In honor of gaps and holes: how missing numbers and deleted video footage can provide clues to an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary

On May 1, 2009, roughly two weeks before the hockey coach tape was recorded, the folks in Digital Initiatives were all caught up. Every single recording that had been sent to them thus far, right up to the Stewards of Campus Grounds and Natural Areas, recorded on April 14, had been converted to DVD. That had to feel good, since they’d been running behind throughout the project, and were now heading into the home stretch. The Miami Stories Oral History Project would be pretty much in the rearview mirror at the close of Alumni Weekend in June. 

Of course, more tapes would soon be on the way. On April 29, 2009, three renowned marching band directors had been interviewed, and on May 6, their recording was sent to D.I. (shorthand for Digital Initiatives) to be converted to DVD. The hockey coach tape was the very next recording that was made after the marching band directors and, one day later, the former mayor and police chief of Oxford would be interviewed. So that was the immediate line-up: first the marching band directors, then the hockey coaches, and then the Oxford city officials. (One other recording—that of Marjorie Miller Donovan—had been made the week before the marching band directors, but for some reason her tape was held back from D.I. for a little while longer. We’ll talk about her recording on another day because it offers some interesting clues regarding my current theory about what happened to an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary.)

As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, once a videotape was converted to DVD, staff members representing the Oral History Project would review the disc for defects and then hand it off to the university archivist, who would assign an archive number. So if the marching band directors were assigned number 10F-4-128 and the Oxford officials were assigned 10F-4-130, what number do you think the archivist would have assigned the tape that was recorded smack dab in between? I’d put my money on 129, right? 

But that’s probably not exactly how things happened. Because that’s not how people generally do their jobs. When an archivist is busy archiving, that person isn’t likely to drop whatever they’re doing to assign a number to a DVD as soon as it lands in their inbox. I can imagine them waiting until at least several DVDs have accumulated—maybe saving that task for a Friday afternoon as a way to ease into the weekend. And if you, the archivist, are assigning numbers to DVDs that are in a pile or box, then the order in which you number those DVDs probably isn’t that crucial. There will be chronological sequences for sure, but not every interview will be numbered in the exact order in which it happened. 

Likewise, as in Marjorie Donovan’s case, tapes weren’t necessarily sent to D.I. in chronological order either. What’s more, the folks in D.I. had been experiencing logjams with incoming tapes, especially at the beginning. I’m sure they weren’t all that concerned if one tape jumped ahead in line before a tape that had been recorded earlier. On January 22, 2008, the university archivist was handed 22 DVDs to number. So yeah…the numbering process was more chronological-ish, especially at the beginning.

Recently, I shared with you my conclusion that the Miami Hockey Coaches recording had to have been assigned number 10F-4-129, which meant that it had to have been made into a DVD. I still feel that way. My logic is that, because the archivist had assigned the Oxford officials’ recording number 130, he had to have assigned the number 129 to the immediately preceding recording, which couldn’t have been anyone other than the hockey coaches. He wouldn’t purposely jump from 128 to 130 with no 129, would he? I mean, what’s the sense in having numbers if you’re not going to follow their, um, numericalness? Do numbers not count for anything? 

And so I submitted a public records request for the DVD labeled 10F-4-129, no matter who was on it. If it was the hockey coaches, that would be really interesting because I’d then want to know why the university has been sending me beat-up tapes when they had a perfectly good DVD. If it turned out to be someone other than the hockey coaches on the DVD, that would be interesting too. (Oh, who am I kidding? That would have been way better. Sorry, hockey coaches, but my hope is that Carl Knox’s former secretary is on that DVD, even if she happens to be sharing it with three or four others.)

The university responded last week. Here’s what Aimee Smart, in the Office of General Counsel, had to say:

“We do not have a responsive document as Archive Space [sic] does not have an entry for 10F-4-129. As a courtesy we have provided you with access to a google drive folder that contains screen shots of our system which shows that the numbers skip.”

Well, thanks, but I already knew that the numbers skip. I could see on the Special Collections web page that the numbers skip. I wrote a blog post about how the numbers skip.

Let’s think about the whole question of ‘skipped numbers’ a little more. Generally, the numbers were assigned more or less chronologically, but sometimes, as mentioned above, they were out of order and occasionally they did skip, especially at the beginning of the project. And when I say that the numbers occasionally skipped, I’m referring to both numbering systems: the accession numbers, which were assigned to a videotape by the computer Athena before the tape was hand carried to D.I., and the archive numbers, which were assigned to the DVDs by the archivist after they were returned from D.I. As far as why the numbers skipped a lot at the beginning, I have no idea. I don’t know how Athena assigned her numbers at the start but maybe the archivist was saving a place for tapes once they were returned, but then changed his mind? Maybe he…no, I got nothing. I don’t know why the numbers skipped so much, especially at the beginning.

So the argument the university is offering up is: There is no number 10F-4-129 in our records, therefore there is no DVD. No ArchivesSpace entry, no DVD. Capiche?

Oh, I capiche all right. But my counterpoint is that, to the best of my knowledge, an archive number was assigned to a DVD before it was entered into ArchivesSpace, and a DVD that wasn’t entered into the ArchivesSpace system could still be sitting in a box somewhere. Comprendez?

