Other Musems and Archives

There are also some institutions that have interesting WWI subchaser materials, but that make it difficult or impossible for researchers to access the collections. These tend to fall into two general categories:

Gate Keepers erect barriers to entry, and charge you to get past each one. The object is to empty your pockets as you wend your way toward your desired destination.

Smaug's hoard of treasures collected over the ages (a literary reference to The Hobbit) is stashed in a deep, dark cavern, guarded by a greedy old dragon that doesn't want anyone to steal his things.

The libertarian in me respects the rights of these entities to make it hard and expensive to get at their holdings. It's their stuff, after all. They can do what they want. But the historian in me sees policies that are fundamentally at odds with the concept of historical preservation and research. What good is a collection if nobody can make any use of it? Isn't that a good way to hasten the disappearance of interest in the subject and thus put an end to the relevance of the archive?


  • Tell the collection managers at these institutions that their policies are antithetical to the study of history and the preservation of historical artifacts.
  • Don't support these institutions. Send donations to other institutions instead, ones that support historical research.
  • Don't bequeath your personal collections to these institutions. Find an archive with good policies, where your materials will be cared for without being locked away and rendered useless.

(An aside to the staff at these institutions: If ever you should decide to change your policies, I would be delighted to update my remarks and tell the world to support you. I think you've got it wrong, but accessing the content is the goal, not making a point about collection policies.)

The Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia, PA. An example of The Gate Keeper. This institution holds a set of original diaries of Lt. Leon Clemmer, ship's surgeon on USS Leonidas, mother ship of the subchasers at Corfu. Lt. Clemmer was present at the bombardment of Durazzo harbor on 2 October 1918, and provides a first-hand account. The collection covers the time frame of the Otranto Barrage.

The museum's policy is to disallow any digital reproduction except by an expensive third-party vendor, who will charge you a small fortune for digital images of materials. You can't go to the facility with a tripod and digital camera, take a look at the materials and shoot the parts are relevant to your research so that you can study them later. Moreover, there are hundreds of pages of hand-scrawled entries that will take countless hours of slow reading to get through, so you can't run a search to see what parts to pay for, or have someone look through the materials and make recommendations.

A personal note: Even Lt. Clemmer's son (who donated the collection) in spite of repeated requests has been unable to get any help from the museum staff in making it possible for his donation to be of use to researchers. The good news is that Mr. Clemmer still has one volume, which I am gradually working on examining and transliterating into digital text.

The Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT. Another example of The Gate Keeper. This institution holds a collection of papers by nautical writer Alfred Loomis, who served on subchasers in WWI and was later an editor of Yachting magazine. Loomis wrote many articles on the subject of chasers. In the collection is a set of diaries covering his war time service.

The museum's policy is a pay-per view approach, in which the researcher pays them (handsomely) to make digital copies of materials, which they print out on sheets of paper to sell to you and to subsequent researchers. Not only do you pay a huge sum, but you receive inferior printouts instead of the digital images you paid to have made.

The Washington State Historical Society Research Center is in Tacoma, WA. This is an example of Smaug's Hoard. (It is my best example of annoyingly wrong-headed archival policies so far.) The historical society holds a set of papers from George Oscar Thompson of SC 309. This chaser was one of two assigned to Alaskan waters in WWI, and thus addresses a neat little piece of the story for which there is very little documentation on hand.

The museum charges a per-copy rate, won't let you visit and take digitals, increases the per-copy rate for larger quantities, and won't do more than 30 minutes of research for you even if you are willing to pay. So: the more material you want, the more it costs you per page (yes, that's right -- you don't receive a quantity price break, but a quantity penalty) and there is no way to find out what material you might want, even if you are willing to pay the price. The objective, clearly, is to prevent researchers from getting at the materials.

What is particularly annoying in this case is that the historical society isn't even interested in this collection. They received it as part of a bulk trade for some other materials that they wanted. It's just boxes of material hoarded on the shelves, part of their collection that nobody will ever actually use.