The Collector: Mack McCormick's Huge Archive of Culture and Lore

A great American folklorist has spent a life squirreling away bits and pieces of Texas culture. Now time is running out on him and his inventory.

The clock chimes again — this time as a mockingbird. It's getting late, but the pre-measured cocktails and stories without limits are still flowing.

But even the mightiest rivers eventually end up in the sea. Nobody, least of all McCormick, knows where his life's work will end up after he is gone. Perhaps it will share the Bob Bailey Studios Photographic Archive's fate. The Bailey archive — some 300,000 wildly disparate negatives and photographs from a Heights photography studio of Houston taken between the 1930s and '90s — wound up in Austin, in this case at the University of Texas's Center for American History. It would be a shame if McCormick's archive were to end up 200 miles or still further away.

At least now that he knows that in 1860 matches could be struck and photos enlarged, now that he has that copy of "Life in the Iron Mills," he can get cracking on that troublesome third act.

"Old people live to the end of their money," Mack McCormick says. "I lost about $40,000 on the markets last week, so I figure that's about three years gone for me."
John Tennison
"Old people live to the end of their money," Mack McCormick says. "I lost about $40,000 on the markets last week, so I figure that's about three years gone for me."
Author Dr. Roger Wood says McCormick takes a jazzman's approach to life: stubborn independence and self-reliance rule.
Daniel Kramer
Author Dr. Roger Wood says McCormick takes a jazzman's approach to life: stubborn independence and self-reliance rule.

But then beyond that, there are what he estimates are 20 records of unreleased field recordings, acres of raw text on subjects as varied as his life, miles of film of Americans great and obscure.

So what if so much of it is unfinished? It's fitting: Houston is the city that never forgets that it is forever building.

And like the man said, Da Vinci didn't paint in the corners, either.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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