Author Archives: Lynn Niedermeier

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Edward Crossland and his bio

Edward Crossland and his bio

It was an impressive resume, probably written for the Congressional Directory, that Edward Crossland (1827-1881) composed on letterhead of the 42nd Congress of the United States.  Elected as a Democrat in 1870 to represent Kentucky’s First Congressional District, the Hickman County native was a lawyer and former state representative who had resigned a judgeship in order to go to Washington.  Among his accomplishments, Crossland carefully noted the margin of his electoral victory–7,930 votes to 2,980–over his GOP opponent.

As is common in a mid-term election, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Party had lost seats in the House, but retained its overall majority.  Also expected, perhaps, was Crossland’s omission, in these first years of Reconstruction, of some dramatic biographical details: as an officer in the Confederate Army, he had seen battle in Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the last being under controversial Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” in U.S. Grant’s words) as he tried to defend Selma in the last days of the Civil War.

Crossland’s non-disclosure of his military career might have led to a flurry of cable news comment today, but there was no cause for concern among his supporters in the South, where Democratic candidates successfully ran against Radical Republicans and their civil rights agenda.  On March 11, 1871, in fact, the Hickman Courier expressed relief at the news that Crossland had been duly sworn in as a member of Congress.  “Many leading men in this District,” the editors reported, “entertained serious apprehensions that Radical vindictiveness would seek to exclude him from the seat to which our people had elected him.”

Edward Crossland’s handwritten biography is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other Kentucky political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life

On May 23, 1863, Illinois volunteer George Messer, nursing a swollen ankle and the first signs of scurvy, penned a letter to his wife from Camp Hobson near Glasgow, Kentucky.  Some of his news, he admitted, “may appear somewhat ridiculous but it is nevertheless true.”  He and his comrades had been ordered to surrender their tents in exchange for new ones.  He then described the wedge-shaped tents that appear in so many images of Civil War encampments.  Each soldier carried one half of the tent, a two-pound sheet of canvas about six feet square.  When buttoned at the top, supported with poles or saplings, and anchored to the ground, they formed a rudimentary shelter for two men.  Judging these accommodations to be more fit for canines than humans, the soldiers quickly dubbed them “dog tents.”

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

Messer noted sarcastically that when his regimental commander required the men “to appear like Gentlemen on all and every occasion,” yet made them haul and use these “low and unhandy” tents, “it is more than enough to cause the soldier to be pleased and satisfied.”  His mates had made sure to communicate their “satisfaction” the next morning while preparing for roll call.  “You never heard such barking as the boys made,” he wrote, “they imitated from the Bull dog down to the little Rat terrier and they would frequently break out into a fight in imitations of dogs.”  A couple of unpopular promotions had also rankled the men, but Messer admitted that the wisest course was “to quietly submit” to these recent affronts.  In such circumstances, however, he found the rumors of a military draft disquieting. Imagine the barking then, he implied: “There is enough of the soldiers dissatisfied now and those that would be drafted into the army would be more so.”

George Messer’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and typescript.  For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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It’s Donald Day!

No, not that Donald.  June 9 is National Donald Duck Day, marking the screen debut in 1934 of the sailor-suited and often “fowl”-tempered Disney cartoon character.

Cartoons created by both professionals and amateurs can be found in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Some, like the sketches of Kentucky governor James Proctor Knott, could be both artistic and satirical.  There’s also Richard Outcault, who sent a get-well wish to his friend’s young daughter via his famous creations, “Buster Brown” and his dog “Tige.”

Buster Brown and Tige

Buster Brown and Tige

And there’s Bill “Whitey” Sanders, cartoonist for WKU’s College Heights Herald and later longtime editorial cartoonist for the Milwaukee Journal, who depicted the joys of student life.

Whitey Sanders, College Heights Herald, Nov. 19, 1954

Whitey Sanders, College Heights Herald, Nov. 19, 1954

And there’s WKU art professor Ivan Wilson, who passed the time during a long illness drawing whimsical cartoons featuring himself and his good friend, English professor John H. Clagett.  The two enjoyed hunting, fishing and hiking together, and apparently Wilson also grabbed some shears from time to time and trimmed Clagett’s hair (no word on whether the mane was a comb-over).

