Marion Stokes

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Marion Stokes
Marion Stokes.png
Stokes as a young woman
Marion Marguerite Butler

(1929-11-25)November 25, 1929
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedDecember 14, 2012(2012-12-14) (aged 83)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation(s)Television producer, archivist
SpouseJohn Stokes Jr.

Marion Marguerite Stokes (née Butler; November 25, 1929 – December 14, 2012)[1] was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, access television producer, civil rights demonstrator, activist, librarian, and prolific archivist, especially known for her compulsive hoarding[2][3] and archiving of hundreds of thousands of hours of television news footage spanning 35 years, from 1977 until her death in 2012,[3][4] at which time she operated nine properties and three storage units.[2] According to The Los Angeles Review of Books's review of the 2019 documentary film Recorder, Stokes's massive project of recording the 24-hour news cycle "makes a compelling case for the significance of guerrilla archiving."[3]


Television news[edit]

Some of Stokes's tape collection consisted of 24/7 coverage of Fox, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, and other networks—recorded on up to eight separate VCRs in her house. She had a husband and children, and family outings were planned around the length of a VHS tape. Every six hours, when the tapes ran out, Stokes and her husband switched them out—even cutting meals short at restaurants to make it home to switch out tapes in time. Later in life, when she was less agile, Stokes trained a helper to do the task for her.[5] The archives grew to about 71,000 (originally erroneously reported as 140,000 in the media)[6][5] VHS and Betamax tapes (many up to 8 hours each) stacked in her home and apartments she rented just to store them.[4]

Stokes became convinced there was a lot of detail in the news at risk of disappearing forever, so she began taping. Her son, Michael Metelits, told WNYC that Stokes "channeled her natural hoarding tendencies to [the] task [of creating an archive]".[2]

Stokes's collection is not the only instance of massive television footage taping, but the care in preserving the collection is very unusual. Known collections of similar scale have not been as well-maintained and lack the timely and local focus.[7]

Macintosh computers[edit]

Stokes bought many Macintosh computers since the brand's inception,[5] along with various other Apple peripherals. At her death, 192 of the computers remained in her possession. Stokes kept the unopened items in a climate-controlled storage garage for posterity. The collection, speculated to be one of the last of its nature remaining, sold on eBay to an anonymous buyer.[8] Sensing the immense potential of the Apple brand during its infancy, Stokes invested in Apple stock while the company was still fledgling with capital from her in-laws. Later, she encouraged her already rich in-laws to invest in Apple, advice they took and profited greatly from, increasing their wealth even further. Stokes then allocated part of her profits to her recording project,[9] which was important for her work, especially for the first few years when videotapes were a new, expensive technology.


Stokes received half a dozen daily newspapers and 100 to 150 monthly periodicals,[2] collected for half a century.[5] She accumulated 30,000 to 40,000 books. Metelits told WNYC that in the mid-1970s the family frequented the bookstore to purchase $800 worth of new books.[2] She also collected toys and dollhouses.[10]

Select list of programs recorded[edit]

Television producer[edit]

From 1967 to 1969, Stokes co-produced a Sunday morning television show in Philadelphia, Input, with her husband John.[1] Its focus was on social justice.[15]


Stokes bequeathed her son Michael Metelits the entire tape collection, with no instructions other than to donate it to a charity of his choice. After considering potential recipients, Metelits gave the collection to the Internet Archive one year after Stokes's death. Four shipping containers were required to move the collection to Internet Archive's headquarters in San Francisco,[4] a move that cost her estate $16,000.[10] It was the largest collection they had ever received.[16]

The group agreed to digitize the volumes, a process expected to run fully on round-the-clock volunteers, costing $2 million and taking 20 digitizing machines several years to complete. As of April 2019, the project is still active.[17][4]

A documentary about her life, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project,[18] was directed by Matt Wolf and premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.[19][20]

