Location, Location, Location

If you’ve visited the library recently and come away feeling a little starstruck, you’re not alone. That’s because Langsdale is featured extensively in the buzzy new true crime documentary The Keepers on Netflix, about the 50-year-old mystery of a slain Baltimore nun and the tragic sexual abuse scandal that erupted in its wake.

Special Collections front and center: opening shot of episode 6, The Keepers

And when I say the library is “featured extensively,” I mean Langsdale is all over this program: eagle-eyed library habitues can spot the location cropping up in multiple scenes beginning in episode 4, where super-sleuth, retiree, and 1970 Archbishop Keough High School graduate Abbie Schaub visits the former Special Collections research room on the 4th floor (currently where the Achievement and Learning Center is housed).

Top: Abbie wrestles with our analog machinery in a
screenshot  from The Keepers;
Bottom: the culprit (file photo)

The opening shot of episode six lingers on a UB-labeled book cart and a storage box–fairly ordinary tools of the archival trade.  The very VCR / ¾-tape player/ DVD setup that so confounds Ms. Schaub in episode four, as she attempts to operate the ancient analog machinery, is an apparatus that still frustrates Archives staffers on a quasi-regular basis.  Abbie is also seen walking through the book stacks on the third floor of Learning Commons; sitting by the gorgeous picture windows on the fourth floor (and surely enjoying its excellent view of Station North); and using the student computers in close proximity to the reference desk.
While it’s not unusual for documentary filmmakers to enhance the narrative in their movies by using photos, documents, film, and ephemera obtained via archival research, The Keepers takes the unusual step of showing their subjects actually digging up the data. The series provides a sort of road map for what in-depth, thorough, creative, tenacious archival investigation looks like, and how libraries– both public and academic– play a huge role in what that entails. Ms. Schaub and director Ryan White visited Special Collections repeatedly throughout a 2-month period in 2015 to sort through a box of videotapes of raw news footage from local TV news stations in order to find a “smoking gun” regarding a suspect in the 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik.

The Catherine Cesnik file from our Archives of Maryland Polonia

Archival Technician Angela Rodgers-Koukoui, who was working in Special Collections as a as a work/study student at the time, recalls sitting silently in the dark with White and Schaub as they watched hours of videos (and occasionally filmed themselves doing so). Angela also says Abbie gave her some inside dirt on who she thinks the killer is (sorry, no spoilers here!)  Abbie enlists the help of reference librarians, and there are some key scenes at the central branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library.  Throughout the program, Schaub also relies on her fellow Keough alum, the more outgoing Gemma Hoskins, to interview and reach out to possible witnesses.
They found several gems in the collection, aSchaub recently shared with Dean Lucy Holman:“When we sought information to figure out who killed our Archbishop Keough High School teacher Sister

Evidence? Maybe!

Catherine Cesnik in 1969, we wanted to view old televised news stories. We were told that WJZ news had aired a retrospective in August of 1994 on the unsolved case that included a segment of a telephone call made to Jerry Turner… A little further searching led us to the University of Baltimore’s Langsdale Library, which does have an audiovisual archived collection of old [locally broadcast] news stories on VCR tapes. While we did not find the one we were looking for there, we did find stories on the 1994 Holy Cross Cemetery dig, and they were able to make copies of that for our use. We were able to later find the news story with [a potential suspect’s] voice from 1995, and that and scenes from the cemetery dig coverage were included in the documentary. There was no other public source we could find in Baltimore for these old news stories, and we are very grateful for the resources and assistance the staff at Langsdale provided.”

Langsdale–and the rest of the show’s fans–are anxious to see where Abbie’s and Gemma’s investigation will lead them next. 



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