By Scott Sullivan
Local support — and Chicago-style voting — have helped the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center and District Library “make” history.
The partners learned Monday they had won a competitive, voting-based grant that will allow Central Michigan University’s Clarke Library to digitally scan and post online issues of The Commercial Record from 1959 to 1969. Work will start as soon as microfilms can be shipped to the Mt. Pleasant facility.
Chicago-style voting — i.e. with no limit to how many times individuals could mail supportive postcards or tweets, nor did they have to be either alive or human — was encouraged.
The Center and Library applied this fall for DigMichNews funding, awarded annually through a National Endowment for the Humanities’ program to digitize culturally significant Michigan newspapers, and were named among five state finalists.
Others competing included Kent County to digitalize issues of the East Grand Rapids Cadence, Calhoun County for The Albion Recorder, Oakland County for The Pontiac Press and Oakland-Macomb counties for The Utica Sentinel.
The area’s #DigSaugatuck campaign amassed 38,595 votes from the Saugatuck, Douglas and Holland area, plus “snowbird” voting from residents wintering out of town.
This included 13,665 Tweets via Twitter and 2,493 mailed postcards, worth 10 votes apiece. The next closest competitor, Utica, Utica brought 24,011 total votes for its project.
As winner, the Center and Library will receive funding to scan and post online as many as 9,000 pages of the previously-microfilmed newspaper.
The Commercial Record and Village (now City) of Saugatuck both mark their 150th birthdays in 2018. Why the 1959-69 era?
“This period was selected as a key decade of great change in West Michigan,”
said SDHC Executive
Director Nathan Nietering.
“With the 1960 fire loss of Saugatuck’s Big Pavilion dance hall, an earlier,
simpler recreational era gave way to a turbulent decade marked by major music festivals, invasions of motorcycle gangs and partying college students, all mixed with cold-war tensions and documented in weekly newspaper coverage.”
This year’s archiving win fits not only with city and newspaper sesquicentennials, but the second year of the Center’s museum exhibit titled ‘Cold War/Hot Towns,’ which visually explores that same era’s collision of fun and fear in our beach town setting.
“Online access to this contemporaneous local reporting, in an indexed and word-
searchable format, will make these stories readily available to History Center and Library visitors as well as serious researchers everywhere,” the Center director said.
Voters could exercise their franchise Jan. 15-20 by mailing postcards depicting any Michigan scene, plus the phrase “#DigSaugatuck, to the Clarke Historical Library in. Bonus points, or votes, were awarded in “Most Artistic” and “Best Refrigerator Art” categories.
They could also cast ballots by Twitter Jan. 22-27.
The Center worked directly with three Saugatuck Middle-High School classes to teach students about The Commercial Record’s history and help them research and create their own postcard art to mail in.
As the postcard artwork had to depict a Michigan scene or theme, many students took the chance to look up famous sites beyond Saugatuck’s own borders, choosing to sketch locations like the Mackinac Bridge, Pictured Rocks or state symbols such as lighthouses, rainbow trout and apple blossoms. As expected, there were plenty of Oval Beach, Chain Ferry and Mt. Baldhead images as well.
“The students really enjoyed looking through some actual copies of the Commercial Record from the early 1960s and talking about how the news was reported at that time,” Nietering continued. “They also clearly understood that old newsprint becomes very fragile after 50-plus years. Students quickly pointed out why having copies of the paper available on a searchable platform online will be beneficial.”
The Library set up a do-it-yourself postcard station in the children’s room where youngsters and adults sketched out their own designs for inclusion in the voting process. Others simply picked up pre-made postcards of local Saugatuck-Douglas landmarks, inscribe “DigSaugatuck” as appropriate and mail them in.
The Douglas post office, which ordered 1,500 postcard stamps in addition to what it already had on hand, was down to just 37 such stamps remaining as the voting week drew near its end.
All the individually-crafted postcards will be added to the permanent collection of the Clarke Library.