Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Dear Congressman Carter

On February 6, 1974, a resolution of the House of Representatives gave the Judiciary Committee authority to investigate the possible impeachment of President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal.  Watching the proceedings closely was Kentucky’s Fifth District representative, Republican Tim Lee Carter.  Serving the fifth of his eight terms, the physician from Monroe County had brought his own causes to Congress, including a plan for national health insurance and, in 1967, a call to end to the Vietnam War.  With respect to impeachment, however, Carter was a strong defender of Nixon and, as he would later point out, was the first member of Congress to give testimony on the President’s behalf.

Like other legislators, Carter heard plenty from voters in his district and around the country on the question of impeachment.  From October 1973 to November 1974, he received hundreds of letters, cards, telegrams, petitions and preprinted cards from both supporters and opponents of the measure.  Some were brief – “Censure Yes Impeachment No” read a terse telegram from a couple in Coral Gables, Florida — while another telegram from California declared: “Immediate impeachment and trial of President essential to country nothing less will serve act promptly.”

A “fishing expedition,” a/k/a “witch hunt”?

Many communications, not surprisingly, were lengthy and passionate.  “President Nixon is the victim of a relentless witch hunt,” wrote a Missouri couple. “We urge that you stand firm and cast your vote against impeachment.”  From Richmond, Kentucky, an EKU faculty member wrote, “I think this nation cannot stand to allow people in high offices to get away with unconstitutional acts. . . .  Nixon will accomplish not a generation of Peace but a generation of under-the-table crooked deals!”  Some saw mere partisanship—“Why are the democrats stirring up such a fuss over campaign donations when they are spending and wasting so much money trying to drag up some evidence to impeach Pres. Nixon?” asked a couple from Summer Shade, Kentucky.  “The envy, harassment, venom of the Media and Leftists would destroy the U.S. to get Nixon,” came from Mount Vernon, Kentucky. 

. . . or a slam dunk?

Others took the longer view.  “We have to have faith in the truthfulness of our leaders, and he [Nixon] has caused us to be sadly skeptical of every word he says . . . since he and his aides still persist in covering up and fighting the investigations, he must be impeached by Congress,” a writer argued from Barbourville, Kentucky.  “There is so much evidence of wrongdoing committed to enhance the President’s power, his prestige, or his individual niche in history, that I no longer trust his leadership.  If allowed to remain in office, Mr. Nixon will probably continue the pattern he has set,” concluded a voter from Monticello, Kentucky, conveying “a sincere expression of a tragic concern” and “not another anti-Nixon vendetta.”  Congressman Carter wanted to maintain the focus on Nixon’s positive achievements, particularly in the area of foreign policy, and some of his constituents made clear that distressing domestic issues such as energy and food prices, taxes, abortion, and perceived media bias were coloring their opinions of the impeachment crisis.

Even after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment and Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974 rather than face trial in the Senate, the letters to Congressman Carter continued.  Words like “traumatic” and “tragedy” appeared, as did expressions of both support and opposition toward granting the President a pardon or immunity from prosecution.  A week after the resignation, Carter regretted that Nixon’s administration had been “involuntarily terminated” but looked with gratitude to the Constitution and its provisions for a smooth transfer of power.  “Recent events,” he wrote, “have clearly demonstrated the strength of our government, our people, and the principles that have guided us through our great history.”

Letters to Congressman Tim Lee Carter regarding the impeachment inquiry into President Richard Nixon are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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He Knew his ABCs

FDR and some of his New Deal federal agencies

Perhaps feeling justified during a time of war, in 1943 Congressman Hampton P. Fulmer decided to push back against a cranky voter.  The South Carolina Democrat, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, had received a complaint from Eugene M. Biggers of Houston, Texas concerning the plethora of federal agencies created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—“Alphabetical Agencies,” as they were called, because of the acronyms by which they were known: the NRA (National Recovery Act), WPA (Works Progress Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and so on. 

“I would like to know just what line of business you are engaged in,” the congressman challenged Biggers.  “In the next place, I would like to know whether or not you would prefer going back to the conditions which existed in every line of business in 1930-33,” referring, of course to America’s tumble into the Depression.

Biggers, meanwhile, had been busy compiling a list of agencies and offering copies to interested parties.  The response, he found, was overwhelming.  Small businesses, taxpayers associations, educational groups, farmers, and the press clamored for confirmation of what many had long maintained: that these “damnable Bureaus,” as Biggers wrote, were wasteful, oppressive, and manipulative, run by “fan-tailed theorists” burdening the American people with regulations and regimentation.  In a three-page reply to Congressman Fulmer, Biggers railed against the “Roosevelt New Deal Party” and, despite the war, presented an unapologetic indictment of the “experimenters in Washington” who had imposed themselves between producers and their markets and upended the laws of supply and demand.