Stokes has been called a pioneer and visionary[9] who committed much of her life to preserving televisual history. Her primary objective was to "protect the truth" from fake news and to let people assess the archived material objectively. Stokes's final recording took place as she was dying; it captured coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Clark, Vernon (December 21, 2012). "Obituaries: Marion Stokes, coproducer of TV show". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on September 14, 2022. Retrieved May 4, 2019. Marion Marguerite Stokes, 83, a librarian and social justice advocate who was a coproducer of a 1960s Sunday morning TV talk show entitled Input, died of lung disease Friday, Dec. 14, at her home in Rittenhouse Square.
  2. ^ a b c d e PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman (December 12, 2013). "#9 – The Second Life of Marion Stokes". (Podcast). WNYC. Retrieved August 22, 2014. Marion Stokes was a hoarder. When she died last year, her family had to figure out what to do with 9 separate residences and 3 storage locations full of stuff – everything from tens of thousands of books to decades-old Apple computers. This is the story of how they found a home for the strangest artifact in her collection — 140,000 videocassettes filled with 35 years of round-the-clock cable TV news.
  3. ^ a b c Hadland, Grace (April 23, 2020). "Marion Stokes and the Power of Guerrilla Archiving". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved August 13, 2022. Some might characterize Stokes's activities as hoarding, a compulsive act performed by eccentrics and neurotics unable to let go of things. But others might consider her practice one of radical historiography, Stokes's fundamental project being one of liberation: of truth, of knowledge, and, ultimately, of people.
  4. ^ a b c d Morgan Winsor (December 9, 2013). "TV producer's collection of 840,000 hours of news tapes finds a home". CNN. Retrieved August 18, 2014. Marion Stokes, a child of the Great Depression, spent her life saving everything – literally. The Philadelphia resident kept everything from newspapers and electronics to empty cigarette packets and sticky-notes. Among the cardboard boxes and magazine stacks in her home were 140,000 cassette tapes containing recordings of all local and national TV news programs from every channel.
  5. ^ a b c d Sarah Kessler (November 21, 2013). "The Incredible Story of Marion Stokes, Who Single-Handedly Taped 35 Years of TV News". Fast Company. Retrieved August 22, 2014. From 1977 to 2012, she recorded 140,000 VHS tapes worth of history. Now the Internet Archive has a plan to make them public and searchable.
  6. ^ PJ Vogt (March 26, 2014). "The Internet Archive has Started Uploading 71,716 Videotapes Worth of TV News". Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  7. ^ Macdonald, Roger (November 22, 2013). "A Dream to Preserve TV News, on the Road to Realization… with Your Help". Internet Archive Blog. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  8. ^ Adam Rosen (March 19, 2014). "Macs in the Box: The Incredible Mac Collection of Marion Stokes. Now For Sale". Cult of Mac. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c Coleman, Lauren deLisa (May 8, 2019). "How The Data This Woman Stored Could Change Your Life". Forbes. Archived from the original on January 1, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Muse, Queen (December 9, 2013). "Librarian Recorded 800,000 Hours of News Footage Over 35 Years". NBC Philadelphia. Archived from the original on December 10, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  11. ^ Mosley, Tonya; Hagan, Allison (November 14, 2019). "Here & Now: 'Recorder': Meet The Woman Who Recorded 70,000 Tapes Of American News". WBUR-FM. Boston University. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019.
  12. ^ Ihaza, Jeff (June 19, 2020). "How Marion Stokes, an activist who recorded the news nonstop for decades, can help us understand this moment". Mic. Bustle Digital Group. Archived from the original on June 22, 2020.
  13. ^ Hoffman, Jordan (April 30, 2019). "One woman's quest to record everything on TV led to her ruin". Polygon. Vox Media. Archived from the original on May 1, 2019. Fueling the obsession was a kind of altruism. No one else was collecting the footage — certainly not anyone that can be trusted. Someone had to do something. Marion took on the task for the betterment of society. She also ruined her life. In the documentary, we see that her behavior became erratic and paranoid, her home overrun and, despite the help of staff, any time spent outside the apartment was rigidly fragmented; a chauffeur would routinely rush her home to swap in fresh tapes when old ones run out of room. She was trapped.
  14. ^ a b Phillips, Craig (June 9, 2020). "How Do You Sort Through 70,000 Videotapes?". PBS. PBS. Archived from the original on June 17, 2020.
  15. ^ "Marion Stokes Input TV Papers".
  16. ^ Nick Vadala (December 4, 2013). "Germantown's Marion Stokes archived 35 years of TV news". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Argyle, Samuel. "The woman who recorded 70,000 VHS tapes of... news". The Outline. Retrieved February 13, 2023.
  18. ^ "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, Shooting the Mafia, and The Irishman". Film Comment. November 26, 2019. in Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (2019), his portrait of a woman who between 1979 and her death in 2012 obsessively taped TV news twenty-four hours a day, amassing a "secret archive" of 70,000 tapes. Her project began with the Iranian hostage crisis; she died the day of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, and only when she stopped breathing did her staff turn off the multiple VCR's running in her apartment. Alert to and concerned by how the media shapes news stories and manipulates audiences, she made her compulsive recording a form of activism, though the project was "ideologically agnostic," in Wolf's words, aiming to preserve the ceaseless, wall-to-wall saturation of television, not to curate it. She was a hoarder of many things, from newspapers to Apple computers, but mainly a hoarder of images. After her death, her heirs had trouble finding an institution to take her collection, but it was finally acquired by the Internet Archive in San Francisco which, given its mission to preserve the contents of the world wide web, is undaunted by terrifying overabundance.
  19. ^ Kalia, Ammar (October 4, 2019). "'Ahead of her time': the woman who recorded the news for 30 years". The Guardian. Retrieved October 4, 2019. The film carefully skirts the issue around whether Stokes was an eccentric visionary – an archivist of a medium that has come to define our lives – or an obsessive hoarder. "I want the film to generate an emotional experience around ideas," Wolf says. "I was very adamant that the film not resort to psychological explanations of why Marion does what she does. I didn't want to pathologise her as a hoarder, since someone can be dysfunctional and insightful, those two things can coexist, and Marion is a very unexpected example of that."
  20. ^ "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project | 2019 Tribeca Film Festival". Tribeca. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  21. ^ "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project". Retrieved June 6, 2021.

External links[edit]

  • Marion Stokes Collection at The Internet Archive – personal papers, books, films, photos, video and audio recordings are stored and may be browsed by searching for 'Marion Stokes'
  • "Input" (1968–71) – one of the first television programs Marion Stokes was involved in producing at then-CBS affiliate WCAU-TV10; features political discussion and debate among people of varying socioeconomic statuses. She made sure the original Ampex one inch tape broadcast reels were preserved and then copied them to Betamax L-500 tapes when the format was launched in the late 1970s.
  • TLDR podcast episode on the legacy of Marion Stokes; features an interview with her son, as well as Roger Macdonald, the director of the Internet Archive's television archive.