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Ohio's lost history

Sunday, August 12, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As Gov. James A. Rhodes prepared to leave office in Ohio in November 1982, staff members placed 79 cases of his records on a loading dock.

The records were headed for a trip across the streets of Columbus to the Ohio Historical Society.

But an aide to Rhodes thought the state archivist had finished reviewing the files and allowed a crew to drop them at the city dump, where they remain today, buried under layers of earth and other trash in a landfill.

Dennis East, who was Ohio's chief archivist at the time, still keeps a file of newspaper clippings about the debacle.

East, a genial man who has been an archivist since 1968, oversees the vast archival collections at the University of Pittsburgh.

To this day, East recalls citizens' outrage over Ohio's lost history.

"This guy was the governor when the kids were killed at Kent State. This was the governor who was involved during the relocation of several major industries, including International Harvester. These were records that documented the governor's role in significant events in the state's history," East said.

That month, East's phone rang frequently.

"I got a lot of phone calls and questions about it. People saw this as being done on purpose. Others said it was just a mistake. There were people who wanted the papers to be retrieved from the landfill. Lawyers considered filing suit because the state records law was violated. It was one of those unfortunate incidents that happened," East said.

Finally, Rhodes wrote a letter to the local newspaper saying that it was just an unfortunate accident.

East said documents that should be kept are often destroyed by public officials who have no knowledge of public records laws.

"Archivists have to educate them. It's a monumental problem."

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