If you videotaped the news for 35 years, you’d end up with around 140,000 VHS tapes representing more than a quarter-century of history in a handy info-tainment format. Up until last year, that was Germantown resident Marion Stokes life.
She passed away in 2012 at 83 of lung disease, leaving behind a massive archive of local, cable, and network news, all taped one at a time in her home. The result is a huge collection of hand-labeled six-hour VHS tapes packed into shipping containers somewhere in Philly. Pop one into a deck, and you’ll be confronted with any number of the Western World’s biggest events, from the Iranian Hostage Crisis to Hurricane Katrina.
Stokes tapes reportedly ran around the clock in order to catalog the 24-hour news cycle, always making time to head home and change her tapes, or calling up a friend or family member to do the same when she wasn’t available. When she grew too old to keep up, she trained a young friend to take over her usual duties. At any given time in her home, Fast Co. reports that as many as eight separate records would whirr away, recording the day’s events.
A former librarian, Stokes wasn’t all recording—she made news too. Prior to her death, she worked with her husband, John Stokes Jr., to co-produce a local TV show. And that’s in addition to organizing civil rights demonstrations in the mid-60s, one of the few experiences to pre-date her news recording.
Now, Roger Macdonald, the man behind Internet Archive’s television section, wants to bring Stokes’ work to light. Currently, his team is digitizing the whole of Stokes’ collection in an attempt to create a searchable archive national television news. Not surprisingly, Stokes’ collection is the largest they’ve ever received.
The past four years of broadcast news are currently available. But, in the coming months, expect that number to balloon thanks to Marion Stokes.