Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Carlton Jackson Papers Celebrate Archives Month

Dr. Carlton Jackson at a book-signing for "Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna"

Dr. Carlton Jackson at a book-signing for “Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna”

Heartbreaking memories of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  The FBI dossiers on a husband-and-wife team of socialist labor activists.  Gracious letters from Gone With the Wind star Olivia de Havilland.  The gritty details of a guest’s sudden collapse and death during a television talk show.  Accounts from survivors of one of America’s worst wartime naval disasters.

Where can you find all of these within easy reach of one another?  In the papers of Dr. Carlton L. Jackson, a prolific author and historian who donated a large portion of his research and manuscripts to WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Processing of the 4,336 items in this collection was completed in October, which happens to be American Archives Month.  A finding aid is available here.

Carlton Jackson’s career as a history professor at WKU began in 1961 and continued until his death in 2014.  A high-school dropout, the Alabama native resumed his studies during service in the Air Force, then taught school and worked as a newspaperman before arriving at WKU.  The author of more than 20 books, he also held several Fulbright awards and visiting teaching posts, and in 1996 was appointed WKU’s first Distinguished University Professor.

Jackson’s books included Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel, a biography of the Oscar-winning actress who immortalized the role of “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind; Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna, an account of the 1943 guided missile attack on this troopship that killed more than 1,000 American servicemen; J. I. Rodale: Apostle of Nonconformity, a look at the self-described “father of the organic movement” in the United States, whose life ended suddenly while a guest on the Dick Cavett Show; and Child of the Sit-Downs: The Revolutionary Life of Genora Dollinger, a biography of this workers’ rights champion whose career began in earnest during the great 1936-1937 “sit-down” strike at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan.  Other books of Jackson’s have told the story of the iconic World War II song Lili Marlene; related a social history of the Greyhound Bus Company; assessed the career of movie director Martin Ritt; recalled the heroism of Joseph Gavi, a Louisville restaurateur who was once a partisan fighter in the Jewish ghetto of Minsk; and novelized the life of George Al Edwards, a Green County, Kentucky outlaw.  For a 1976 book on the 1918 influenza pandemic, Jackson placed ads in newspapers across the country seeking eyewitness accounts, and received more than 400 replies documenting the flu’s deadly march through 42 states and 9 foreign countries.  The book was never completed, but this unique collection of letters has been preserved.

“Dr. Jackson’s research and writing testified not just to his energy but to his eclectic interests and inveterate curiosity,” says WKU Special Collections department head Jonathan Jeffrey.  Searching for sources in both public archives and private collections, Jackson corresponded with anyone who might provide a lead.  As a former journalist, he never hesitated to seek a telephone or personal interview, making many friends along the way.  As the collection reveals, his efforts generated wins and losses, both big and small.  While researching a biography of Western novelist Zane Grey, Jackson wondered if Grey’s tales of shark fishing had influenced Peter Benchley’s blockbuster novel Jaws, but Benchley politely replied in the negative.  A greater disappointment occurred when, after his initial contacts proved promising, the Greyhound Bus Company withdrew its cooperation for Jackson’s history.  He scored a coup, however, when he located and corresponded (in German) with the pilot of the plane that had attacked the Rohna.

“I’m basically lazy,” Jackson once insisted in a profile published in WKU’s On Campus.  But it never showed.  After he got an idea for a book he would begin work, reading, traveling, knocking on doors and, like a good ex-journalist, digging.  The result, in addition to his publications, was a trove of research, now available to anyone else who wants to keep digging.

The Department of Library Special Collections is located in the Kentucky Building on WKU’s campus.  Hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Search our online catalogs at TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Far sadder than insanity”

Anna Kirkland's letter

Anna Kirkland’s letter

On this World Mental Health Day, we look back to 1872 when, in the absence of systematic treatment or medication, an ordinary woman tried to cope with depression.

On March 13, 55-year-old Anna Mary Kirkland wrote from North Carolina to her niece Eliza “Lizzie” (Edmunds) McNary, who as a girl had moved with her family to Caldwell County, Kentucky.  Anna apologized for the long drought in her correspondence, “but wretchedness such as no language can convey any adequate idea of has still’d my pen for more than two years.”  She had entered the North Carolina Asylum, but knew it wasn’t the right place: “I am considered insane & would to God that was the proper name for my malady, but alas!  I fear the case is a far sadder one than insanity, tho’ that is sad enough.”  Stalked by obsessive thoughts about her “lost” soul and those of her children, Anna bewailed the state of “living death” she could not overcome.

