Primary Source Research: The Dusty Joyousness of Deep Dives

A few weeks ago, I took a field trip to the Peabody Essex Museum’s reading room to dig into the files of Hound’s designer, K. Aage Nielsen. From 1935-1983, this prolific communicator filed away a wide variety of items for future reference: newspaper clippings about race wins, hand-written sketches of innovative design features, rating rule data, client and builder correspondence… even multiple copies of multi-page equipment brochures from a wide range of suppliers. 

Courtesy of the Estate of K. Aage Nielsen and the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

The first struggle was to parse out which of the thirty-plus boxes might contain anything pertinent to Hound history, based only on a vague summary of their contents. But once I began leafing through each manila folder, the biggest challenge by far was to stay focused. How could I resist skimming the agenda of a long-forgotten measurement rule meeting, in search of my father’s name… or learning about the Chargicator… or reading a newspaper account about the 1965 race win of a competitor’s design—the same boat that had inspired a tiny piece of Ferry to Cooperation Island backstory? (More about that next week.) The hours joyously disappeared down the dusty rabbit hole of unexpected discoveries.

Driving home, I realized that an unexpected find on my last field trip had inevitably led to this one. In the spring of 2022, I’d gone in search of photos for 100 Years of Gold Stars, and also found a photo of K. Aage Nielsen. That’s the thing about primary research; I never really know what I’m looking for, but somehow I always find it—along with something else entirely, which might just inspire my next project.

Of course I also collected plenty of Hound-related details that have already helped me focus and enrich her history. But for now, I just want to savor the lucky luxury of diving deep into rabbit holes of my own choosing, even when they are not even remotely relevant to that day’s stated goals. After being so richly rewarded for my past dalliances, I’m absolutely certain that one of those seemingly inconsequential and unexpected finds in the papers of K. Aage Nielsen will someday, somehow, spark an equally unexpected story. 

Stay tuned!