Excursus: An Accidental Discovery

I climb the stairs from my office to the George Mark Elliot Library on the campus of Cincinnati Christian University. I am on a hunt. There is a rare (and ancient) word that has escaped the tools near my desk; this one requires the big muscles of the reference section.

Jim Lloyd, the director of the library, catches me in route and diverts me to his office. He has something important to show me. Yesterday, while archiving the materials of late professor Dr. Ward Patterson, the archival team came across some old photographs. Now, I hold one of these photographs in my hand, the largest in the set, and examine it closely. It is yellowed and curled. On it I see a man standing in the snow. Oddly, he wears jeans, knitted gloves, and a kaffiyeh (a strange combination!). He holds a pole in one hand and a rope that is knotted around his waist in the other.

An old photograph of a mysterious figure (From the Patterson Collection).

“That is Ward on top of Mt. Ararat,” Jim tells me.


I thumb through several other images of landscapes and people in traditional dress. I flip the images over looking for dates or labels. None are found.

“When did he do this?” I ask.

“Sometime in the ‘60s I think. The same time that he was in Iran and Iraq.”

I knew that Ward had an adventuring spirit. He and I joined the faculty at CCU at about the same time and swapped stories in the halls. For instance, I knew that he had once ridden a motorcycle from Australia to Europe. He had stopped along the way visiting archaeological sites, mission stations, and anything else that caught his fancy. It was a trip to be measured in years, not miles. That was Ward. Along the way he took thousands of photographs and made rubbings of many ancient monuments. That too, was Ward. But what I didn’t know is that he had summited Ağrı Dağı. Now I am not surprised at this fact, just surprised by my inability to put it all together.

Herders the base of Ağrı Dağı (From the Patterson Collection).

I ask if the library possesses any written records to go along with these Ağrı Dağı photos. Jim is not sure but says we can check. We go to the computer and Jim begins typing furiously. He scans the index of documents in the archive. I sit on a folding chair in the corner, feeling the excitement of a new hunt. In just a few minutes he hits something.


Sure enough, a document labeled “An Ascent of Ararat” appears in the Ward Patterson collection index. The document was noted and recorded (again by the archive team) and placed in a special acid free box in the library basement. We grab the keys and head back downstairs.

A turn of the key opens the door to a darkened room. It is long, narrow, and when the light comes on, I can see that it is full, from floor to ceiling with small cardboard boxes. They are anonymous, apart from sequence numbers printed on the visible face. Jim locates the number suggested by the digital index. He pulls it and carries it over to a small table. We peer inside. A quick search of the box’s contents reveals a typed document of nine pages, held together by a green paper clip. It is not the original, but rather, a copy of the original, printed in the purple-blue letters of a by-gone day when people typed using carbon paper. Smudges here and there cover the errors and mark other strike spots. On the upper left hand corner is a name and address:  “Ward Patterson, R.D., No. 1, Mansfield, Ohio.”

Jim is gracious enough to let me run a xerox copy of the pages. When finished, we carefully clip them back together and put them in the box.

I take the copy to my office. I am eager to read about one man’s experience of the mountain, recorded fifty years before my own. How did Ward find it? Under what conditions? Was it different back then? The same?

I hunker down in my comfortable chair and find myself immersed in thin air all over again.