PEP (Person of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light: John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967)
Legendary jazz performer and inductee to the Jazz Hall of Fame, John Coltrane is one of the most dominant figures that has influenced generations of jazz musicians. Prior to his association with musical greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and Earl Bostic, John Coltrane entered military service in 1945 and played in the Navy jazz band while stationed in Hawaii.
When Coltrane entered military service, all personnel were required to have a chest x-ray as part of their induction requirements. Within John Coltrane’s record, one such x-ray exists. As the reformatting staff of the Preservation Programs at St. Louis scanned his military record for public use, his x-ray was scanned also. There are several preservation reasons why x-rays are scanned. First, the x-ray is part of Coltrane’s file, and thus an integral part of his historical record. Secondly, providing a scanned image eliminates the need for a user to wear clean gloves so no oils from their hands would transfer onto the silver emulsion of the x-ray. Thirdly, the x-ray base is cellulose acetate film (a.k.a Safety Film) which decomposes over time letting off gases that smell like vinegar, hence the commonly used term “vinegar syndrome”. Vinegar Syndrome occurs when acetic acid is released from the acetate based film leading to the vinegar smell. This deterioration makes the plastic film base brittle, buckle, shrink, and liquefy. Keeping the film in a controlled environment helps reduce the continuation of the base’s degradation. Lastly, the x-ray can be scratched easily if not handled appropriately.
On occasion, the x-rays are digitally enhanced so the image is clearer, and in doing so, helps the researcher and improves public access. These documents and x-rays are placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas and prevent damage to the original document.