Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

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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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Making 1797-1850 Marriage Records Available Online

This week a patron from St. Louis came into the Library Special Collections Reading Room looking for documentation relating to his ancestors’ 1809 marriage in Warren County.  He had already been to the courthouse, where he was told that Special Collections had many of the original Warren County marriage bonds from 1797 to around 1850.  I was thrilled to be able to help him, because he was our first in-house patron to use the scanned Warren County Marriage Records online in TopSCHOLAR.  Rather than pulling out the vulnerable originals, I was able to guide him through the search process of finding the record online.  The marriage records have been scanned in the same order they appear in the collection, which is first arranged chronologically by year and then alphabetically by the gro0m’s last name.   If you don’t know the groom’s name, then you can do a keyword search by the bride’s maiden name by using the search box that appears in the top left corner of the page.  At this time, we only have the first fifteen years online.  We are adding new records incrementally as we complete the scanning and encoding.

Marriage bond.

An original Warren County marriage document from 1797.

Scanning these records and making them accessible is a time consuming and expensive process.  Personnel in Manuscripts & Folklife Archives will make tremendous progress on the project this summer, as we have a student and one part-time employee committed almost exclusively to the project.  The funding for their wages was made possible through a challenge grant made by Marilyn Forney, a friend of Special Collections from Pennsylvania but with local family ties.  Her grant was matched by members of the XV Club, Ray Buckberry, Tad Donnelly, Dean Connie Foster, and Jonathan Jeffrey.

The marriage records are our most requested resource both in-house and online.  This digitization project will not only make the items accessible to the public in the comfort of their homes, it will help save the documents by decreasing human handling.  To peruse the records scanned thus far click here.

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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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Reflections of a Connie Mills Intern

My name is Sean Jacobson, and I am a graduate assistant in the History MA program at WKU. This spring, I completed the Connie Mills Special Collections Internship. For someone who wants to pursue a career in public history (click here for a description of public history), the Connie Mills internship provides an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to a wide range of work within a special collections library. Over the course of the semester, I spent a total of 120 hours working among three units of Library of Special Collections: WKU Archives, the Kentucky Library Research Collections, and Manuscripts & Folklife Archives.

Each of these units exposed me to diverse projects on subjects I found very interesting. In the WKU Archives, I worked with accessioning the papers and records of Thomas Cherry Tichenor (1912-2009), who was a notable WKU alumnus and Kentucky educator. He was also a grandnephew of WKU founder Henry Hardin Cherry. I was responsible for going through the raw records received from Tichenor’s family members and accessioning them into an organized collection. For the purposes of WKU Archives, I created specific folders related to his time at Western Kentucky State Teachers College during the 1930s, particularly in his involvement in the College Heights Herald and the Talisman. With the hundreds of letters also a part of the collection, I sorted them by content, dates, and persons. Depending on their subject, I then divided these letters between WKU Archives and Manuscripts collections.

From there, I switched units and worked in the Kentucky Library Research Collections (KLRC). Here, I worked in the ephemera collections – in particular, the records of First Baptist Church of Bowling Green. Over the past year, First Baptist has donated much of their church archives to the Library of Special Collections in preparation for its bicentennial anniversary in 2018. Because a collection from an organization like First Baptist will continually create new materials as long as it exists, I learned how important it is for archivists to plan for future expansions when creating an organizational system. By making a skeletal structure for all of First Baptist’s ephemeral items (programs, Bible class yearbooks, newsletters, etc.) within the Past Perfect collection software, I gained an appreciation for the significant role it has played in shaping both the Bowling Green community and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Following the KLRC, I also learned how to create online access to research collections with the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit. I developed and uploaded into the library’s TopScholar database finding aids for numerous small collections. These collections ranged from Civil War letters, correspondence between lovers during World War II, Kentucky court records, and political papers. Through inserting each collection’s metadata into online database, I learned the importance of keyword choices and search terms to provide ease of access for researchers around the world. The advent of online database entry has completely transformed the way special collections libraries operate. When online resources are successfully utilized, it multiplies the ways the public can interact with the collections and gain cultural appreciation.

My experience as a Connie Mills Special Collections intern has been highly beneficial for me. This fall, I will begin a joint PhD program in Public History and American History at Loyola University Chicago, where I will continue to build upon the public history skills I have gained this semester at WKU. I am very appreciate to Mr. Jonathan Jeffrey for providing me this opportunity and for his mentorship and desire for me to excel. I am also indebted to Dr. Marko Dumančić of the History Department for his support in allowing me to do historical practice both inside and outside the classroom.

If any students are interested in the Connie Mills internship and scholarship for next semester, he or she should contact Jonathan Jeffrey by phone at (270) 745-5265 or by email at jonathan.jeffrey@wku.edu.

