The Book Rescuers Of The Early 1950s
The book rescuers of the early 1950s were a group of people who decided to help their community after a catastrophic event. In 1951, the Lewis Cass State Office Building from Lansing was set on fire. The damage done by the fire and also the damage done by the water needed to stop the fire had a huge impact on all the books and reading materials present in the building.
The fire was started by a 19-year-old Naval Reservist who was afraid of being sent to fight in the Korean war. He decided to set the Lewis Cass State Office Building on fire in order to obtain a probationary status and therefor, avoid being sent to Korea.
The fire quickly expanded all over. The damage done was incredible and a lot of State property, along with government records were destroyed in this foolish attempt to avoid being sent to war. Not wanting to fight is a very normal desire and no one should be forced to go to war without their will. Going to war should be a thing of the past, but if some people still choose to kill each other for no good reason, they should go to war voluntarily and shouldn’t drag the rest of us in their own mess.
However, starting a fire where innocent people could die is never a good idea. Since proper inventories didn’t exist back then in most small governmental buildings, there was a lesson to be learned from this fire. The people working at the Lewis Cass State Office Building volunteered to start cleaning the place up after the firemen had done their job and stopped the fire.
Thomas Mcavoy went inside the building to see how these book rescuers were trying to save whatever was left after the fire. He took an amazing series of photographs for LIFE Magazine which serve today as a living testimony of how much people treasured books, newspapers and, in a poetic way, the written word.
Employees took every book, newspaper and file they could find and dried them up, one by one, day after day.
Some men even started ironing the wet newspaper found in the building in order to preserve them for generations to come. As you can imagine, without Internet, hard copies were the only way of keeping public records and conserving history.