Thursday, June 06, 2013

Helen Keller Memorabilia Lost in 9/11

Who says you can't learn anything from television? I spend a lot of time watching documentaries on channels, like Discovery, History, Animal Planet, PBS, etc. I find most of them to be educational and entertaining. Today, while watching Pawn Stars on History Channel, someone came in with a rare letter signed by the late Helen Keller. It was authenticated and valued at more than $1200. During the show, I learned that most of the Helen Keller collection, once stored in a Manhattan building a block from the World Trade Center, was destroyed on 9/11. That fact was confirmed by this article (it includes a photo of a bust that was recovered from the rubble of WTC):

When I was a kid, there were TV movies and specials about the author and activist who was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor's degree. Helen Keller, who died 45 years ago this week, was also born in late June 1880. Among her many accomplishments, Keller fought for women's suffrage and labor rights and never let her disabilities hold her back.

This Google Image from shows Keller in her later years.
She lived to be 87 years old.

I hadn't thought much about her in recent years until today's repeat episode of Pawn Stars (Episode 59 from 2011 Season). It is sad that many of the artifacts from her collection have been lost for all antiquity, thanks to some radical Islamic terrorists. More surprising, though, is that I never heard about this in almost 12 years. As an avid watcher of CBS Sunday Morning, it is peculiar that this topic has never come up. In addition to the Keller collection that was lost on 9/11, there was also an archive of photographic negatives of the late President John F. Kennedy, taken by his personal photographer amongst the rubble. You'd think these losses would have received more media attention. (Note: I did find a CBS News story published on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 that was basically a reproduction of the story linked above).

It makes sense that so much was written and filmed about Keller in the 1970's as her passing occurred on the year of my birth, 1968. President Jimmy Carter even proclaimed June 27th, her birthday, as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. So there was definitely a swell of interest in her during the decade that followed her passing. Still, a large portion of the evidence of her life and impact on our society was lost and we heard very little about it.

Just glad I caught the re-run of Pawn Stars today. See, Mom, I DO learn something from "boob tube."