In October 1994, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis seeking information that might shed some light on how Babe died. Nearly three months later, I received a reply. That was the first time I was aware that there had been a fire in 1973 that destroyed millions of records.
The form (included here) notes “his army record has not been found; it apparently was a 1973 fire loss.”
I found alternate sources and pieced together a few documents, but I still think there is more to be found.
I mention it here because on Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story about the renewed efforts, with painstaking work and new technology, to restore some of the records that were burned. My former colleague, Steve Giegerich, had this story on the front page headlined “Labor of love and duty at St. Louis County records center after 1973 fire.”
Six and a half million documents in one form or another were ultimately recovered; 18 million perished forever. The files are stored at the new facility in a climate-controlled warehouse with a constant temperature of about 35 degrees and with a relative humidity that never dips below 40 percent. When the summons for a document is delivered from a family or government official, the files move from the warehouse to the archivists on the third floor. The work can be tedious. With time being their enemy as they plowed through Dumpsters after the 1973 fire, agency employees could not devote any time to cataloguing the debris.
In 1994, I lived in South Florida and had nothing but U.S. mail to connect me to the records center. Now, I live 15 minutes away from it. Perhaps it bears another go.