Rediscovering the Past Through the Former North Side McKeever Post 623

Every photo is measured, scanned, and described into the spreadsheet to be archived which will be digitized online for outreach to veteran’s relatives and public research.

 

Rediscovering the Past Through the Former North Side McKeever Post 623

Author: Geoffrey Mansfield

Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

The closing of the Mckeever Post 623 on Western Avenue, North Side of Pittsburgh unfortunately resonates with the fate of other VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) posts in the region. Only open one day a week, its closing was heartfelt to the members. Originally established on February 3, 1921, as the 623rd such post in the country, it served veterans who recently returned from the First World War. In January 2014, the increasingly dilapidated building was purchased, at the same time as a trove of artifacts on the property was discovered, including uniforms, flags and photos.

The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum was contacted to gather information of its contents. Curator Michael Kraus took a trip to the former post to discover the past stories of the veterans who once frequented the establishment. What he found was three 4-by-4 poster boards containing over two-hundred photos. The boards were originally mounted to the outside of Lawrence's Barber Shop on the North Side. The photos were of the former members, all approximately World War Two era. The subjects of the photographs ranged from men standing in front of the baber shop ,to the battlefields of France, and everything in between. These photos were then donated to the Museum in 2014 to be used to retell the stories of the forgotten. The Museum created a plan to digitize an online archive of these materials for outreach to the relatives and the public in honor for those who served our nation.

During my Spring 2018 internship I accepted the challenge of this task as a semester project at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. The task proved to be extensive and time-consuming, though it brought me a sense of pride. Every one of the 245 photos had to be digitally scanned, front and back, and names of the soldiers written in cursive handwriting had to be deciphered.

I created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel that tracked every attribute of the photos with fifteen columns including any individual’s name, measurements, condition, and descriptions. During the process, I started to research the names written on the back, finding more about the individuals that I was documenting. Their stories slowly emerged, building a larger narrative of their overseas war campaigns.

One example was the Murphy brothers: eight men had joined the armed forces and served in World War II during the call of duty. Unfortunately, Tom Murphy paid the ultimate sacrifice, as he was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The attached gold star on the front of the photo confirmed this. Photos of four other Murphy brothers also emerged through the archival process, including Dan Murphy, a Hall of Valor Inductee at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

This project granted me the opportunity to retell the forgotten stories of World War II veterans and the Northside Post 623 as a way of honoring their service. The assembly of this data, along with the scanning process through digitization, will allow for outreach helping relatives reconnect with their loved ones from the past. It also serves as a form of research for the public. The photos help historians represent forgotten stories by recovering a visual aspect to the documentation of veterans who served our country, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, those like Tom Murphy.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

Categories: 
  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh