Local historians provide an invaluable service to their communities. Their consuming interest in their community's past takes them many places in a hunt for nuggets of information. If one of these historians can unearth enough nuggets, these small bits of forgotten facts turn into a mountain of information.
Henry Burke was one such local historian. We do not think it a stretch to call the longtime Marietta resident a local treasure, and his death, Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 72, came much too soon. It was truly a sad event that leaves a void in the hearts of all who knew him.
Henry Burke's interest in history, undoubtedly grew out of his interest and research into his own past. Many of his ancestors were freed slaves who had settled in Southeastern Ohio. But it is his research into the area's ties to the Underground Railroad - the name given to the network of people and places in Northern states who aided runaway slaves on their perilous journeys to freedom from bondage in the pre-Civil War days - is unprecedented and, undoubtedly, what he will be remembered for the most.
Most people have heard of the Underground Railroad, but Henry Burke's research put a human face to it that cannot be gleaned from a book or a lecture. Because of his work, we now know of the large role many people in this area played by offering safe houses, transportation and other means of escape for those seeking freedom.
We at this newspaper can't say that we knew Henry Burke as well as some of his friends. However, we do know anytime he was contacted for a story or just for some background information on a topic being written about, he always was accommodating and friendly. According to his friends, this trait was not reserved for the media, but was part of his personality.
We doubt Mr. Burke sought the recognition that came from his work, but his work was noticed. His awards are many and include the Ohio Underground Railroad Association Award in 1999, the National Underground Railroad Freed Center John Parker Award and the Ely Chapman Education Center Award in 2004, the Appalachian Hill Country Leadership Award in 2005 and a 2009 Individual Award of Achievement from the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums.
Henry Burke will truly be missed. But if it is true the past provides a roadmap to the future, then Henry Burke's contributions will serve as guideposts for many, many years.