Look, I get it. They say that there can’t be a DVD if there’s no archive number and I say that there is most definitely an archive number—not to mention an accession number—so there has to be a DVD. We’ve found ourselves in a circular standoff.

But I’ve looked at both series of numbers every which way and there are distinct patterns—patterns that (imo) support my conclusion that there is a DVD floating around somewhere, hopefully with the number 10F-4-129 written in black marker on its front label. 

Let’s begin with the accession numbers that were assigned by Athena:

  • The last time an accession number was skipped prior to the taping of the hockey coaches happened rather coincidentally on May 19, 2008, exactly one year to the day before the Miami Hockey Coaches recording. Every tape after that date up to May 19, 2009, had been assigned an accession number and was passed along to Digital Initiatives. With the exception of accession number msv00110, which was ostensibly skipped, the same can be said for every tape after May 19, 2009, until the end of the Oral History Project.
  • The timing in which accession number msv00110 would have been assigned to a tape coincides perfectly with the date of the Miami Hockey Coaches recording.
  • If Digital Initiatives received the Miami Hockey Coaches tape, then the Miami Hockey Coaches tape must have been given an accession number. And there is no other possible accession number for the Miami Hockey Coaches tape than msv00110.

As for the university archivist’s archive numbers:

  • The archive numbers indeed skipped at times. In several cases, multiple numbers in a row were skipped. But this practice dropped substantially by the end of 2008. Throughout the entire Oral History Project, there were 31 skipped archive numbers, including (ostensibly) 10F-4-129. Twenty-seven skips occurred before November 2008, and most occurred well before then. 
  • The last time an archive number was skipped before the taping of the hockey coaches occurred on March 26, 2009. The skipped number was 10F-4-116. The next skipped archive number (ostensibly) was 10F-4-129, which coincides perfectly with accession number msv00110 and, therefore, the timing of the hockey coaches recording on May 19, 2009. 
  • After 10F-4-129, there were no more skipped archive numbers. If 10F-4-129 is indeed the same recording as accession number msv00110 (and therefore, the hockey coaches), then there were no skips from March 26, 2009, through the remainder of the Oral History Project. Put another way, at the time that the hockey coaches recording was made, all possible accession numbers and all possible archive numbers were being assigned. There were no additional skips.

Screenshot from a comparison of accession numbers to archive numbers. Numbers in brackets indicate skips. Click on image to see the entire document.

It’s one thing for a skip in numbering to occur on its own, be it a skipped accession number or a skipped archive number. But for a skip in an archive number to coincide with a skip in an accession number at the very same time in which a tape has supposedly entered the queue at Digital Initiatives…that’s very different. It tells me that the tape had indeed entered the system and was converted to a DVD but the DVD, if it still exists, is not where it should normally be.

Picture it sort of like this: You know the classic I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel are working at a candy factory? Their job is to wrap each chocolate as they come through on the conveyor belt. But then things go haywire. The candy starts coming in too fast, and they start missing pieces until, eventually, they start popping as many chocolates as they can into their mouths, not to mention shoving them into their hats and down their shirts. (I just watched it again and Lucy’s face at the end still makes me laugh cry.) 

Let’s say that each one of the unwrapped chocolates entering the conveyor belt was stamped with an incoming “candy” number (similar to a videotape’s accession number) and each one of the wrapped chocolates on its way out had another number on its wrapper (like the DVD’s archive number). Let’s also pretend that you and I are inspectors. My job is to monitor the candy and wrapper numbers at the head of the line and your job is to write down the wrapper number that corresponds to its candy number at the end. (Your job is way harder, but you’re extremely good at what you do.) 

If you see candy coming down the belt without a wrapper, that’s one that got by Lucy and Ethel. Those are the fails, which, in our analogy, would represent a videotape that entered Digital Initiatives but wasn’t made into a DVD. They’d have a candy (accession) number but no wrapper (archive) number.

If, on the other hand, a bunch of the candy winds up in Lucy’s and Ethel’s mouths, then you’ll begin to notice skips preceding the candy numbers that were successfully wrapped. So candy number msv00010 may be united with wrapper number 10F-4-15, but there are no signs of candy numbers msv00001-msv00009 on your inspection sheet. Likewise, if Lucy or Ethel accidentally knocked a wrapper or two or ten on the floor, then you’ll notice some skips with those numbers as well.

Still with me? 

But what if a chocolate is making its way down the conveyor belt, and Lucy wraps it, but the candy and its wrapper never show up at your end? My records show that they were both in line for processing at roughly the same time and that both seemed to make it past Lucy. As far as your inspection sheet goes, both the candy number (msv00110) and wrapper number (10F-4-129) appear to have been skipped at roughly the same time. But another possibility is that, in a moment of panic, Ethel may have grabbed one of the wrapped chocolates and stuffed it into her hat.

