Column: History in a folder inside ‘the basement files’

05/16/2015 2:00 PM |

File

The basement here at the News-Review’s office probably isn’t all that different from your own.

It’s cold and musty. There are some dark corners, some old furniture, books and gym equipment from eras gone by scattered throughout. The insulation and duct work is exposed.

It’s pretty much your average basement.

But downstairs in the basement of the Riverhead News-Review (or, as it was previously known, the News-Review of Riverhead) are six file cabinets you won’t find anywhere else in the world — just like that box stuffed away in the corner of your own basement with those silly old photos of you and your siblings.

Mary Curry worked as the News-Review’s archivist for well over a decade. During her time here, she cut out articles and categorized them into scores of different folders, which can now be found inside those cabinets in the basement. The clippings end around the early 2000s, when the Internet began its slow but steady effort to gather every single piece of information known to man.

But those older clippings continue to be used to this day. In fact, you’ll find any number of those folders upstairs in the newsroom at any given time. This, despite repeated notes on the file cabinets asking us reporters and editors to “please use only one file at a time!” Sorry, Mary.


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When heading down to “the files,” it’s very easy for me to get lost or distracted by folders completely unrelated to the one I might be looking for. Maybe I’ll come across one related to a story someone else in the newsroom is working on. Why not pull that? Maybe my colleague will get something out of it.

And of course there’s just the natural curiosity of thumbing through the file cabinets and seeing something that piques my interest. As someone relatively new to Riverhead Town, I honestly don’t know a lot of the history in those files. I think I’ve learned a lot in my five years here, but I’m always interested in finding out more. So I can get pretty distracted down there — even by the ones with just a single clipping in them.

Take these folders, for example:

• “Bombs”: A single photo from 1986 covered a bomb threat that forced a Boeing 737 to land at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

• “Ghosts”: One article from the early 2000s details a couple of “sources of unnatural events” at places in the area, the Jamesport Manor Inn among them.

• “Ku Klux Klan”: In April 1992, a reappearance of the group “plunged Riverhead and the East End into a new round of negative publicity.”

• “Consultants”: As someone who writes and edits a lot of Town Board stories, I was surprised this file only contained a single article!

• “Five-story buildings”: Apparently the Town Board passed legislation in the late 1980s permitting five-story buildings on Route 58. It was later rescinded.

And of course, the bigger files in the basement point to what has shaped Riverhead’s recent history.

Not surprisingly, those files — we’re talking over 100 articles at least — include EPCAL, Grumman, farming, hospitals, politics, schools and downtown. Business, which is a little broad, was also huge.

The “Northville Oil Terminal” file had a respectable 22 articles; it’s always nice to see a thick folder when you head downstairs for history on a particular topic.

Which leads us back to the present day and what’s in our own basements. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep those memories alive and get them out of the basement at least every once in a while? That is something we’ve been trying to do here at work more frequently with our online #TBT posts (check them out on our Facebook and Instagram feeds if you haven’t yet). Life, as they say, usually gets in the way of doing anything more comprehensive.

But the files — just like those family photos — will still be there whenever we do get around to doing something more with them.

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