Observation: Boo-Hooray Archive Space

Boo-Horay is an organization dedicated to the archiving of ephemera, photography, and book arts from 20th and 21st century counter-culture movements. They operate mainly from their small space on the third floor of 277 Grand Street in Lower Manhattan. On December 12th, I decided to pay the space a visit via a completely unannounced walk-in.

Despite the unexpectedness of my presence, the staff at the space were very easy-going, friendly, and accommodating. The space is divided into two areas: one more public-oriented where they host events and exhibitions in addition to (at least for the time being, due to lack of workspace) process archival materials, and an office where most of the staff can be found at their desks working on various projects. In tandem with the staff’s artistic backgrounds and interest in counter-culture, the space is organized in a very informal way. Nevertheless, their resume is very impressive. The organization has handled archives from the likes of Larry Clark, Ira Cohen, William S. Burroughs, and Ian Dury, as well as putting together the Paris-May 1968 collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and the Hip-Hop History Archive at Cornell University.

Shelf inviting casual browsing from public
Materials being processed

Upon entering, I was greeted enthusiastically by Johan Kugelberg, the organization’s founder and head curator. Johan is a colorful person with a fascinating background, of which I am unable to go into detail about here. He was going to speak at 8-Ball Community, a zine archive and library, later that evening. After I spoke to him about being an archiving student and needing something to write about for my assignment, he introduced me to Beth Rudig, the Director of Archives at Boo-Hooray. Beth studied film at SUNY Purchase and has been with Boo-Hooray since 2015. She tells me that while she does not currently have a library science degree, she plans on acquiring one in the near future. She is currently working on a project pertaining to the costumes of renowned performance artists Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi.

Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias’ costumes. Above them is Alan Vega’s archive, belonging to the former lead singer of legendary punk band Suicide and who passed away in 2016.

When I brought up digitization, Beth told me that most of the work is outsourced and that very little digitization happens in the space itself due to lack of resources. Staff makeup is very small, and they only have a few interns and volunteers. Aside from Beth and Johan, the remaining key curator is Daylon Orr, Director of Rare Books and Manuscripts, whom I unfortunately did not get a chance to speak to. Recently, he prepared Boo-Hooray’s first rare books catalogue. The organization’s next big project is the acquisition of an archive from a renowned filmmaker. When I asked who it was, they told me they would tell me, but then they would have to kill me.

Beth’s desktop, featuring photographs of Joey Arias’ costumes. She jokes that this is the closest thing they do to digitization in-house.

In his interview with Saturdays Magazine, Johan brings up a much-discussed aporia within the world of archives in the 21st century, and one in which we have spoke about in length in class. That is, the tension between the rise of digital technology, and the archive’s purpose of preserving past artifacts and narratives. Archives are pushed to embrace digital technology as a means of preservation, and advocates for change usually point to the inherent impermanence of material objects. As Michele Valerie Coonan writes in his paper W(h)ither Preservation?,

“The paradox of preservation is that it is impossible to keep things the same forever. To conserve, preserve, or restore is to alter. Even if an object survives untouched, it will have changed just by virtue of aging or by a change in its surroundings.”

But many feel that the increasing digitization of everything un-anchors us from the material world, as well as other people. As Johan articulates,

“A lot of people talk about content and archives that are born-digital and, I mean, look at all of our smart phones lined up right now and look at how you have thousands of text messages and photographs. You know your personal narrative of the last four or five years is contained in this machine. Our relationship to our memories has changed because we feel everything that’s born-digital is so super ephemeral that it actually has less meaning. On one level that can obviously liberate people from feeling too anchored in their past, but the flip side is that it really boosts this sort of hyper-individual sense of the perpetual now.”

This tension is a microcosm of a larger epochal problem in our culture brought about by the advent of digital technology, which we can broadly understand as the tension between modernity and postmodernity. While modernity seeks to retain a universal order that allows for rational communication, postmodernity argues for the embracing of the inherent irrationality, ephemerality, and atomized individualism of the digital era. While I would not dare to propose any sort of solution to such a monumental problem, I would simply conclude but pointing out that this tension is not necessarily one that needs to be resolved and that, as Jean-Francois Lyotard (the French philosopher who wrote perhaps the most influential text on postmodernism) once argued, modernity and postmodernity actually always co-exist. With this in mind, perhaps we can imagine the possibility of archives both embracing digital technology while retaining its traditional mode of preserving artifacts.

