Southeast students Megan Ritterbusch, left, of Florissant, Mo., and Anna Powell of Risco, Mo., look at the recently donated collection of the Cape Girardeau Weekly Argus in Special Collections and Archives of Kent Library.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
May 16, 2008 – A once hidden gem has found its way back home thanks to an Illinois man and a donation from the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society and the Southeast Missouri State University Center for Regional History.
The Society and the Center have recently given original copies of the Cape Girardeau Weekly Argus dating from June 1863 to June 1871 to Southeast Missouri State University’s Kent Library, where they are now housed in Special Collections and Archives, said Dr. Lisa Speer, associate professor, Special Collections and Archives.
David Westenfeld of Quincy, Ill., recently sold the collection to the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society and the University’s Center for Regional History. The collection belonged to Westenfeld’s late parents, who had kept them in the attic of their home for many years. The Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society and the University’s Center for Regional History, in turn, donated them to Kent Library.
Speer said Westenfeld sold the collection to the Society and the Center for much less than its value in an effort to return it to the community from which it was published because of its historical significance.
“We’re very excited about it,” Speer said. “There’s nothing to compare it to in our collection. We’re very appreciative of Mr. Westenfeld for being so historically minded. Obviously, he had many other offers for disposing of it, so we are very thankful.”
The collection comprises 1,609 pages. Only seven issues of the broadsheet-style newspaper are missing from the collection, which Speer says is in excellent condition. Just a few pages of the newspapers are torn, she said.
“It’s valuable,” she said, because the library has no Cape Girardeau newspaper from this time period. “We didn’t have anything like it. This one fills a gap.”
According to the newspaper’s masthead, the Cape Girardeau Weekly Argus was published “over Cluley and Stephenson’s Cabinet Shop, on Main Street, three doors beyond the St. Charles Hotel.” The St. Charles Hotel was razed in 1967. The hotel was located at the southwest corner of Main and Themis streets in downtown Cape Girardeau.
Other newspapers published in Cape Girardeau over the years include the Cape Girardeau Democrat (c. 1876-1909), The Cape Girardeau Eagle (1857-1861), The Community (1923-1927) and the Southeast Missourian (1925-present).
“We have paper copies of The Community and microfilm copies of The Cape Girardeau Eagle in the archives,” Speer said.
Kent Library’s Periodicals department has microfilm copies of the Cape Girardeau Democrat and the Southeast Missourian. The archives and the periodicals department also have other Southeast Missouri newspaper holdings, she said.
“It’s going to be a real plus for Civil War historians,” said Dr. Bill Eddleman, chair of the Southeast Department of Biology and president of the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society.
Kent Library hopes the Missouri State Library, via a state grant, will have the collection digitized and then made available online through the Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative, Speer said. Through the Initiative, the Missouri State Archives and the Missouri State Library, in partnership with the State Historical Society of Missouri, are assisting institutions across the state in digitizing their records and placing them online for easy access. The Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative is a collaborative effort that expands the amount of information available online about Missouri’s past. In 2007, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan proposed the initiative to further Missourians’ access to information about the history of the state and local communities.
Digitizing the collection has the dual benefit of facilitating research by making the newspaper more widely available through the Web sites of Kent Library and the Missouri Digital Heritage, and also enhances Kent Library’s preservation efforts by reducing the handling of the original copies, Speer said.
Since the collection has been donated, three researchers, including two graduate students from the University of Missouri, have used the newspapers, she said. The collection is available for public viewing, Speer said.