Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Word of the Day: replevin

Publicity shot of Grace Mathews Scherrer in the early 1950s. 
WE HOPE YOU DON'T MIND the cheesecake photograph, but we are illustrating a situation in which archivists find themselves from time to time.

The 8" by 10" black and white glossy turned up in a large cardboard box filled with similar photos, playbills, clippings, postcards and even a box of professional-size flash bulbs. 

The box itself has been stored for years in a shed behind St. Joseph Hall on the Chalon Campus. Dr. Jennifer Chotiner, chair of the biological sciences faculty, was cleaning out the shed and found the box. Why was it stored with science department stuff? What is its connection to the Mount? 

Answers are: (1) Don't Know and (2) No Idea.

Quite a bit of stuff (archival term) comes through here that is initially hard to identify. But fairly quickly we can search our digitized publications for names and dates and come up with an MSMU connection. If that doesn't work, we contact the Provincial Archives at Carondelet Center and see if the name shows up in the CSJs' database of current and former Sisters.

This stuff eluded us. Our assistant archivist Nancy Steinmann spent some time going through the contents of the box and was able to establish a few things about the family. We then had a better idea of who this stuff belonged to and could start a search for current family members.

But we still had no idea how it ended up in storage here. 

The beautiful young lady above is Grace Matthews Scherrer, a half-Filipina actress and dancer who enjoyed a movie career in the 1950s, playing one of Yul Brynner's wives in "The King and I." She also worked as a dancer and cigarette girl in Las Vegas in the 1950s.

Grace, center, with fellow troupers. She traveled
with the 'China Doll Revue' for 6 months.
Her Filipina mother was Trinidad “Trina” Escoda Gardner Matthews, evidently a beauty in her own right. Trina was a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II and later married James Matthews, Jr., a U.S. Army photographer. They had five kids, including Grace. Following in Dad's footsteps was Grace's brother Billy – which explains the flash bulbs.

Amid the clippings in the box is the interesting fact that Trina and Grace set a cultural record of sorts by both being chosen as "Queen for a Day" within a week of each other. (This popular game show was the model for later big-prize giveaway programs.)

The box had many other bits and pieces of memorabilia that enabled Nancy to compile a list of a couple dozen friends, relatives and others who came in and out of Grace's and her family's lives. 

But what's the connection to the Mount? We're getting close – literally. Fortunately, we've been able to make contact with a representative of the Scherrer family who tells us that Grace herself, at 83, is alive and well and living right down the hill on Grace (!) Lane across the street from Carondelet Center. Doris Tan is picking up the box tomorrow to restore it to the family, and maybe then we'll find out how it ended up in the hands of Dr. Chotiner.

Oh – the Word of the Day, replevin.  This is a French legal and archival term adopted into English, and it basically means to return something to its rightful owner. Archives occasionally end up with family records, church registries, and so on that are transferred at some point but are considered alienated (another archival term) just a generation or two later because no one remembers why they were moved.  

This is a replevin story with a happy ending. If we hadn't heard back from Doris Tan, our next stop was going to be the L.A. Chapter of the Filipino American Historical Society. But this wonderful scrapbook-in-a-box is going home.
The Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas where Grace worked in the 1950s.


July 25, 2016

WE WROTE THE FOREGOING a month ago, and since then the box has been replevin'd to Grace Matthews Scherrer. We just returned from lunch in Brentwood with her and her son, John.

The family didn't know of the box's existence, but when they got a chance to explore the contents, Grace concluded it had belonged to Grace's mother, Trinidad. She realized that a particular album of photos taken decades ago in the Philippines was missing, leading Grace to conclude that there has to be another box. No second box has [yet] presented itself, and Grace was as mystified as we are about the circumstances that brought the box to the Mount. The mystery continues.

One mystery is solved, though, the eponymous Grace Lane, 90049. A savvy real estate investory, Grace purchased 11 acres below Chalon Road and subdivided them in the late 1970s. She named the street for herself. 

Grace Scherrer is worthy of having a street named after her. Her life adventures would make a book. The box gave us a chance to get to know her a little, and meeting her in person left us astonished -- Amazing Grace, as I'm starting to think of her. 

And it all started with the unannounced arrival of a plain cardboard box.