Monthly Archives: January 2019

Serendipity

Edward Rumsey Wing just prior to being appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador.

It’s funny how items from collections, coming from different donors and eras, occasionally overlap. Last year, Doug Brockhouse and his wife of St. Louis donated a set of papers related to the Weir family of Muhlenberg County. The collection revolves around a prosperous agricultural and merchant family that exerted quite an influence in nineteenth and early-twentieth century Greenville. The collection includes a noteworthy travel account of James Weir’s trip from South Carolina to Tennessee in 1798-1799, ante bellum and Civil War correspondence, and Edward R. Weir Sr.’s declaration of Muhlenberg County’s support of the Union. The collection also contains a little over thirty photographs, chiefly of the Weir family and allied families. One of the latter is of Edward Rumsey Wing (shown here), who was a cousin of Edward R. Weir, Jr.

Edward Rumsey Wing was born in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1843 to Samuel M. Wing and Emily (Weir) Wing. He became a lawyer and at the age of 29 was named the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, at the time the youngest ambassador ever appointed. He served for four years before he died on 5 October 1874 in Quito while still in service. Interestingly, through his wife Louise Scott, Wing was related to the Green family of Grayson County. The Manuscripts unit in Library Special Collections owns a significant collection of Green family papers. In this collection are several letters that Wing wrote to Green and Scott family members back in Kentucky.

In one of those letters Rumsey, as he was called, wrote about an 1870 earthquake that he and Louise experienced in Quito. With the skills of a poet, Wing described the event: “It was ten o‘clock and Louise had gone to sleep on a sofa over a ‘Cornhill Magazine’ while I was lying on the bed reading a law book and deeply interested, which I presume kept me from fully appreciating the situation at the first shiver of the earth I could still hear voices in the street and then a heavy heel went clanging by over the resonating sidewalk. The white light of the moonlight enwrapped the houses and the hill and [provided a] silvery kiss on our windows. All at once there was a sudden silence that I now remember first attracted my attention, & the very night seemed to hold its breath as if waiting, listening, terror-stricken at the coming shock. The next moment it struck me that the bed curtains were stirred as if by a strong wind. Still I did not think of the dreaded ‘temblor’ until in a flash I heard groans, screams and prayers issuing from every direction – our own servants running across the courtyard with loud outcries for “El Senor Ministre’ – and the bed trembled as if in the grasp of some fierce giant.”

“I recall then the queer jingle of the windows,” Wing continued, “and their latches, & springing up felt the room with its ‘six foot’ walls reeling like a beaten ship at sea. Glancing from the window at the moonlit street I could see many people on their knees & many prostrate on their faces, praying most fervently, whilst loud above all other sounds, I could distinctly catch the cry of ‘El Temblor, El Temblor.’” After a contemplative night, Wing summarized his reaction to the event: “The most disagreeable thing in connection with an earthquake like a battle is really ‘after it is over.’ Then one begins to realize what an infinitesimal atom he is, and not only himself but all men and all nations and all the ambitions of life and all the absorbing interests which we so untiringly & eagerly pursue, — in the face of these tremendous convulsions. These terrible forces of nature, these awful agencies, so bitterly dreaded and so little understood, & of their supreme ruler and controller…Why should helpless man be thus made the unwilling sport of misfortune – or of superior power & wisdom & goodness?”

To see a finding aid for the Weir Collection click here, or to view the Green Family finding click here.

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“Fill My Eye”

Postcard of a young woman

But there are other fish in the sea?

With the upheaval of the Civil War still a year away, Hattie Binford of Hickman, Kentucky was preoccupied with a smaller, more personal and yet equally consuming drama: the man who got away.  Perhaps because her friend Lucy (Parker) Robbins was 10 years older and married, 17-year-old Hattie looked to her for mentorship on matters of the heart.

Hattie had just experienced a sighting of the object of her affection, a certain “Mr. McBride,” she wrote Lucy in May 1860.  Unfortunately, her glimpse of him was as “the Bridegroom of another.  I had to summon all the courage and fortitude I possibly could to keep from showing my feeling,” Hattie mourned, “which was not very pleasant at that time I will assure you.”  But she vowed to rebound.  “There is as good Fish in the sea as ever was caught out so I will have the pleasure of catching another.”  For instance, that gentleman presently staying with Lucy, what was his name?  “Let me know if he is a candidate for matrimony,” Hattie demanded, “he can have my vote.”

Hattie filled her letter with other local news, including a visit from two admirers, but “I think I can do better than to take either of them.”  Her gold standard remained Mr. McBride, and she deputized her friend Lucy to “pick me out a nice Beau.”  He didn’t have to be rich, as long as he didn’t drink whiskey and play cards (to excess, that is).  “I want the jewel to consist of himself,” Hattie wrote dreamily.  “I want him to be handsome intelligent polite good natured,” as well as modest—“no profusion of fob chains Necktie or big words need apply, for they cannot fill my Eye.”

Click here to download a finding aid for Hattie’s letter, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For other letters about courtship and marriage, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Bowling Green Exhibit

During the fall semester of 2018 three Anthropology majors interested in museum studies worked as interns in WKU Archives to create an exhibit entitled Bowling Green. The students, Jennifer Roberts, Jordan Mansfield and Beth Sutherland were given seven exhibit cases. They each chose two topics to fill six cases and they collaborated on the topic of education for the seventh and largest of the cases. Continue reading

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New Year’s Away From Home

The Malacanan Palace where McElroy spent New Year’s Day in 1909.

Where did you spend New Year’s Day? On January 1, 1909, Bowling Green attorney Clarence Underwood McElroy found himself amongst other invited guests at the royal palace in Manilla, Philippines.  Governor-General James Francis Smith invited McElroy, who was on an extended trip to the Orient, to the “national holiday” soiree.  McElroy recorded the temperature at 89 degrees and noted that the “grounds men elaborately decorated [the courtyard] with Japanese lanterns and electric lights in the fountain.” He goes on:  “The Palace is designed for entertaining and was built by the Spanish and was occupied by the Spanish Governor-General.  The rooms are very large with beautiful mahogany hardwood floors of planks from 12 to 15 inches wide.  The Palace is right on the river bank and boats come up to the porch.  The reception was largely attended.  All the elite being out in force…American, English, Spanish and Filipino.”

Governor-General Smith had served with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War and was part of the first expeditionary force to the Philippines during that same conflict. He later served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Philippines and subsequently on the Taft Commission which was responsible for developing a legal code for the Philippines.  William Howard Taft appointed him as Governor-General in 1906, and he served in that capacity until 1909.  During this period the Philippine Assembly convened for the first time.

Clarence Underwood McElroy.

Clarence McElroy, one of the most revered members of the Bowling Green bar, kept a detailed account of his trip to the Orient. On this trip he visited the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Japan, Hong Kong, China, Ceylon and the Philippines, and he jotted down copious notes about the industrial, economic, and cultural aspects of each country.  To learn more about his journal, click here.  In addition to these travel journals, Library Special Collections houses over 50 boxes of correspondence and case files related to McElroy; to view the finding aid for this collection click here.  A portion of McElroy’s diary is included in an online exhibit titled “Seven Continents” which features travel items found in Library Special Collections.

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