Well-meaning family members had tried act as armchair psychiatrists, but Anna explained that her “periods of darkness” were unresponsive to “human reasoning and eloquence” or to the theory that they were merely “insane delusions.”  She confessed that Lizzie’s news of her husband and children had made little impression: “Were I not so wretched your good accounts of the dear boys would please me so much & I would be so much interested. . . as it is I can’t take an interest in anything.”

Anna managed to convey a few items of her own family’s news, but returned to the notion that a diagnosis of insanity might actually help her come to grips with her paralyzing burden.  In that case, she wrote, she could even believe herself capable of visiting Lizzie, of experimenting with travel and change. . . “but I can’t.”

Anna’s letter is in the Edmunds Family Papers, 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.

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Putting the Rug Underneath Your Feet

Arline Rawlins admiring her “Kentucky Stair Runner.”

The Manuscripts unit of the Department of Library Special Collections recently acquired papers and photographs related to hooked rugs created by Bowling Green artist Arline (Perkins) Rawlins. The estate of her daughter, Alicia (Rawlins) McFarland gifted the material to Special Collections.  The collection consists chiefly of correspondence with magazine editors related to articles published about Rawlins’ rugs, as well as a large number of black and white photographs documenting her creations.

Arline (Perkins) Rawlins was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky on 3 February 1899. She attended Gunston Hall in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Western Kentucky State Normal and Teacher’s College in 1923 with an AB degree.  She eventually taught art on an adjunct basis at Western.  She also studied art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Mellon Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. during World War II.  In 1946 she became the art supervisor for Bowling Green city schools.  In 1952 she earned her BA at WKU and in 1958  her MA.

A number of Rawlins’ paintings, chiefly oils and palette knife, are in private collections in Bowling Green and in various museums, but she is best known for her hooked rugs which she designed and hooked herself. Her best known rug was titled Kentucky Stair Runner; it featured twenty Kentucky themed scenes and was installed in her Bowling Green home.  The rug won first place at the September 1949 Kentucky State Fair and was featured in several articles in regional and national publications.  National magazines, such as Woman’s Day, American Home, and Family Circle carried articles penned by Rawlins or about her rugs.  She considered her rug work part of the regeneration of American craft, and indeed she fits perfectly into the craft revival movement of the 1930s and 1940s.  Interestingly, this parallels the revival of quilting as a craft in this country.

…making something from nothing is just about what rug making is. Part of the fun and a great part of the charm of rug making is in the ability of the maker to see the possibilities…

Rawlins’ rug work gave her great satisfaction as witnessed by this quote from an article she wrote for Farm and Ranch:  “People who have the ingenuity to make something from nothing are the envy of all their friends.  And making something from nothing is just about what rug making is.  Part of the fun and a great part of the charm of rug making is in the ability of the maker to see the possibilities around her—to see in that old, worn-out blanket a beautiful background, in that moth-eaten tweed skirt a handsome scroll, and in that faded red woolen skirt a lovely rose.” Her love of rug making allowed her to incorporate the love for the Commonwealth.  This is reflected in the names she gave her patterns:  “Kentucky Bouquet,” “The Mint Julep,” “The Winner,” “The Thoroughbred,” “The Pennyroyal,” “The Cardinal,” and “The Strawberry Patch.”

Mailing label from Rawlins’ mail order business.

Besides this collection, other material related to Rawlins exists in the Temple Family Papers. One of Rawlins dearest friends was Ruth Hines Temple, who played with Rawlins as a child, was a bridesmaid at her wedding, and remained a close contact throughout her life.  For most of their lives, they lived only a few blocks from each other.  Temple, who became the head of the Art Department at WKU, assisted Rawlins in the design concept for packaging, marketing and stationery for her cottage rug industry.  Rawlins actually rejected Temple’s concept for Pennyroyal Rugs and developed her own Nine Hearths Hooked Rug Designs, named for her house on Park Street.

To see the finding aid for the Rawlins collection click here, to see the same for the Temple Family Papers, click here. To look for other textile or women’s related collections, search KenCat or TopScholar.

