Red Cross seeks detectives, curators, preservationists

By Emily Thornton

Hundreds of ancient artifacts in northwest offices lie waiting to be discovered — by the right people.

Red Cross items, varying “wildly,” need to be preserved by volunteer detectives to continue telling the stories of yore, shining new light on a profound history. 

Okay, so they really date back to the 1910s and 1920s. But, the vintage uniforms, badges, pins, first aid supplies, old manuals, and documents need to be catalogued and made ready for public display. 

The task likely requires a specific person (or people).

“A volunteer who finds history and ephemera interesting, and who has a talent for curating a collection would likely find this to be a very rewarding project,” Christopher Von Seele, Red Cross Northwest Region chief operations officer, wrote in an email.

Kevin Kopp, regional logistics specialist for the Red Cross Northwest Region, said he is concerned about the many newspaper clippings and other paperwork turning to dust before they can be scanned, which was something the volunteer(s) could do. Other needs, he said, include how to preserve items like old uniforms. 

“It really does behoove us to preserve these,” he said, adding it isn’t all just paperwork. “Part of it is detective work.”

One day, Kopp said he was digging around in some documents when he stumbled on a folder marked “burial plots,” which was odd. The peculiarity led him to dig deeper, he said, and he discovered one of the plots had been donated to the Red Cross in the mid-1980s. Another led him to the burial of a man in 1918. And there were others. 

“I decided to take a drive out there, to North Queen Anne, to see it for myself,” Kopp said. 

Seven veterans of the Spanish-American War were buried in the plots, he said, so he took photos and sent them to the Service to the Armed Forces branch of Red Cross. They discovered one of the first things the Seattle American Red Cross had done was secure places for those veterans to be buried. 

“I find this all the time,” he said, adding he often gets lost in stories told by paperwork. “I can’t shred them because I get sucked into the story,” he said.

Kopp said he hasn’t seen many antiques pass through the Seattle office in the 12 years he’d been there, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more. 

“We’re collecting these items as we move offices into more modern sites — we anticipate finding quite a bit out in the field,” Von Seele wrote. “Our Wenatchee, Washington, site alone collected five to seven bankers boxes of documents, pins, badges and other artifacts.”

There is a lot of cool stuff, Von Seele said, but unfortunately it can’t all stay. Part of the job will be determining what to save, give away or toss. 

“We’re an organization with a uniquely long history, and that means we have a lot of records and memorabilia,” he wrote. “It’s all significant in that it’s a part of our history, but we can only keep so much. We want to make sure we’re keeping the most appropriate and important parts, while relinquishing what we can to volunteers or other interested parties.”

The work could continue statewide for about two years, so ongoing help sorting, organizing, and cataloging is needed, he added. After that?

“We have one climate-controlled archive room in the Seattle office, and we’ll want to re-evaluate the items in it in order to make room for the new acquisitions,” Von Seele wrote. “At the end of the project, we want to preserve what’s important, display what we can, and let go of what we don’t need to keep.”

If you’d like to dig into our Red Cross history and join a detective team, start by visiting RedCross.org and become a volunteer! Current volunteers interested in the role should email Chris Von Seele directly.

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