Event Attendance: Tour of the Green-Wood Cemetery, 11/2


The Green-Wood Cemetery is a historic landmark located in Green-Wood Heights in Brooklyn, New York. Founded in 1838 as a non-sectarian Christian burial site, the cemetery stretches a monumental 478 acres and houses over 560,000 permanent residents. Famous New Yorkers buried there include Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and William ‘Boss’ Tweed. It is also home to approximately 3300 Civil War veterans. I paid the cemetery a visit on the morning of November 2. Later that afternoon, I and a few other students from Pratt’s SAA chapter were privileged to a tour of the cemetery grounds by Green-Wood’s historian Jeff Richman and its records and archival collection by archivist Anthony Cucciara.

The cemetery as a site of information

There is no shortage of information one can find at the at Green-Wood. It prides itself in being not just a cemetery but also a park, an arboretum, a sculpture garden, and a cultural institution where visitors can learn about New York’s history. The cemetery hosts variously themed historical tours, as well as exhibits, lectures, and symposiums on topics revolving around death and the macabre.

The cemetery is exceptionally beautiful during the fall

No institution can survive in the present age without embracing digital technology. Green-Wood goes above and beyond in taking advantage of technology to provide information. An example of this is their meticulous documentation of the various wildlife found on its grounds. Over 8000 trees and shrubs decorate the cemetery, with new species being acquired and planted (under the supervision of Director of Horticulture Joseph Charap) to this day. In addition to having placards attached to each tree identifying their respective species, an app was launched in 2011 that includes a digital inventory and map of every tree planted in the cemetery.

Another example of the cemetery’s use of digital technology is its grave search system. If one wishes to locate a specific person buried at the cemetery, one can simply look them up on Green-Wood’s website and be provided with their burial date as well as lot, section, and grave numbers. One can then locate the lot number to its address using Green-Wood’s comprehensive map. Interactive kiosks can also be used at the visitor center as well as the mausoleums on site to locate a person’s burial place.

On the tour, resident historian Jeff Richman regaled us with stories concerning the cemetery’s illustrious residents, including Rose Guarino—who was rumored to be assassinated by a mafia family but was in reality shot to death along with a servant girl (Annie Tarello) by a male caretaker (Pietro Silverio).

The elegiac Merello Volta is a monument to the deaths of Rose Guarino and Annie Tarello

The cemetery as an archive

After a tour of the cemetery grounds, archivist Anthony Cucciara took us to the administrative offices to give us a look at the cemetery’s archives. Green-Wood’s collection of artifacts consists of artwork made by its residents, photographs, personal belongings and correspondences, as well as published books. The collection is in the process of being digitized and can be browsed online here.

Green-Wood’s records include genealogical charts, family trees, last wills and testaments, death certificates, burial orders, lot records, family correspondence, and affidavit records, as well as architectural blueprints and records of the various day-to-day operations of the cemetery. Volunteers and interns can be found at work preserving and re-housing those documents. A database for these records with finding aids can be found here.

The administration offices are lined wall to wall with paintings made by residents of the cemetery


The Green-Wood Cemetery proves itself to be a valuable institution not just because of its basic utility as a burial place but also as a historical and cultural site with educative capabilities. Its archive paints a beautiful and rich picture of the unique history of New York. But as Rilke reminds us in his Duino Elegies, underneath beauty is always terror. Green-Wood exemplifies this not just in the obvious way (it’s a cemetery) but also in the way it belies a sharp class dynamic that was present at the time of its founding (and, we should add, no less present now). In Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory, Schwartz and Cook write, “…archives are established by the powerful to protect or enhance their position in society. Through archives, the past is controlled. Certain stories are privileged and others marginalized.” The largest and most ornate monuments in the cemetery tend to be the subjects of tours, but they also tend to belong exclusively to wealthy families. Thus, the stories of the poor and working class, who often cannot afford a proper burial let alone a monument, are not often told to the public.

At the same time, the cemetery also has the power to recover the previously lost stories of the disenfranchised. An example of this is the mass grave and memorial for 103 people who died in the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1878. The bodies buried there belonged to those who could not be identified or whose families could not afford a proper grave. But in a blog post entitled Putting a Face on a Tragedy , Jeff Richman was able to put a name and face to one of the buried through historical investigation—Donny Rose.

Preservers of memory are not predestined to always mimic power. They can serve as resistance to power precisely by making its presence known and relating the stories of its victims.