Always Check Your Pockets: Messages from the Past

Last time I was working hands-on with an artifact, I found something incredible.

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been working to preserve Charles Vincent’s shooting jacket. This singular item is one of the Lodge House’s mot important (and irreplaceable) artifacts, a representation of the site manager who lived and worked at the PPG in its heyday. Because of that, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time planning to preserve and protect it for posterity’s sake.

That said, as vital as it is to the site’s history, I didn’t know as much about the jacket as I wanted. Meaning, much of the information I’d gathered about it was anecdotal, rather than specifically verifiable. There’s nothing wrong with verbal details about artifacts; they’re often better than nothing. But physical details – like photographs or documents, for example – are invaluable when it comes to verifying details about an item. And unfortunately, there weren’t any undeniably physical details available that shed light on the shooting jacket.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, I was prepping the jacket for rehousing in a freshly-purchased acid-free box. During the process, I noticed a slip of paper sticking out of one of the front pockets. When I took it gently from the pocket, I saw that it was an envelope. A little strange to find an envelope in a jacket used for marksmanship, I thought, and flipped it over to see the address label. Needless to say, I got a surprise:

No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is an actual letter from Charles Vincent himself, signed with his initials. This would be incredible enough, but as the envelope states, it’s his personal account of the shooting jacket. It includes details about the construction of the jacket – it was custom made – and describes why particular design choices were made. Further, it explains the placement and history of some of the patches stitched into the jacket (which Vincent calls “brassards”). Finally, he shares some facts about his placement in various shooting competitions and the records he broke through his considerable skill as a marksman.

This level of detail is as rare as it is invaluable, and I’m so grateful.

It’s uncommon to find this kind of specific, verifiable detail about an artifact. At least, it has been in my experience. And aside from the crucial information it provides, there are two great things about this particular letter. First, Charles Vincent himself sent the information, which is such a boon to the history of this item. It means that we have the facts straight from the wearer himself, so the details are practically impossible to mistake.

Secondly, the letter was kept with the jacket, rather than being saved in a different location with other types of material. Sometimes small items get lost in the shuffle when artifacts are stored or displayed. Or, they’ll be “set aside” somewhere else for safekeeping, sometimes with similar items or in a separate drawer or folder. While this is a well-meant impulse, the accidental loss of said item(s) can have unrecoverable consequences down the line.

This particular situation is a best-case scenario, as far as archives are concerned. All items are in excellent condition, verified by the original owner, and protected from the elements by dedicated staff and volunteers. A round of grateful applause to everyone involved, from both myself and from the future!

(A final note: we’re still planning to display the jacket in the radio room during our peak tour months. However, doing so involves a few minor adjustments to the radio room – so stay tuned for upcoming details about this process!)

Do you have original Packard documents, photographs, publications, or memorabilia that might be of value to the Packard Proving Grounds Library and Archives? Contact the site for information about our collection focus and donation policies.