WKU Libraries Blog

News and events from WKU Libraries

WKU Libraries Blog - News and events from WKU Libraries

Panama Canal 100th Anniversary

Panama Canal Anniversary logoA century ago this month, on August 15, 1914, the steamship Ancon traveled fifty miles through the Panama Canal, making it the first vessel to pass from ocean to ocean through one of the world’s greatest shortcuts.

The Ancon‘s transit through the Canal marked the completion of a daring and ambitious engineering project.  This decade-long effort to save seagoing traffic the time-consuming and hazardous 8,000-mile detour around the southern tip of South America nevertheless cost about 5,600 laborers’ lives through accidents and tropical disease.  Amazingly, another 22,000 are estimated to have died during a failed French attempt to construct a canal in the 1880s.

In 1979, a treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter returned most of the Panama Canal Zone, then a U.S. territory, to Panama’s control.  The remainder of the territory, known as the Panama Canal Area, was returned in 1999.  Today, the Canal is a neutral international waterway through which some 15,000 ships pass each year.

SS Ancon in the Panama Canal, 1914

SS Ancon in the Panama Canal, 1914

Significant anniversaries such as the Panama Canal’s centennial allow WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections to showcase relevant material about the landmark occasion and to demonstrate how international events affect even local people.  Besides printed material related to the Canal, Special Collections also holds photographs of the engineering marvel, letters of people who worked in and visited the Canal Zone, and sound recordings that feature comments about the Canal when it became a political topic in the 1970s.  We will be sharing some of these items on the blog during the month of August.

War Bride Receives the Dreaded Telegram

Aline & Ralph Shrewsbury

Aline & Ralph Shrewsbury

“My Dearest”

“Last night was the first night that has gone by since I left you without my writing to you!  I think that was the hardest part of the whole day!  Oh, darling, I’ll never be able to tell you the anguish I’ve been in since I got that nasty telegram.  I thought–first–only that I’d never see you again–never wake up beside you anymore–never have your babies–never never anything anymore!  But then I thought of all the ways it were possible to get you out safely!  So now I’m beginning to hope again.”

So begins Aline Shrewsbury’s short journal on 4 August 1944, shortly after she received a telegram stating that her husband, Ralph Damon Shrewsubry, was missing in action.  The couple had been married less than two years when the dreadful missive arrived.  Aline’s journal from 4th to 21st of August 1944, along with photographs, service records, family correspondence, and news clippings documenting Ralph’s WWII career were recently donated to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of the Department of Library Special Collections by the couple’s daughter and former WKU Educational Resources Center librarian Becky (Shrewsbury) Leavy.


Becky Leavy donates the Shrewsbury Collection to Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Coordinator Jonathan Jeffrey

This small collection documents the story of the unlikely meeting, and subsequent whirlwind romance, of a Georgia medical secretary at Camp Blanding, Florida, Aline Lanier, and Lieutenant Ralph Shrewsbury from Caneyville, Kentucky.  Shewsbury had participated in ROTC training at WKU prior to the war.  Aline and Ralph married only a few months after meeting.  Wartime marriages are difficult for both partners, but the spouse left behind can imagine all types of distress.  Ralph did have quite an adventure after landing at Utah Beach in June 1944.  Part of the collection features Ralph’s narrative about his stay in a German-occupied hospital in France.  In relation to nourishment, he noted:  “The usual fare at the hospital was a tea made of apple leaves and a quarter of a loaf of bread for breakfast, and sometimes not even the bread.  At noon we received a very small bowl of thin soup.  For supper we usually had a bowl of soup or stew containing very little nourishment.  Some of the French people working in the hospital brought us eggs and bread on the sly.”  Eventually he escaped from a transport train en route to a POW camp.  After finding American soldiers, Shewsbury by chance reunited with his old WKU ROTC commander E.B. Crabill.  It is a small world after all.

To investigate other WWII collections archived at WKU, click here.

“V” for Victory

Winston Churchill; signing pen for his honorary U.S. citizenship proclamation

Winston Churchill; signing pen for his honorary U.S. citizenship proclamation

It first appeared in Nazi-occupied Europe, then took hold in Great Britain.  Promoted by the BBC, the “V for Victory” campaign of World War II featured the letter “V” defiantly chalked on walls, sidewalks, streetcars and other public places, and its Morse code equivalent, three dots and a dash, musically rendered in the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.  But its most iconic manifestation was the two-fingered sign unforgettably employed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  “The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny,” Churchill declared in a special message broadcast on July 19, 1941.

