Photo Morgue Digitization

In a recent study published in The American Archivist, Laura McCann details the history of photo morgues, and their importance considering the newspaper industry’s shift from print to digital media. Ms. McCann is a conservation librarian in the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department at New York University (NYU) Libraries. In light of our own newly-opened photo morgue collection (detailed below), her article has been summarized here.

When the use of photographic images began to appear alongside news print, only larger newspapers could afford full-time photography departments. Thus, many small establishments turned to news agency photography departments to compete and meet the growing demand for photographic images.


“Billows of smoke pour from the John P. Squire Co. meat packing plant, as fireman battle to bring the blaze under control” (14 April 1963). Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection.

While the negatives and their copyright were usually maintained by the parent agency, the smaller papers developed “photo morgues” to organize and manage photographic print assets obtained from the news agencies and other parties. A caption or tag line, along with copyright information and a date, would usually be recorded on the verso of a print or on an affixed section of paper.


“Cambridge, Mass., June 17 – Ellsberg residence” (17 June 1971). Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection.

Over the past few years, the CHC has collected many prints from various newspapers in the greater-Boston area. This collection, Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection, contains black-and-white prints taken by newspaper photographers to illustrate stories regarding the city of Cambridge. Images in this collection represent a wide breadth of topics including protests, political figures, buildings, and city projects, thus documenting the social change and architectural evolution of Cambridge in the 20th century.


“Courtroom cages outlawed” (1963). Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection.

In an effort to reach those interested in Cambridge history, we recently sent these images to undergo digitization by Digital Commonwealth. The entire collection can be viewed by clicking here. This process is ongoing, and we plan to add more digitized content in the coming months.


Screenshot from the Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection image “Cambridge ‘Sparks’ and his radio scooter”. Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection.

We hope the opening of this collection will bring interest to the images and inspire additional exploration. For further resources, check the Library of Congress list of Newspaper Photograph Morgues.


McCann, Laura. “The Whole Story: News Agency Photographs in Newspaper Photo Morgue Collections.” The American Archivist 80, no. 1 (2017): 163-188.


Cambridge Open Archives

This year marked the 10th anniversary of Open Archives, and for over 2 weeks in June, 15 libraries and archives in Cambridge opened their doors to the public to show off selected items from their collections – all for free.

Folks who were unable to attend Open Archives might wonder: what is Open Archives, and what does it mean?

Cambridge Open Archives, sometimes called the Cambridge archives crawl, is a free event in which members of the public are invited behind the scenes at various Cambridge archives, libraries, and collecting institutions. It is a fun way to promote the unique collections of our city’s wonderful archives, while also raising awareness of historic materials, larger historic themes, and preservation.

Open Archives is also based on the belief that archives and collections should be free and open to everyone. The idea that information be free and accessible, that you can find out about a community’s history, or simply explore the holdings of a unique archive, is often still seen as a radical idea. We always hope that after Open Archives is over, attendees go back and make research appointments with some of the sites they visited.

Several cities around the country also participate in similar programs, including much larger events like the Archives Bazaar in Austin, Texas and Los Angeles.

(Above: Previous Open Archives events)

Cambridge Open Archives was started in Cambridge in 2010 by the former Cambridge Historical Society Executive Director, Gavin Kleespies (now Director of Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society). Here’s what Kleespies has to say about the early days of Open Archives:

When it started, I had just moved back to Cambridge from Chicago and [was] in the process of getting re-acclimated. CHS was an institution that had a low public profile so I was going around the city and introducing myself and the Historical Society to organizations and community leaders. As a part of this, I met with Jim Shea and Anita Israel at the Longfellow House and Bree Harvey and Meg Winslow at Mount Auburn Cemetery. In both cases they invited me into their archives and pulled amazing examples from their collections. I thought, the Cambridge Historical Society has a great collection, but very few people use it and many people aren’t even sure it is available to them. Longfellow House and Mount Auburn have huge visitation numbers and are known across the country, but many people are unaware of the great archival collections they hold. It just struck me that there are these three great collections, that people would be really excited about if they saw them, but they just don’t come in contact with them. Then I thought, well, we’re basically all on the same street [Brattle], let’s just have a tour.

