MANSFIELD -- The Sherman Room at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library is a treasure trove for local historians.
Curious about Ohio's first Trial of the Century that happened to take place in Mansfield 1954? Head on up to the Sherman Room and you can find out how the local media breathlessly covered Max Sternbaum's epic murder case.
Looking for a first-person account of Abraham Lincoln's assassination? Mansfield's General Roeliff Brinkerhoff was at Ford's Theatre, saw John Wilkes Booth fire the shot that changed America forever, and wrote about it in his autobiography. The best place to find this narrative is at The Sherman Room.
Sorting that information, and blogging about some of her finds, is now the job of Mary McKinley. She just arrived this year and is probably your first call (419-521-3115) if you have a history question regarding Richland County.
So, we asked Mary if she'd be interested in sharing some of her thoughts with Richland Source, and perhaps allow us to publish her blog going forward.
Richland Source: Can you tell the community about your background and when you started here?
Mary McKinley: I have been the Sherman Room librarian for just about six months now. I attended the College of Wooster to earn my Bachelor of Arts degree with a dual major in History and Classical Languages (Latin and Greek), during which time I had my first experiences working for institutions like the Licking County Records and Archives Department and the College of Wooster Digital Collections department.
When I graduated from Wooster (go Scots!), I moved to Maryland to earn my Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland at College Park, with coursework concentrating on archives and digital curation.
RS: What brings you to Mansfield?
MM: I suppose you could say the Sherman Room brought me to Mansfield. This position is very unique in the balance it has between helping people do research and find their answers and the archival side of things — many positions in libraries, archives, and museums are either one or the other.
Preserving the history is so important, but also getting to help people discover it ensures that the memory lives on in the community, and I love having the opportunity to do both.
RS: Can you describe your duties and what are some of the things you've already accomplished?
MM: Generally speaking, I am here to help the people of Richland County find their roots and the history of the community! If anyone has a question about the history of Richland County, or want to trace their family history, I help them find the answers they are looking for. Probably the most common things I help people with are our yearbook collection and finding obituaries.
When I am not actively helping someone research, I could be doing a number of things.
I do preservation work for the archival or primary source materials in the Sherman Room, I work on digitizing eligible materials so that they are accessible to the public no matter where they are, and when I have time I write blog posts about interesting tidbits in Richland County History.
I have had a fantastic time working in the Sherman Room so far, and I do think I have accomplished some goals already. The thing that first springs to mind is that I was recently able to help the library become a FamilySearch affiliate library, so customers at any of the branches have expanded access to a massive trove of digitized records.
I am also pretty proud of my work in compiling a full list of Mansfield mayors from the time that Mansfield was incorporated up through the 1950s, because I wasn’t able to find where anyone had been able to do that before. I hope to continue making useful resources that help people discover Mansfield history more easily, but these are two things I am really pleased with so far.
RS: What are your initial thoughts of the library, and specifically the Sherman Room?
MM: I have found the library to be an incredible place to work, because everyone is very welcoming! And I have been very impressed by the services that Mansfield/Richland County Public Library offers to the community, from the Library of Things to the Sherman Room, to wonderful and fun programs for everyone, from storytimes for kids to cake decorating for adults.
When I was first looking into the library, I had never seen a library that listed “fun” as one of its core values, but I think MRCPL does a fantastic job providing all the “traditional” library services and then going above and beyond with fun and unexpected opportunities.
As far as the Sherman Room goes, I have been seriously impressed with the historical collections and resources I am able to offer the community. Every time I go looking for one piece of history, I always discover another piece of history or story that I was not expecting. It never fails.
So many people before me have put so much work into collecting, caring for, and making guides to the Sherman Room collection ever since 1908, when the library in its current building was opened with the Sherman Room already an integral part of the collection, and those years of dedication show. I am proud to be just one part of the 114 year legacy of the John Sherman Room.
RS: What interesting fact about our community has already caught your attention?
