Monthly Archives: August 2014

Maurice Hudson Thatcher

Panama Canal Logo Maurice Hudson Thatcher was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 15, 1870.  The Thatcher family moved to Morgantown, Kentucky when Maurice was about 3-yrs-old and he grew up in Butler County.  Maurice Thatcher worked as a circuit court clerk for Butler County, before he became Assistant U. S. District Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District, 1901-1908.  Thatcher held the office of State Inspector and Examiner for Kentucky, 1908-1910.  In 1910, Maurice Thatcher was appointed by the former U. S. President William Howard Taft as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission which supervised construction of the Panama Canal.

Maurice H. Thatcher served as Civil Governor of the Canal Zone, 1910-1913, during the construction of the Panama Canal.  The Thatcher Ferry Bridge over the Panama Canal was named for Maurice Thatcher in 1961.  Former U. S. President Robert F. Kennedy reportedly gave Maurice Thatcher the pen with which Kennedy signed the bill that named the bridge after Thatcher.  However, the Thatcher Ferry bridge was later renamed as the Bridge of the Americas.

Maurice H. Thatcher served in the House of Representatives, 1923-1933, from Kentucky’s 5th District.  Thatcher sponsored legislation for the establishment of Mammoth Cave as a National Park.  Thatcher actively supported a national parkway system from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the Mammoth Cave National Park and to the Natchez Trace Parkway near Nashville, TN.  Thatcher also helped establish the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory in Panama City for the study of tropical diseases in honor of his old colleague on the canal commission, Colonel William C. Gorgas.

In the House of Representatives address on May 29, 1930, the Honorable Maurice H. Thatcher concluded his speech on page 20 about the History and Significance of the Panama Canal with, “This slight ligament, which through the centuries gone has physically bound together North and South America, in the centuries to come, by the fact of its severance, shall bind and hold together the two continents in the closest bonds of commercial, political, and social friendship, and shall quicken and increase our contacts with all the lands of the earth.”

Maurice Thatcher *Photo of Maurice H. Thatcher can be found in the Department of Library Special Collections.

Thatcher was honorary life president of the Panama Canal Society in Washington, D. C. and honorary life member of the Isthmian Historical Society.  Other honors include: a medal and plaque of the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa from the Panama government, as well as honors from Venezuela and Ecuador for his service.

Maurice H. Thatcher was the sole surviving member of the Isthmian Canal Commission when he celebrated his 100th birthday on the 56th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.  Former U. S. President Richard Nixon called to wish Thatcher a happy birthday.

In a newspaper article written by William Greider, February 18, 1968, entitled …Always a Congressman, Thatcher said, “I keep my citizenship back in Kentucky,” he explained, “but I am domiciled here.  I stayed here because of these public matters I was interested in.  I felt I could do more good by staying here and could serve Kentucky and the Panama Canal better than I would by going back.”

Maurice Hudson Thatcher died on January 6, 1973 at the age of 102 at his home in Washington, D. C. and he was buried in Frankfort, Kentucky.


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Panama Canal LogoAmericans were fascinated by the Big Dig going on in Panama in the early-1910s. The Latin American isthmus project was a sterling example of American ingenuity, Big Stick diplomacy, and cooperation. A Kentuckian with keen interest in the project was Earl Palmer of Paducah. He was co-founder of the Ferguson & Palmer Lumber Company of Paducah in 1898 and a man of adventure and florid words.  The industrialist decided to satisfy his curiosity about the canal project by visiting Panama in 1913 and preserving his observations for posterity in print form.  This first paragraph from the resulting book, titled The Panamaniacs, gives you an impression for Palmer’s prose and sense of humor:

“When one packs a steamer trunk and fares forth to foreign parts in search of new experiences, fresh ideas and palpitating thrills, he is under no particular obligation to any one [sic] to reduce said experiences, fresh ideas and palpitating thrills to writing. Indeed he is more highly esteemed if he does nothing of the kind.  But as the attempt is not yet actually prohibited by law, which possibly is due to oversight on the part of our dilatory legislators, I shall hasten to get into the game before our law-makers are awakened to a proper sense of duty.”

Title page from “Panamaniacs”

Palmer never mentions the names of his traveling companions; he simply refers to the other Paduchans as a Banker, a Lawyer, a Merchant, and himself. He calls himself “the first person singular personal pronoun,” in other words “I.”  The Paducah party left by rail on the morning of 17 January 1913 accompanied by their “four loving and lovable wives, each fair, fat and forty.”  Upon reaching Jacksonville, they added to their party the Human Encyclopedia, the Entertainer, and the Altruist and then proceeded to Key West where they added the Pessimist and the Boy, “bringing the total up to the fateful and ominous number of thirteen, which doubtless accounts for much which befell the party.”

