“I have news,” I announced to the audience of two.
The day was Thursday, June 16—just over a week ago. The time was 10:44 a.m. The place was the third floor of King Library at a wood table inside Miami University Archives. It was beastly hot outside—suffocating and sweat-inducing, with temperatures well on their way to the mid-to-upper 90s. There was no better place for us to be than that air-conditioned reading room.
And yet, in that memorable moment, I was presented with the most uncomfortable of tasks.
Roughly 2 ½ hours earlier, three of us had arrived at this location from places hither and yon. One had driven 45 minutes that morning while two of us had driven four hours the day before—all for the purpose of perusing the university’s Oral History Project materials. It was the first day of a prearranged two-day visit in which we’d be searching for the third Oral History Project recording that hadn’t been posted to the university’s bicentennial website, as alluded to in a 2008 progress report. As we stared at the 15-20 boxes of file folders, DVDs, and audio and video tapes that the archivists had pulled for us, we felt enthusiastic. We felt focused. We felt amply equipped with university-supplied laptops and listening devices in addition to our own smartphones, notebooks, and pencils.
We divvied up responsibilities and got to work.
Kristin was reading consent forms that the interviewees had signed and marking up a chart. My sister Suzie was jotting down DVD titles. I was rifling through logs, worksheets, and progress reports and snapping pictures. Our last team member, Steve, hadn’t yet arrived—he’d be showing up in another 15 minutes.
It was at this moment, astonishingly early in the process, when I found something. But the document I’d found was no smoking gun—it was the opposite. It was a fully charged Super Soaker blasting liters of H20 all over my running theory concerning Carl Knox’s former secretary’s interview on Ron Tammen.
The document I’d found was almost identical to the 2008 progress report, except it was the final summary, written sometime around May 29, 2009. (Interestingly, they still had 13 more interviews to conduct during Alumni Weekend and beyond, but for some reason the final summary was written before those interviews.) Instead of three recordings that weren’t posted online “for miscellaneous reasons,” there were now four. And footnoted at the bottom of the page was a list of the four unposted recordings.
Here they are:
We now had our answer to the question I’d kept asking people with the Oral History Project and that no one had answered: Was one of the unposted recordings of Carl Knox’s former secretary? The simple answer was no.
That’s when I walked over to Kristin and Suzie’s table and made my “I have news” announcement. I told them they could stop what they were doing and I explained why.
Of course they were stunned—Steve was too when he got the news. At times like these, it doesn’t really help to get upset. You shake your head. You laugh a little. Research can be that way—there are going to be disappointments. We all agreed that having an answer is progress. We also knew that our work wasn’t done. It just got way harder.
“We’ve now moved to the ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ part of our search,” I said. Instead of focusing on one unposted recording made sometime between 2006 and 2008, we would be searching every piece of audio or video occupying those 15-20 boxes—many unlabeled and spanning decades—for footage of Carl Knox’s former secretary.
Alas, in the ensuing day-and-a-half, we didn’t find it. But we did manage to find several interesting tapes and we gained some new insights which could help in my research.
In addition, on a progress log that was in the same folder as the Super Soaker document, I found evidence of a recording that had been conducted on May 19, 2009, for the Oral History Project that seemingly also never made it onto the bicentennial website. This one is titled “Miami Hockey Coaches,” and therefore also didn’t involve Carl Knox’s former secretary. Still, I would like to watch it sometime.
My lawyer and I will continue to work through the Ohio Court of Claims to resolve my request seeking the unposted recordings.
Do I have unresolved questions? I do. Like why didn’t at least one person affiliated with the Oral History Project remember one or more of the recordings that were held back from public view? Or, if they couldn’t name the recordings off the top of their head, why didn’t they at least know about the box in University Archives holding the folder containing reports that held the answer? If I could find the final progress report in 2 ½ hours, think how fast someone with the university could have found it.
Which takes me back to the feeling I had the minute I discovered the final progress report. Even though I said earlier that it doesn’t help to get upset, when you add up all of the expenses that went into finding that sheet of paper—from the lawyer fees to the three-night stay in a hotel to all of the other travel-related expenses that went into the trip—not to mention everyone’s time and energy, would you blame me if I were just a little bit bothered?
A big, BIG thank you to the three volunteers who’d helped me for two straight days at University Archives. There is no way that I could have gotten through all of those boxes without you! 🙏
P.S. The big red square on the front page of this blog has been edited to extend the time period in which the interview took place. The interview still happened—we just can no longer make the case that it happened between 2006 and 2008 as part of the Oral History Project.