McCarthy's tapes and documents reside at U of M library

Poem and portrait
A plaque displaying a portrait of McCarthy and a poem he wrote, "Lament of an Aging Politician," is one of the thousands of artifacts in the McCarthy archive at the University of Minnesota.
Photo: Special Collections, University of Minnesota Libraries

More than 500 boxes of audio recordings, films, letters, photographs, video tape and written records make up the Eugene McCarthy collection at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Andersen Library.

The collection remains out of view, stored deep inside the library's underground vaults along the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Most of the material is from Sen. McCarthy's historic run for president in 1968. Artifacts also exist from his 1972 and 1976 campaigns, alongside poetry McCarthy wrote during his political career and later in life.

Tim Johnson, curator of the library's special collections and rare books, is slowly taking inventory of the collection.

There was an almost immediate awareness following McCarthy's 1968 campaign that here was a historical record of interest.

"It just in its physical size is a very large collection, and I think also a collection that in many ways remains to be tapped and discovered," Johnson said.

McCarthy originally donated his papers to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Before his death in November 2004, Elmer L. Andersen asked his old friend to move the material to the new library in Minnesota. McCarthy died in December 2005.

The move was not without challenges. Many of the labels came off the corresponding boxes in transit.

"We've had to kind of dive in to figure out what the contents are," Johnson said. "So, of the 500 or so boxes, we've got, I think, 328 boxes that we've been able to go through and at least give a basic description of its contents."

The collection also includes taped interviews with hundreds of people connected in various ways to the 1968 campaign. These recordings, for the McCarthy Oral History Project, were made within a year of the campaign.

"It's an interesting collection, because I think there was kind of an almost immediate awareness following McCarthy's 1968 campaign that here was a historical record of interest," Johnson said.

Minnesota Public Radio News came across the collection last year while preparing a McCarthy obituary. The tapes were the inspiration for The McCarthy Tapes documentary, and served as the backbone of the retelling of McCarthy's anti-war crusade that morphed into a run for the White House.

The collection has also been a source of inspiration for Tim Johnson, who was 10 years old in 1968.

The curator has gained a great appreciation for McCarthy through the materials he now oversees.

"It has pulled me in," Johnson said. "It has gotten me much more interested, not only in Sen. McCarthy's political history, but a side of him that I really did not know about until the collection came to me, which was McCarthy the poet, McCarthy the writer."

Johnson hopes to assemble a public exhibit of the McCarthy collection in the near future. Plans are also underway to make photos and audio recordings accessible through the library Web site.