Every now and then unusual things cross my desk and I get to figure out what to do with them! One case in point is a shopping bag of sports memorabilia, a pair of skates, and four wooden hockey sticks that were forwarded to me recently.
Old athletic equipment isn’t something we tend to collect. We have pretty good records on RPI sports teams, but the actual game equipment… not so much. As I looked over the individual items, though, I realized this was a pretty neat cache. Each stick has someone's name on it, and two are autographed by a number of people. Now we’re cooking – hockey sticks with documentation! Right up an archivist’s alley!
Fortunately three of the sticks have the name Ned Harkness on them, so I figured they must date from his tenure as head coach, 1949 to 1963. And one of the sticks is annotated with information about the 1958-59 team, so that helped narrow down the time frame.
I consulted our collection of hockey programs and quickly identified many of the signatures, including Richard and Pat Chiarelli, Bob Ottone, Charlie Urmson, Don Wishart, and John Stopen. These guys played in the mid- to late-1950s following RPI’s first national championship. Someone thought to collect their autographs for posterity, and decades later they found their way back to Rensselaer.
Looking through our old yearbooks, I found an additional clue. Paul Midghall (Class of 1959) was named the 1958-59 Athlete of the Year, and a photo of him shows his name scrawled near the top of his stick, just like the lettering on the sticks we received. That makes a lot of sense, since all of the players used the same brand of hockey sticks at the time (even the goaltenders). But each stick would have been a different length and taped to the player’s specifications. Names must have been essential to quickly identify a particular player’s equipment.
One last thing. One of the donated sticks appears to have been used by RPI’s illustrious coach, since it has “HARKNESS” written down the front of the shaft in red marking pen. Unlike many hockey sticks of that era, its blade has a slight curve that suggests the coach was a left shot. Can anyone confirm (or refute) that? Inquiring minds want to know!