Earl Pruce, a local historian and retired librarian of the old News American who saved as many old newspaper stories and photographs as his department could house, died of cancer complications Tuesday at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 97.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Quantico Avenue, he attended Forest Park High School, Maryland Institute College of Art and the old European Conservatory of Music on St. Paul Street, where he studied piano.
In 1927, he joined the Baltimore American, then a daily morning paper, as a personal copy boy to the managing editor. He then worked in the library of the newspaper until it ceased daily publication on March 31, 1928.
According to a biographical sketch Mr. Pruce prepared, he held several jobs until 1930, when he rejoined the library staff of The Baltimore News and Sunday American. He became a full-time employee in late 1931, assistant librarian in 1936 and chief librarian in 1954.
When he retired in 1975 at what had become The News American, he estimated that his department had collected 10 million pieces of print information, photos and graphics.
Colleagues recalled that Mr. Pruce's library was filled with overflowing file cabinets of photos and clippings.
"At the time the story of the Pentagon Papers broke, Earl was able to find a photo of a young Daniel Ellsberg when there were few pictures of him around," said Georgia Marudas, a Sun business editor who was working at The News American in 1971.
Mr. Pruce described himself as "keenly interested in the history of the city and state."
In 1993, he finished researching and writing the book Synagogues, Temples and Congregations in Maryland, 1830-1990, published by the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland.
"It began out of the retiree's personal frustration at not being able to put his finger on reference material about synagogues," said a story in the old Evening Sun.
The article went on to describe him as a "fact detective who can track down any footnote of Baltimore history. If an event was ever recorded in a newspaper, book or pamphlet, or on a microfilm frame, he will unearth it."
Mr. Pruce strongly believed that books should be properly indexed. He indexed or re-indexed numerous publications until an eye ailment forced a halt to the endeavors.
"He was an unassuming man but a powerful researcher," said Bernard Fishman, former director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. "He was driven by that irresistible need to do history and to get the basic facts."
In 1974, Mr. Pruce donated his personal collection of 14 cartons of news clippings to what is now Towson University, and last year he gave his News American items to the University of Maryland, College Park.
He also did research for authors writing books on topics as diverse as Baltimore movie houses and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the twice-divorced Baltimorean for whom England's King Edward VIII gave up the throne. Mr. Pruce assisted author Ralph G. Martin on his 1973 best-seller, The Woman He Loved, and provided help for the British-made 2000 film Wallis Simpson, the Demonised Duchess.
Mr. Pruce's research into the future duchess' living habits in Baltimore established that her longest period of residence was at the Preston Apartments, at the northwest corner of Guilford Avenue and Preston Street.
"He was generous with his time and knowledge," said Robert K. Headley, author of two books on Baltimore film exhibition. "I don't see how I could have gotten half the information I did without his help."
Mr. Pruce had followed the Orioles since the International League days of Baltimore baseball in the 1930s.
He was a former member of the Rogers Avenue, Beth Jacob and Shaarei Zion congregations.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Hebrew Young Men's Cemetery, 5830 Windsor Mill Road.
Mr. Pruce is survived by his wife of nearly 74 years, the former Betty L. Fox, with whom he compiled an 11-volume loose-leaf history of James Lawrence Kernan Hospital, where she had been a volunteer occupational therapy assistant for many years. Also surviving are three sisters, Ada Levy, Ann Solomon and Miriam Fine, all of Baltimore.