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Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Doug Erickson,  archivist at Lewis and Clark College for 24 years, is ready with an answer, whether the question comes from The Smithsonian or The National Enquirer.Doug Erickson has spent 24 years overseeing the Lewis & Clark collection as the Lewis & Clark College archivist. Along the way he’s made some interesting discoveries of his own.

Portland Tribune: You’ve got the world’s most complete collection of printed material from the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Did these guys have a sense of humor?

Doug Erickson: Sure. In their journals they’re talking about York, Clark’s slave. And about how at the Mandan Indian village, York had frostbite on his P... Quite an observation as part of an official U.S. record.

Tribune: His P...? Did Clark really write it like that?

Erickson: He did. You know, Clark was not a very good speller.

Tribune: You must get some interesting requests.

Erickson: The most interesting convergence of researchers happened when Monica Lewinsky’s name first appeared. She was a graduate of Lewis & Clark, and two days before the story hit nationally, two people appeared in the archives to do research. One was somebody representing a Christian right newspaper from Iowa, followed five minutes later by a reporter from The National Enquirer. Both with the same question: “What can you tell me about a 1995 graduate named Monica Lewinsky?”

Tribune: What did you tell them?

Erickson: The truth. I don’t know anything about Monica Lewinsky. We went to a 1995 yearbook. They wanted something more juicy. I was offered up to $25,000.

Tribune: Were you tempted to make something up?

Erickson: No.

Tribune: For fun, something like, “Her best friend was Gladys Knickerbocker.” Send them off on a wild goose chase.

Erickson: They wanted to see something tangible like a student file note. And I wasn’t willing to jeopardize my job. I had researchers come in one time asking me to come up with questions that only William Clark would know the answer to.

Tribune: Why?

Erickson: That was my question. The answer was that they had been approached by a person they were pretty sure was William Clark incarnate, and they wanted to make sure by being able to ask him questions only he would know the answer to.

Tribune: Incarnate?

Erickson: Resurrected. I said there’s not a question I could present to you that only Clark would know the answer to that I could also know the answer to.

Tribune: Very clever, using logic on those guys. But it probably didn’t satisfy them.

Erickson: No. Their final comment was that they had already found the reincarnated Meriwether Lewis.

Tribune: You were instrumental in purchasing much of the Lewis & Clark expedition material from one man, right?

Erickson: Roger Wendick was a Portland heavy-equipment worker who set out to build the greatest Lewis & Clark collection in the world. And he did. I met Roger in a bookstore in the ‘90s. I had heard of him. He took me to his home to show me his collection. We opened up a double-doored green vault that housed his collection.

Tribune: Your first response?

Erickson: “Oh, s**t.” I never could have believed somebody could assemble that library alone with modest means. He slides a chair underneath me because he knows I’m about to fall down. He knew it was best to take this all in sitting down.

Tribune: How much did it cost the college to acquire Wendick’s collection?

Erickson: I can’t tell you that. Substantial. He retired from it; he has never worked in construction since then.

Tribune: Any more Indiana Jones-like stories?

Erickson: The early ’90s, I was set to go to an auction in Bethesda, Md. I was able to fly in just on the heels of a major hurricane that hit the Eastern seaboard. It shut down all the flights. It shut down basically the city. But they decided to hold the auction anyway. The only way somebody could bid was to phone it in, but the phones were down. You had to be present. There was some great Lewis & Clark material there. I was basically bidding unopposed. It was like hitting the mother lode.

Tribune: You’ve got books from the 14th century. Do you spend a lot of time dusting off things?

Erickson: No. We have a system that climate controls and maintains a steady temperature and humidity.

Tribune: Are you sure? My wife says some men don’t see dust.

Erickson: Maybe that’s part of it, too. When I first got into archives I saw a cartoon that said, “What’s the difference between an archive and a dump?” The answer was, “A dump has seagulls.”

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