“True Stories Artfully Told” at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest, 2017

(From Left to Right) David Gann, Fenton Johnson, Sean Kinder, and Holly Tucker

(From Left to Right) David Grann, Fenton Johnson, Sean Kinder, and Holly Tucker

The 10 a.m. session on Saturday, April 22 drew a crowd to hear the latest about new books from: David Grann, currently the nation’s hottest literary property, according to the Chicago Tribune; Fenton Johnson, one of Kentucky’s most acclaimed writers; Sean Kinder, one of this year’s nominees for the Kentucky Literary Award; and Holly Tucker, whose last book was on many people’s “best of the year” lists.  Brian Coutts served as moderator.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Gann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

David Grann, whose new book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, is moving up the best seller lists, talked about the years of investigative research he conducted into the murders of members of the Osage Indians in the early decades of the twentieth century.  It involved combing through FBI files and interviews with descendants. When oil discoveries made the Osage among the wealthiest citizens in America they were targeted by local white residents leading to murders, poisonings, explosions, etc.  Movie rights for this new book were recently auctioned off for $5 million.  A movie adaptation of his 2009 novel The Lost City of Z opened last week nationwide.  Two other movies based on his short stories True Crime and The Old Man and the Gun are in production.

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays by Fenton Johnson

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays by Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson talked about newest novel The Man Who Loved Birds and a new collection of essays Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays published this week.  The idea for the novel, which is set in Kentucky, he said, had been germinating for a very long time and had been prompted by the murder of a marijuana grower with drug connections in the early 1970s.  The novel involves the relationships between a monk in the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemane, a “marijuana” farmer, and a Hindu woman doctor who’s recruited to provide medical services for the county. Johnson’s next book, based on a 2015 front page article in Harper’s, is due out from Norton in 2018.

Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm by Sean Kinder

Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm by Sean Kinder

Sean Kinder’s wonderful biography of Covington, Kentucky film star Una Merkel was a finalist for this year’s Kentucky Literary Award.  Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm describes her roles in more than a hundred movies, and countless radio and TV shows and memorable appearances on Broadway where she won a Tony for her appearance in the Ponder Heart.  The book was selected by the Huffington Post as one of the “Best Film Books of 2016”.  Sean was a guest at Covington’s summer festival where a new mural of Una Merkel was unveiled.  Kinder told the story of getting out of a cab on the Hollywood “walk of stars” (there are more than 4,300) almost exactly in front of the star for Una—taking this as some kind of sign!

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker

Holly Tucker explained that while doing research for her earlier book Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution she discovered the hand written notes of the Paris Chief of Police during his investigation of the sordid affairs of poisonings, black magic, illegal abortions and much more, which involved not only the upper crust of Parisian nobility but even some of Louis XIV’s mistresses as well.  Talking about her new book, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris, she answered questions about how Paris became the “city of light” (it was because they began to provide candle illuminations in the late 17th century), the various techniques used to poison unfaithful husbands, and various tortures used to extract information from those involved.  Suffice to say waterboarding is nothing new.

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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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The Days of My Life

It seems like I just started yesterday. I’m Sean Feole and I’m taking a major in History and a minor in Anthropology. Before signing up for the internship in Library Special Collections at WKU, my previous experience with

Sean Feole

Library Special Collections Intern – Sean Feole

museum work consisted of volunteering at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort in Summer 2016. However, my duties predominately consisted of filing donations from institutions and individuals. There were a few other tasks I fulfilled, such as recycling boxes, data entry, cleaning the kitchen, and spot varnishing vases and frames! That sounds like one of the least exciting summaries to put on a resume. But at the end of my volunteer shift, I had my first taste of museum life; before long, I thought working in a museum was something I could take on in life. So when I was told that I would have to take an internship to fulfill 3 academic hours, I signed up right away.

Quite honestly, it’s most likely the best choice I’ve made in college thus far. Why? Well, for one it was a full hands-on experience. Predominately, I numbered/catalogued materials from past lives. The main individual of my prognosis was Hugh Oliver Potter, one of the more well-known figures from Daviess County, Kentucky. His resume consisted of building WOMI, one of Owensboro’s oldest radio stations, increasing awareness of Kentucky radio broadcasting, and fostering support for educational television. But his presence at the Special Collections, based on my research, was due to his pursuit of Kentucky history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Daviess County local history. Words cannot describe how much effort he spent writing at least three book manuscripts on Abraham Lincoln alone. There were numerous other duties as well, such as ironing (!) court documents, transcribing written histories, copying damaged materials, and more.