The first year was a lot of fun, so I started reaching out. I think CHC was added in the second year, but that was a little odd, since it was just on its own and was not walking distance to CHS, Longfellow or Mount Auburn. So I worked with Kit [Rawlins] and Charlie [Sullivan] and we came up with a group of city departments that had collections and were close to CHC. After that we put together a group to help plan the tour each year. Working with Alyssa [Pacy], Kit, Charlie and a group of other folks, we reached out to Harvard, MIT, churches and masons etc. I think at its largest, we had 13 institutions participating one year.

After the first year or so, Cambridge Open Archives began to be planned around a specific theme. Some of those themes have included “Adventures in Gastronomy,” which highlighted cooking and food themed collections, such as the Julia Child collection at the Schlesinger Library; “Cambridge in the 1860s”;  “Spaces: Profane and Sacred”; “Living and Dying in Cambridge”; and “New Acquisitions & Old Treasures.”


Asked about one of his favorite past Open Archives themes, Kleespies talked about the MIT Lewis Music Library’s take on “Adventures in Gastronomy.” Kleespies was very interested in seeing how the Music Library would incorporate gastronomy into their collection presentations — food and music? But according to Kleespies, the Music Library’s archivist took the creative route and set up a whole “dinner table” complete with candles, tablecloth, and a full menu featuring different musical compositions, including the German Vegetable Orchestra.


Since 2015, the staff here at the Cambridge Historical Commission have served as the coordinators of Cambridge Open Archives. This year, the Open Archives theme was “Archivists’/Curators’ Choice.” Staff from participating archives were encouraged to choose collections items that they loved or that possessed special meaning; that fit a certain theme within that specific archive or museum; or some of the more unique, bizarre, or interesting materials in their collections.

If you attended any of the Cambridge Open Archives repositories this year, feel free to comment on this blog with your thoughts, or send us any pictures you may have taken.

We hope you enjoyed this quick history of Open Archives, and hope to see you at next year’s event!

New Finding Aids Added to ArchivesSpace

You can now access two more of our finding aids on our ArchivesSpace database!

Cambridge Recreation Department Collection



Images from the Cambridge Recreation Department Collection, CHC011

Squirrel Brand Company Collection

Squirrel Brand adv card IMG_20151222_113527

Image of ephemera from Squirrel Brand Company Collection

Explore other collections and digital materials here.

What is ArchivesSpace?  How is this different than viewing finding aids in the regular PDF format? Check out a previous blog post for answers to these questions.

Let us know what you think of this finding aid format!

Getting to Know Your CHC Staff: Part 3

This month, we are highlighting our fabulous commission staff! We would like you all to learn more about our employees and the wonderful work they do here at the CHC. The third post in this series features Sarah Burks, Preservation Planner.


Sarah and canine friend, Penny.

Where did you grow up?

I’m half Yankee and half Texan having grown up between Williamstown, Mass. and Wichita Falls, Texas.  Everything is bigger in Texas but I am happy to have settled in New England where I have lots of family and you can’t cook an egg on the sidewalk in summer.

Where did you go to school? What was your degree?

I got my undergraduate degree in Art History from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. My graduate studies Historic Preservation Planning were at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

What are your interests or hobbies?

I like old things. That’s what drew me to historic preservation as a career so I could work with old buildings. I enjoy collecting antiques and vintage items for the same reason. I keep a toe in the art history side of things by serving on the board of trustees of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, Mass. Cyrus Dallin sculpted many famous public sculptures around Boston including Paul Revere (North End), Appeal to the Great Spirit (MFA), and Anne Hutchinson (State House).


The Paul Revere Monument in Boston’s North End. Sculpture by Cyrus E. Dallin.

Name some fun facts about you.

I love dogs.  I play bridge.  I like Spurs basketball.

When did you start working at the CHC?

I started fresh out of grad school in the fall of 1996. I was two.

What do you like best about working at the CHC?

It’s something different every day. A different building, architect, or historical topic to investigate.


This photo of Cambridge Street at Third Street (looking east) shows the Lechmere National Bank on the far left. This building was recently designated a Cambridge Landmark by the City Council.

Give us a glimpse into your daily work or a current project.

