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Daily Messenger, January 16, 2002, By Julie Sherwood, Messenger Post StaffSee the companion article: Titanic Artifacts
MIDDLESEX – Document Reprocessors got a call last year from Lauren Sickels Taves, a professor of historic preservation at Eastern Michigan University.
She wanted to deliver more than 800 artifacts from the RMS Titanic for restoration. Postcards, books, ticket stubs, photographs and a suitcase full of possessions from a boy who died during the sinking of the luxury cruise-liner, April 15, 1912, were among the articles.
A mathematics book retrieved from the RMS Titanic (shown at left) is among the artifacts restored by Document Reprocessors. “It is the most exciting project I have done,” said employee Dolly Van Sickle. She was one of several who handled the fragile materials that had been pulled from the ocean floor by RMS Titanic, Inc., the organization that owns, salvages and circulates Titanic artifacts.
“I was afraid to touch it” she said. She was particularly intrigued by a cigar, passenger ticket, math book and razor blade, she said.
“It was scary,” agreed fellow employee, Sheila Rennoldson, noting how exhilarating, yet nerve-racking it was handling the brittle materials. “It was amazing how we could see the details,” she added.
“Titanic has been one of our most exciting projects,” said operations manager Alberta Keppen. “It was so great to be part of that.
The Titanic artifacts were treated in a cryogenic chamber, she explained, that dries at a slower, more controlled pace using an ultra-sensitive, deep vacuum.
“We were so lucky,” said Sickels Taves from her office last week. The company came to her rescue after she accepted the materials to use in a conservation program at the University, she said. They kept them in a lab for several months, she said, but the articles needed restoration that the staff couldn’t do.
Included in the materials was a suitcase containing books, postcards and photographs that had belonged to a boy. From his possessions, they were able to uncover that he had been born in Argentina and schooled in Britain. By a stroke of misfortune he had landed on Titanic, missing his intended passage to New Jersey on another ship to attend his brother’s wedding.
In a postcard they recovered from tracing his family, he wrote “I am so angry. I wish the Titanic will sink to the bottom of the ocean.”
“It was so cool to be able to open his books,” she said. “It was like the boy wanted us to discover him.”
Sickels Taves said she was impressed by the job Document Reprocessors did and awed by the technology the enabled the artifacts to be preserved. The materials have since been returned to the corporation and are part of a rotating Titanic exhibit.
“The Titanic is still an awe-inspiring event,” said Sickels Taves. “They helped us save one nugget of the story.”