Ivan Wilson and John Clagett

Ivan Wilson, barber, and John Clagett

And there’s Staff Sergeant Jay Maschak, serving in 1990 with the 101st Airborne during Operation Desert Shield, who drew his own version of Donald Duck for his pen pal, Elizabethtown, Kentucky Girl Scout Kelly Butler.

Jay Maschak to Kelly Butler

Jay Maschak to Kelly Butler

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

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Over the Waves

Marconigram to Clara Louise Robertson

Marconigram to Clara Louise Robertson

On this day (June 2) in 1896, Guglielmo Marconi filed British Patent No. 12,039 for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and an Apparatus Therefor,” inaugurating the era of wireless telegraphy and making the Italian engineer’s name synonymous with the magic of “ship-to-shore” communication.

Sometimes, that magic was dark, the most haunting example being distress calls from the doomed Titanic in the early morning of April 15, 1912 that rescued those lucky enough to survive the sinking.  But more often, it was tinged with romance, as Clara Louise Robertson experienced after a tour of Europe in 1930.  The 22-year-old Louisville, Kentucky native was aboard the RMS Cedric, headed home to complete her studies at the University of Louisville.  While in Europe, she had become friends with Laszlo Gombos, a young Hungarian lawyer, and he was clearly smitten.  “Maybe you will forget me soon,” he had written earlier, “but I want to emphasize that I myself shall neither forget you nor shall I change my opinion on you.”  His hope was to find a job in the American South, and if successful he intended to meet her “immediately” upon his arrival.  But until then, there was the “Marconigram,” delivered from “Lancelot” to his Guinevere: Pleasant journey kindest regards.

Clara Louise Robertson’s Marconigram is part of the collections of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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When “Fake News” Was Fun

The world of classical studies was abuzz in November 1961, when American archaeologist and antique dealer Christopher Wakefield announced the discovery at the Citadel of Mycenae in Greece of a grave containing two skeletons and a trove of gold and bronze artifacts.  Describing the find in detail, Wakefield reported that an arm band on one skeleton identified it as that of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who, according to myth, perpetuated an ancient curse when he killed his mother and her lover after they had dispatched his father.  Wakefield delivered his stunning news in a letter to Laban Lacy Rice, a Dixon, Kentucky native, former president of Cumberland University, and himself a scholar of ancient Greece.  Rice sent the letter to the Associated Press, and from there the story flashed across newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Authorities in Athens, however, quickly denied any such discovery, and news outlets more cautious than the AP raised eyebrows at the claim.  Then came the real story: the whole thing was a “classical hoax” perpetrated by Rice himself.  After reading a book on such ruses, Rice had invented “Christopher Wakefield,” right down to his phony stationery, and written the letter himself.  He filled the account of Orestes’ tomb with such archaeological detail that many American scholars took the bait; some even claimed to know the fictional Wakefield personally.

The joke surprised Rice’s fellow citizens in Lebanon, Tennessee, who knew the erudite 91-year-old—the multilingual author of several books, accomplished amateur astronomer, and expert on Einstein’s theory of relativity—as being somewhat on the humorless side.  But Rice calmly regarded the prank as one of many intellectual challenges he had successfully attempted during his long life. Mirroring this academic trickery was his skill at athletic deception: during his student days at Cumberland University, he had been a star curve ball pitcher.

The papers of Laban Lacy Rice, including the story of his “classical hoax,” are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht's portrayal of the "classic hoaxer"

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht’s portrayal of the “classic hoaxer”

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“The Approbation of His Tutoress”

Asa Young's good report

Asa Young’s good report

“This is to show that Asa Young is head in the first class and merits the approbation of his tutoress.”  Dated December 14, 1850, this handwritten and decorated slip of paper would have been, like all good news, proudly delivered to the young schoolboy’s parents in Barren County, Kentucky.

Collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections show generations of Kentucky students receiving an “A,” “B” or “C” for their three Rs, but their report cards also judged them on habits and values deemed crucial to their development as adults.

Bowling Green student William J. Potter‘s third-grade report cards for 1908-09 recorded his days present, absent and tardy, and gave numerical grades for his classroom work, but included a “Verbal Merit Report” evaluating less tangible attributes like “Progress,” “Effort” and “Deportment”–which, parents were advised, was “a better index to what your child is doing in school than the scholarship report.”

