Thursday, September 15, 2011

RIP Donald Conwell

Wednesday went by fast.  Faster than normal, which is a nice change of pace.  The boxes are getting tedious, especially as we’re reaching the point of finding nothing but binders, binders that will not fit in the boxes we currently have.  So off to a new project!

However, before I jump into my new project, I want to talk about some things I did find in the boxes, one of the good boxes I’d say.  It was a stack of employee files.   Just letters, telegrams, discharge slips, health insurance forms each divided by individual.  I happen to come across such a stack belonging to Donald Conwell.  What caught my attention was form 5075 from January 1931.  It’s a form that was used when an employee’s status changed in a department (transferred, resigned, discharged, etc).  Donald’s form stated he was born August 1907 and he was a “helper” (probably in maintenance for a while).  His reason for leaving service?  Deceased.  He was younger than 24 years old when he died.  He also had 4 lay-offs and died before he turned 24.  I was interested in how a person so young could have died so I read through his papers, and here’s what I found out:

Donald was single, living with his mother on Flint St.  He did get health insurance through the railroad and his mother was his beneficiary.  

There was a lot of paperwork in his stack as compared to others, and I later found out why while reading through, determined to find out how he died.

Accidental Death.

But the most intriguing thing after that discovery was the subject of the extra letters in his stack.  Letters discussing his birthday.  According to the railroad, Donald listed his birthday at 1907 when he began working in 1927.  However, when compiling the necessary documents after he died, they discovered that his birth certificate said 1909.  Letters between various railroad superintendents went back and forth trying to decide which date was accurate.  Finally a letter from Donald’s mother, Martha, settled the matter.  1909 is the correct date.  Which got me thinking, if Donald really did tell the railroad that his birthday was 1907, could he have lied about his age to get the job?  I spoke with Jerry and he said it was pretty common back then to lie about your age in order to be able to work.  Today you can’t do that with all the paperwork you have to bring in before your hired!

But the sad part, was he was even younger when he died than previously thought!  He was 21, a few months away from his 22nd birthday.  He was 6 years younger than I am today.  It’s moments like this that make history real.

Ok, on to new project(s)!  I have set out a short plan over the next few weeks.  Next week we are going to start cleaning out the Freight Office to make a giftshop.  Hopefully we can get that cleaned up and moderately set up by their Open House in November.  

Secondly, I want to get a digital file of the Depot logo to take to Jeff Hubbell and get some preliminary numbers for printing t-shirts.  I want to have the numbers and some possible color combinations put together for the next train board meeting for them to discuss in mid-October. 
In addition to that, if I have time, I’d like to put together a B&W flyer and maybe have some stickers printed out to hand out at the last Farmer’s Market to let the community know that we are trying to expand the museum and we need volunteers.  Get some increased interest and hopefully more volunteers and donations.

Finally, if we do get the volunteers, there are several jobs for them to do.  The current museum space needs regular open hours for visitors to come through.  Right now, it is almost never open except from 2-4 on most Fridays and there are people that would like to stop by.  Either interns or volunteers could open that side of the museum to allow more visits which could equal more interest and more donations.  However, there’s a lot of history in those old photographs and artifacts.  I want to create a type of handbook (maybe eventually a published catalog) of all the artifacts/photographs currently on display.  I realize this is a long-term project.  Especially when we start the second book for the telegraph room (it most definitely deserves its own book!).  Jerry is a great resource for this.  His grandfather and father worked on the railroad here in Laramie, and he grew up here as a boy.  He has seen Laramie grow from a much smaller town to what it is today.  As a starting point, Jerry and I will go through the museum photograph by photograph, artifact by artifact, and I will write down what he has to say about each one.  Additional research will be done to verify dates and facts.  This is a very ambitious project that will take a good bit of time, and research and creating the hard-copy of this handbook will probably be done away from the depot, less I get distracted.  ;-)

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