And just what was Biggers’ line of business?  Unfortunately for Congressman Fulmer, it was printing.  Even without the internet, he was well positioned to “go viral” with his views.  He offered, for the low price of $1 per hundred, a reproduction of the congressman’s letter, his own response, and his list of 104 “Alphabetical Agencies” (out of a total of 2,241 agencies, bureaus and commissions that he had uncovered) as souvenirs of “the goofiest period in America’s history.” 

These printed materials created by Eugene M. Biggers 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.

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Miss Em

Emily Perry in 1888

It was summer 1913, and Put-in-Bay, Ohio was gearing up to celebrate the centennial of one of the most important naval battles of the War of 1812.  On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry wrested control of Lake Erie from the British Royal Navy, forcing the surrender of a squadron of ships and opening his terse report of the victory with the memorable phrase, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Remarkably, at the center of the excitement, and one of the most honored guests expected at the celebration, was “a frail, sweet-faced, silver haired Kentucky woman.”  Emily Perry was the daughter of the late Reverend Gideon Babcock Perry, who had been born in Rhode Island at the same family homestead as his cousin, the famous Commodore.  Emily had followed her father through numerous pastoral postings in the Midwest and South until they reached Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1867, where Reverend Perry became rector of Grace Episcopal Church.  “Miss Em,” as she became known, immersed herself in social, cultural and charitable activities, organizing concerts and other entertainments for worthy recipients like Hopkinsville’s public school library.  Now, with her parents and three brothers gone, she lived with her sister, Maria Efnor, who had been adopted into the family as a child.  In addition to superintending the work of her United Volunteers Musical and Literary Society, Emily was a devoted scrapbook-keeper, pulling together newspaper clippings on the vast number of topics that attracted her interest: Civil War history, music, poetry, celebrities, and women as well as men who had made names for themselves in politics, science, arts and culture. 

Alas, as proud as she was of her heritage, and despite being promised every comfort and consideration she might have wished for, Emily decided to decline the invitation to the festivities.  At 69 years of age, her eyesight was failing, and that of 82-year-old sister Maria’s was completely gone.  Emily instead remained at the family home at Ninth and Campbell streets, ultimately compelled to obey the command on Oliver Hazard Perry’s battle flag—“Don’t give up the ship.”

Papers and photographs of the Perry family, including Emily Perry, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Hudson Is Hire Intern for Fall 2019

Hannah Hudson, the youngest daughter of Mark and Scarlett Hudson, has been named the Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Special Collections Intern for 2019.

Hannah is a lifelong resident of Macon County, Tennessee, and a 2018 graduate of Red Boiling Springs High School. She is currently a sophomore at WKU pursuing a degree in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Folk Studies.

Hannah Hudson is the 2019 Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Library Special Collections Intern.

The Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Internship was established in 2015 to provide students with professional experience working in a special collections library, specifically with material from Allen and Monroe counties in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee. Hudson is the fourth Hire Intern to date.

Hudson states that growing up listening to stories and folktales about the history of Red Boiling Springs led her to pursue a career in anthropology and folk studies. From a young age, she enjoyed studying the history and folklife of different cultures and was especially interested in stories from the southeastern United States. Studying cultural anthropology and folklore at WKU seemed like the perfect fit for her interests.

“I hope to pursue a career in applied anthropology, doing museum and archival research, because I find it important to preserve diverse cultures and sub-cultures,” said Hudson. “I am grateful for this opportunity to intern with the Special Collections Library and be a part of the preservation of my county and the surrounding Kentucky counties that have shaped my life.”

Dr. Delroy Hire, the son of Osby Lee Hire and Lillian K. Garrison, was born and raised in Monroe County. He graduated from Tompkinsville High School in 1959.  Dr. Hire is a 1962 WKU graduate and a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He is board certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology. After furthering his education, Dr. Hire went on duty as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and served for more than 20 years. He retired as the Deputy Armed Forces Medical Examiner based out of Washington, D.C., and now lives in Pensacola, Fla.

“In the Department of Library Special Collections, we have unique collections that allow students to literally touch history,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, Department Head for the unit. “This is more than a magnanimous gesture from Dr. Hire, it is an investment both in our collections and future curators of similar collections. Hannah Hudson is a fine example of Dr. Hire’s investment, and we are thrilled to offer her and other WKU students this opportunity.” 