I type a lot of minutes and process a lot of permits. But my favorite thing is when I can dive into a research project or assist someone else in finding what they need for their own research. Recently I was documenting the diner cars of Cambridge. You can learn more about this in our blog post: New! Lunch Carts and Dining Cars of Cambridge, Mass.


This picture has it all: a Cambridge diner, vintage automobiles, and eclectic old buildings.

What is your favorite photograph, artifact, or collection at CHC?

Soon after I started at CHC, I was invited to join the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, an informal group dedicated to documenting Cambridge women, historical events, and women’s organizations. We have a lot of biographical files on women and women’s organizations. I’m currently researching Cambridge suffragists so we can have a good idea of Cambridge’s role in the suffrage movement prior to 2020, the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.


Florence Luscomb of Cambridge sells The Woman’s Journal newspaper and advocates for woman suffrage.


Thank you to Sarah for answering our questions–stay tuned for more staff bios coming soon!

MayDay in the Archives (a belated post)

May 1st has become known as MayDay in the archives world. Every year on May 1st, archivists and other cultural heritage professionals take time to assess the preservation needs of their collections and amend glaring problems.

In acknowledgement of MayDay, we would like to take this opportunity to communicate some quick tips for preserving your own archival materials at home. We will focus on relaying basic information for care and storage of the three most commonly saved items: scrapbooks, photographs, and documents.


Albums of photographs, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera weave a narrative of family history. However, the materials from which many scrapbooks are constructed can be harmful. Adhesives, dated plastic sheets, and newspaper accelerate deterioration of photographs and documents.

Harvard Sq trolley men

This image of Harvard Square trolley workers show how over time, adhesive can cause document and photographs to pull and create ripples.

We recommend scanning your scrapbook pages to create a digital surrogate, or removing items in danger of damage. If you want to keep your scrapbooks intact, make sure to store them in a dark area with a lower temperature (at least below 75° and at 65° if possible) and a lower relative humidity (below 65%). Often, linen closets work well for this purpose! Store your scrapbooks in a box made of acid free-materials.


Printed images communicate stories and are seen as proof of events and past existence. Yet, the people and places within these images can quickly fade if not taken care of properly.

Interior View: 33 Washington Avenue

This photograph has begun to yellow, likely due to the acidic paper to which it is mounted.

Photographs should be placed inside acid-free folders or archival plastic sleeves and kept inside in a dark room or closet with a lower temperature and relative humidity.

If your photographs have been rolled for a long period of time and are now stuck, consult a professional who can humidify and flatten your print safely. If you scan your photographs, you will be able to view it whenever you like, and lessen the effects of UV and humidity on your physical prints.


Documents such as letters, postcards, and paper records provide us with descriptions and evidence. Often, these items are unique and become more fragile over time. If you have paper in your family collection, separate pages from harmful materials such as newspaper or staples.


The acidic paper of this Signet Hosiery Company membership book has begun to yellow, and the staples are in danger of rusting if not kept in a cool, dry place.

Like scrapbooks and photographs, make sure to store your documents in a cool and dry location (not an attic or basement). Store documents in acid-free containers, ideally inside folders and a box.

If you would like to learn more about how to preserve documents, photographs, scrapbooks, or other materials you may have, contact our archivist, Emily at or 617.349.4683.

Now Open: Cogswell Collection

This post was authored by our Simmons 438 Archives intern, Elise Riley.

At the turn of the 19th century Cambridge’s built environment entered into a period of flux. New buildings and streets were added as the city developed. Neighborhoods expanded as houses were built into the burgeoning urban landscape. Beginning in 1910, the neighborhood of Shady Hill saw the addition of several streets including Irving Street, Bryant Street, and Francis Avenue.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #23

Top Left: “E” – Bryant St. from corner of Irving St., May 3, 1912. Top Right: View from Irving Street. Bottom Left: View from same point as above, September 1920. Bottom Right: View from same point as above, September 2, 1916.

The Charles N. Cogswell Collection (P014) consists of a scrapbook and loose photographs that depict these changes to the built environment in Cambridge, as well as daily life, in the late 19th century. Charles N. Cogswell, a Cambridge resident and Boston architect, lived at 61 Kirkland Street from 1882 until his death in 1941, aged 76.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #2

Charles’s brother George Cogswell on a penny-farthing.

