Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Ubiquitous Mr. Hoover

There it was, nested in a notebook between Miss Anna R. Elderkin in Coeur d'Alene and Miss Frances Hoyt of Los Angeles: "Herbert Hoover, 623 Mirada, Stanford University." And I wasn't even looking for it.

Working at the Hoover Institution, I'm often amazed at the number of stories I hear from visitors about their connection to the Institution's namesake. Although the story might be as simple as a dedication written by Herbert Hoover in a book found in their grandparent's library, they all resonate to make this historical figure human. Looking at pages of this little notebook that listed not only names and addresses but ranch expenditures and the number of lemons picked in 1935, I realized I had stumbled across another such story.

Few people understand that archivists don't do research as part of their daily work; sometimes I do it at home after hours. Lately I've been studying a largely overlooked federal Indian agent named Kelsey who worked out of San Jose in the early 1900s. Although Kelsey and Hoover were contemporaries, Republicans, and lived just 15 miles apart, there was no reason that they would know one another.

In pursuit of Kelsey's seemingly lost papers, I tracked down his descendants, who shared with me scanned copies of his few surviving materials. The notebook was among them. When I found Hoover's name, I went back to them for an explanation, and they told me their Hoover story: Hoover's sister and Kelsey were neighbors, and when Hoover visited his sister, Kelsey's young daughter liked to call to him, "Mistah Hoovah! See me t'un ovah!" while playing on her swing.

Although the story is too inconsequential for a published biography, it's the kind of anecdote that makes Hoover human, a brother, a neighbor. And I'm not sure whether it's a Kelsey family story or now my own Hoover story.

Excerpt from notebook in private collection

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