Memories, scanned one page at a time

Scouts bring old newspapers up to the digital age


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When Eric Lundgren began searching for an Eagle Scout project, he didn’t have to look far.

In fact, he didn’t have to look beyond his own family.

His mother, author and Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society board of director member Chris Lundgren, serendipitously mentioned the boxed copies of the Knik Arm Courier newspapers carefully stacked over the society’s shelves.

The papers had been donated to CERHS about five years ago by the daughter of former editor and publisher Rusty Bellringer.

The issues, dating from 1958-1973, required digitalization in order to preserve content.

Costs, however, were more than the society could afford—one Outside estimate hovered around the $20,000 range.

So Eric formulated a plan, and with the help of a State of Alaska grant previously issued to the society, he purchased a computer, monitor, mouse and keyboard, scanner and scanning software.

Total costs came in under $1,000.

Then he got to work and recruited 12 Scout volunteers to help with the scanning process.

The Scouts meticulously scanned each page of every issue, and since the scanner was too small to fit the whole page, they scanned in sections, marking each half with bright pink sticky notes.

“It was kind of like a part-time job,” he said, “like an assembly line.”

Scouts scanned for five hours twice a week. It took most of the summer to finish the job.

“When you’re two hours in, it gets mind numbing,” Eric said. “We alleviated boredom by talking and listening to music.”

“We talked about everything,” Eli Faso-Formoso, 14, said.

The last few weeks, the poor, overworked scanner developed what the Scouts referred to as a “banshee” screech.

“We kind of ran it into the ground,” Eric said, with a laugh.

All-in-all, the group scanned 801 issues and over 10,000 pages.

“There were times when I was thinking: Why did I get myself into this,” Eric said.

The group browsed through the pages as they scanned, reading about events such as the Good Friday Earthquake. They also enjoyed the jokes and cartoons.

“They were really bad,” Eli said. “Funny, but they made you groan.”

Their favorite, though, was Tell it to Martha advice column.

“Some of it seemed pretty unbelievable,” Eric said, mentioning advice on how to prevent a neighbor from listening in on the phone.

“Party lines,” Eric said, shaking his head in wonder.

 

Searching the past

As soon as the last issue finished scanning, Eric set up a Website containing all of the Knik Arm Courier content.

According to Phyllis Smith, CERHS president, the digitalization of the Courier was vital; most of the old copies were fragile and vulnerable.

“The whole early history of our community is contained in these newspapers,” she said. “We were desperate to preserve them.”

Eric’s project, she said, was a win-win situation.

“People will be able to go on the Website and search for anything,” she said. “When was Eagle River Road paved? What about statehood? Unification?’”

All of this, she said, can now be easily found.

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