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Mechanicsburg library posts online versions of historic books

It got to the point where even a morsel of yellow dog was satisfying to Isaac Elliott.


A Union Army soldier, the Pennsylvania man was suffering from starvation and exposure while caught in the hell of Andersonville Prison.


“The sights I saw upon entering the stockade filled me with horror,” the survivor recalled decades after that May, 1864 moment.


“The camp contained about 15,000 prisoners. After seven or eight months, a robust healthy man would be reduced to a walking skeleton covered with filth and vermin.”


His is just one story of courage and conviction recently made available on the Internet by the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library of Mechanicsburg.


Last fall, the library received a $2,500 grant from the Mechanicsburg Area Foundation to digitize “Personal War Sketches” along with two “minute books” from the Colonel H.I. Zinn Post No. 415 of the Grand Army of the Republic.


“The books are very old and very fragile,” said Sue Erdman, library director. “They are too valuable to have people handling them. With today’s technology, they can be posted online so people around the world can look at them.”


Upcoming exhibit


Described as a memorial, the original “Personal War Sketches” is a one-of-a-kind resource on Civil War history documenting the service record and stories of about 270 GAR members. Written by Alexander and Matilda Underwood, it was presented to the Mechanicsburg veterans post in 1896 and is on temporary loan to the Mechanicsburg Museum Association.


Association members plan to incorporate the book into an exhibit at the Freight Station Museum, 3 W. Allen St., which starts on June 15, runs through Oct. 19 and features as its centerpiece the Confederate occupation of Mechanicsburg during their 1863 invasion of Cumberland County, said Joan Quick, a member of the MMA board of directors.


This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the invasion that ended in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in early July. The intended goal of the Army of Northern Virginia was the capture of Harrisburg. Confederate forces moved through the Cumberland Valley in late June 1863 during their approach to the objective.


“We were the precursor to that,” said Quick, explaining how the Rebels had demanded food from Mechanicsburg residents. Other exhibit features include a display of Civil War era medical equipment, letters to home from soldiers in the field and period-style clothing on loan from re-enactors. There will also be a display of instruments and other artifacts from the Singer Band, a community ensemble that formed prior to the Civil War.


The Death Carts


Each entry in the “Personal War Sketches” book was written to a standard format with the same ornate banner on the top of each page. In every case, the veteran was referred to as “comrade” in the text.


Some accounts are sketchy and only include such basics as the date the veteran entered service, the units he served in and the battles he fought in. Other entries are more extensive and include graphic details such as the experiences of Elliott as an inmate at Andersonville, an infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.


“About eight feet into the stockade was called the dead line and woe to the man who stepped across it,” Elliott recalled. “A stream of filthy warm water ran through the stockade. This we had to drink.


“A poor cripple was shot by my side for stepping close to the dead line,” Elliott added. “He said he was so miserable, he wanted to die. Every day there were from 50 to 100 corpses waiting for the dead carts. I saw a man lying near the stream. The maggots were eating him up. Nothing could be done for him until the cart came and picked him up...”


Better access


Until 2001, “Personal War Sketches” was hidden away in library storage in a carrying case made of varnished wood. It was believed the book was found at the old high school (now Schoolhouse Apartments) located near the library’s former location on Simpson Street, Erdman said. Someone had brought the book to the library.


In 1999, the library received a $3,500 grant from the Mechanicsburg Area Foundation to microfilm the book and back issues of old newspapers. Two years later, the foundation donated the $5,000 the library needed to buy a microfilm reader/printer to make “Personal War Sketches” accessible to readers.


Last August, the library applied for the $2,500 foundation grant to not only digitize “War Sketches” but the minute books with GAR meeting notes from 1887 to 1900. The library wanted an alternative form of access to the microfilm reader which is getting harder to repair and find parts for, Assistant Library Director Linda Wilson said.


“People do not have to just come into the library to use it,” Wilson said of digitized collection. “It will be good for researchers. We are contacting area schools, historical societies and college history departments.”


Leftover money from the process will be used to publish promotional material announcing the URLs of the three digitized books from the GAR post 415.



Digitized Books at Joseph T. Simpson Library

Digitized books at Simpson LibraryJoseph T. Simpson Public Library Director Sue Erdman left, and Assistant Director Linda Wilson, display several books dating back to the late 1800's from the local Grand Army of the Republic post of Civil War veterans. The library recently received a grant to digitize the books.


Photo courtesy of Jason Malmont.



Master Gardeners offer guidance at library program

Gardeners are invited to seek expert advice about their troublesome plant issues in four clinics provided by local Penn State Master Gardeners at Shippensburg’s Public Library.


The clinics kick off Monday, May 13, and continue monthly with Monday evening sessions June 10, July 8 and August 12. All clinics run from 6:30-8 p.m. and meet outdoors near a library entrance. The clinics move inside in the event of inclement weather.




Cumberland County library system ranked No. 1 in the state

As National Library Week came to a close Friday, Cumberland County officials sat down to breakfast with local lawmakers to celebrate the library system’s successes over the past year.


Those successes include ranking No. 1 for “users per capita basis” — meaning no county library system in the state sees higher resident participation than Cumberland County.


“Achievements large and small abound in the library system,” said Executive Director Jonelle Darr. “A lot of people come to visit us every day and they borrow things at very high rates. This last year we saw more than 3,000 people come through our doors every day, and that’s with Bosler (Memorial Library) being closed 21 days because of construction services.”


Darr said the library system focused on growing its youth programs and senior citizen services in 2012, with great success. The Bosler Memorial Library in Carlisle just completed its “Building a better Bosler” expansion project that doubled the building’s floor space to 38,000 square feet and added a new children’s wing triple the size of the original. The $6.5 million project broke ground in November 2011 and also included expanded access to high-speed Internet.


“There’s been a real shift in the American mind,” Darr said. “Not only are we clearly the place to get books, but we are clearly to the place to access Internet resources at no charge.”




Hampden Township's library request may overwhelm system

Hampden Township's request for a library drop-box service within the municipality's borders could overwhelm delivery drivers and force the reduction of existing services, Cumberland County officials say.


Library system Director Jonelle Darr said Friday that adding another location into the county's existing contract with the Capital Area Library District would add more hours, and ultimately more cost, to delivery drivers' 40-hour-plus work week.


Darr said the Capital Area Library District contracts drivers to shuttle 1,100 items a day between nine different facilities in both Dauphin and Cumberland counties five days a week. Four of those libraries include return stops so that drivers can make space for incoming loads.


“Our driver is spending more than eight hours on the road each day,” she said. “We are trying to figure out which stops can be eliminated so he has a reasonable work week.”




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