Vintage weirdness

Claire Ellis

Photo By Larry Dalton

The Sacramento Room in the Central Library is the spot for local history buffs—serious researchers and mere enthusiasts of Sacramento’s strange ephemera alike. Sadly, because of major staff cutbacks at the Central Library, the Sacramento Room is now open to the public only one day a week (Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.), with some limited hours for research appointments (call (916) 264-2793 for more information). On a recent tour of the archive, librarian Claire Ellis (shown here with co-worker Tom Tolley) said the Sacramento Room may restore its normal hours one day, but much depends on how the library system fares in this year’s city budget.

So, whaddya got in here?

Being the Sacramento Room, of course, we specialize in Sacramento history. We buy every book that has something to do with Sacramento. The Sutter’s Fort reports never go away. That’s the bulk of our work. But the things we really like searching out are the things that are more unique. We have a postcard collection for Sacramento. We have a sheet-music collection for Sacramento.

Sheet music about Sacramento, or from Sacramento, or … ?

Last night, I was at a meeting of the county historical society, and there was a piece of sheet music that had something to do with Buffalo Brewery.

Buffalo Brewery was where the Bee is now, and it was around from the 1880s through the Prohibition, when it closed and became a soda manufacturer. So, there was this piece of sheet music called the “Brewery Waltz” or something like that. It was a piece of sheet music that someone associated with the brewery had done. It had a picture of the brewery and songbook that the Buffalo Brewery had put out. It was fantastic, and I want to get it.

But my personal favorite is the original music to the Miss Sacramento Pageant. We have no idea what the date was. It’s another thing that was just found in a box.

We also have a CD collection that focuses on Sacramento music, with everything from the Sacramento Youth Symphony to punk music. These are the kinds of things that when we are thinking about purchasing, we want them to be of interest to people in 100 or even 50 years.

What do people mostly look for when they come in?

We have the photo collection, old maps, city directories that go back to 1851, which are really popular. And yearbooks. Yearbooks are one of the most popular things we have. A lot of times, it’s kids who want to come in and look up their parents’ photos and laugh hysterically at their clothes and at their hair.

But there are much more unusual local things in your collection. Concert posters and old zines, for example.

Oh yeah. We read lots of little things, little publications that we can find. Then we’ll send for them. There was one fan zine—I’m not sure how we came across it, but it was called Spank Mr. Kitten. And I just loved it. There was an e-mail address in there, so I e-mailed the editor, and I said, “This is a really interesting zine you’re putting out, and we’re going to archive it here.” They were so thrilled. So, now we have Spank Mr. Kitten. So far, we have three issues, and it’s just odd, unusual things.

I understand you’re going to be on TV this summer.

The History Detectives [from the PBS program] were in here a few weeks ago and did some filming. The show is on Snowshoe Thompson. He delivered the mail in the 1850s and ‘60s. He actually walked through the Sierras in the winter. What they had supposedly was his old mailbag. So, that’s the mystery they’re trying to solve.

Was it Snowshoe’s mailbag?

They hadn’t finished all their investigating yet. The show will be on this summer.

You have some very special books here, as well.

This is the highlight of the trip. William Vollmann’s The Grave of Lost Stories. I read that this William Vollmann had a fine press going in addition to his regular books. We went over, and he pulled this out. As you can see, he was trying to make it look like a grave with this marble. It weighs a ton.

But what the kids love is this: I tell them, “You see these cow teeth set in silver? Well the book artist told us that he cut those out of the cow’s mouth himself, and that it worked better when he froze the head.” And the kids ask, “Were the cows dead?” Yes, they were dead. And the next thing Mr. Vollmann said to me was, “Did you know you can’t buy human body parts?” It turns out he had wanted to use human teeth. But he couldn’t get them. Nowadays, with eBay, you could probably get them.

Awesome. But is the story any good?

The story is fascinating, very creepy. It sounds just like Edgar Allan Poe.