WKU Libraries Blog

News and events from WKU Libraries

WKU Libraries Blog - News and events from WKU Libraries

The POW Olympics

Inter Camp Olympics souvenir booklet

Inter Camp Olympics souvenir booklet

On November 15, 1952, three months after the summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, another Olympic-style opening ceremony began on the other side of the world.  Some 500 athletes entered a field carrying “brightly colored banners adorned with the symbolic peace dove.”  An official lit a torch, then the athletes took an oath and filed off the field to the tune of the “March of Friendship.”  Over the next 11 days, they competed in track and field, volleyball, wrestling, soccer, football, basketball and boxing.  They enjoyed food, fun and high spirits, even nightly entertainments featuring songs and sketches.

That was the official version.  But these games were a sham, for the location was Pyuktong, North Korea, during the Korean War.  The “athletes” were prisoners-of-war drawn from every camp in the country, pawns in a propaganda exercise intended to portray the North Koreans in a positive light and emphasize the hospitality they lavished on their captives.

Inter Camp Olympics opening ceremony

Inter Camp Olympics opening ceremony

The activities of the “Inter Camp Olympics” were summarized in a souvenir booklet produced by and for the prisoners.  In bizarrely effusive language, contributors described their experiences.  “It was the most colorful and gala event to come about during our stay here in Korea under the guidance of our captors,” gushed Clarence B. Covington.  “I am certain that no one in his sane mind will ever say that prisoners of war over here are not the best cared for in the whole world today.”  George R. Atkins agreed.  “At all times the cooperation, generosity, enthusiasm, and selfless energy displayed by our captors was perfect . . . .  The lenient treatment policy has long ago passed its title of lenient, it has instead become a brotherly love treatment.”  One can only wonder which of three voices is speaking: that of the brainwashed prisoner, psychologically conquered by his tormentors; the pragmatic collaborator, dutifully repeating what his captors want to hear; or the wise guy, laying it on thick and knowing that nobody back home would be fooled by such a charade.

In 1953, while serving in Korea with the 1st Marine Corps Division, Major Belmont Forsythe, a native of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, was appointed to a United Nations team receiving prisoners of war returning from North Korea.  One of them gave him a copy of the souvenir booklet for the Pyuktong Olympics, and this fascinating propaganda piece is now part of the Belmont Forsythe Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  For other collections relating to the Korean War and to prisoners-of-war, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Seeing With the Heart

Alice Hegan Rice & Cale Young Rice

Alice Hegan Rice & Cale Young Rice

Dr. Charles & Mary Boewe recently donated a letter written by Alice Hegan Rice to Helen Keller to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. In the short 1905 missive, Rice extolls Keller’s recent autobiography The Story of My Life published two years earlier. She further notes its popularity with the girls that Rice met at a Japanese boarding school the previous summer. Rice quoted from one Japanese girl’s composition when she wrote Keller that despite her handicap “the eyes of [her] heart are open.” To see the letter in full-text and view the finding aid click here.

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit owns a large collection of Alice Hegan Rice material donated by her brother-in-law, Laban Lacy Rice in 1943. That collection contains personal and business correspondence, literary manuscripts, research notes, reviews, poems and other material related to Alice Hegan Rice and her poet husband Cale Young Rice. Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice (1870-1942)  is best known for her first novel Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1901), but she wrote several other books as well as short stories and literary reviews. Forlorn after his wife’s death in 1942, Cale Young Rice committed suicide a year later. Mary Boewe was familiar with the Kentucky Building’s Rice Collection, since she used the material in preparing Alice’s biography Beyond the Cabbage Patch in 2010.

The Boewes donated the letter in memory of WKU’s distinguished history professor Carlton Jackson, who died earlier this year. The Boewes first met Jackson in the early-1970s when Dr. Boewe was director of the United States Educational Foundation in India. Dr. Jackson was there on a Fulbright grant teaching American history. Their friendship grew when Boewe, in a similar position in Pakistan, was requested to help organize an American Studies program at Quaid-i-Azam University. Boewe called on Jackson, who along with a colleague designed the curriculum, taught all the courses, and saw the first group of students through to their master’s degrees. Boewe and Jackson later collaborated in bringing a distinguished Pakistani professor to WKU on a Fulbright grant.

