Robert the Intern's Story: WHDH-TV Card Catalog

by Robert Johnson

One of the most interesting things about working on the WHDH-TV collection was being able to read about news stories in Boston during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each of the estimated 39,000 cards in the WHDH card catalog corresponds to one piece of 16mm film footage (occasionally more than one) that is located in one of 2,300 film cans. Each can holds multiple reels of film, however, and each reel apparently can be composed of many different pieces of footage spliced together. Nobody is quite sure yet because we haven’ t yet been able to look at all of the reels of film.

I have been transcribing some of these cards into a database in order to make them searchable and sortable. Perhaps my favorite index card I transcribed was the one about a “bizarre kidnapping and hold-up attempt” at the Brockton Fair in July of 1970. The next card was for an interview with a seven-year-old kid about the hold-up. Was he the victim? The culprit? I have no idea. I would love to be able to watch the actual film for these two cards.

There were also a dozen or so cards about Judge Brogna, who was implicated in a bribery scandal in late 1971/early 1972 and later censured for accepting phone calls from a fellow judge (who himself was disbarred for accepting bribes) and not reporting them. According to news articles I found online he was never accused of being offered or accepting a bribe. Nonetheless, the governor of Massachusetts at the time asked him to resign. He refused.

There are also more than 20 cards about two robberies involving Brink’s trucks: one in 1968 and the more famous one in 1950 (The Great Brinks Robbery, as it is known). Boston University the topic of many cards, as was Boston City Hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Senator Edward Brooke had lots of cards, too, as did Francis X. Bellotti and William Baird. Can you tell I was in the “B” drawer? One of the Bellotti cards referred to him as a “victim of Harold Stassen syndrome” and I did not understand the reference until I learned that Stassen was a politician known for his numerous failed bids for president of the United States.

There are also a number of cards about the NASA, the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts. And plenty of celebrities: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Cid Ceaser, Imogene Coca and Doctor Spock. As someone born more than a decade after WHDH-TV ceased to exist, there were many occasions when political figures both local and national were unfamiliar. I often found myself doing research that may not have necessarily had any impact on the database I was building but certainly helped me understand what many of the news stories were about. Someday, when all of these card describing the collection are digital and online, I can only imagine the value they will offer to students and researchers alike!

 

 

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