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Lil Yachty Is to Mumble Rap as Roy Butler Is to Auctioneering

In his paper titled “Notes and Speculations on Country Auctioneering as It Is Practiced in North Central Kentucky,” former Western folk studies student Joseph King attempts to frame auctioneering as an expressive lyrical performance similar to folk singing or folk preaching. King examines specifically the country auction and draws a stark contrast against the “sedate art auctions and auctioneers in urban areas.” His descriptions of the auction sites—often farm houses, barns, and churches—the goods being sold—“…anybody can haul in a load of anything, an old mule, a load of manure, six bags of wilted lettuce, old fruit jars…”—and the people in attendance—“…the auctions are a place to talk to your neighbor, a chance to look at his wife when she is ‘fixed up’ a little (clean overalls and freshly ironed dresses seem to be de rigueur at these events”—are heavy-handed and patronizing, but King’s argument relating the art of auctioneering to a musical performance may hold some weight.

During his fieldwork investigation, King visited several auctions throughout North Central Kentucky, gathering information on specific auctioneers, their professional training (or lack thereof), and their highly stylized “calling” techniques. He also recorded auctioneers on a single reel-to-reel audiotape at live sales in order to analyze individual idiosyncrasies and highlight further connections between calling and singing. King’s most salient point is the study of the auctioneer’s chant. He writes,

“The auctioneer’s chant is infused with a strong measure rhythm. A heavily accented syllable is uttered at periodic intervals (a trained musician could probably give the exact rhythmical time for any auctioneer). There is, perhaps, a semblance of a monotonous tune…the chant, however, does not sound particularly musical because of the harshness of the auctioneer’s voice and the lack of variation.”

As with most folk traditions, the emphasis is on oral transmission—informal knowledge passed from one person to another; however, King also notes that a handful of auctioneers he spoke with attended an auctioneering school where courses were taught by highly trained professionals in the field. Nevertheless, King asserts that the sales, and by extension the auctioneer, “express community values” and serve as a release valve for locally-situated tensions and anxieties. Perhaps a slight stretch, but King’s conclusions offer further points of inquiry concerning the intersection of folk music, identity, religion, and craft.

1973 Antique Auction broadside

1973 Antique Auction broadside

The paper itself (FA 1167), located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, contains newspaper clippings, brief biographical sketches, and a reel-to-reel audio tape of the auctioneers’ chants.

For more information on folk songs, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Jackpot!

Lottery ticket for John Grimes's property

Lottery ticket for John Grimes’s property

Until 1816, when legislative authorization was required, anyone in Kentucky could conduct a lottery to raise money for public improvements such as a church, school, road or bridge, or just to fund some private scheme: only a year earlier, John A. Grimes of Madison County had parted with his property by holding a lottery and charging $20 per ticket.

Even with the introduction of legislative oversight, the history of lotteries is rife with tales of fraud and corruption.  Former WKU librarian Mary Leiper Moore researched the story of James R. Golladay of Bowling Green, who ran a number of high-rolling lotteries in the 1870s; prizes included $10,000 in cash, a brewery, houses and lots in Louisville and Bowling Green, and various smaller awards of cash, horses, and carriages.  Golladay’s empire collapsed in controversy, however, after the winner of a “handsome residence” in Bowling Green turned out to be. . . his own wife.

The "Great Land Sale" lottery ticket

The “Great Land Sale” lottery ticket

The Manuscripts and Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections include other materials relating to this strike-it-rich pastime.  There’s a ticket for the “Great Land Sale” in Henderson County, held in 1870, where four substantial prizes of good “river bottom land” and cash were awarded.  There’s the scrapbook of Captain Richard Vance, a devotee of the Louisiana State lottery who apparently never threw away his tickets.  And there’s Kentucky’s first state lottery ticket, issued in commemorative form in 1989.

Richard Vance's Louisiana lottery tickets

Richard Vance’s Louisiana lottery tickets

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

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“They either get well or die”

Philadelphia's Liberty Loan parade on Sept. 28, 1918 triggered one of the worst outbreaks of flu in the country.

Philadelphia’s Liberty Loan parade on Sept. 28, 1918 triggered one of the worst outbreaks of flu in the country.

Besides the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, 2018 marks the centennial of one of the deadliest scourges in history, the 1918 influenza pandemic.  Striking in three waves, the outbreak finally subsided in summer 1919, leaving tens of millions dead worldwide and about 675,000 in the United States.