Charles Ranney‘s second-grade report card for 1930-31 at Hartford Graded School was full of “As” for scholarship, but also required his teacher to evaluate “Interest” (from “Lacks Interest” to “Very Interested”) and “Conduct” (from “Rude,” to “Annoys Others” to “Inclined to Mischief” to “Very Good”).

Myrtle Chaney‘s seventh-grade report card from Logan County in 1922 was even more exacting in its standards.  A bad attitude toward school work might get a check mark beside “Indolent,” “Wastes Time,” “Copies; Gets Too Much Help,” or “Gives Up Too Easily.”  Less than good behavior could peg one as “Restless; Inattentive,” “Whispers Too Much,” or “Discourteous at Times.”

Margie Helm‘s 1908 report card from Auburn Seminary was set up like a ledger, with her subjects listed down the middle between the “Right Side” (a choice of “Fair,” “Good” or “Excellent”) and the “Wrong Side” (a choice of “Poor,” “Very Poor” and “Failure”).  As was common, the back of the report card preached about the value of a parent’s contribution in securing regular attendance and study.

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Occasionally, however, the year-end evaluation reminded everyone of their fallibility.  Sarah Richardson‘s 1958 report card from College High cast her in an approving light, but the document somewhat undermined its credibility with the heading “COLLEGE HIGH RPEORT CARD.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For others relating to schools, students and report cards, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A “Glorious Old Friend”

In 1986, the journal of Thomas Benjamin Chaplin (1822-1890) was published as Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter.  Covering primarily 1845-1858, it documents the life and times of the master of Tombee (“Tom B.”) plantation on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, and presents (to quote its Amazon listing) “a study of the dull horror of plantation slavery.”

Thomas Laurens Jones

Thomas Laurens Jones

On July 4, 1876, when Chaplin sat down to write a letter to Kentucky congressman Thomas Laurens Jones, the Civil War had made his life unrecognizable from the one chronicled in his journal.

Chaplin expressed delight at regaining contact with the “glorious old friend” and fellow Southerner he mistakenly thought had died in prison during the war.  He picked up their friendship where it had left off 30 years ago, giving Jones a candid account of his travails during and after the conflict.  The fall of Port Royal to Union forces in November 1861 had forced his family to flee “in very disagreeable haste,” leaving everything behind.  “Words cannot tell the sufferings of that cruel war,” Chaplin wrote, which had left his family “homeless, houseless & destitute.”  One of his sons was killed in battle, another wounded, and another later died from the effects of imprisonment.

After the war, Chaplin and his wife returned to St. Helena Island to live more modestly near the plantation.  “We constantly see our old slaves,” he told Jones, “& much of our property,” now owned “by the Yankees who have settled there.”  Chaplin praised Jones’s support of a recent amnesty bill that sought to restore citizenship to Jefferson Davis–who, Chaplin oddly believed, “did less harm than any ‘reb.'”  Though embittered by the war’s effects on his fortunes, he seemed to accept the new political status of African-American men.  “Do tell me Mr. Jones how do these fellows look?” he asked, curious about their presence in Washington.  His own representative, he observed (likely referring to former slave Robert Smalls, elected in 1874), was “a very good fellow I believe.”

Thomas Chaplin’s letter, part of the papers of Thomas Laurens Jones, can be found in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For the papers of other Kentucky politicians, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Woman With Pull

George Anna Hobson

George Anna Hobson

Early in the 1900s, the crack of shotguns could be heard around the Bowling Green home of George and Anna Hobson.  Used for storing Confederate munitions during the Civil War, the property (now known as Riverview at Hobson Grove) was home to a trapshooting operation, and its star was the Hobsons’ young daughter, George Anna.

Born in 1907, George Anna moved to Riverview with her family in 1912.  Under her father’s tutelage, she quickly made a name for herself in the sport of trapshooting.  At the 1920 State Fair Gun Club Tournament in Nashville, onlookers marveled at the “stellar gunning” of this “dainty 12-year-old miss,” who bested her own father when she broke 76 out of 100 targets.

At age 16, George Anna, now a three-time women’s champion of the Kentucky Trapshooters League, took the national crown at the Amateur Trapshooting Association championship in Vandalia, Ohio.  Congratulatory letters came from gun and ammunition manufacturers looking to capitalize on their part in her achievement, including the Western Cartridge Company and du Pont’s “Sporting Powder” division.  George Anna’s use of an Ithaca Gun Company trap gun to win the national title prompted a request for a photograph to use in the firm’s advertising.  “When you pose please get one from each side, first showing you lined up ready to shoot with your face towards the camera, then turn half way around and pose with the gun stock nearest the camera,” instructed the company vice president.

