“We have all this stuff. Where do you start? What do you do with it?”
Henry Hauptfuhrer, of the Bachelors Barge Club, was not talking about cleaning out his house. This was about how to preserve 150 years of Boathouse Row history, everything from oil paintings and silver trophies to old log books and financial records.
Last week a handful of rowers toured two 19th century upriver social clubs – the Button (belonging to the Bachelors Barge Club) and Castle Ringstetten (Undine Barge Club) – then traveled down to the Malta Boat Club to survey artifacts desperately in need of preservation.
The problem is ubiquitous on the Row, where important historical records – many dating back more than a century – are variously stored in plastic storage bins, closet-like rooms with no air conditioning, or in the attics of officers’ homes.
Over the years, some clubs have moved their most valuable papers to facilities such as the Independence Seaport Museum or the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where they are preserved, catalogued, and available to the public for review, sometimes even on the internet. But their space is limited (where to put all those trophies?), and archiving costs money which would have to be raised.
The quantity of stuff is so great, it could fill an entire museum – and many wish a Rowing Museum could be launched in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, a rump group made up of Henry Hauptfuhrer of Bachelors, Rick Stehlik and Chuck Patterson of the Malta Boat Club and Katie Biddle of Undine, who is trained in archival work, hope their effort will pick up speed along the Row. Expect announcements of meetings and suggestions for taking steps to prevent papers from mouldering and how to move on from there.
A memorable moment of our little gathering was the quiet presentation by Bachelor’s Henry Hauptfuhrer of a 96-year-old gold pocket watch to the Undine Barge Club.
“A friend who knew I rowed alerted me about the watch” which was for sale decades ago at a jewelry store in Wayne, Henry explained. “It was engraved, “Peoples Regatta, Philadelphia, July 4th 1922, Senior Single Shells, 14 Mile Dash, Won By:….”
“I knew this would be an important item from the glory days of Boathouse Row,” Henry said. “However, the winner’s name was missing and I had no luck over the years” learning who might have won it.
But Rick Stehlik, in perusing old clippings in Malta’s trove, found that the watch had been won by Thomas J. Rooney, a champion rower of the years around World War I. In 1916, rowing for Long Island’s Ravenswood Boat Club, he won the National Singles Championship and would have gone on to the 1916 Olympics, but the games were cancelled because of the war.
It’s not clear how he ended up rowing for Undine in 1922, but his name appears on the club’s 1922 Mileage Trophy, honoring the member who rowed the most miles that year.
The watch, now returned to Undine, comes with its own challenge – that of figuring out how to safeguard it. Along with safeguarding so much more.