Throughout this month of June we will be celebrating Pride across the city. We’ve come a long way since homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder, but we must always be vigilant that we don’t slip back. The fact that the last administration tried to rescind the rights of our trans community members to serve in the military shows just how quickly things can be taken away. As the saying goes, to avoid repeating history, you need to know your history and a good place to start is at the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives in the William Way Community Center. The archives have been collecting our history for years and preserving it for generations to come. I reached out to the archives when I needed information for a documentary I was working on. This week I reached out to one of the folks keeping our history safe, John Anderies.
How do you start your mornings?
Hitting the snooze button, well, more like telling Alexa to hit snooze… multiple times! I don’t like to get up early. During Covid, I’ve been making coffee for me and my partner; pre-covid, I’d usually go to a coffee shop. I miss that.
We’re getting there. Speaking of there, where are you from?
I’m from Grand Junction. It’s in Colorado on the Utah border, but I’ve lived here since 2001. If you drive in Colorado, you kind of have to go through it. It’s a large small town.
Tell me a little about the fam?
I have 4 older siblings, 2 brothers, two sisters, they’re 9-16 years older than I am. My mother just passed away this week, so I’m actually going home tomorrow, she was 94. Then my partner and I are going to Ohio to visit his father who is 97.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear it, but sheesh, it looks like longevity is something that runs in both families.
Yes! We’re lucky that way.
What’s a fun family memory?
There’s an area outside of Grand Junction called the Colorado National Monument. It’s a kind of miniature Grand Canyon. Well, not so miniature, only when compared to the Grand Canyon. At the base of it there’s a picnic area that’s called Devil’s Kitchen, and that’s where we’d always go for picnic outings. I was too young to remember but apparently I would wander away. One time they had to get a park ranger involved in looking for me and they finally found me with a big bouquet of wildflowers. The only problem is that they were illegal to pick!
Oh wow, at least it was a nice gesture. [Laughing] Was that the first sign that you were gay?
One of several. When I came out my mother told me that one of her memories of me, and this involves flowers too, a lot of my stories did, was that I would take her hand and lead her around the yard pointing out the names of all the flowers in the garden. I was very proud to show my mother her own flowers! The two things that I wanted to be as a kid were a florist or an artist. I am neither.
But you are an archivist. Growing up were there a lot of antiques and memorabilia around?
Not a lot of antiques, but we did have several generations of family paperwork and pictures around from both sides of the family. I’ve now taken the role of family archivist, so I have a lot of it now. I have a niece who’s very interested in it. She works in the film industry so she’s been digitizing a lot of it. It’s nice to feel like I have someone to pass it on to.
How does one become an archivist?
It was a completely circuitous route in my case. I went to college to become an orchestral flutist. My oldest brother is a musician and one of my sisters was a musical therapist, so there was a lot of music in the house. I got an undergraduate degree in music, then in my senior year I discovered music history. I also started playing Baroque flute, which is an earlier version of the flute, and I got a Masters degree in early music performance practice. Then I decided I wanted to get a degree in musicology, music history. I did all the course work for a PhD. and was about to start writing my dissertation but then they cut off my funding so I desperately needed a job and there happened to be an opening in the music library. I’d never given any thought about being a librarian, it was the last thing on earth I would have thought of, but I started the job and within a few weeks I decided that it was what I wanted to do. So I dropped out of the PhD. program and went back to school, again, got my library science degree and became a music librarian! My first professional job as a librarian was as the head of the music library at Haverford College. I guess I tend to adapt a lot.
I’m getting that impression.
Because opportunities come along and I’m just like, “Sure, I’ll try that!” They wanted me to try doing exhibits and some technology projects, working with older materials and learning to digitize them which led me to become the head of Special Collections. I left there in 2013 and after a bit landed at William Way in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives.
What are some of your favorite things that you have in the collection?
There are a number of things, I’m sure you know of the activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya. When he died in 2000, his friends kept a round the clock vigil for several weeks and they kept a log book which is an amazing document because it kept a record of everything from his blood pressure at a given time, when the nurse came to give him certain medicines, who visited, when he would stir tried to communicate, everything. The journal was handed off from one person to another and it’s an amazing document, like nothing I’ve ever seen, and it speaks a lot to the community. And continuing with Kiyoshi, he was a big proponent of medical marijuana. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. As I was going through his collection of AIDS related materials I opened a folder and there was an envelope full of weed! All dried up and probably no good, but it made me laugh.
What sorts of things would people find in the collection?