Besides his brief descriptions of the canal construction, which he observed on a four-hour train ride from Colon to Panama City, Palmer discusses his views on Panamanian history, culture, geography.  The party also stopped in Cuba and enjoyed the nightlife in Havana which Palmer faithfully records.

Panamaniacs 1

Autographed and dated frontispiece photograph of Earl Palmer.

This small book is not listed on WorldCat, meaning that the Kentucky Library Research Collections in the Department of Library Special Collections at WKU may be the only repository worldwide to own this title. It was purchased, by chance, at a small antique store in Paris, Kentucky.  The book features a bookplate indicating that it once belonged to Margaret Yopp.  For decades the Yopps ran a seed cleaning and seed selling operation in Paducah.  From the description of the Palmer party, it is unlikely that Margaret participated in the Panamanian jaunt.  The small monograph features only one photograph and that is of the author which he signed “Very Truly Yours Earl Palmer Mch. 22, 1913.” The Young Printing Company of Paducah published the “Limited Edition” travel account for Palmer, and it undoubtedly was a small printing run.

For those receiving this small book as a token of affection or friendship, Palmer noted in the a foreword: “This modest booklet does not pose as an object lesson of perfection in orthography, etomology [sic], syntax or prosody…Therefore, should anyone upon whom this book is bestowed be too greatly annoyed by the many obvious errors in construction…may return the book to the donor, and his thanks will be cheerfully refunded.”


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WKU Latin American Studies Program

Michael Youn

Michael Yohn

Created in 1962 the Latin American Studies Program provides students with opportunities to study and experience Latin America and the Caribbean.  To this end the program sponsored a series of seminars regarding the control and use of the Panama Canal in 1977. Experts attending the spring conference included Michael Yohn of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs pictured here along with his colleague Lauralee Peters,  Eric Baklanoff of the University of Alabama, Alvaro Garcia-Pena an international business consultant from Washington, DC, Robert Dowland of the Department of Commerce and WKU’s Kenneth Cann.Panama Canal Logo

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New Online Resources from WKU Libraries!

We’ve recently added some exciting new resources, and upgraded several of our databases! All resources listed below can be found through the library catalog or under “databases” on the library homepage.

Oxford English Dictionary online:  The definitive dictionary of the English language, with over 600,000 entries. (Now there’s no excuse for citations).

Applied Science & Technology Full text (EBSCO): We upgraded our citation index to include full text from over 700 publications.

JSTOR Arts & Sciences IX & X: An upgrade to our JSTOR subscription providing access to an additional 400 titles in Sociology, Law, Education, Archaeology, and other disciplines.

EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete: Through our partnership with the Kentucky Virtual Library, we have upgraded our main EBSCO database to include an additional 4,000 full text titles.

And more:

New York Review of Books (online)

Records of the Antebellum Southern Plantations (online)

Chronicle of Higher Education (online — off campus users must register with their email address)

Harvard Dictionary of Regional English (online)


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Panama Canal Pedro Miguel Locks

Panama Canal LogoWhen the Panama Canal opened to traffic 100 years ago on Aug. 15, 1914, it was a great feat of innovation and skill and connected the world’s two largest oceans. The opening event drew many news outlets and photographers.  Its appeal has continued throughout the years as evidenced by this photograph produced by the Galloway Company of New York.  Native Kentuckian, Ewing Galloway (1881-1953) who was born in “Little Dixie,” in Henderson, started his career as a lawyer and city prosecutor. In 1920,  he opened his own photographic company which would become the largest stock photograph agency in the United States.  His studio trained many photographers who traveled worldwide taking images that focused on native peoples, transportation and commerce.  The agency today has photographic image holdings that amount to over four hundred thousand. In 1937, Galloway donated nearly 1000 photographs to the Kentucky Library. The photographs cover a wide variety of national and international themes. The image shown here showcases the Panama Canal’s Pedro Miguel Locks, with Gaillard Cut (formerly Culebra) in the distance, and features a large steamship leaving one of the locks for Miraflores on to the Pacific. Pan00011

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Only a Nickel

Panama Canal LogoThe Panama Canal’s original cost came in at about $375 million, but for a mere five cents, early 20th-century movie-goers could marvel at “Life Motion Pictures” showing the construction of “the greatest piece of civil engineering attempted by any one country.”  So declared a flyer inviting patrons to the Dixie Theatre for a one-day-only screening.

