Door Detective [Watch]

Everyone knows how frustrating having to read bad handwriting can be. But imagine if your job depended on it.

During her internship at UT’s Harry Ransom Center, Plan II student Kelsey McKinney (pictured left) spent dozens of hours deciphering signatures on the Author’s Door—a quirky piece of world-class literary history. Since the 1970s, megawatt writers and personalities from Tennessee Williams to Johnny Depp have signed the door—hidden away in a fifth-floor hallway—during their visits to the leading humanities archive. The only problem: hundreds of the signatures were illegible. Using a combination of Internet research, patience, and old-fashioned sleuthing, McKinney identified 152 signatures. She says the thrill of finding a new name never got old. “Not many interns get to create new knowledge in such a fun and meaningful way,” McKinney says. “And I have terrible handwriting, so it was a good match.”

McKinney’s work didn’t go unnoticed. When a story about her project appeared on UT’s website, one anonymous alum was so impressed that he mailed her a $500 check for her future endeavors.

Here, McKinney shares some of her favorite signatures from one side of the Author’s Door.

  • Director Bruce Robinson added to his signature that the Ransom Center was the “joy of my visit.”
  • Author Nicole Krauss signed so many books at the Ransom Center, her wrist was probably sore. She still left this signature for history.
  • I got to watch journalist Len Downie sign the door. He was the Washington Post editor during Watergate, and we took him to the fifth floor to examine the Watergate archives.
  • Actor Robert Redford, playwright David Mamet, and actor Johnny Depp all signed with cartoon self-portraits.
  • Actor Johnny Depp’s visit to the Ransom Center was top-secret for security purposes, but he left this whimsical cartoon of himself for us to remember him by.
  • Some signatures may always be a mystery. Like this one:“(di) Sembra.” Because it’s signed in pencil instead of the usual felt pen, we think it’s graffiti.
  • The Author’s Door is an ever-growing document. Since these photos were taken last fall, author T.C. Boyle signed. He also drew a fish—we don’t know why.

Photos courtesy the Harry Ransom Center.

Below, watch an exclusive Longhorn Network video version of this story.


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