ECW readers may recall last year’s interview with Diane Klinefelter, curator and social historian at the Captain Thomas Espy Post, at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, Ms. Klinefelter announced her retirement, and tapped ECW historian Jon-Erik Gilot as her replacement.
Klinefelter, a passionate student of history and a professional genealogist, has served as Curator since 2006, when she became Library Director at the ACFL&MH. She retired from the Directors role in 2015 but remained active with the Espy Post. She has also authored two books on Civil War veterans of the greater Pittsburgh area.
The Captain Thomas Espy Post, No. 153 of the Department of Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic, was chartered in 1879. In 1906 the veterans forged an agreement with the Library Commission to custom furnish a second floor room in the ACFL&MH facility, to hold their meetings and house their wartime relics. Espy veterans would meet in this room until the last member died in 1936, at which time the library locked and essentially forgot about the room for the next 50 years. The oversight was fortuitous. Of the more than 10,000 GAR posts in the United States, the Espy Post has been documented by scholars as likely the most intact remaining post in the country.
During her tenure at ACFL&MH, Ms. Klinefelter played a critical role in positioning the Espy Post – both regionally and nationally – as the national treasure that it is. As steward of the Espy Post’s collection of artifacts and manuscripts, she oversaw their safekeeping during the Post’s meticulous and ambitious restoration, completed in February 2010. She diligently processed the Espy Post manuscript collection and cataloged the finding aid with the Library of Congress. Under her leadership, the Library’s diverse Civil War collection became the largest public library collection in Allegheny County. And, over the last almost 15 years, Ms. Klinefelter has developed a rich array of outstanding Civil War programming for that has dramatically raised the profile of the Espy Post.
Of all her accomplishments, what may satisfy Ms. Klinefelter most is serendipitous encounters with Civil War enthusiasts who do a double take when they learn of her connection with the Espy Post. When she asked a question at the end of a recent webinar, the Rhode Island presenter said “Wait, are you from the library with the rare GAR post?” Klinefelter admits, “I’m always tickled – okay deeply gratified – when I realize how far awareness of the Espy Post has spread.”
Amongst the many relationships Ms. Klinefelter has forged in the Civil War community is that with Jon-Erik Gilot, who worked as an Espy Post intern from 2009 until 2012 (before during and after the Post’s restoration), while earning his Masters in Library & Information Science from Kent State. Since 2012, Klinefelter and Gilot have maintained their professional connection.
Gilot is himself active in the Civil War community as a contributing historian with Emerging Civil War. He is likewise active with numerous historical organizations and works as an archivist and records manager in Wheeling, West Virginia.
“Having worked with numerous public and academic libraries in my previous career, the ‘Carnegie Carnegie’ stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of physical setting and ambiance,” said Gilot. “Events of the past several years have demonstrated that how we remember and interpret historical events – particularly the Civil War era – is highly relevant in today’s society. The Espy Post offers a rare place for quiet contemplation of our bonds with historical memory, and I look forward to sharing those stories with ACFL&MH patrons near and far.”
ACFL&MH Executive Director Maggie Forbes describes the transition as personally bittersweet. “However, Diane’s passing the baton to Jon-Erik is a stunning example of her professionalism and stewardship of the Espy Post.”