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Librarians pen local history book

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Posted: Friday, April 27, 2012 1:15 am

Whether you are a Montgomery County native or a recent transplant many people want to know about the county’s past. Thanks to a recently published book a better insight into that history is now possible.

A trio of employees from the Crawfordsville District Public Library — Rebecca McDole, Jodie Steeleman Wilson and Emily Griffin Winfrey — have recently had their book “Hidden History of Montgomery County, Indiana” published. All three women are employed as reference and local history librarians at CDPL.

The book is a collection of 22 stories about historical aspects of Montgomery County. Some are known, but many might not be so well known.

“Most of the chapters were on projects we were already working on and our boss, Bill (Helling), noticed that all three of us were working on different things and thought maybe we should think about putting them all into a collection and make it a book,” Wilson said.

The three, with the help of Helling, wrote up a proposal and sent it off to The History Press.

“The proposal basically just had a list of the chapters and a real brief summary about each one,” Wilson said. “We didn’t have anything actually written up.”

They sent the proposal and then went back to their daily duties of collecting information, answering questions, cataloging materials, etc.

What residents of Montgomery County and Crawfordsville probably don’t know is the amount of information the local library has in its archive collections. These materials, which come from many different sources but usually family members, are stored in a climate-controlled room for safe keeping.

“We also digitize a lot of the materials now,” Winfrey said. “That also allows us to put it on our website and people can access it from all over the country. All they need is a key word.”

Last month alone the department responded to 55 inquiries for people inquiring about genealogy questions.

About two months after the proposal was submitted the library employees learned it had been accepted.

“That meant the real work had to begin,” Wilson said. “We had about three months to complete the book.”

That was quite a task for the trio — none of whom had ever written a book before.

The book was divided evenly — two of them wrote seven chapters and the other wrote eight.

“We had done the research, but we had to actually write the chapters,” Wilson said. “Some of them came right down to the final days. I thought I was going to have to pull my chapter on Mary Oda Eglin because I was waiting on some new material to arrive from the family and I got it days before we were to be done.”

The chapters were chosen because of new material that had been made available and the quality of photos to accompany the text.

Each author has her own favorite chapter. McDole loved the chapter titled Spooks, Specters and Spirit Photographs. Winfrey’s favorite chapter was the one titled The Sad End of Comedian Ferris Hartman and Wilson’s favorite was the chapter on Eglin.

“Some of the chapters had been told before but we have added new material,” Winfrey said. “Others were brand new stories which very few people have probably ever heard of.”

The trio hope the book raises awareness of the country’s history and the efforts being made to preserve it.

So will this be the last book for the trio?

“I would love to write another book,” McDole said. “I always wanted to write a book and this was a great experience.”

Winfrey and Wilson said there could be another book in their future as well.

“We have already joked about a Volume II,” Wilson said.

Helling was proud of the effort.

“I think this reveals two important things,” he said. “The first is the amount of information that we have in our collection. For a library our size we have a very large and pretty impressive collection. The second thing it proves is the high abilities of the staff that we have. We don’t just sit behind the desk and tell people to be quiet. We have time to do research and I think that is important for the public to know. We don’t just guard the materials we also produce quality material.”

The book may be purchased at the CDPL, the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County, online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or from the publisher The History Press. The 174-page book sells for $19.99.

The trio also plans to have a booking signing event in the near future at the Old Jail Museum.

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