Hidden in plain sight: many of UMD’s most valuable artifacts housed in Hornbake Library

IMG_1727By Jackie Budko

There are millions of photos, thousands of videos and countless editions of The Diamondback dating back to 1969 on UMD’s University Archives database. But many more valuable artifacts with a long history are housed in The Vault, a well-kept secret in Hornbake Library North.

“There are undergraduates, grad students and even professors from around the world requesting materials from [University of Maryland archives],” said Jason Speck, who heads Collections Management for Special Collections and University Archives.

Speck said The Vault holds some of UMD’s most sentimental items, including its first ever Course Catalogue and nearly every yearbook. 

“There are several items I have in the vault not just because they have high price tags, but because they are our oldest items and can be easily damaged,” Speck said.

University Archives has almost all yearbook copies available online. But Speck said when he noticed the bindings on some of the older copies started to unravel, he decided to place them inside The Vault for safekeeping.

According to Speck, the most requested item for viewing in The Vault is by far the original Testudo, a preserved Diamondback terrapin that served as the original inspiration for the university’s mascot. Many other items, however, are not so well-known.

“One of my favorite items to do with university history is actually a gas mask that was donated to us by a student who attended College Park in the early 1970s,” said Kendall Aughenbaugh, a University Archives coordinator.

Aughenbaugh said the donor, a UMD alum, was given the gas mask by his father. He kept it in his backpack after the National Guard came to campus and gassed students participating in Vietnam protests in the 1970s.

Other items in The Vault included letters from Albert Einstein and Helen Keller, written to famed mathematician Tobias Dantzig, who was a professor at the university for a period of time. Bottled water bottles from the Queen of England’s visit to the university for a football game are also stored within The Vault.

The Vault is set at a specific temperature and humidity to safely preserve the items, and is equipped with several sprinklers and unique shelving to protect against potential water damage and flooding.

Those interested in visiting must contact a University Archives staff member in advance.


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