Archivists Save Vintage Recordings From Superstorm Sandy

Jul 17, 2013

Archivists at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton are working to restore more than 700 vintage recordings ruined by Superstorm Sandy.

Vintage record seller Peter Muldavin donated the recordings to the university's Recorded Sound Archives in April after Superstorm Sandy hit his mother-in-law's Long Beach, New York home where he was storing them.

Muldavin claims his collection of 18,000 vintage children’s recordings is the largest of its kind. They are records that rotate at 78 revolutions per minute or rpms. He goes by the name the “Kiddie Rekord King.”

On the night Sandy hit, he said almost two feet of water crept into the garage.

I was down there desperately pulling records off the bottom shelves and putting them up as high as I can,” Muldavin said. “But even so, there were many records that got water on their sleeves.”

Muldavin first came in contact with the Recorded Sound Archives when one of its audio specialists inquired about other records last summer. Muldavin felt the damaged records could be useful to an archive that focuses on digital restoration.

“This was a perfect match,” he said.

Director of the Recorded Sound Archives, Maxine Schackman, said some the records looked as if they had been buried when the University received them.

Cleaning the records was the first step. Schackman also had to purchase a special machine that battled any warping.

Now, Schackman’s team is restoring 78 rpm records ranging from the 1920s to the 1950s, and some 45 rpm records from the 1960s.

First, artwork that came with the records is digitally scanned. The team will restore the any of the artwork's faded color using Adobe Photoshop.

Then the sleeves are sealed away and preserved.

Next, the records are placed on a turntable and the sound is transferred to a digital format. The quality of the recordings depends on how well the records were preserved.

“Some sound like they were recorded yesterday,” Schackman said. “And others of them are really hard to make out.”

Some of the pops and hisses on damaged records can be cleaned up through audio editing software later.

For Schackman, the process of restoring sound is like cleaning a dirty window and looking back into another era.

“You can imagine being a child in 1942 and listening to songs of American soldiers coming home and marching home from the war,” she said.

Although some of the records were made in the 1920s there are still familiar elements from characters such as Pinocchio to the recognizable beat of “ABC's”.

Because of copyright laws, the full releases of these songs will only be available for students, teachers and researchers who request access to a password protected site. But, Schackman hopes to share snippets of the songs with the public.

She plans to have all of the songs and their artwork restored by early 2014.

Images and recording samples courtesy Florida Atlantic University Recorded Sound Archives

Sample: "Paul Bunyan"

Sample: "It's a Small World"

Sample: "Bang Goes Old Betsy"

Sample: "Ferdinand The Bull"

Sample: "ABC's"

Sample: "Pinocchio"

Sample: "Farmer in the Dell"

Sample: "Peter Cottontail"