Sunday, April 15, 2007

Buried No Longer

The following is my contribution to the 21st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy - The Carousel. The story was written as a submission to a writing contest and will be used as the Introduction to my Salter family history.

I was a strange little girl. I know it would be more dignified to say I was unique or perhaps even unusual, but the plain truth is I was strange. The strangeness, as my family viewed it, lay in my favorite childhood pastimes; collecting “important papers,” digging for buried treasure, and reading.

footnoteMaven and her little sister bibLio
They have twin brothers - citaTion and endNote

I didn’t just enjoy reading; I was compulsive about reading and about books in general. I still am. I would like to thank my parents for my love of reading, but it was really the result of both nature and necessity. My parents didn’t buy a television until I was twelve, so as a child I spent my spare time reading the books my Mother kept on the shelves at home. She loved to read and there were many books. Gone With The Wind, I read it twenty times. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I read it seven times.

Treasure Island was probably the inspiration for one of my other favorite pastimes, digging for buried treasure. When I was a little girl I woke up every morning with the certainty that today would be the day I would find a treasure chest filled with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds somewhere on the five acres my parents owned in rural Missouri. My mother continually reminded me that pirates were not known to have buried treasure in southeastern Missouri, but I knew she was wrong, and so I dug. Digging only lasted a year, by this time there wasn’t a piece of the property that hadn’t felt the shovel and my parents tired of the yard looking as if it had been inhabited by a drunken mole.

I transferred my hunt for treasure to collecting “important papers,” really just another type of treasure. Now what is an “important paper” you ask? To this child, it was something my parents received in the mail and for some reason unbeknownst to me, threw it in the trash. I now was digging in the trash to retrieve “important papers.” Mother, fearing my digging in the trash would rival the holes in her yard, gave up and turned over all “important papers” to me as they arrived in the mail. “Junk,” my Mother would repeat each time she handed me a stack of envelops. Not junk to me, I cherished, alphabetized, and kept each piece with its envelope never losing a single “important paper.”[1]

Reading, digging, collecting “important papers,” I didn’t know then, but have since come to realize, are some of the necessary traits of a family historian. These traits have stood me well in my pursuit of the history of my family.

It was the summer of 1964, and I was about to be introduced to the treasure of a lifetime. Our family traveled by car from southeastern Missouri to New York City for the World’s Fair. My grandmother was charged with the running of the Lutheran Pavilion and my parents thought the fair would be an excellent learning experience for their four children. I enjoyed the Fair, but my Grandmother’s attic held a far greater attraction for me and I was soon digging in the dusty books I found there.

Louis Salter

In a book written about Carnegie Hall, I found a paragraph that read; “Mr. Totten showed us an autograph book belonging to Louis Salter, worth a king’s ransom.”[2] Louis Salter was my great grandfather who had been the Superintendent of Carnegie Hall, and he had a real life treasure! That feeling of certainty I had experienced as a child digging in the yard came over me. The treasure was within reach.

I wanted to start the hunt immediately, but our time in New York was short and Mother and Grandmother wanted us to see Manhattan and their beloved Carnegie Hall. Grandmother agreed to take us into the City on the subway and give us a tour. I wish I had paid more attention to her tour of Carnegie Hall, filled with wonderful memories. She knew it well; she had learned to roller-skate in the stately Hall. She and her mother and father had lived in Carnegie Hall. I wish I had asked her the questions that come to me as I sit at my computer writing our family history. Questions no one is alive to answer. The summer for treasure hunting had come and gone, we returned to Missouri.

Somehow, as an adult, life gets in the way of treasure hunts. It’s not that you have outgrown them, just that you have grown up responsibilities. Years later, when I thought of it again, I called my mother and asked about the treasure. She told me she thought it was somewhere in a box in her garage in Florida. Treasure still held no interest for her.

It wasn’t until she died and left the “important papers,” books, and photographs to me that I started the treasure hunt again in earnest. It has taken several years of digging in books, libraries, people’s memories, and Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic archives to unearth the treasure, Louis Salter’s treasure.

No, it wasn’t the rubies, diamonds, or emeralds of the treasure hunts of my youth. It wasn’t even a king’s ransom in today’s money. The autograph book, valued at around $15,000, and containing the signatures of many presidents, has been donated to Carnegie Hall and is exhibited in the Rose Museum.

But that was not what was truly valuable. The treasure, I soon found, was Louis Salter himself. The story of his life as it played out in a young New York City, his contribution to the history of a famous Music Hall, his job with the Philharmonic Society, and his epic voyage with Toscanini and the Philharmonic to Europe, each of these a treasure, a family treasure.

My family history is the result of that treasure hunt; my family treasures, buried no longer.

Toscanini & The New York Philharmonic
European Tour

[1] I have not included the “important papers” taken by my baby sister, as having been lost. They were stolen and she knows it.
[2] Ethel Peyser, The House That Music Built: Carnegie Hall (New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1936), 165.

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Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

Did you win the writing contest? If not, you should have! Very interesting story and very well written. I hope your sister has taken good care of the "lost" papers.

April 15, 2007 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


The contest will be judged at the end of this year. This is the first draft of my submission.

I'm trying it out on my friends who BLOG the COG. So I'm glad you like it.

As Biblio has gotten older she has become a really good sister and has turned over all documents to me, the keeper of our family history.

April 15, 2007 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Great article. I have a lot of questions that I'd like to ask my grandfather about his family that won't be possible anymore. He passed away 8 years ago (today actually..weird.) This is why I started my genealogy search now (started at 19. Am now 27.)

April 18, 2007 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Miriam Robbins said...

Intriguing story and it in itself is a treasure to pass on to future generations! Good luck in the contest!

April 19, 2007 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

This is a great introduction! Good luck with the contest.

April 19, 2007 at 6:44 PM  

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