While profuse in their praise, some of her admirers couldn’t help looking at George Anna’s skills through the lens of gender.  Complimenting her photo in Sportsmen’s Review, the editor of Outdoors South remarked, “I think you look awfully cute in knickers.”  An observer sent her some snapshots taken at the national competition–“without your knowledge,” he wrote, “but thought you might like to have them as evidence of your graceful poise, even though you are under the strain of competition.”

Letters and other material relating to George Anna Hobson’s trapshooting career are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more on the Hobson family, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Shaker Collections in Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

When the United Believers in the Second Coming of Christ established a religious colony at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky in 1807, they were fulfilling the missionary vision of Ann Lee (1736-1784), a British-born immigrant to New England and the founder of their faith.  “Mother Ann” had infused singing and dancing into worship services to such a degree that onlookers described an early meeting as full of “shaking, trembling, speaking in unknown tongues, prophesying and singing melodious songs.”  Thus was born the popular name for her followers, the Shakers.

Shakers dancing during worship

Shakers dancing during worship

The South Union Shakers were objects of curiosity for their practice of pacifism and celibacy, but by the time the colony dissolved in 1922, they had left a rich heritage of music, craftsmanship, and innovation in industry and agriculture.  Known especially for their packaged garden seeds and preserves, the Shakers also operated mills, sold livestock and poultry, and offered public meetings in addition to their private religious services.

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections is the premier destination for anyone interested in the history of the South Union Shakers.  Researchers can now browse a list of our principal Shaker collections, which focus on South Union but include materials relating to other Shaker colonies, by clicking here.  The collections include Shaker journals of daily activities, records of Shaker businesses, hymnals, memoirs, photographs, and the papers of leading Shaker scholar and WKU faculty member Julia Neal.  A fascinating Civil War resource is the diary of eldress Nancy Moore, which chronicles the hardships of the Shakers as both Confederate and Union troops descended upon them demanding food, provisions and horses.  Each listed collection includes a link to TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository, where a detailed finding aid is available for download.  For even more Shaker materials, search KenCat, the Kentucky Library Research Collections catalog.

Shaker colony at South Union

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It Ain’t Easy Being a Woman

Alice Hegan Rice

Alice Hegan Rice

Or is it?  Are women loved?  Hated? Revered?  Feared?  Pampered? Oppressed?  All of the above?  It depends on where you look in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For this International Women’s Day, here are a few examples:

It is my sad lot to write you that it is a girl instead of a boy. Bill Gossedge of Louisville, announcing the birth of his daughter in 1939.

I was liberated on the day I was born–in 1920!  Women have always been able to do what they wanted to if they wanted it enough–and have a family as well. Martha Mauldin of Bowling Green, responding to a 1996 “Rush Limbaugh Position Poll” to show “that feminists are out of step with most Americans.”

Woman is the embodiment of soul, romance, beauty and delicacy, that gives refinement to society, delight and enjoyment to the senses, and happiness to the mind. Byron R. Gardner, decrying supporters of woman suffrage “as if it were a greater boon to act with wicked men than to influence them.”

This will could never be recorded, as your wife was a married woman. — Bowling Green lawyer Daniel Webster Wright, returning to Simon P. Morgan his deceased wife Cassandra’s 1871 will.  She had left everything to her husband, but marriage deprived her of her legal identity and property rights, so the will was meaningless.

And, of course, on this “Day Without a Woman,” it’s worth remembering that some of the fondest words spoken about women come after they’re dead.  Here’s Rev. Benjamin S. McReynolds of Butler County, writing on the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1816:  My dear Elizabeth is gone / To inherit an immortal crown. / Reserved for her in heaven above, / Where she’s inflamed with joy and love.  Or this from poet Cale Young Rice, in a letter to his brother eleven months after the death of his wife:  My life seems to have run into a blind alley at present.  The loss of Alice and my home, the feeling that I have finished my work . . . leaves me desireless.  “Alice” was Alice Hegan Rice, author of the classic story of life in a Louisville slum, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.  Two weeks later, Cale took his own life, unable to cope “without a woman.”

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

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