Southeast Student Puts History in its Place in Missouri

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 7, 2003 ᾰ Sarah Kliethermes spent last summer immersed in the days of yore.

Kliethermes is a historic preservation major and a senior this year at Southeast Missouri State University from Bonnots Mill, Mo. Earlier this year, she participated in a new training program, through the Missouri Department of National Resources/Department of State Parks, expediting artifact cataloguing at historic locations around the state. During her involvement with the program, Kliethermes traveled to Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park and Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site, devoting her time to adding structure to the chaos of the past.

Kliethermes, however, prefers a less romantic description of the experiences she shared with the DNR/DSP staff and interns.

“We labeled items so that we can identify an object to look up any information we may have on it, like where it’s from or who used it for what,” she said. “It’s also important for keeping track of the objects and their physical condition.”

At Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park, the assignment was to catalogue the blueprints used by the Civilian Conservation Corps when the park’s roads were built in the 1930s. Kliethermes said it was interesting comparing the old plans to the actual constructions.

“A lot of the roads are still in use,” she said, “and it was weird seeing something that looks cool on a blueprint out in the park, where they may have fallen short of budget or changed something.

“Every foot of every road had to have a blueprint,” said Kliethermes, who was undaunted by the magnitude of the task and speaks matter-of-factly about the assignment. “You get kind of tired of looking at culverts all day.”

Kliethermes also discovered other antique documents at the Babler site.

“It was actually really interesting because there were a lot of old newspapers,” she said. “Things in them that were ‘breakthroughs in technology’ are commonplace now. Like, ‘Oooo! Crazy moving pictures!’”

The second half of the summer assignment was at Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site. According to Kliethermes, Bothwell was a famous doctor in Sedalia who was important in Missouri government and the local railroad industry. When he died, everything he owned was turned into a state historic site.

“Everything the guy had in his house, we had to document,” she said. “Every fork, every knife …. He had poker chips ᾰ those took awhile.”

The time spent at Bothwell Lodge Historic Site exposed Kliethermes to the painstaking nature of historic preservation.

“It was a 34-room house,” she said, “and in the six weeks I was there, I only got six or seven rooms done.”

Artifact cataloguing is by nature a tedious endeavor, fatiguing to the cataloguer both physically and mentally. Because Kliethermes is meticulous and patient, Dr. Bonnie Stepenoff, professor of history at Southeast, decided she was the right person for the position and recommended her for the program.

“It definitely requires a lot of patience,” Stepenoff said. “That’s part of the job. You have to treat every object with respect.”

Stepenoff said Kliethermes is not only a good student, but has the right attitude to do this kind of work.

“I knew she’d be willing to drive all around the state,” she said. “I knew she’d have a good sense of humorᾰthat’s important with these things, because you’re driving all around, sleeping in hotel rooms, working with all kinds of different people.”

Kliethermes said she plans to return to Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site to continue her work over the Christmas holiday.