For decades, Babe Ruth’s scrapbooks have been stored in an archive at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, available only to researchers who made special arrangements to view them in Cooperstown, New York. That changed Wednesday with the launch of digital versions of the scrapbooks, compiled by the legendary baseball player’s manager almost a century ago.
The release of the scrapbooks culminates a yearlong collaboration between innovative history company HistoryIT and the Hall of Fame. HistoryIT, which helps organizations make their historical collections more accessible, used what they call a “cutting-edge methodology” to preserve digitally the museum’s vast collection that makes it easier to appreciate than simple scanning of materials.
The two organizations say they have developed a strategic plan that will help guide the Hall of Fame as it evolves the way its online collection, collection.baseballhall.org, is accessed. The company also created an interactive exhibit showcasing the first scrapbook, which will be released on September 14. In the coming months, rare photos of Jackie Robinson and letters written by Ty Cobb, among numerous other things, will be added to the site.
“As a nonprofit committed to preserving baseball’s history, we wanted to build a 21st century digital collection so fans can be a part of baseball’s history no matter where they are,” said Donny Lowe, the Museum’s director of digital strategy.
The project began in September of 2015, when HistoryIT sent a team of historians and digital strategists to Cooperstown to evaluate the entirety of the Hall’s museum, library and archival holdings in order to create a plan to tag materials – ranging from a game-used Ruth bat to Negro League historian Robert Peterson’s papers – in a way that would allow the general public to peruse them. Led by HistoryIT founder and CEO Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, the team spent 12 months meticulously digitizing, describing and tagging the first selection of materials to ensure that the museum’s digital assets are curated and searchable.
“It was a privilege to work with a storied institution that values history and recognizes the importance of using technology to save that history for future generations,” Gwinn-Becker said. “We believe that these materials are just as valuable to the general public as to the scholar and are delighted to have the opportunity to create something that so dramatically broadens the reach of the Hall of Fame’s extraordinary collection.”
Totaling 25 volumes and more than 1,400 pages, the scrapbooks are filled with letters, newspapers clippings and photos from Ruth’s illustrious career on the field, as well as his work on the stage, television, and as an endorser of numerous products. While he is best known for his 22 seasons in Major League Baseball, Ruth was an accomplished Vaudeville actor who toured extensively, as depicted in much of the first volume of the scrapbooks. From 1921 to 1935, Ruth’s manager, Christy Walsh, pasted into leather-bound books myriad items he found noteworthy, including reviews of Ruth’s theatrical performances.
The pages in each scrapbook were encased in Mylar in 2001, extending the life of the physical books. They have never been on public display. Fifteen years later, they’ve been preserved for a digital age that has none of the physical restraints of a bricks and mortar museum. Anyone with computer access can go through them, page by page.
“Our goal is to share baseball’s rich history with as large an audience as possible, by making these historic treasures available online, the Museum can engage with fans and researchers around the globe” said Ken Meifert, the Museum’s vice president of sponsorship and development.