I have to say, I will miss working with Mr. Jeffrey, the Department head, because he was great in teaching me the ropes about archival caretaking. However, the experience I’ve had working in Library Special Collections is one that will advantageous in my search for a job related to a museum. Lastly, I believe that Library Special Collections is a great starting for anybody wanting to get into public history.

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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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Kentucky Live! presents Fenton Johnson and “The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel”

The-Man-Who-Loved-Birds (3)

One of Kentucky’s most celebrated writers, Fenton Johnson, was a featured speaker in our Kentucky Live Series on April 20, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore. He talked about his newest novel The Man Who Loved Birds set in Nelson county Kentucky.

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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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Far Away Places presents Ronald Fritze and “Egyptomania: A History of Fascination, Obsession, and Fantasy”

Egyptomania-A-History-Obsession-and-Fantasy (13)
Historian Ron Fritze, Dean of Arts & Sciences at Athens States University, was the featured speaker in WKU Libraries’ April Far Away Places series on Thursday, April 13, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Bowling Green, KY. Fritze talked about his newest book Egyptomania: A History of Fascination, Obsession and Fantasy, which, being the 11th of his books, has been drawing international attention.

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McGuffey Readers on Exhibit

McGuffey’s Second Eclectic Reader is one of many from the Library’s collection.

The Kentucky Library Research Collections currently has a display featuring early children’s readers.  William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) was a U.S. educator who is best remembered for his series of elementary school reading books called McGuffey Readers. McGuffey was a graduate of Washington College in 1826.  He began teaching in Ohio frontier schools at the age of 14.  During breaks from college studies in Pennsylvania, McGuffey taught elementary school in Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky.  In 1823, McGuffey set up a school in the dining room of Reverend John McFarland, a Presbyterian minister, where he taught for three years.  During his 10 years as a faculty member at Miami University, McGuffey took interest in public education and began assisting teachers at local elementary schools.  He also established a model school in his home for the neighborhood children.

Experts estimate that at least 120 million McGuffey Readers were sold between the years of 1836 and 1960.  The sales of the Readers are in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.  Since 1961, McGuffey Readers have sold at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year.  The readers are still in use today at some schools and by parents who homeschool their children.

A sample lesson taken from one of the Library’s McGuffey Readers.

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New Collection Documents Hopkinsville Asylum

The Department of Library Special Collections recently purchased a rare collection (Small Collection 3093) of documents related to the operation of the Western Lunatic Asylum (now Western State Hospital) in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  The sixty-five items in the grouping includes contracts for food, coal and linens, as well as contracts for building projects, inventories, and several fascinating documents related to a devastating 1860 fire.

The Asylum was established in Hopkinsville by an act of the General Assembly on 28 February 28, 1848.  Hopkinsville citizens raised $4,000 to help fund the hospital.  N.B. Kelley, a Cincinnati architect, designed the first

Western Lunatic Asylum in Hopkinsville.

major Greek Revival building on the Hopkinsville campus. Master builders Samuel L. Slater and John Orr carried out Kelly’s design, and the institution opened on 18 September 1854 with twenty-nine patients.  A chimney fire ignited the wood shingle roof, and the facility’s chief building burned on 30 November 1860.  The staff helped find housing for the patients in the Christian County courthouse, a hotel, and private homes, while twenty-three log cabins were constructed on the grounds.  Reconstruction took six years at a cost of $258,900.

The Library’s new collection includes a printed broadside in the form of a letter written by the institution’s managers to then Governor Beriah Magoffin.  The letter was printed, because it was likely also disseminated to members of the General Assembly and other interested parties.  After making the governor aware of “the lamentable disaster,” the managers reported: “Every possible effort in now being made to recover and bring in those who fled from the scene of the disaster, and they are being brought in as rapidly as could be expected.”  “It is

Broadside issued by the Asylum’s managers to Governor Beriah Magoffin.

feared,” they added, “that one of the unfortunate patients (later identified as Isaac Stewart of Butler County) was consumed in the flames.”  The managers extolled the “self-sacrificing” tasks performed by the staff in saving the patients.  A good portion of the collection includes contracts and other data related to the reconstruction project, such as an agreement made between the institution and Samuel L. Slater under which the aforesaid agreed to perform “all the carpenters and joiners work, to complete the west front and western return wings of the Western Lunatic Asylum building” which included “all flooring, doors, door frames, window sash, casings [and]…mouldings.”  For his work, Slater would receive $4,050.

For more information about this new collection, see the finding aid by clicking here.  To see other manuscript finding aids, search TopSCHOLAR.

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