MM: That is both a very difficult and a very easy question because there are too many interesting facts to consider! I suppose one thing I have noticed is that Mansfield’s connections are numerous, within and outside of Mansfield.
There are so many figures, from Louis Bromfield to John Sherman to Sherrod Brown, who were connected at the national and international levels (did you know that Bromfield was friends with another Pulitzer prize-winning author, Edith Wharton?), but also within Mansfield itself everyone was connected, everyone knew each other. It seems like every time I start looking through the history of one Mansfield figure, I find that, hey, guess what, they were linked to this other Mansfield person in three different ways that I was not expecting.
Historically Mansfield has had industry giants and travel connectedness bringing a lot of traffic through, and these towering figures who were and are known around the country, but still it somehow managed to have the “everyone knows everyone” factor that you would generally see in “small-town USA” situations.
RS: What would you like Richland Source readers to know about the Sherman Room?
MM: I guess the most obvious answer here is that the Sherman Room has all kinds of historical resources that are open to the public, from local yearbooks going back to 1907, to historic city directories going back to the 1860s, to local newspapers going back as far as 1823, to photograph and postcard collections.
Also, that we are working to make as many of these resources available online as possible, especially photographs, postcards, yearbooks, and unique historical resources that are in the public domain. Check out all of the digital resources at www.mrcpl.org/shermanroom, and I guarantee no matter how long you have lived in Richland County or how much history you know of the area, you will find something that is new to you, whether it might be a postcard of the Reformatory or a newspaper article from Mansfield in 1857.
I think many people don’t know that if you are not able to come to the Sherman Room, for any reason, and you have a question or a particular article or yearbook photo that you want to see, send an email to email@example.com, and I will do my best to help get you what you are looking for.
In addition, readers should know that the Sherman Room is for their stories and the history they are making today in Richland County too! I am available to help customers digitize and preserve their own family history books and images, and the new Memory Lab in the Media department (https://www.mrcpl.org/services/memory-lab/ ) is available for other formats like VHS and film negatives.
Community members can even contribute digital photos, videos, and memories to the Sherman Room digital archives here: https://shermanroom.omeka.net/contribute
RS: Any particular research pieces that the Sherman Room is looking for the community may be able to help track down?
MM: We have almost a complete run of the Mansfield Senior High School yearbooks, the Manhigan, from 1907, but we are missing copies from 1975, 1976, and 1978. If anyone has a copy they are willing to donate or loan to the library even for a day or two to be scanned and hosted online, that would be fantastic!
We also get a lot of requests for elementary and middle school yearbooks, and we just do not have very many to offer. For anyone who wants to see what yearbooks we do have available, the page is here: https://shermanroom.omeka.net/yearbooks
RS: Is there an event or an individual you're looking forward to finding out more about from this region?
MM: I have been working on researching Lewis Brucker, who was a very longstanding lawyer and figure in Mansfield who died in 1941, and I am really looking forward to digging into his history more.
He was a founding member of the Bank of Mansfield, the Mansfield Telephone Company, and the founding president of the Mansfield Optimist Club, so he was really very involved with many important groups and services in Mansfield. It’s almost harder to find the things he wasn’t involved with.
I also tend to find that the Mansfield mayors are fascinating people, and I have been working on compiling more information about them, which is more challenging than you might think in the 1800s. Henry Brunner in particular has been a pleasure to research, and there is still plenty more to learn about him.
However, this is sort of a trick question for me, since I am perpetually curious and I am always looking forward to finding out more about any historical mystery!
RS: Anything that has surprised you so far about the library, your job or the community?
MM: I don’t know that there is any one thing about this job that has been a surprise, but this job is, by its nature, full of surprises day-to-day. I never know what the next person through the door is going to ask about, and I love that.
I get a lot of really good questions that lead to a lot of interesting research. Just this week, I had someone come in to ask about a building on Main Street in Bellville, and we found that it had been a clothing store owned by three generations of a family, up until 1980, and that in 1935 a “gang” of thieves robbed it of all the clothes in the store, except what was on the dummy in the window.