Marion Stokes (born Marion Butler, 25 Nov 1929 – 14 Dec 2012) was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania access television producer, civil rights demonstrator, activist, librarian, and prolific hoarder and archivist, especially known for single-handedly amassing hundreds of thousands of hours of television news footage spanning 35 years, from 1977 until her death at age 83, at which time she operated nine properties and three storage units.
Stokes' tape collection consisted of 24/7-coverage of FOX, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC and other networks—recorded on as many as eight separate VCR machines stationed throughout 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 would be ending, Stokes and her husband would run around the house to switch them out—even cutting short meals at restaurants to make it home to switch out tapes in time. Later in life when she was not as agile, Stokes trained a helper to do the task for her. The archives ultimately grew to live on 40,000 (originally erroneously reported as 140,000 in the media) VHS and Betamax tapes stacked in Stokes' home, as well as apartment units she rented for the sole purpose of storage.
Stokes' son, Michael Metelits, said that the advent of 24-hour television news networks such as CNN, as well as ABC's nightly coverage of the Iran hostage crisis (which later became Nightline), acted as triggers. She became convinced there was a lot of detail in the news at risk of disappearing forever, and began taping. In an interview with a WNYC program, Metelits stated that Stokes "channeled her natural hoarding tendencies to [the] task [of creating an archive]."
While her collection is not the only instance of massive television footage taping, it is unique in the care taken as to its preservation. Known collections of similar scale have not been as well-maintained and lack the timely and local focus.
In addition to collecting TV news footage, Stokes personally amassed large quantities of other items. She received half a dozen daily newspapers and 100-150 monthly periodicals, collected for half a century. Stokes had also accumulated 30,000-40,000 books. Metelits told WNYC that in the mid-1970s, they would frequent the bookstore to purchase $800 worth of new books. Stokes also held collections of toys and dollhouses.
Stokes had purchased countless Macintosh computers since the brand's inception, 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.
Stokes bequeathed her son Michael Metelits the entire television collection, with no instructions other than to donate it to a charity of his choice. After a stringent process of considering potential recipients, Metelits gave the collection to The Internet Archive one year after Stokes' death. Four shipping containers were required to move the collection cross-country to Internet Archive's headquarters in San Francisco, a move which cost her estate $16,000. It was the largest collection they had ever received.
The group agreed to digitize the volumes, a process which was expected to run fully on round-the-clock volunteers, costing $2 million and taking 20 digitizing machines several years to complete. As of November 2014, the project was still active.
There is a documentary about her life, The Marion Stokes Project, directed by Matt Wolf.