Hidden Treasure at San Jose State
By Gary Singh
NOW UNDER WAY, the "Treasures from the Archives Competition" invites SJSU students and alumni to submit a description and explanation of a "treasure" item found in one of the university's four special collections on the fifth floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library: the California Room, Special Collections, the Steinbeck Research Center and the Beethoven Center. All you have to do is concoct a 2,000-word (maximum) essay describing why your particular find is "highly interesting, if not fascinating," and then submit it to Reed magazine, the university's literary journal. The handbill for the treasure hunt includes this warning clause: "The explanation may, of course, require some research—this is a treasure hunt. It could be an artifact, a rare book, a letter or manuscript, a musical score or instrument, an audio recording, a film, a piece of furniture, equipment, or machinery ... almost anything held in the Special Collections area is fair game."
Since the organizers were congenial enough to include the phrase "and alumni" in this extravaganza, I just had to go raid the four special collections yet again, as these places are filled with enough hidden gems to write about for years. With this competition, the Special Collections Group and Reed magazine have constructed a perfect treasure hunt for Silicon Valley's general populace—an excellent way for folks to discover the obscurities buried within these four rooms, the point being that research is not just for geriatric old cranks. If your essay is chosen, it will win a $50 prize and publication in the Spring 2008 issue of Reed.
Since most hidden treasures are stumbled upon completely by accident, here's an example: In the California Room, I found original newspaper clippings of the 1933 Hart lynching in San Jose, including quotes from the governor praising the vigilante acts of the lynchers. The date of the clipping was Nov. 27, 1933.
Interestingly, juxtaposed on the same page are several theater ads, as downtown San Jo was claim to a thriving theater scene in those days. An ad for the Marx Brothers' flick Duck Soup, playing at the California Theater, says, "Lunacy is a pleasure." Another ad from the "Liberty Theater" includes the logo from the National Rifle Association as part of its banner above the rest of the ad. Yet another announcement shows us that Elysia, the 1933 sexploitation/nudist camp flick, was playing in downtown San Jose at the aptly named American Theater. The ad says, "It's nice to go nude." Make whatever connection you wish between all of this, but there's at least enough "interesting and highly fascinating" material in this old clipping to fuel a 2,000-word screed.
And then there's the Special Collections room right next door to the California Room, another good reason to rampage through the fifth floor of the library. Due to the extremely rare nature of much of its inventory, the employees must guard the Special Collections with an iron hand, but don't let it bother you. Uncanny discoveries await. I did a keyword search for "downtown San Jose" and the 10th entry that came up was "Fulfilling a Vision: The Rebirth of Downtown San Jose," a hysterical throwback treatise from 1983, describing how innovative renovations at the San Jose Medical Center will play an important role in downtown's redevelopment. Famous last words, as the medical center bit the dust a few years ago. Much more than 2,000 words have already clocked in on that one.
In any event, don your buccaneer garb and search like a pirate among all the collections for secret booty to write about. If a wiseass dork like me can come up with ideas, then you can, too. The hidden treasure you're destined to unearth in these places doesn't have to be a newspaper clipping or a book. Several possibilities exist, especially in the other two collections, the Beethoven Center and the Steinbeck Research Center, which I shall creep into for next week's sermon. Until then, stay tuned.