Monday, November 4, 2013

Processing the Great Lakes Cruiser Photographic Collection at the Clarke

by Marian Matyn

The collection:

Richard L. “Dick” Moehl’s Great Lakes Cruiser Photographic Collection, (1972-2001, undated), totaling 1.75 cubic ft. (in 4 boxes) was recently acquired by the Clarke and processed by me and my student staff at the Clarke. This collection includes the work of Jack Edwards on St. Helena Island history, genealogy of Archie and Wilson Newton, copy negatives of Great Lakes Cruiser (GLC) articles related to St. Helena, photographic negatives taken by Jack Edwards (personal and GLC), photographs taken for GLC, papers related to scholarly work on St. Helena, and an index of most of the photographs in this collection.

As with every collection we process, items that were acidic, fragile, and damaged were photocopied. There were approximately two folders worth of peripheral materials, which were withdrawn from the collection. Also, publications donated with this collection were separately cataloged. Most of the publications in this collection were Great Lakes Cruiser magazines. Mackinac Island postcards were interfiled into the Michigan postcard collection. This is one of many mixed format collections in the Clarke – in fact, most of the collections are mixed formats.
A haunting-themed Great Lakes Cruiser magazine (October 2001, V.8, No.10.)
that coincided with the spooky season when we were processing the materials
Want to know more about Dick and Jack?

Richard L. “Dick” Moehl became president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) two years after its formal organization in 1983, and served as the association’s president until its 25th anniversary in 2008. Under his leadership, the GLLKA was able to focus on the restoration of some of the state’s most cherished lighthouses, with the jewel being the lighthouse on St. Helena Island. The restoration project on St. Helena helped preserve a state treasure, as well as opened the island to educational groups to learn of the island’s rich history. Mr. Moehl was awarded the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee’s (ALCC) prestigious Ross Holland Award in 2007 in recognition of his service to the state of Michigan’s coastal history, and more information on his accomplishments both regionally and nationally may be found at the ALCC’s website,

Jack Edwards was also a member of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, as well as a writer and photographer for the Great Lakes Cruiser magazine, in publication until 2006. Mr. Edwards also worked on the restoration project on St. Helena Island, publishing an extensive history of the island.

Want to know about St. Helena Lighthouse?

Laid to waste by looters and the weather, the St. Helena Island Light Station was found by the GLLKA in 1983 in danger of collapse. The group immediately set to work on restoring the structure, obtaining a restoration license in 1984. In 1988, the structure was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, marking the future protection and preservation of the island’s most cherished structure. Built in 1873 in response to increased maritime traffic through the Strait of Mackinac during the Civil War years, the lighthouse alerted ships away from the island’s jagged shoreline. The lighthouse was operated by two keepers until 1922, when it became the state’s first automated light, operating through a “sun valve” system invented by Nobel Prize winning engineer Gustaf DalĂ©n. Other lighthouses throughout the state would soon follow St. Helena’s model. More information on the St. Helena Island Light Station may be found on the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper Association’s website,

Want to learn about the process?

In October 2013, my trusty student interns, and recent graduates of my class, Archives Administration, HST 583 at CMU, Brian Page and Nate Dominick, completed processing and creating a finding aid (a finding aid is a history, scope and contents note, processing notes, and box and folder listing of the collection) for this collection. Now I should note we got the collection in July, and at that time I noticed that all original negative sleeves were non-archival and had to replaced. I ordered 700 archival negative sleeves as replacements and waited for them to arrive.

The draft finding aid was proofed and amended by me, Marian, the Archivist of the Clarke. I then created labels and noted the location of the collection in the manuscript guide which enables us to retrieve it for staff and researchers in the future. Then, I cataloged the catalog following national standards. Cataloging manuscripts (primary sources) involves original cataloging, creating a record from nil specific for the item. With most published materials (of any format) the Library of Congress or some other huge library has cataloged the item at their site so a cataloger of published materials (secondary sources) finds the original catalog record, copies it, and amends it to reflect the fact that a copy exists in their library. This is called copy cataloging. All the cataloging I do is original and can be very time consuming. To see the catalog record, go into Centra – the CMU Libraries online catalog – and do an Author search for Moehl, Richard L. Then look for Great Lakes Cruiser Photographic Collection. I also encoded the finding aid.

At the end of October, I sent the encoded finding aid along with other finding aids I encoded this past month to the University of Michigan which hosts the Clarke’s finding aid page. They do some techy things to it and it becomes Google-searchable. This way researchers can find the collection through the catalog or through Google. This increases access to our manuscript collections to an ever expanding group of researchers not just in Mount Pleasant or Michigan, but also through the U.S. and abroad.

From start to completion of encoding, it took three of us from September 20 to October 16 to process and create the finding aid. Of course, I am always doing many things every day. The guys come in each several days a week for various amounts of hours. Beginning to work with a draft finding aid, it took me a week (while doing many other things) to catalog and encode the collection. It will be sometime in this month before the encoded finding aid link is added to our finding aids page by the University of Michigan and is Google-searchable. Then, I will link the finding aid URL on Clarke’s finding aids page to the matching catalog record in Centra, which will enable patrons using the catalog will have a direct URL link to the finding aids page. To browse the finding aids of the Clarke which have been encoded and are Google-searchable go to the Clarke's Finding Aid website.

If you have any questions about the Clarke’s manuscripts collections, or want to work as an archives intern, or my archives class, or donating archival collections, or anything archival, please contact me, Marian, at You may also follow my blog about all things archival, historic, informational, digital, and museum-related at