In making the gift, the Boewes noted:  “We believe this manuscript letter by Alice Rice to Helen Keller is a fitting memorial to historian Dr. Jackson and that it rightfully belongs among others by the same author on the campus of Western Kentucky University, where already there exists the largest single collection of Alice Hegan Rice manuscript materials.” To see a finding aid for the Rice Collection click here. To search for other Rice material in the collection or other literary papers, search TopSCHOLAR.

Sookie Stackhouse series author Charlaine Harris and two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka to headline Southern Kentucky Book Fest this month

BFSliderNew York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris will headline the Southern Kentucky (SOKY) Book Fest on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at the Knicely Conference Center. With more than thirty years of writing experience, Harris is best known for her Sookie Stackhouse series. The series was so well-received, it was the inspiration for the HBO seriesTrue Blood.” Harris will be one of the featured speakers in the morning and available for book signings after her program.  Chris Raschka, a two-time Caldecott Medal winner and author and illustrator of A Ball for Daisy, will be headlining Children’s Day on Friday, April 25. Raschka will be presenting on Friday and signing books on both Friday and Saturday.

“We are very excited about the upcoming SOKY Book Fest,” said Kristie Lowry, Coordinator for SOKY Book Fest and Literary Outreach Coordinator for WKU Libraries. “We have over 140 authors and illustrators participating this year from a full slate of genres. Lots of Harris fans along with many other book lovers have been inquiring about the day.”

For individuals eager to talk to their favorite authors, there is a ticketed “Meet the Authors” event scheduled for Friday, April 25. For ticket information, contact Kristie Lowry  at 270-745-4502 or email kristie.lowry@wku.edu.

In addition to Children’s Day, the Kentucky Writers Conference will be held at the Knicely Conference Center on Friday, April 25 from 9 am – 3:30 pm. Children’s Day is from 9 am-2 pm and the Kentucky Writers Conference is from 9 am-3:30 pm. There is no charge for either event; however, registration is recommended for the Kentucky Writers Conference. Visit sokybookfest.org to register online.

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is made possible through its partners, including WKU Libraries, Warren County Public Library, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. For detailed listing of the authors, presentations, and programs, go to sokybookfest.org.

WKU Libraries participates in World Book Night; Friends membership donates books to Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center

wbn2014_logo_672x652In celebration of World Book Night, WKU Libraries—a designated giver for the program–will be giving 30 copies of 100 Best Loved Poems to the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center on Wednesday, April 23. To allow every student in the Center to have a book, twenty books will be donated by World Book Night and ten will be donated by the Friends of WKU Libraries.

World Book Night U.S. (WBN) is an ambitious campaign to give thousands of free, specially-printed paperbacks to light or non-readers. Collectively, there will be half a million free books in more than 6,000 towns and cities across America given away in an effort to spark an interest in reading.

“We are excited to have been selected as a World Book Night giver this year,” said Kristie Lowry, Literary Outreach Coordinator for WKU Libraries. “WKU Libraries is committed to spreading the love of reading through its many community projects, and working with the staff and kids at the detention center is always a pleasure.”

In conjunction with the donated poetry books, there will also be a poetry workshop for the Center’s students, made possible by the support of Friends of WKU Libraries, led by WKU upperclassman Joshua Johnston. Graduating this May with a degree in Creative Writing, Johnston has been accepted and plans to participate in the MFA graduate program at Indiana University this fall.

“We are very pleased to be a part of this great opportunity.  Several of our students have become disillusioned with school and anything that is connected to education.  Through the support of our community and WKU, our students are learning to appreciate the written word and to enjoy reading good literature. ” said Dr. Becky Painter, Programming Coordinator at the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

DAC Chapter Meets in Library Special Collections

DAC PhotoJonathan Jeffrey, Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Coordinator in the Department of Library Special Collections met with members of the Cumberland Trace Chapter of the Daughters of American Colonists in the Kentucky Library Research Collections area to discuss local material available for genealogical research. He put particular emphasis on the Library’s family files and manuscript collections that contain genealogical materials, including the Mildred Eubank Collection which covers Simpson, Allen, and Logan Counties, the Drucilla Stovall Jones Collection that specializes in southern Logan County, and the Nora Young Ferguson and Lloyd M. Raymer collections which document northwestern Warren County and Butler County. He also discussed the usefulness of TopSCHOLAR for searching Warren County’s marriage records and equity court records. You too can search any of these finding aids by clicking on the links.

