have been digitized as part of an initiative by the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at LIU Post. The project is financed by a $1.5 million grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the history of Long Island and New York State. 

A staff of 10 at the university, including eight graduate students, is digitizing the archives of 26 historical societies, and plans are in the works to expand the project. So far, they have scanned nearly 15,000 historical documents in the digital laboratory at LIU Post and at area historical societies.

The Palmer School has already met with 17 more historical societies on Fire Island and intends to increase the number of students to 14 a semester. 

“With digitizing, our job is just to capture images at high resolution, but I found it difficult not to get lost in the material,” said Aliki Caloyeras, 44, who is pursuing a master's degree in library and information science.

In exchange for her work, Caloyeras is learning skills that will allow her to work on her own digital preservation project. She and her fellow students also receive six free credits for each semester they participate.

Work on the Rockville Centre collection started more than a year ago. The museum's president, Frank Seipp, has played a key role in the project.

“We have a good filing system,” said Seipp, 85, adding that students were impressed when they saw the museum's collection.

One of the documents at the Huntington Historical Society that made a lasting impression on Caloyeras was the diary of Amelia Sammis Brush, who kept a daily journal for six years during the Civil War.

“Well, she’s doing as well as can be expected,” wrote Brush of a friend she was visiting who had just given birth.

For Caloyeras, a mother of two, Brush's words signaled that the friend might have had postpartum depression.

Other treasures processed through the project were a page from the 1783 receipt book of Robert Townsend, a Revolutionary War spy, and a scrapbook documenting the unsuccessful 1911 senatorial campaign of Isidor Straus, the co-owner of Macy's department store, who died a year later with his wife aboard the Titanic.

Olena Zozulevich worked with the Oyster Bay Historical Society to digitize President Theodore Roosevelt's burial records, but it was the 1858 records from Lockwood Marbleworks, a tombstone manufacturer, that caught her attention.

“I draw and when I looked at these sketches, I noticed the hands were really bad,” said Zozulevich, 23, referring to the sketches of praying hands to be etched onto a tombstone. “Even back then, people still couldn’t draw hands.”

Receipts from the Lockwood Marbleworks show tombstones were purchased from $6 and $21 in 1858.

Kelsey Renz, 24, of Kings Park, was one of the first students to work on the digitization project. So far, she has scanned dozens of photos of the Gardiners, the family responsible for the Palmer School grant.

“As a Suffolk County resident, a snapshot into people's lives and how they presented themselves in a portrait is interesting,” said Renz. “Participating in the project, you know your work will be viewed by so many, years after the project."


 

Other documents scanned in the digitization project: 

1749: A page from daybook of Dr. George Muirson

1783: Receipt book of Robert Townsend

1817: A page from the Daniel Underwood shipping ledger

1915: Capital Stock Report for the South Side Realty Company

1927: Cruise passenger list aboard the S.S. Veendam

1935: An Irish sweepstakes ticket

1937: First issue of the Nassau County Historical Journal

1942: Greenport Basin and Construction Company newsletter

Unidentified year: Advertised small plane on sale for $62.

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