My personal journey to creating and expanding the archive has been a tremendous adventure and a lot of fun. What began as a minor curiosity, has become a passion project I hope will draw the kind of positive attention Palmyra deserves, and spark in visitors the same love and curiosity myself and so many others have found on Palmyra.
In 2007 I was doing research on isolated, US owned islands, when I came across a little horseshoe shaped group of islands smack dab in the middle of the Pacific. Something about the place just grabbed my attention, and even though I’d never heard of Palmyra before (or perhaps because I’d never heard of it before), I started reading up on it. To my surprise, despite it being a former US Naval base during World War 2, the site of a much publicized homicide in 1974, and a modern day marvel of scientific study and ecological repair, there was little information publicly available.
For nearly a decade, I gathered any information, objects, or published material I could find. Soon I was emailing back and forth with sailors and scientists who’d spent time on Palmyra, including befriending the former caretaker, Roger Lextrait. I collected QSL cards from the many DxPeditions taken to Palmyra by amateur radio operators. I bought old sailing charts to the atoll, personal photographs from WW2 vets, and even a WW2 era matchbook with a map showing Palmyra on the back (the only one I’ve ever seen like it). I had a shelf lined with magazine issues from the 1920s and 30s (arguably when Palmyra was at its height of popularity) and the few books published where it’s mentioned.
Despite the growing collection, I didn’t have any goals or ideas beyond appeasing my own curiosity, but the more I found, the more I felt I had to keep finding things. Eventually I took a trip to the National Archives in San Francisco, spending several days reviewing military documents that, at my request (and with the generous help of archivists there) had been newly declassified. Most of them hadn’t seen the light of day since they were entered into the archives in the late 1940s. This information, along with connections I had made with people from Palmyra’s past, drove me even further down the Palmyra rabbit hole.
In 2015, after years of waiting for someone to put together a true history of Palmyra (beyond the sparse Wikipedia entry), I decided I’d just have to do it myself. In January of 2016, I launched the Palmyra Atoll Digital Archive at palmyraarchive.org and became its first (and only) informal historian. Since then my collections have grown significantly, thanks in large part to materials donated and information shared by our visitors. I’ve had the chance to not only share what I’ve found through presentations and conversations, but even visit Palmyra as a Citizen Ambassador for the Nature Conservancy.
Over the years I’ve learned I not only love Palmyra and its history, but historical research in general, especially when its leads to sharing that history with those who dedicate their lives to improving special places. More than anything, to you the visitor, researcher, supporter, fellow Palmyra nut, I say a hearty THANK YOU! Thank you for taking the time to learn more about Palmyra and why I care so much about it, especially its history, and most importantly its future!