The Great War in Russian Memory

Russian historian Karen Petrone talke about her book The Great War in Russian Memory

Russian historian Karen Petrone, Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, talked about her book The Great War in Russian Memory, published by Indiana University Press. Using memoirs, literature, films, military histories, and archival materials, she shows that World War I, while never officially commemorated, was the subject of “a lively discourse about religion, heroism, violence and patriotism” during the interwar period. Her talk was part of the WKU Libraries’ “Far Away Places” speaker series and took place on the evening of Thursday, April 17, 2014 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

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Fading Away: How to Preserve Your Treasures

ManWithCatIn conjunction with National Preservation Week, WKU Library Special Collections faculty Nancy Richey and Allison Day will be holding a workshop titled “Fading Away: How to Preserve Your Treasures” on Monday, April 28 from 5-7 pm in the Western Room of the Kentucky Building on Western Kentucky University’s campus.

According to Nancy Richey, WKU Visual Resources Librarian, several topics will be covered, including storage supplies, best locations for storage, dealing with damaged materials, how to prevent deterioration, and simple scanning and digitization steps.

“This workshop caters to anyone in the community interested in preserving old pictures and keepsakes,” said Richey. “Individuals are welcome to bring samples of materials that they may have concerns or questions about.”

The Department of Library Special Collections houses and archives primary research materials containing pertinent historical, cultural, university, and general materials from local, national, and international resources.

“We are happy to bring our faculty’s preservation expertise to the community,” said Jack Montgomery, Interim Department Head for Library Special Collections. “This is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in maintaining family or an organization’s materials for future generations.”

For more information on the workshop, contact Nancy Richey at 270-745-6092.

Thoughts of Battercakes

Cadet Thomas Woods

Cadet Thomas Woods

Born in Wahalak, Mississippi, Thomas Rawlings Woods was only a year old when his mother and three young sisters died in 1863 of diphtheria.  His father, John Dysart Woods, remarried and in 1871 moved his family, which now included another son and three daughters, to Glasgow, Kentucky.

Nineteen-year-old Thomas entered the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in summer 1881.  His first letter home was full of news about his preliminary exams, his temporary lodgings with “Mother Stewart,” an elderly woman who taught the Bible to cadets and still railed against “Jeff Davis, the traitor,” and the mild hazing he witnessed, especially toward the “stuck up or smart chap that comes here.”

Thomas was struck by the attrition rate among his classmates.  “Of 145 candidates that have applied with me only 87 have remained this long,” he noted a few months into his term.  But overall, he was happy with his circumstances.  His demerit count was respectable, he was keeping warm with the help of a shawl sent from home, and was adjusting to Academy life–including the martial atmosphere in church, where there “were no old ladies who come half an hour early” and “no young folks who come in after the services are half over.”

Nevertheless, Thomas waxed nostalgic for the comforts of home.  “I never really knew how happy we were,” he wrote his half-sister Elizabeth.  Mother Stewart reminded him of his grandmother, and Sunday evening leisure time brought memories of his family’s “Mississippi talks,” when they would “get after Papa to tell some of his recollections of ‘when he was a boy.’”  His roommate’s breakfast choice made him think of visits to an uncle, where “[we] used to pile our plates with battercakes and have them almost floating in molasses.”

Thomas’s life after West Point, sadly, was short.  In 1883, John Woods moved the family to Bowling Green, where he became editor of the Bowling Green Gazette.  Thomas appeared ready to follow his father into journalism, but died that same year of typhoid fever.

The letters of Thomas Rawlings Woods from West Point are available to researchers as part of the Lissauer Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  For other collections relating to military life and service academies, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Faraway Flix film “A Separation”


A group of 50 students and campus community members enjoyed the Faraway Flix film “A Separation” featuring the country of Iran in the Faculty House last Friday, March 21. Dr. Soleiman Kiasatpour, Associate Professor in WKU’s Political Science Department, gave an introduction to the film and led a discussion following the movie.


Prior to the film, a special Iranian meal was prepared by the family of Zahra Doostmehraban, WKU freshman from Tehran, Iran. Her mother and father are currently visiting and graciously prepared the food called Khoresht, Khalal, and rice.