 

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A Hairy Experience

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of Library Special Collections has acquired an unusual 1842 petition signed by 17 Harrison County citizens attesting to an unusual growth of hair on thumb and fingers of fourteen-year-old Penelope Stout and confirming that they knew the character of Penelope’s family.  Seven of the petitioners had actually seen the hair growth, ten others “never saw any hair But believe it upon the Confidence and Judgement I place in others.” Questioning a family’s character in this sense, typically meant they suspected her of devil worship or witchcraft.

The unusual phenomenon merited a full paragraph in Richard H. Collins’ History of Kentucky published in 1871. “Dr. Carson Gibney,” Collins noted, “a graduate of Transylvania medical school, practicing at Leesburg,

Petition acknowledging the mysterious hair growth on the fingers of Penelope Stout.

Harrison County, Ky., was called, Nov. 1, 1841, to see Miss Penelope Stout, daughter of Thos. H. Stout, of that place, a young girl of 13 years of age.  He was informed that for some days past, Miss Penelope had been giving off from the thumb of her right hand quantities of hair, varying in hue and thickness–portions of it occasionally appearing thick and harsh, and constructed precisely like hog-bristles; and again it would come long and soft and silky and beautiful as the hair on her head.  It would emanate most frequently from the end about the nail, but often about the thumb joints, leaving not a single trace on the surface of the skin to tell whence it had come.  When grown to a certain length the hair would drop off, creating at times no sensation at all, at others producing a numbness about the arm, such as is produced by the foot sleeping.  Some four or five inches in length.  This singular action or disease had been going on constantly for six weeks, when the account was published.  She was taken to Lexington, and other physicians were consulted to learn the cause of the phenomenon, but unsuccessfully.  Hundreds of citizens visited the wonder little stranger.  No charge was made for admission.”

The growth persisted for at least two years on Penelope’s right thumb.  The unwanted hair, did not hurt her marriage prospects nor result in exile.  In 1845 she married a merchant and county surveyor ten years her senior named Amelius Eggleston Ames.  She gave birth to her first daughter at age 16 and a second when she was 18.  She did not live beyond her youngest child’s second birthday and died in 1849.

To search other finding aids click here.

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Reconstructing History: Allen and Monroe Counties

Spring intern Brookelyn Smith of Sumner County, Tennessee.

My name is Brookelyn Smith and I am a student at Western Kentucky University, majoring in History and Social Studies.  During the fall semester of my third year on the Hill, my adviser made mention of an internship that I could possibly procure for the following semester.  When the spring 2017 semester began, I applied for and received an internship with the WKU Department of Library Special Collections, working in the Manuscripts unit.  The primary project I worked on during my time as an intern consisted of composing an online gallery of images for two Kentucky counties (Allen and Monroe) from a collection about historic structures, taken from a geographic survey done by Albert Petersen during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  This included selecting images from slides that were good representatives of the collection, scanning the

Ebenezer Church of Christ near Tompkinsville, Monroe County, Kentucky.

slides into the computer, collecting the pertinent information for each slide, and uploading all of this onto an informational site on the department’s website.  In addition, information was gleaned from the collection and sources in the Kentucky Library Research Collections to upload historical overviews of the respective counties to the site.  An overview was included in the collection for Monroe County, but I compiled sources and wrote the overview for the history of Allen County.  Here are links to the informational sites for each county, including the image galleries, historical overviews, and bibliographies of sources in the library:

Allen County, Kentucky

Monroe County, Kentucky

In working on this project, I learned a great many things.  First, I learned that the Library Special Collections contains and has access to an absolute wealth of information.  All kinds of records, genealogy, maps, posters, artifacts, histories, etc. are held in this library.  Beyond that, I learned that there is constant work in documenting this information, organizing it, and making available for the public to see.  My internship gave me a glimpse into the formulation of a website and my first encounter with publishing work online.  There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from making local history and information available to the public.  In addition, I became interested in looking at the local history of each of these counties.  Allen County was particularly interesting to me because my grandparents hail from Scottsville.  So throughout the process, I gained insight into the structures within that county.  Also, I learned a great deal about the history of that county through reading books to write the historical overview.  As a history major, I appreciate this focus on local history, as it is the foundation of our present society.  Finally, I had enough time to begin gathering information for a project that will eventually involve creating a biography for Douglas Keen, who was an alumni and member of the Board of Regents at WKU.  Beginning this project gave me exposure to some of the history of WKU, which, of course, is very interesting to me as a student of that university.

The experience of interning with the Manuscripts unit is certainly one that I will value and remember.  I have gained knowledge, skills, and insight from working on the Albert Petersen collection and creating a site for the information, and I am grateful to have done so.  I am also very grateful to Dr. Delroy Hire who sponsored my internship.  As a graduate of WKU and a forensic pathologist, he continues to support the University in various ways.  Under his sponsorship, I was able to gain a wonderful experience, and provide Dr. Hire and others with insight into some of Kentucky’s local history.  If a student wishes to obtain information about this internship, they can contact the Department Head, Jonathan Jeffrey, by phone at (270) 745-5265 or by email at jonathan.jeffrey@wku.edu.

 

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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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