Lost and found

Exeter history finds new audience in hands of library proctors.

Adam Loyd
July 28, 2023
Students from the 1950s hang out in the "butt room."

If the warm voice rising above the low hum and occasional crackle of the old recording isn’t instantly recognizable, the words most certainly are. The familiar and timeless lines linger: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both.”

For decades, historical photographs and audiotapes — like the one documenting poet Robert Frost’s reading of “The Road Not Taken” on a visit to campus some 67 years ago — have remained quietly preserved in the Class of 1945 Library’s Center for Archives and Special Collections. Now a group of enterprising students are making these treasures easily accessible to a wider audience and, along the way, connecting to Exeter’s past in a most modern way.

So far, the student library proctors have uploaded eight audio files to YouTube and have featured their findings on posters displayed in a library exhibit called “Hidden Gems.” Much of the exhibit came from what Head of Archives and Special Collections Magee Lawhorn calls a “catchall collection” that she asked the students to sort and digitize. “They’re going through the boxes one by one and transferring cassettes or still images to digital,” she says.

As the student proctors sifted, certain pieces would catch an eye or an ear and be set aside for further exploration and potential inclusion in the exhibit. Among the standouts are scenes from E/A games of yore and the recordings from notable assembly speakers such as Frost and primatologist Jane Goodall. Lawhorn delights in seeing the proctors connect with Exeter’s past. “What’s great about these images,” she says, “is that our students start to see [former] students just like them, in slightly older clothes, but doing the same things they all do. Moving in, getting mail, just doing mundane things. And that’s really what it is: It’s just humanizing people from the past.”

Brenda Romero-Torres ’24 had that feeling when she uncovered a 1944 recording of the Exeter Glee Club performing “Dickey Slip Blues.” “It was my favorite discovery and brought a smile to my face,” she says. “It’s a sentiment that resonates with Exeter students to this day, having those dickey slip blues.”

Lawhorn hopes to build the collection with new finds by proctors in the coming years. “We try to make all of our exhibits something where we can keep adding to as a way to refresh them,” she says. “The process of the discovery can be super positive. When the student came across Jane Goodall’s assembly and said: ‘Oh, my gosh. I never knew she came here.’ I said: ‘Hey, I didn’t know either. We’re both learning.’”

Find audio recordings from the exhibit in a YouTube playlist here.

This story was originally published in the summer 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.