In 1963, Kentucky Congressman Frank Chelf took the floor of the House of Representatives as a co-sponsor of legislation to make the British leader an honorary U.S. citizen.  The son of an American mother, Churchill already commanded the deep affection of Chelf and his countrymen, but more importantly, Chelf declared, “as long as any of us shall live we shall carry the memory of the resolute, valiant Churchill . . . always holding his hand aloft, with his fingers forming his famous V-for-victory sign, standing as a shining symbol of hope and man’s determination to remain free.”

A week after Chelf’s speech, Churchill wrote a letter thanking him “for the very agreeable things you say about me and for the graceful way you expressed them.”  On April 9, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the proclamation conferring citizenship on Churchill, Chelf received the signing pen as a souvenir.

The papers of Frank Chelf, which include his work for Churchill’s honorary citizenship, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Brian E. Coutts received the Marta Lange/SAGE-CQ Press Award

Brian Coutts

Brian E. Coutts, Department Head, WKU Libraries

Brian E. Coutts received the Marta Lange/SAGE-CQ Press Award from David Horowitz, Vice-President of Sales for CQ/SAGE at a June 29, 2014 luncheon for the Law and Political Science Section (LPSS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The luncheon was held at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Brian Coutts Award

Past Winners: Lisa Norberg (Library Dean, Barnard College); Graham Walden, Head, Geology Library, Ohio State University; Bruce Pencek, College Librarian for Social Sciences & History, Virginia Tech; Brian Coutts

The award, established in 1996 by LPSS, honors an academic or law librarian who has made distinguished contributions to bibliography and information service in law or political science. It consists of a plaque and a check for a $1,000.

Brian Coutts Award

This award honors Marta Lange, 1990-91 Law and Political Science Section (LPSS) Chair, whose exceptional talents as a leader were enhanced by a wonderful collegial spirit. Her bright career, cut short in a fatal automobile accident in 1992, was an inspiration to others and a model of professional service.

Here is the link to the interview:


Happy Fourth!

Nathaniel Lucas's letter; modern July 4 fireworks

Nathaniel Lucas’s letter and modern July 4 fireworks

Robert Clay Blain, Jr., of Lincoln County, Kentucky was only 21 in 1839 when he composed “Union,” an eloquent love letter to his country.

“For more than fifty years,” he wrote, “has this union been formed–formed by those generous patriots who valliantly contended & nobly achieved their ‘dear bought liberties’–by those . . . who taught the haughty sons of Britton, that those contending for the cause of freedom are invincible.  It was union, Blain continued, that had been “the grand cause of our country’s prosperity” and had guided its founders to victory.  “Cemented by love and dearest ties of national interest, did these brave souls promulgate a declaration of their right; and fearlessly continued their course thro’ blood and fields of deepest sorrow until freedom was established.”

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections has many resources relating to the War of Independence including veterans’ pension applications, land grants to soldiers rewarding them for their service, and data assembled in the 1960s by WKU librarian Elizabeth Coombs on Revolutionary War veterans with connections to Warren County and southcentral Kentucky.  We even have a letter written by Nathaniel Lucas to his future wife just before the decisive battle of Yorktown.  “There is great appearance of success in our taking Lord Cornwallis,” he declared.  “Our army is very strong.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Farewell to Robbie VanValin

DSC_2138 ERC part-time library assistant Robbie VanValin has decided to retire after nearly 7 years with the ERC, where she has been a friendly face and a welcoming voice to ERC patrons. We will miss her very much—her willingness to help, her sweet personality, and her genuine interest and engagement with our patrons and student workers. We would like to wish Robbie all the very best for her retirement.

Pictured are Robbie VanValin sitting in the chair next to ERC staff member Ellen Michelleti.

The Great War Centennial

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers' graves at Chateau-Thierry

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers’ graves at Chateau-Thierry

A recent biography calls him “the trigger”: 19-year-old south Slav nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, fired his pistol at Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and (though he claimed it was unintentional) at the Archduke’s wife Sophie.  Both died almost instantly.  A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the rest of Europe, for various geo-political reasons, followed them into the abyss of World War I.

