DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – A step forward in preservation for some of Dallas’ most treasured documents. On Wednesday city leaders cut the ribbon on a new archive vault, located deep inside Dallas City Hall. The facility is designed to shield the city’s most important records from the ravages of time.
Walking into the vault is literally to step back in history. “There’s some JFK-related material here,” city archivist John Slate told his special guest. That material is living history for Wes Wise. Before Wise was mayor he covered the Kennedy assassination as a TV news reporter.
There are 12,000 to 13,000 documents on the Kennedy assassination alone. “Affidavits, witness affidavits, and this is one from Mrs. Marina Oswald,” Slate told Wise. The former mayor was impressed. “Seeing this background and seeing this history is very remarkable to me,” Wise told CBS 11 News adding, “And now we have archivists’ area that is probably second to none of any city of this size.”
There are hundreds more records on Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde Barrow’s fingerprints are displayed — a shared record from Fort Worth police, according to Slate. “It’s one of the very rare items because there are not many items that at signed by him.” There’s also a photo of the host of people who turned out for Bonnie Parker’s funeral.
For years the records had been stored willy-nilly throughout city hall. Now they’re protected in a locked vault set at a consistent 65-degrees and 40-percent humidity. There are also new LED lights to shield the treasurers from ultra-violet rays.
While most records are paper documents there are some artifacts, like early radio equipment from the city-owned radio station WRR and the remains of the landmark Trinity Methodist Church that, sadly, burned.
“Oldest document in here would be the 1866 minutes of the Dallas City Council,” Slate said as he took the volume down from the archive. Pasted into the book was also a notice about a pivotal election that brought the first rail line to Dallas. The railroads helped make Dallas the “king of cotton.” Slate said, “There is nothing more thrilling to me than handling history.”
The celebratory ribbon-cutting was attended by Wise, current Mayor Mike Rawlings and members of the city council. Rawlings stressed the importance of the archive. “The future is made up of informed, historical decisions. And so honoring history is an important part of every institution’s life.”
While inside the vault the awe of 150 years of Dallas history hit home to council member Vonciell Jones Hill. A history teacher by trade, she called the archive awesome. “This is precious. Unbelievable. This is part of the continuing story of this grand municipality.” And a city that continues writing new history every day.
The vault archive is free and open to the public, archivists just ask that you call ahead first. The archive office can be reached at 214.670.5270 and is located on lower level II at Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla Street.
Many document are also shared on the Portal to Texas History website, run in cooperation with the University of North Texas.
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