Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

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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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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