Cogswell attended Harvard University and went on to study architecture at M.I.T. and at the Ecole de Beaux Arts, Paris. While the bulk of his professional work took place in Boston, Cogswell dedicated his free time to capturing the changing architectural landscape of his Cambridge neighborhood.

Charles N. Cogswell Miscellaneous #17

Top right: April 30, 1910. The beginning of the extension of Francis Avenue through to Museum Street, before the Andover Seminary Building was constructed. Bottom left: 61 Kirkland Street. Bottom right: [Francis Ave.] View from same point on September 2, 1916 [Professor Chas H. Haskins-House in distance]

Shady Hill is located east of Harvard Yard, right next to what is now the Harvard Divinity School. The Cogswell Collection is unique because it captures the in-between moments of growth in Cambridge and shows what the city looked like as construction was happening.


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Cogswell’s neighborhood was also home to several notable Cambridge residents. While Cogswell lived on Kirkland Street, around the block on Irving Street lived Harvard professors William James and Josiah Royce.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #10

Views from Irving Street, 1891.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #3

Aerial view of Irving Street, 1888.

E.E. Cummings and Julia Child would later live on this same block of Irving Street, the Childs in Royce’s former home at 103 Irving Street (above).

In his scrapbook, Cogswell also included snapshots of daily life and events in and around Cambridge.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #5

Cyanotype photographs of a regatta on the Charles River, 1887 or 1888.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #20

Family dog, Kinch, on the Cambridge Common.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #15

Top: View of Holmes Field, 1886 or 1887. Bottom: Shaw Barn on Kirkland Road after the fire, April 7, 1886 (owned by Prof. G.M. Lane).

The finding aid will soon be available on our website. To view photographs from the collection, check out our Flickr page, or email to make an in-person research appointment. The Cambridge Historical Commission also holds files on 61 Kirkland Street and the other addresses mentioned in this scrapbook.

Baking Powder and Vikings

Today’s blog post comes to you from our guest author, CHC volunteer Michael Kenney.

“Was there a city of Norumbega” on the Charles River just upstream from Cambridge? That was the rhetorical question posed in 1891 by Eben Norton Horsford, a chemistry professor at Harvard and developer of Rumford Baking Powder. And he was certain of the affirmative answer.

Horsford’s brook-no-doubt answer is to be found  in his Defenses of Norumbega, now in the library of the Cambridge Historical Commission. It is an answer he proves to his satisfaction with a series of 16th century maps and the journals of an 18th century seaman, with the name itself derived from the Algonquin word for “a quiet place between the rapids.”

As for the “habit of ear” which was a key element of his researches, Horsford notes in an aside that he had spent his childhood among Indians as the son of missionaries.

It is a densely-argued thesis, with excursions into the accounts of voyages from those of Leif Ericsson to Samuel de Champlain, along with the narratives of explorers and merchants who visited the “city of Norumbega.”norumbega006

Should one wonder what remains, Horsford offers, by way of an answer, speculative maps including the one reproduced here (above), as well as the curious photograph (below) of what he describes as “the dam, docks and wharves of the ancient city of Norumbega,” sitting alongside the Charles River at Weston.


And the still-curious will find, tucked into the farthest southwest corner of Cambridge, a collection of Horsford-themed streets — Thingvalla Avenue (named for a kettle-hole which Horsford thought was a Norse amphitheater), Ericsson Street, Norman Street, Norumbega Street, and Vineyard Street.

Stay tuned for a future blog post on the interesting Mr. Horsford and Rumford Baking Powder.


New! Lunch Carts and Dining Cars of Cambridge, Mass.

The CHC is proud to present a new GIS Story Map created by our own Sarah Burks, Preservation Planner, available here! This fun Story Map focuses on the long-gone lunch carts and dining cars in Cambridge.

“From the earliest horse-drawn lunch carts to the streamlined stainless steel cars, diners were once plentiful in Cambridge. But where did they all go? Some diners moved into brick and mortar locations and others relocated to other towns. The recent Food Truck trend appears to be a revival of the portable dining car, but they don’t offer the seating and table service of yesterday.”


Take a tour of Cambridge diner photos and share your diner memories with us at Have you been to any of these diners?