Shut Out From the Library of Congress

Study desk Library of Congress

My study desk at the Library of Congress (Photo: Diana Parsell)

Bruce and I are now a 100-percent furloughed household. He’s in a “non-essential” federal job and thus on unofficial R&R. And here’s what the government shutdown looks like from my little spot in the universe.

It’s my tiny “study desk” room at the Library of Congress, on the fifth floor of the Adams Building. I’ve spent tons of hours there, often working late into the evening doing research for my biography of Eliza Scidmore.

Because the library is shuttered, the books I’ve had on reserve are off limits for the time being. No advance ordering of any more books online, either, since the library’s website has also gone dark.

A lot of people today think you can do all the research you need online. But I’ve found the resources of the Library of Congress  indispensable to my project.

The many historical databases have been especially valuable. Like those containing historical newspapers, which I’ve used to construct a timeline of Eliza Scidmore’s life.

1885 Alaska steamer excursion route map

Alaska steamer route in 1885, from Eliza Scidmore’s “Appleton’s Guide-Book to Alaska”

Here’s my favorite thing I uncovered so far at the library.

Early in my research I ordered original copies of Scidmore’s books on Alaska. She published the first one, a travelogue titled Alaska: Its Southern Coast and the Sitkan Archipelago, in 1885. The second one, Appleton’s Guide-Book to Alaska, appeared in 1893 and was a very comprehensive reference work that remained popular into the early 20th century.

The 1885 book at the library is so fragile and loose in the binding that the pages are held together by a cloth string. Sitting for hours in the dimness of my office, reading about Scidmore’s journey in the original text, I felt transported back to that time and place.

The treasure that dropped — serendipitously — in my lap was this map. I almost shrieked with delight when I found it in a flap at the back of Scidmore’s 1893 Alaska book.

I unfolded it to about 2 feet long. It shows, in the warm, rich colors of old maps, the exact route of the Alaska excursion steamers along the Inside Passage of the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s.

It was the very route, from Puget Sound to southeastern Alaska, that Eliza Scidmore followed aboard the Idaho in 1883 on what became a historic voyage to Glacier Bay.

I did a video on the journey, now available on YouTube.

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