Tom Henderson/News-Register##Sheridan’s Sally Ivey has collected more than 7,000 diaries, as well as photos, letters and other keepsakes. She is particularly fascinated with travel journals. She said they enable her to visit far-off lands without leaving home.
Tom Henderson/News-Register##Sheridan’s Sally Ivey has collected more than 7,000 diaries, as well as photos, letters and other keepsakes. She is particularly fascinated with travel journals. She said they enable her to visit far-off lands without leaving home.
Tom Henderson/News-Register##Sheridan’s Sally Ivey has collected more than 7,000 diaries, as well as photos, letters and other keepsakes. She is particularly fascinated with travel journals. She said they enable her to visit far-off lands without leaving home.
Tom Henderson/News-Register##Sheridan’s Sally Ivey has collected more than 7,000 diaries, as well as photos, letters and other keepsakes. She is particularly fascinated with travel journals. She said they enable her to visit far-off lands without leaving home.
By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

'We're all stories in the end'

Guardian of diaries brings the lost back to life

One of those crime figures might have been Irene’s mobster boyfriend. He was a Chicago hood who shared headlines in the early 1930s with John Dillinger.

Sally Ivey of Sheridan knows his story, her story and a whole lot more.

There’s Olga, a 17-year-old immigrant from Sweden, whose parents left her in the care of a strict religious community. Then there’s Mrs. Wood, who took a pilgrimage to Europe with other bereaved mothers, after her son, Edward, went down with the USS Cyclops in 1918.

Wood wrote a poem in her diary about how the sea claimed her son. Her diary connects her with Jerome, Irene and Olga, as they also kept diaries, and Ivey has them.

Ivey knows all their stories, intimately, from those diaries, which are among more than 7,000 she has collected. Although the diarists are all long dead now, Ivey has, in essence, brought them and their stories back to life.

“We are all just stories in the end,” she said. “If those stories are forgotten, we are truly lost to this world.

“Diaries let us into the lives, into the thoughts, of people who left us long ago. Diaries enable them to live again.”

Ivey collects, restores and sells old diaries, locating them at antiques shows and sales, or via online venues. Their pages are usually old, brown and as brittle as autumn leaves. Ivey respects their fragility and handles them gingerly.

“I don’t make much money, because I keep too many for myself,” she said. “I get so involved. It’s like they are a part of my family.”

Other factors also conspire to keep her from turning a profit.

“Sometimes I find a diary that needs to go back home, even if it’s an amazing story,” she said. “I track down the right people and return the diary to them. I can’t charge money for something like that.”

She once found an old city of Sheridan ledger and donated it to the city. “That just couldn’t go to some person on the East Coast,” she said.

Ivey rarely makes transcripts of the diaries she brings in.

“I want the people who buy them to know I don’t have any copies,” she said. When she does make transcripts, it’s for her own records, so she can more easily read the diaries for her own research.

Reading aging handwriting can be difficult, but Ivey has become adept at it.

“Once I start reading, the words just start popping,” she said. “It makes me sad that fewer and fewer people can read handwriting.”

As a result, she said, “Historic documents and diaries are in even greater danger of disappearing.”

Ivey has been collecting diaries for 25 years. She studied archeology before the world outside her college classrooms proved too distracting, and the love of discovery never left her.

It all started when was still a young girl.

“My mother used to take me dump diving,” Ivey said. “You can’t do that anymore, but it was an incredible archaeological adventure for me.

“I remember I once found this old check, and it changed my life. I said, ‘Wow, this is paper and it is still around. It tells a story.’”

She sighed. “Paper, it survives.”

Her father also helped generate her love of diaries, but in an odd way. He relegated a lifetime’s worth of memories to a trunk that a relative forbade anyone to see. After 40-some years, the trunk and the memories it contained were lost.

“I vowed that would never happen to anyone again under my watch,” Ivey said. “I have to save them. I have to protect their stories. No matter what happened to these people, they were someone’s brothers, mothers, sisters and fathers.”

The relative who suppressed her father’s diary might have thought some memories too hard and to face, she said. Personally, she said, she rejects that.

“It’s all part of our world,” she said. “The deepest diaries are the ones written by people who experienced the greatest pain.”

Ivey writes a blog about her diaries at https://sallysdiaries.wordpress.com. She also maintains a Facebook page.

She lives in an early 20th-century house that is more like a museum or library. It is packed to its natural wood brim with diaries, papers, books and historical artifacts.

She is particularly intrigued by the Titanic. She often a wears necklace featuring a fragment from the doomed ship.

“It all gets back to stories,” Ivey said. “I am obsessed with people’s stories, especially the stories that are largely lost and forgotten.

“The more than 1,500 souls who went down with that ship embody the whole essence of lost lives, lost stories. I think about those people so often. They live in my dreams.”

Her fascination with the Titanic grows from a broader fascination with travel.

“I have always been in love with travel journals, especially shipboard travel journals,” Ivey said. “They take me to mysterious and ancient lands far away without leaving the comfort of my own home.”

Because of her love of stories, she said, she never skips to the end. She reads each diary from start to finish in chronological order.

“It’s kind of like finding out someone died before you even knew they were sick,” she said.

Ivey confessed she sometimes feels a little guilty about poring over people’s personal thoughts.

They may never have intended for their diaries to be read. “Anyone who has ever written a diary has that in the back of his or her mind,” she said.

As a result, she said, diaries are either very general or very deep.

The deep ones are irresistable, Ivey said. They often provide such a vivid window to the past and such an inescapable lesson for the present.

“I hear young people complain, and it just astonishes me,” she said. “They don’t understand history. They didn’t have it easy, our ancestors.

A man lost his wife, and the next day, he was out in the field. People don’t see that these days. They worry about their lives when their ancestors had to worry about what they had to do today to survive to see tomorrow.”

Ivey shares the voices of the past, but she said she is always mindful that every word, every pen stroke, represents a human life.

“Someone once told me, ‘Sally, you are the keeper of secrets,’” she said, “and that really struck me.

“If that’s so, that’s a very sacred job. I believe with all of my heart that I must respect these people and their lives.”

Ivey wishes more people would respect their own lives enough to write diaries. People are more than just their own stories, she said. They are the stories of their family and friends as well as the times in which they live. When stories die, whole casts of characters and periods of history are often lost with them.

“It’s a lost art, the keeping of diaries, and that’s a tragedy,” she said. “It is one of the purest, best ways of keep memories alive.”

Comments

Burcham

I too have always had an respect for ephemra and feel sad that this generation will not know. It has prompted me to collect credit cards. They too show history of so much. My oldest are from the early 30's. Prior to that General stores would let their customers put their purchases on the books. They also had a credit card. It was a coin with the store name with a hole in the center of it. There is so much that will be forgotten using electronic media. Including the ability to carry on a conversation.

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