A book of matches, a telephone company newsletter, stationery from a long-since defunct neighborhood organization, these were all items recently donated to the Georgetown Neighborhood Library's Peabody Collection. These ephemera help catalogue Georgetown's evolving story, which special collections librarian Jerry McCoy spends his days piecing together bit by bit.
McCoy said he received a call from an older couple who live on Q Lane in Foxhall Village. They had a few boxes of things they had saved from their years as Georgetown residents, would he want them?
McCoy picked up the boxes one afternoon recently and as he went through each item, he said he thought to himself, "Oh yeah, there's some good stuff in here."
There was a brochure for lumber products from W.T. Galliher & Bro, Inc. "Georgetown under the Freeway," an entire archive of letters, documents and membership of the Georgetown Canal and Riverside Council, and a program from the unveiling ceremony of the William O. Douglas bust on the C&O Canal, among other items.
McCoy explained whistfully that the value of such ephemera cannot be overstated. "Sometimes those things that are not pitched away are the only documentary informational evidence."
Though he does not want to be a clearinghouse for leftover yard sale items, McCoy said there are certain types of donations — photos of houses showing restoration or renovation, old advertisements — that can add to the history of the neighborhood that he tries to tell and preserve through the Peabody Collection.
"I have absolutely nothing in the collection currently documenting the existence of this Georgetown Canal and Riverside Council," he said, still sounding amazed and almost giddy.
He plans to spend time reading through all the donated items and researching the organization.
Though McCoy said donations tend to come in bursts, that same day I was interviewing him, another Foxhall Village resident, Don Velsey, had come by to donate a few items to the collection.
As McCoy explained some of his findings, Velsey would chime in remembering a business now documented through ephemera.
Apparently one of the targets of the Canal and Riverside Council was the Hopfenmaier Rendering Plant at 3300 K Street.
Velsey chimed in that he remembered a sign from the neighboring Washington Flour Company that read, "The objectionable odors you may notice in this area do not originate from this plant."
And about W.T. Galliher & Bro, Inc., "That’s where I got stuff for my house," Velsey chimed in.
But those larger items are just as exciting as the smaller pieces that come in as suprise donations from time to time.
"Ephemera: My favorite word in the world," McCoy said.