Hudson will work with a number of items related to the three counties in which Dr. Hire is interested. She will scan and log photographs from the Tim Lee Carter collection to aid in the curation of an exhibit honoring the Congressman for Monroe County’s Bicentennial. In addition, Hudson will transcribe the 1850 slave census from Monroe County and Allen County, and write a historical summary for Macon County with an annotated bibliography.  The slave census data and the Macon County paper will be accessible on TOPScholar, WKU’s digital repository (digitalcommons.wku.edu)

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“A straight shirttail for home”

An all-too-common crinoline fire (Wellcome Collection CC BY)

William Weldon was 22 when he left his mother, father and 16-year-old brother Vachel in Ballard County, Kentucky and struck out for Arkansas in 1848.  The entire family was on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere: Vachel would decamp for Texas in 1854, and his widowed father followed. 

Five months into his absence, however, William was still anxious to hear all the news from back home in Kentucky—marriages, crops, religious conversions, and so on. But he had his own story to tell about a recent test of his gallantry.  It involved a young lady, “Modest, Handsome, & sensable,” but afflicted with “a disease which is very common in Kentucky called the flirts.”  Indeed, Weldon wrote in a letter, “Miss Fanny” was really on her game one “coald dry day,” pausing only briefly from her non-stop coquetry to pose herself dangerously close to the fireplace.  Weldon considered warning her but thought, no worries, she’ll “flirt away soon.” 

He was wrong.  Fanny’s dress, no doubt a flammable mix of crinoline, muslin and gauze, suddenly ignited, and “she broke for the door with the blaze higher than her head.”  With no water handy, and without time to consider what a gentleman should do in such circumstances, Weldon surrendered to the “painful necessity” of tearing off her burning clothes.  “Just think of a young man stripping a lady in company,” he wrote sheepishly.  But it was all over quickly and Miss Fanny, her dignity no doubt as charred as her wardrobe, “made a straight shirttail for home.” 

William Weldon’s letter telling of his rescue of Fanny the Flirt is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid and typescript.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Serendipity Knocks

A graphic image from a Grayson Lily flour bag produced at Falls of Rough, Kentucky

Mike Sisk, a WKU alumni and teacher in the Hardin County Schools, recently donated a collection of family and business letters related to the Green family of Falls of Rough in Breckinridge County.  This complemented a collection of fifty-two boxes of Green family material already located in the Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections.  While reading through the material in preparation for cataloging, the manuscripts curator noted that in the late-1880s Lafayette Green received several letters of recommendation related to a milling position at the flour and woolen mill he owned at Falls of Rough.  One of those letters was from Willie Green, no relation to Lafayette.  In the letter Green recommends Mr. Montford, because he is familiar with the more traditional grinding mills rather than “the new roller process and the consensus is that the mill he is running don’t get a great deal to do—as it is an old fashion one or a mill like yours and his employers cannot afford to pay him a salary sufficient to remain.”  At the end of the 18th October 1886 letter, he notes that “Mr. Montford’s address is at South Union, Logan County, Ky.”  Indeed, Lafayette Green was not only consulting various experts about upgrades at the mill, he was also aware that the dam needed to be re-engineered.

Willie Green provides the forwarding address for Montfort at South Union

The manuscripts curator went immediately to Shaker Record D (the daily journal of the Shaker community at South Union) to see if Mr. Montford was mentioned.  Indeed Montford and his family were mentioned several times in Record D as Francis Monfort, Sr. (variant spelling).  The first Monfort mentioned is John, Francis’s son.  The record keeper noted that on Sunday, 1 February 1880:  “Boy Received.  John Monfort aged 13 years on the 5th of May next.  His Father resides at Tunnel Hill Ky. & expects to come himself—This Boy arrived here last Monday the 26th of Jany Ult.”  On August 18, Francis came “with his family wife and 3 children…Francis wants to live a Shaker life.  His wife is not ready.  Therefore we have fixed up the Tan house—now called the halfway house for them to reside in as Francis a miller he will be handy to this work.”

In September we learn that at the age of 50 Francis was admitted to the Shaker community.  Again the record keeper notes that Francis “is a Miller & now goes to the Mill.”  Although the record never says that his wife Nancy joined the Shakers, she is listed for a number of years in the census records with the other Sisters.  In 1885, the family is listed in the West Family census. 

