One of the major primary documents I’ll be incorporating into my mapping project is a series of photocopied handwritten index cards that I only recently finished deciphering. The nearly illegible and poorly re-printed script belongs to Bayrd Still (1906-1992), an urban historian, professor and archivist at New York University for over forty years. His papers are stored off-site, but, with a two-day turn-around after I requested about a dozen boxes, they were available to consult in the NYU Archives on the 10th floor of Bobst Library. In addition to many historical walking tours in Lower Manhattan Greenwich Village, including some given to incoming students to familiarize them with their new surroundings, one tour interested me in particular: “Literary Greenwich Village.” From the finding aid I could tell that at least three folders contained documents pertaining to this tour, while countless others included maps, itineraries and research towards this and other walking tours. Book projects, newspaper clippings, teaching materials, administrative correspondences and notes (Still was a department chair for several years) filled out the rest of the folders.

Over three separate visits–the NYU Archives’ hours aren’t terribly accommodating for people with full-time jobs, which might explain why the one-table room was virtually empty each time I went–I discovered that two of the folders I was after contained identical undated photocopies of an original document that was nowhere to be found. The third offered the only hope of dating the “Literary Greenwich Village” tour: a letter from another NYU professor, thanking Prof. Still for leading her literature seminar on a special neighborhood tour.

With photocopies of those relevant “Literary Greenwich Village” documents (at NYU student rates–thanks, Archives staff!), I recently sat down to a series of deciphering sessions, armed with a good light, lots of coffee, the New York Times archives and Wikipedia. Amazingly, going through the nine pages, each featuring three to four handwritten index cards photocopied with varying levels of clarity, I was able to make out virtually all the names, addresses, directions and dates (fewer than five words escaped my increasingly practice Still-ologist’s eyes). Then, of course, the more difficult task of tracking down period images of buildings, excerpts from memoirs and novels began. But at least those documents should be more easily legible–right?