One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Special Collections and University Archives is seeing how users, near and far, connect with the materials that we carefully preserve. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity and scholarship!
Last spring a production company contacted us after discovering an artifact mentioned in one of our online finding aids. The object, a needle threader from the Committee of 500 Records, ties into George Ratterman’s campaign for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky in 1961. The production company wanted to feature it in an episode for Mysteries at the Museum, a show on the Travel Channel.
The Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records contain organizational records and campaign ephemera from the Committee of 500, a citizen-led group that operated in Campbell County, Kentucky during the 1960s. The group’s goal was to rid the county of organized crime, illegal gambling, and prostitution. The Committee of 500 believed that electing new officials was one of the most effective ways to beat corruption and crime. They supported and helped finance the campaign of George Ratterman, a former NFL quarterback and Fort Thomas, Kentucky resident, for Campbell County Sheriff in 1961. On May 9, 1961, after dinner and drinks with Tito Carinci, a Newport club manager rumored to have mob connections, Ratterman was found in Newport’s Glenn Hotel with a stripper who went by the stage name of April Flowers and arrested by police. After his arrest, Ratterman claimed he was drugged and framed by Carinci. A court found Ratterman not guilty and then conspiracy charges were brought against Carinci and his associates. While those charges were eventually dismissed, the incident had already galvanized support behind Ratterman. He went on to win the sheriff’s office in the November election.
The Ratterman campaign distributed the needle threader as a campaign give-away. It’s attached to a card with the slogan “Let’s Give Vice the Needle/ Vote for George W. Ratterman for Sheriff.” The production company tied the needle threader into their narrative about Ratterman being drugged by contrasting the delicacy of the threader with the evil of vice. In June 2015, the archives hosted the production company for a day to film the object and interviews with staff. The segment, “Dolley Madison, Christmas Truce, Exploding Whale” aired in December. It was a great experience for us to learn how a production company operates and to see how they use artifacts to support, or challenge, a narrative.