President Theodore Roosevelt would have been highly pleased by such an exhibition, since he considered the Panama Canal one of his greatest foreign policy successes.  It is likely that, in addition to scenes of technological wizardry, the Dixie Theatre film would have shown Roosevelt himself during his 1906 visit to inspect the construction—the first trip outside the U.S. by a president while in office.  Clad in a splendid white suit and hat, Roosevelt even climbed into a massive steam shovel to experience the project firsthand.

By 1911, Bowling Green, Kentucky had four theatres: the Bowling Green Opera House, the Columbia, and the Princess Theatre.  An earlier theatre, the Crescent, was located on Park Row.  The location of the Dixie Theatre is uncertain, but it was possibly a temporary venue set up by enterprising showmen to capitalize on both the technical marvel unfolding down in Panama and the novelty of “Life Motion Pictures.”

Dixie Theatre advertisementThe Dixie Theatre’s advertisement is part of the Kentucky Library Research Collections and is one of our featured collections as we observe the Panama Canal Centennial this month.

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Lewis Completes Staff Leadership Program

Maria Lewis, Library Assistant in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), recently completed the 2013-2014 year-long training through the Staff Leadership Institute. This program is for WKU staff members who have demonstrated advancement potential in their work. Over the past months, Maria attended classes and workshops that taught and tested, improved leadership competencies, the ability to apply basic leadership principles and to employ knowledge of WKU resources campus wide. The program is sponsored by the Staff Council and Human Resources. Selection for participation in the program is competitive and requires recommendation and approval by supervisors and departments. The program notes that it “seeks to enhance job performance and personal development skills while challenging the spirit of each individual who participates.” Maria enjoyed the diversity of people and tasks in the program and learning more about the life of campus and how things work together. The Library Special Collections department is pleased that Maria was chosen to participate and was among the 2014 recent graduates. Congratulations to Maria!

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Major General William L. Sibert

Panama Canal LogoA native of Alabama, William L. Sibert was born on October 12, 1860. Studying at the University of Alabama and the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, he graduated as one of the top cadets in his class in 1884. Prior to his work on the Panama Canal, Second Lt. Sibert was assigned to oversee improvements as the lock and dam system on the Green and Barren Rivers near Bowling Green, Kentucky was transferred from private ownership to the Federal government. In a letter currently housed in WKU’s Manuscripts Collection dated April 9, 1889, Sibert notified Mr. Morgan of Green Castle, Kentucky, that the United States was taking “possession of the fifteen acres of land at Lock No. 1 Barren River, for which it holds the deed.” Sibert’s next assignment was to construct a new lock in a lock-and-dam system which would enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.

On March 16, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Major Sibert as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission. As the head engineer of the Atlantic Division, Sibert was in charge of building the Gatun Locks and Gatun Dam. Gatum Dam is one and one-half miles long, built across two deep gorges which were formerly soft sea muddy beds of the Chagres River. Sibert knew that water pressure would exist under the floor of the upper flight of locks at Gatun and under the floor of the spillway channel below the dam. Thus, the Gatun Locks were built to resist upward water pressure induced by the huge lake which the dam created.

SibeMajor General William L. Sibertrt’s superiors expected his assignment to take two years longer than any other part of the Panama Canal construction. Determined to prove them wrong, Sibert had to pour concrete at a faster rate than had ever been done. He doubled the world’s maximum rate despite the fact that it was necessary to tow the required stone and sand from Porto Bello across an arm of the Carribean Sea to the job site. The Gatun Locks were operational on September 26, 1913, before Culebra Cut and the Pacific Locks at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel were finished. Sibert also built the wet breakwater, Colon Harbor, and excavated the channel from Gatun to the Atlantic Ocean. He was relieved from duty with the Canal when the commission was abolished on March 31, 1914.

At the outbreak of World War I, Sibert became the first commanding general of the First Infantry Division, known as “the Big Red One,” supervising their combat training and leading them to France in 1917. Soon thereafter, advancing to the rank of Major General, Sibert was named commander of the newly formed Chemical Warfare Service. For his war service, he received the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor.

In December 1918, Sibert accepted membership in Bowling Green’s XV Club, stating “This act makes me feel sure that when I come back to Bowling Green to live I will be among friends . . . . There is nothing that brings the same satisfaction in life as the good will of those whom you know and who know you.” When asked why he chose to retire to Bowling Green, he replied, “….in Bowling Green there are more men than anywhere else who will stop whatever they’re doing, no matter how busy they are, to go fishin’ or fox-huntin’ with me. (New York Times Magazine, Nov. 2, 1924) On the centennial of Sibert’s birth, a Bowling Green newspaper man wrote: “If the late Maj. Gen. William L. Sibert loved anything better than his slide rule and the thrill of getting big tough jobs done in jig time — perhaps it was his foxhounds and the stir the pack brought deep within him as it closed on quarry at full cry.” Sibert died at his country home near Bowling Green on October 16, 1935 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This biographical sketch was researched using Kentucky Library Research Collections in the Kentucky Building.

