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Behind the Scenes in the Vent Haven Archives

Most of you have seen the Vent Haven collection many dummies and photos it truly boggles the mind. What you probably don't know about is the massive and amazing archive that Mr. Berger preserved and that we have been cataloging for almost 20 years. Here's a peek behind the curtain at Vent Haven...

First up, the figure database. The Vent Haven figure database is the go to source for information on an individual dummy. Bryan Sweasy wrote this database in 2001 and every dummy in the collection is logged here, along with many pertinent details about it: its acquisition date, features, condition, etc. Here's a screenshot of figure number 1, Mr. Berger's favorite dummy, Skinny Hamilton. Today's collection numbers 944 dummies and puppets.

The next database is for the photographs. Bryan Sweasy created this one, too. Each photo in the database has been scanned at high and low resolution. Each one also has several information fields including who is in the photo, who took the photo, the inscription, etc. Bryan connected the figure database to the photo database so I can toggle back and forth from a dummy to the photos of that dummy. To date, more than 5500 photos have been scanned. The photo scanning project should be completed in the next 3 to 5 years. Here's a screen shot of photo number 1, the Dean of American Ventriloquists, Jimmy Nelson.

Another unbelievable element of the Vent Haven collection is Mr. Berger's correspondence file. He wrote and received letters from 5747 people and businesses! As I am continuing to file his papers, that number will likely be more than 6000 when it's all done! Even more amazing is the fact that he kept carbon copies of all of his letters, so we have both sides of the correspondence. What an amazing and visionary man Mr. Berger was! Here's a photo of the correspondence file cabinets. All seven are full! (The photo albums on the top are holding the scanned photos that are not on display...40 albums with 100 photos each)

Next up is the library. For this database, we purchased library software. Tom Ladshaw and I spent hours and hours and hours cataloging Mr. Berger's library, including storing each book in an archival bag and board. The library database currently contains 1346 books with about 100 or so not yet cataloged. Here's a screenshot of the library database.

The a/v database is next. The audio/video archive is sizable. Formats include reel to reel, audio cassette, album, DVD, film, video tape, and VHS. One of the most expensive and time consuming projects we've undertaken in the last decade has been the conversion of old formats to digital file. We still have a long way to go with this database, but we'll get there. For this database to be useful, we have to watch/listen to each piece and identify everyone in it. Those names are listed in the database description.

Another element of the Vent Haven archive includes a publications file that includes hundreds of the issues of the various ventriloquism, puppetry, and magic magazines, newsletters, and catalogs. There's also a massive playbill file case, a poster collection, a convention history file cabinet, and the personal correspondence of Harry Lester (The Great Lester). There's also ephemera...extra costumes, props, stage sets, paintings, signage, etc. It just goes on and on and on.

Our goal is to share the archives, both digitally and physically. As technology advances and we have more and more volunteer help, we'll get there. I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about Mr. Berger's fabulous collection. Thanks for reading!!!

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