13.4.08

SPONTANEOUS SHRINES. Archivists at Northern Illinois University have been recording and collecting and cataloging physical and electronic tributes.
[Interim archivist Cindy] Ditzler said the NIU artifacts, which number in the thousands so far, are an important record of how the community grieved and may be of future use to writers or researchers. Not only has her staff gathered mementos left around campus (after first photographing them), it is also collecting postings on Facebook and YouTube and even text messages, e-mails, poems, thank-you cards and instant messages.

She said she hopes to have everything gathered by summer and cataloged in a year.

"You really had to go gangbusters," said assistant university archivist Joan Metzger on the speed with which online materials had to be gathered. "That stuff might be here today and gone tomorrow."

Working with carpenters and a groundskeeping crew, archivists gathered the mementos over three hours one March morning. Breakable items were wrapped in tissue paper; stuffed animals exposed to the elements went into a freezer to prevent mold.

Candles will go into plastic bags with silica gel packets. The 16-foot-long sections of canvas where students and others wrote messages will be digitally photographed, rolled in layers with acid-free tissue paper, wrapped in muslin cloth and stored in archival tubes.
Their work is not finished. People continue to leave fresh flowers and light candles at the doors to Cole Hall.

Piled together and shorn of their context inside a conservation lab, the items left outside NIU's student center and at other locations almost seem more moving.

There are five ceramic angels, four large plastic bags of silk flowers, five baseballs, a small pile of red hearts, dozens of candles, a single ballerina slipper and a hand-knitted white scarf covered in red hearts. A bag brims with folded paper cranes, which in Japanese culture can signify a wish of peace for the deceased and their families. Ditzler said that out of respect for the items and to prevent them from being damaged, she would not allow anyone inside the room. She showed a reporter pictures she'd taken.

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