Lacking the means to diagnose flu viruses or any drugs to combat them, the medical community was overwhelmed.  But the scale of the pandemic seemed to do little to dampen the enthusiasm of George Hays, then working for the U.S. Public Health Service.  Writing in February 1919 to his stepmother Georgia (Carley) Hays, a native of Scott County, Kentucky, George gave her an account of his experiences among the sick at Philadelphia General Hospital that was both upbeat and curiously matter-of-fact.

Cash-poor and in debt to his stepmother, George had at first contemplated a two-week paid stint in New York “to help inoculate the Police force with a new pneumonia serum.”  The assignment in Philadelphia, however, with medical tutelage under two renowned instructors, looked to be more beneficial in the long run.  “We have been given a new ward of Men’s Medical and all of Women’s Influenza,” he wrote.  He felt lucky, for with this newly opened ward came fresh new patients, instead of “a number of old bed-ridden uninteresting patients who have been here for years.”  The women’s influenza ward, he observed clinically, “is a good thing also because all cases are new and they either get well or die and leave room for new ones quickly.”  Finally, there was the challenge of weeding out cases “sent to Flu because they give a history of symptoms similar to Flu, when in reality they are not Flu at all.”  And so, decided Hays, here lay a great opportunity to hobnob with some “really big men of the surgical and medical world,” see the sights of Philadelphia, and forget about his own bout with the flu, which had left his heart struggling under “terrific prostrating toxemia.”

George Hays’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections about the influenza pandemic, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Captain’s Husband

"She says I must write": Josiah Dunham's letter

“She says I must write”: Josiah Dunham’s letter

Josiah Dunham (1769-1844) came to Kentucky from Vermont, where he had enjoyed a distinguished career as a Federalist newspaper publisher, Secretary of State, and colonel in the Vermont militia during the War of 1812.  In Lexington, he founded the Lexington Female Academy, soon renamed the Lafayette Female Academy in honor of the great Frenchman’s visit during his tour of the United States in 1825.

Left behind in Vermont were Dunham’s sister-in-law Eleutheria (“Thery”) and her husband Daniel Chipman, an equally prominent lawyer, teacher and Federalist member of Congress.  In a lengthy letter, written on Christmas Day 1842 and now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, Dunham brought the Chipmans up to date on his domestic life and preoccupations.

Despite his accomplishments, Dunham recognized who ruled the roost at home.  His letter, in fact, was written at his wife Susan’s bidding: “she is still ‘the Captain’ at our house,” he observed with affection, and “I have nothing to do but obey orders.”  Now in their seventies, Dunham and his wife were “getting too rapidly on in the down hill of life,” but Susan’s energy far exceeded his as she ably commanded a household of 15 or 20, including servants and a loyal teacher (“adjutant”) from their academy days.  Servants, however, cost “a heap,” as the family made use of enslaved Africans hired out by their owners: a man and four women, Dunham reported, were priced at $340 a year plus food, clothing, medical bills, and city and state tax levies.

Noting his brother-in-law’s reentry into Vermont politics via the latest state constitutional convention, Dunham also commented on the great Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay.  On his way south, apparently to attend the wedding of his daughter Anne’s widower James Erwin, Clay had been greeted everywhere with bipartisan admiration for “his talents and his virtues.”  But would Clay, soon to make his third try for the presidency, be able to translate that enthusiasm into votes?  That, Dunham (rightly) concluded, “will probably be another affair.”

A finding aid for Josiah Dunham’s letter is available here.  For more of our political collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

Josiah Dunham's signature

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A Connecticut Yankee in Kentucky

"I am still in the land of Old Kentuck": Noah Pond from Trigg County, 1836

“I am still in the land of Old Kentuck”: Noah Pond from Trigg County, 1836

“The folks here are very different from what they are in Connecticut.”  It was 1836, and the economy in his home town of Washington, Connecticut had impelled Noah Pond to sign on for a 22-month stint as an itinerant seller (read: peddler) in Kentucky, based in the Trigg County community of New Design.  His letters home offer us a fascinating picture of this frontier community as seen through the eyes of a curious but homesick Yankee.

In Trigg County, Pond found immigrants from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Dutch, Scots-Irish, English and “now and then a Spaniard.”  He also found a county of slaveholders, and noted with interest the habits of the 16 enslaved Africans who labored on the farm where he boarded.  Witnessing their informal marriage customs, their Christmas and Easter holidays, and the latitude given them to farm small plots of their own, Pond indulged the conceit that they were “better off than the poorer class of people in the east.”