When Aimee Smart from Miami’s Office of General Counsel informed me that University Archives doesn’t have a DVD numbered 10F-4-129 because that number isn’t listed in ArchivesSpace, I asked missing-person expert and budding investigator Kira Pierson to pay a visit and have a look at the original tape that they’d sent me of the Miami Hockey Coaches. I wanted to know what the tape looked like physically. Specifically, I wanted to know how they’d even found it if they had no identifying numbers to go by, as they’ve asserted. Supposedly, they couldn’t even look for accession number msv00110, which I’d think would have been helpful. I also asked her to watch at least part of the tape if she had the time. Thankfully, she did have the time. Also thankfully, she recorded several video clips on her phone, which showed the five extra minutes of introductory material that university representatives had decided to leave off of my digitized version.

Cover to the Miami Hockey Coaches tape with no identifying numbers.

On Friday at 1:30 p.m., I’ll be calling in to the final mediation meeting. Other attendees will be representatives of Miami’s Office of General Counsel, Miami’s Ohio-taxpayer-funded lawyer, my me-funded lawyer, and the mediator from the Ohio Court of Claims. In addition to the questions that I plan to ask Miami’s OGC, I plan to thank them. No, seriously. Because if the university had been cooperative at the beginning of this complaint—if at the get-go they’d provided to me the three recordings that hadn’t been posted to the bicentennial website “for miscellaneous reasons,” as described in an interim progress report, we might have never arrived where we are. Ironically, it’s because of their, um, less-than-forthcoming words and actions that I believe we’re much closer to understanding what happened to the interview of Carl Knox’s former secretary.

8 thoughts on “In honor of gaps and holes: how missing numbers and deleted video footage can provide clues to an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary

  1. I went back to review Athena to see if there were any steps involving physical handwriting. It appears not. But I did notice this statement:

    //I haven’t been able to find a Documentation Worksheet for the Miami Hockey Coaches recording.//

    Do you have any sense of how many tapes got through without the Documentation Worksheet?

    1. The documentation worksheets were considered a very important part of their protocol. They used them to record key details about the interview and they accompanied each tape to Digital Initiatives. The OHP staff also made a copy for a metadata librarian who would input discussion topics/terms for the web.

      After the recording was successfully converted to DVD, the worksheets were put in their respective folders (alphabetically, by title). I made copies of a lot of them but not all. Although I can’t say for sure that all of the interviews have one in the folder, I’d say that the lion’s share of them definitely did. There wasn’t one for the hockey coaches.

      As luck would have it, I have another update coming shortly. It’s not happy news, but I’m trying to remain optimistic. We’re gonna figure this thing out. But I’m not gonna lie—it’s a bummer, which is why I’ll also be including pics of Herbie (cat) on his annual Thanksgiving roadtrip. Coming soon….

  2. This sure gets more fascinating by the week! Having read the entirety of the posts on this blog over the course of its existence, I am no longer surprised that a seemingly obscure bibliographical anomaly is turning into a major clue. The ramifications of this are starting to become more than obvious, but I think that’s sufficiently implied here – both by Jen and in the comments by others!

    1. Thanks so much, Mike! And just wait…we may have another clue soon that’s related. Currently doing my due diligence but, if true, this one would be pretty wild.

  3. The candy analogy was excellent. Anyone old enough to have seen I Love Lucy knows how impossibly funny such a simple premise was in the execution.

    The posse may find the following chronology interesting.

    4/22/2009 Marjorie Donovan interviewed. That eventually became accession number 131.

    4/29/2009 Marching Band reps interviewed. That eventually became accession number 128.

    5/19/2009 Hockey Coaches are interviewed. Miami claims no accession number was assigned.

    5/20/2009 Village of Oxford leaders interviewed. That eventually became accession number 130.

    Just looking at that with what God given common sense as I possess, I have to think this is really suspicious. Whatever the reason Donovan was delayed, someone knew it was in the pipeline. But it somehow ended up assigned an accession number after an interview conducted 28 days earlier.

    Well, okay. So what, you ask. In the midst of this strange chronology, a Hockey tape ends up supposedly damaged. 13 years later, someone asking for a public record is told an entirely implausible story about a tape being damaged and the supposed backup audio tape doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, the unassigned accession number, 129, stares forlornly at the world, not assigned to the hockey tape, not assigned to the Donovan tape a month overdue to be assigned, just there, just unused. I don’t know what I think of all this, but I am not nearly so sure that it’s just a series of honest mistakes.

  4. I’ve got some thoughts on the Donovan tape and your candy assembly line analogy I need to get in order. For now, I’ll say the fact a chronologically out of order tape (Donovan)was assigned a skipped accession number makes less than zero sense. I’m sure you understand why. It’s just hard ard to express. Hard case/skeptic that I am, I, uhh, can now almost believe that this isn’t just a missing hockey tape issue.

    If you want me to join you at the hearing to carry your files or hold your hand, I will.

    1. It took me like 3 days to figure out that analogy…so please go easy on me. 🤪 And yeah, the numbering is very confusing in places. Thanks for your kind offer of support, but it’s all by phone. Also? I’m soooo ready. When I think of how nervous I was for the first mediation, it’s kind of funny. I had piles of papers laid out on my lawyer’s table, and I felt as if I was rifling through them the entire hour. It was insane. For this one, I will have no papers– just some pretty obvious questions. It should be interesting. 💪

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