Here’s a look inside The Times’ Morgue. But no dead bodies. 160 years of New York Times newspaper clippings. Information on tens of millions of important people, places and events. Millions of pictures, published and unpublished. Obituaries for the dead and the living. It’s a treasure trove for historians, journalists, photographers and the average person.
Where is the Morgue? The Morgue has been in the basement of every Times building since its inception. But now it’s not in the basement of The Times Building, it’s next door, in the basement of the old New York Herald Tribune Building at 219 W 40th St. The original plan was the massive archive to be in a temperature-controlled, hermetically sealed vault. But that didn’t pan out.
How it works (Actually, worked. The Times stopped cataloging its content with the advent of the web in 1996.):
When a story was published in the paper, the story would go through a series of steps to archive it. First, it would go through a team of people who read every article to find out the main subjects of the article. Notations would be made, subjects underlined. Then the article was filed away according to the numbers and location kept in a card catalog system. If the article had multiple subjects — like Kennedy, Castro, Cuba, Bay of Pigs — then four copies of the article were kept, one under each category.
Along with this system, file cabinets were kept for certain topics like wars and presidents. In here you can find negatives, contact sheets with editor’s notes, full prints, research, articles — an entire record of people and events. There are also bound books that contain an entire decade of full newspapers.
The entry to the Morgue with a cover of the 1953 book “Meet Me At The Morgue.”
One of the thousands of filing cabinets of newspaper clippings.
Clippings are organized by topics.
I found a stack of cabinets belonging on to the Vietnam War.
Card catalogs in the Morgue.
The Kennedy drawer.
In the Morgue, a framed photograph of the Morgue in older days (this photo is from some time in the 1920s)
Fully intact newspaper prints, bound by decade.
Photos are stamped on the back with publish dates and photo and photographer information. The published caption is also cut and taped to the back. Today, this is done digitally through a program called Merlin. Above is a front and back for a legendary photo of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) dodging a blow by Sonny Liston. This photo was laying out on a stack of binders.
One of the more interesting cabinets contain the “Advance Obits,” obituaries for people who haven’t kicked the bucket yet. These are half-written obituaries, photographs, information and clippings, ready to pull the day an important figure passes.