Here in Kentucky, Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy learned of the widening conflict from clients living abroad.  In letters from Surrey, England, Margaret Whitehead Robertson’s reactions ranged from uncertainty to defiance to resignation.  Having recently sold a house, she asked McElroy in August 1914 to invest the proceeds at home rather than overseas, “as no one is sure about the war.  Of course, we all hope England & her allies will win but the war may last 2 or 3 years.”  A few weeks later: “This war is such a dreadful calamity, and everybody I know thinks Kaiser Wilhelm II will have a great deal to answer for, for bringing about a European war.  The Allies are doing splendidly, and we are all disgusted with German atrocities and their terrible military system, which wants to rule the world.”

By October, Margaret was recovering from the initial upheaval.  Vacationing in Eastbourne with her sister Charlotte, who was knitting socks for the soldiers, she noted that the area was enjoying a prosperous autumn “to make up for the bad summer season when people were afraid to come to the seaside at the beginning of the war.”  But after Christmas, rumor had again unsettled her.  She wanted to escape wet and snowy England for Switzerland, but had heard that if Italy entered the war, the food supply to Switzerland might be cut off.  “These are horrible times,” she observed, “and I do wish the war were over.”

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library holds many other World War I-era collections, especially relating to the period after the United States entered the war in 1917.  For example: a scrapbook chronicling the military service of Bowling Green’s John Pleasant Potter, lovingly kept by his mother; letters from Victor Strahm, the son of WKU music director Franz Strahm and a much-decorated air ace; letters of Simpson County native George DeWitt Harris, who died of battle wounds suffered in France; as well as patriotic speeches, poems and postcards.  For other collections about World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

WKU’s Research and Creative Database acquires new Readership Map feature


Western Kentucky University’s research and creative database (TopSCHOLAR) has added a new feature called Readership Map. The new map pinpoints where researchers are located from around the world and what specific data they are viewing at that moment.

“This truly shows the international reach of the intellectual capital of WKU,” said Dean Connie Foster of WKU Libraries. “If you go to the website at any time, faculty, staff, and students’ materials are being downloaded all over the world. It’s a visual method to see where our scholarly works are reaching.”

According to Bepress, the parent company for the repository software Digital Commons, the following describes how the Readership Map works:

The Digital Commons Readership Map provides a dynamic visual display of location-based article downloads of open-access materials from Digital Commons and SelectedWorks sites. When a visitor downloads an article, a highlighted pin drops on the map to indicate the approximate location of the download. The title of the article and the title of the article’s publication (e.g., Dissertations) appears in a feed to the left of the map. When another download occurs, another pin drops; the highlight moves to the second pin, and the feed updates with new title information.

     Go to www.digitalcommons.wku.edu to see the Readership Map in action.



The Heat is On

Martha Potter

Martha Potter

Bowling Green had just endured a frigid winter.  Five months later, in a letter to her children on July 25, 1934, Martha Potter confessed again that her news would be mostly “about the weather, for that is all we talk or think about down here.”  Her description of the summer heat in Bowling Green gives a vivid picture of life in the days before air conditioning.

“People have been sleeping outdoors all night on the ground or on porches or anywhere to keep out of the house for the houses register ninety degrees at bed time,” she wrote.  “Ted [her brother-in-law] said he looked out the other night just before day and a big fat man in yellow pajamas was ‘baking’ in the moonlight on the tin roof at Mrs. Green’s.”  The sheer numbers of those seeking relief in a yard nearby had even prompted a neighbor to call the police.  “We live under the fans and the refrigerator door is open most of the time after water or ice,” reported Martha.  “But it is such a joy!” she declared of her new appliance, purchased two months earlier.  “We have always had plenty of ice even in this weather.”

Social activities had required a few concessions to the heat.  Attending a music practice for a program at WKU, Martha pronounced the hall “the hottest place I ever felt. . . . The men wore cloths around their wrists to keep the perspiration off the strings.”  Pursuing one of her favorite activities with her sister, Martha wrote that they were “golfing under umbrellas, and it is much cooler, as we do not have to wear any hats.”  Nevertheless, she was planning a trip to the beauty shop to get her hair bobbed.  “I can’t have hair in this kind of weather.”

Martha Potter’s letters chronicling daily life in Bowling Green are part of the Lissauer Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.