Generally impressed by local farming practices and prices, Pond saw the chance for an enterprising settler to make good.  For the most part, however, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.  He had to turn on the charm to get a Yankee-hating old Dutchman and his wife to buy some of his goods, and was outraged at the costs, both in travel and treatment, of a doctor’s care when he fell ill.  He found teachers and preachers in short supply— “I can preach better myself than the Priests can,” he wrote, “for they are nothing but Farmers”—but perhaps Pond’s biggest complaint was the fickle Kentucky climate.  “The weather is so changeable here,” he wailed, “that it will freeze a man to death one minute and roast him the next go to bed at night half froze and before morning you will be hot enough to roast eggs.”  He concluded that one needed a “constitution like a Horse to stand it.”

Noah Pond’s letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections on frontier life in Kentucky, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Notice to Vacate

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson's passport photo

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson’s passport photo

As students descend on WKU and set up housekeeping in residence halls and apartments, let’s hope that none has the experience of a former faculty member during one of his many overseas adventures as a visiting professor.

Carlton Jackson (1933-2014) taught history at WKU for more than four decades.  An enthusiastic traveler, Jackson accepted several Fulbright professorships and visiting lectureships in countries such as Finland, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.  In the fall of 1978, he and his family headed for Shiraz, Iran, where Jackson was to serve in an endowed professorship at Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University).

Jackson leased a house in September, but only a month later was preparing to vacate.  “The electric supply in the house is faulty,” he complained to the University’s representative, “and extremely dangerous. . . . The wires are exposed, and would electrocute anyone who touched them.  One of the plugs has a piece of newspaper stuffed into it, creating a real danger of fire.”  As if that wasn’t enough, the house’s proximity to a nearby farm field attracted “huge amounts of mosquitoes, flies, and other biting and possibly disease spreading insects.”  And then there was the rodent population.  The house “is full of rats and mice,” complained Jackson.  “Each night, several of them come through the bedrooms and get on the curtains and Venetian blinds.”

And finally, there was the danger that this whole house of horrors might explode: there was “a serious leakage of gas in the front yard” that was seeping into the family’s bedrooms at night.  Jackson was unimpressed with the representative’s assurance that “It’s been there for two years, and goes up in the air.”  With a friend’s help, Jackson had contacted the gas company, and while the problem was quickly fixed he had become convinced that the landlord had no intention of making the house habitable.

Ultimately, however, it was the Iranian Revolution that cut short Jackson’s time at the University and sent him home, one hopes, to better housing.  “I only taught two hours at this position,” he would later write ruefully in his vita.  “I had to leave early for reasons that are well known.”

Carlton Jackson’s papers are held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid is available here.

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Nixon and Cox

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

When, on October 21, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and triggered the resignations of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General in protest, the upheaval became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”  Charles Lowther, then a history student at WKU, wrote to several members of the U.S. Congress expressing his outrage at Nixon’s action.  The replies he received reflected a common fear that the country was in the midst of a deep political crisis.

“Removal of Mr. Cox was a serious mistake,” replied Kentucky Congressman William Natcher (D), aware that House Speaker Carl Albert had directed the House Judiciary Committee to assess whether there were grounds to impeach Nixon.  Kentucky Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston (D), shared Lowther’s concern but, like Congressman Frank Stubblefield, assured him that Congress would maintain its investigations “to insure that we continue to have a government by law, and not by men.”  Kentucky Senator Marlow Cook (R) advised that he had co-sponsored a bill to allow the removal of a special prosecutor only on authorization of Congress, but pledged to retain his objectivity in the event he was called upon to “sit as a juror in an impeachment trial.”  Edmund Muskie (D) of Maine acknowledged Lowther’s letter as one of thousands he had received “urging Congress to act to reestablish the principle that no office in our government—and no office holder—is above the law.”

And finally, North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin (D), chairman of the Senate committee investigating the activities of Nixon’s reelection campaign, sought to refute any accusation of political bias by pointing out that his committee had been constituted by unanimous vote of the Senate.  Evidence uncovered so far, he suggested in language betraying both anger and sadness, “tends to show that men, upon whom fortune had smiled benevolently and who possessed great political power and great governmental power, undertook to nullify the laws of man and the laws of God for the purpose of gaining what history will call a very temporary political advantage.”

These letters to Charles Lowther are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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