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Battle of the Flags

Panama Canal LogoAlmost from the beginning, the 1903 treaty granting the United States perpetual rights to a 10-mile strip across the Isthmus of Panama for canal construction became a political problem.  By the late 1950s, Panamanian grievances against the U.S. over the Canal Zone were well defined:  insufficient payments for its use, wage and employment discrimination against Panamanian workers, and nationalist resentment over American control of the territory itself.  A particularly sensitive question, one with enormous symbolic significance, was whether the Panamanian flag should be flown alongside the Stars and Stripes in the Canal Zone.

As Panama observed the anniversary of its independence, on November 3, 1959 some 2,000 student demonstrators attempted to enter the Canal Zone to raise the flag of their country.  Tensions quickly escalated.  The students threw rocks at Canal Zone police, who responded with fire hoses and tear gas.  Finally, the Governor of the Canal Zone, Major General William E. Potter, frustrated by the lukewarm response of the Panamanian authorities, called in U.S. troops to quell the violence.

When the Panamanians criticized Governor Potter’s actions, Kentucky Congressman Frank Chelf was livid, and wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploring the calls for Potter’s resignation.  Having recently visited the Canal Zone and met “real” Panamanians who had nothing but admiration for the U.S., he believed the riots to be a cynical move by Communist-inspired opportunists.  No doubt referring to presidential candidate Aquilino Boyd, a leader of the “flag invasion,” Chelf accused “free-loading politicians” of casting their lot with “flea-bitten, cheap Communist demagogues” in order to poison public opinion against the U.S. and gain votes on election day.  Meanwhile, America’s long friendship with Panama went unrecognized.  “We gave them more than a just trade for the original Canal Zone by and through a fair and honorable treaty,” Chelf wrote Eisenhower.  “We ended yellow fever, completed the job the French had left undone and started the ships moving.”  With Canal Zone operations pumping some $180 million annually into Panama’s economy, seeing his country portrayed as the “big bad wolf” was a bitter pill for Chelf to swallow.  Nevertheless, in September 1960 Eisenhower authorized the flying of both the Panamanian and U.S. flags in the Canal Zone.

Frank Chelf (in checked shirt) and Mrs. Chelf visit federal judge and fellow Kentuckian Guthrie F. Crowe and Mrs. Crowe in Panama, 1959

Frank Chelf (in checked shirt) and Mrs. Chelf visit federal judge and fellow Kentuckian Guthrie F. Crowe and Mrs. Crowe in Panama, 1959

The Frank Chelf Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections includes his letter to President Eisenhower and is one of our featured collections as we observe the Panama Canal Centennial this month.

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Richey Completes Preservation Certificate Program


Nancy Richey received a Collections Care certificate earlier this month from the Campbell Center.

Nancy Richey, Visual Resources Librarian in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), recently received “Collections Care” certification from the The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mount Carroll, Illinois.  Over several years, Richey has completed the following courses at the Campbell Center:  three sections of progressively intensive classes titled Care of Photographic Collections, Care of Historic Scrapbooks, Archives Principles and Practices, and Digitizing Museum Collections.

“Because of the diversity of materials in my care,” noted Richey, “the training I received at the Campbell Center in Collections Care, enables me to more carefully identify the nature of the material in question and the cause of its deterioration and subsequently prescribe preservation remedies.”  Richey currently manages illustrative material in the Kentucky Library Research Collections, including photographs in many formats, maps, broadsides, prints, and postcards.  “We are always pleased when faculty proactively seek out additional training to add to their expertise,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, DLSC Department Head.   “Besides completing an arduous curriculum of courses, Nancy helped procure funding to assist her in attaining this certification.  She has enchanced her own professional resume, while concurrently boosting the reputation and expertise of our department.”

Founded in the mid-1980s and located on a historic school property, The Campbell Center provides interdisciplinary and continuing education to meet the evolving training needs of individuals who work to preserve historic landscapes, and cultural, historic, and artistic properties.  Workshop topics range greatly and include hands-on training in areas such as art restoration, tombstone repair, historic masonry, preservation of historic properties and landscapes, basic archives training, and document preservation.


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