A little bit of everything from personal memorabilia to published works like newspapers and magazines, art work, organizational records, for instance we have the records from ACT UP Philadelphia, and from the lesbian magazine “The Labyrinth.” We have not only copies of the magazine, but correspondence from the writers, letters to the editor, phone bills, etc. It’s always amazing to see the inner workings. Back then, no one was paid, it was all volunteers, but they put blood sweat and tears into it. [Laughing] They were also often at each other like cats and dogs, which you can tell from the minutes, but the dedication is always impressive.
When you’re not archiving things, how do you spend your time?
Hanging out with my partner Jimmy. During the pandemic, I’ve been in the kitchen a lot, I’ve baked dozens of pies over the past year. I have a little container garden that I love, and in non-pandemic times, we go to a lot of concerts and plays. We love the Wilma theater and going to the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m versed in classical music, but Jimmy has introduced me to folk music and bluegrass and other styles I didn’t know much about, so that’s been fun. He’s from Oklahoma, so I think it’s required!
What does he do?
He’s a lawyer, he works for the federal courts.
What’s in your house that you would want archived?
Great question, there are a few pieces of art that speak to me in strange ways, one of them is a large batik piece with what I believe is a scene from 1,001 Arabian Nights. I bought it in college at a thrift store for $5 and it goes wherever I go. My father’s side of the family is Dutch and I have a painting that my great uncle painted of his home in Amsterdam. It was in our home growing up and I brought it here but unfortunately Jimmy doesn’t like it, so we’ve yet to hang it. [Laughing] I’m trying to find a way around that! I also have a great scrapbook that my father started when he was stationed in Japan after WWII.
What’s the difference between an archivist and a hoarder (I ask facetiously)?
An archivist puts order to the hoard. We take the materials and assign a historical value to it, whereas hoarders usually keep everything! As an archivist, I love hoarders, without them a lot of treasures would be lost.
I always wonder what you guys are going to do moving forward because so many of the things that we used to have that documented our lives are now all digital: receipts, bank records, menus, you name it.
Yeah, it’s definitely changing. Take photographs, for instance. No one prints out pictures anymore and that’s a loss. One of my favorite collections is from Jack Van Alstein, he’s a guy who took photographs of all his friends starting in the 1950’s through the 80’s and he donated all of them to us. It was just spectacular, he had them labeled with all the names on the back and I felt like I got to know them all, just through the collection. Obviously, correspondence is practically all done through email, so we’ve lost all of that. We collect some of that, as an example, when ACT UP does a demonstration, they may not send us the actual picket signs, but a digital file of the artwork for the sign they used. I set up a dropbox folder and they submit things that way. But it’s definitely a challenge.
Let me challenge you with some rapid fire questions. In another life, I probably was…
This is going to sound crazy, but there was a time when I thought in another life I was probably a flamenco dancer or guitarist.
We experienced record high temperatures this week, what are you missing about winter?
Not much, I prefer the heat over the cold. As long as it’s not too humid.
Something that you really wanted as a kid but didn’t get.
It wasn’t a thing, but I remember an inconsolable moment when I was a child. My parents and I had gone to California and we were driving back to Colorado and passed through Las Vegas. There was a hotel called Circus Circus that had a lot geared towards kids and I begged my dad to stop there, “Please, please please can we stay in Las Vegas for one night!” He debated it and decided to keep going and I was devastated.
Now we know where Jimmy should take you for your anniversary! So tell me about a favorite relative.
Well, I’ll tell you about my mother since she just passed. She was incredible, born in Ohio with a father who was an attorney. Her mother died in childbirth when she was about three. My mother went to school in an era where it was unusual for women to be getting degrees, let alone in medicine. She had a long career as a pharmacist and a medical administrator. She and my father were both actively involved in a number of community organizations. I’ve been doing research recently and found out one of the things they were involved in was an early disability advocacy group. I was surprised to find articles where my mother was quoted as a spokesperson for the group. She seemed very comfortable talking to the reporters and answering questions. She was not one to seek the spotlight, so I was touched by the fact that she was willing to step up and still do it for a cause she believed in. I admire both my parents for the work they did.
What did he do?
He was trained as an architect and also as a real estate agent, but like my mother, he did medical administration for most of his life. They were a good match.
It’s Pride month and we’re all taking stock. Talk a little bit about why the archives are so important for us.
I think it’s important for any community or group of people to have control and ownership of their own history and records, the products of the community. It’s important for a community to know and have access to its history. Even if [the community] doesn’t know its history, it’s preserved so that it can find out its history. It can be empowering, I was reading a document recently that was comparing respectable history to radical new things happening, and I thought, well, if you know your history, things were pretty radical back in the day. We need to remember and learn from the past. History is not something that happens in a vacuum, it’s happening now and we’re all a part of it.