History in the making

Published 12:04 am Saturday, September 13, 2008

Every city and town, no matter how large or small has its own unique character and story to tell. One project in Demopolis is attempting to tell that story by freezing moments in time and saving them for posterity to look back on and remember.

Almost hidden in the shelves of the Demopolis Public Library is a special archive collection known as the Demopolis History Collection. The set of grey boxes holds a treasure trove of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and even a few personal letters, all of which tell the story of Demopolis and the surrounding areas and their special attributes.

Joy Mackin, a retired schoolteacher who works part-time at the library, helps to keep up the collection by both organizing it and adding to it as time goes on. When she came to the library in 1997, one of her first tasks was to compile a system to organize such a wealth of information.

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To date, the cumulative index of all the material can be found in a 84-page catalogue with different subcategories such as architecture, history and native people. Some of the categories are unique to Demopolis itself, such as the box dedicated to housing the different historical aspects of the Vine and Olive Colony.

In the pages of this collection there are the stories of greats, such as Geneva Mercer, the Jefferson raised artist who came to work closely with Guiseppe Moretti, the famed Italian sculptor who sculpted Vulcan in Birmingham.

Other clippings tell the tale of Eliza Battle, a riverboat from the 1850s that is fabled to have perished in the Tombigbee River after robbers attacked it. The legend goes, as was later detailed in &8220;13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey&8221; by Kathryn Tucker Windham, on nights with a full moon the riverboat can be seen rising out of the water with music playing.

But these are just a few of the jewels to be uncovered in the collection, according to Mackin. In addition to telling the stories of the people of Demopolis, the collection features extensive writings on such landmarks as Gaineswood, Bluff Hall and Rooster Bridge.

Library staff members find most of the items put into the collection from local publications. Occasionally, however, they will have something sent to them that is deemed worthy of being encapsulated.

Another aspect of Mackin&8217;s job is to find pieces of history for people who e-mail and call in from all over the country inquiring about a certain person or place. Most of the requests she gets are for people interested in their family&8217;s genealogy.

Mackin said she enjoys being able to help people learn about their past.

If you would like more information about the collection call 334-289-1595 or visit the Web site at www.demopolislibrary.info.