The Centre House at South Union

On December 31 Francis and his family left the society; “they go to Auburn for a present home.  They consist of 5, F[rancis] & wife [Nancy].  One daughter [Naomi] and three Sons [Francis, Jr., Frederic and John]. 

The letter to Lafayette Green was dated 18 October 1886, and the family was obviously in dire straits as Record D indicates they returned to South Union in the summer of 1887 and united with the Centre family.  The journalist didn’t record the specific date of their return, but he mentioned on 15 July 1887 that the temperature was 100 degrees and the “Demise [of]  Francis Monfort,…at 4 A.M. this morning.  Not of us tho he intended [to] be.  Aged 56 years.”   On 5 August 1889 Nancy and Naomi Montfort “left with privileges of returning if desired.”  Apparently the boys had already left and Nancy and her daughter must have never “desired” enough to return.  The Montfort family is not mentioned again in Shaker Record D.  It was fascinating to see how these items from different collections dovetailed.

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Dissing Duluth

J. Proctor Knott (Mathew Brady photo, Washington, D.C.)

Today, it would have caused a Twitter-storm.  On January 27, 1871, a well-liked but relatively unknown Kentucky congressman took the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and (to quote a later newspaper) brazenly “twitted” Duluth, a Minnesota town of a few thousand clinging to the western shores of Lake Superior.

J. Proctor Knott’s beef with Duluth arose from his unhappiness with the common practice of handing over public lands to railroads—in this case, in the form of a bill giving federal land to the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad.  Knott believed (or pretended to) that the terminus of the proposed line would be at Duluth rather than at Superior, Wisconsin, a short distance to the south. 

Given a generous 30 minutes to vent on the issue, Knott proceeded to double over the chamber in laughter with a satirical takedown of the pretensions of this northern town.  Where was Duluth, anyway?  he asked.  “Never, in my limited reading, had my vision been gladdened by seeing the celestial word in print.”  But he professed confidence “that it existed somewhere, and that its discovery would constitute the crowning glory of the present century, if not all modern times.” 

The Northern Pacific Railroad’s brochure included Knott’s speech

Claiming to have consulted maps and other oracles to determine Duluth’s location, Knott imagined “one of those ethereal creations of intellectual frost-work. . . one of those airy exhalations of the speculator’s brain, which I am told are ever flitting in the form of towns and cities along the lines of railroads built with government subsidies.”  Despite hearing rumors of cold that could “freeze the smoke-stack off a locomotive,” Knott expressed faux confidence in the “illimitable and inexhaustible” potential of the town.  His prediction that Duluth “was destined to become the commercial metropolis of the universe” and his snarky plea for the railroad line to be built without delay drew, according to reprints of the speech, “roars of laughter.”

The railroad bill never came to a vote, but Duluth had the last laugh.  It was, in fact, at the heart of a wealth of resources and soon fulfilled its promise to become “The Zenith City of the Unsalted Sea.”  Only a few decades later, it could claim to be the greatest shipping hub in the world, as millions of tons of wheat, iron ore, dairy products and lumber passed through its port.  And of course Duluthians (being Minnesotans) held no grudge against the saucy congressman who had, after all, put them on the map with his widely circulated speech.  Proctorknott, Minnesota (now just Proctor) was established in 1894 just a few miles from Duluth.  In 1890, Knott himself, now a former Governor of Kentucky, visited Duluth and good-naturedly acknowledged its “marvelous prosperity” at a banquet in his honor.  The Commercial Club of Duluth proudly reprinted Knott’s original speech on the left-hand pages of a commemorative booklet, with a proud narrative of the city’s accomplishments on the opposite pages.  In 1925, fourteen years after Knott’s death, his portrait was displayed at Duluth’s Exposition of Progress and Iron Ore Golden Jubilee.

James Proctor Knott’s Duluth speeches and related material are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid to the Knott Collection.  A recent donation of more Knott family materials is currently being processed and will soon be available.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Emancip-eight!

Historical marker for Paducah’s Eighth of August celebration

Paducah, Kentucky’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration is a days-long, event-filled dive into the city’s African-American heritage.  Since at least 1886, the community has been the site of an annual grand gathering to commemorate the end of slavery.  The relation of August 8 to emancipation is a little uncertain, but the most popular theory is that it harkens back to the day in the 1790s when the enslaved people of Santo Domingo (Haiti) were declared to be free. 

In 2008, field workers with the Kentucky Folklife Program visited Paducah to gather information about the current celebration.  They took photographs and video and collected material, including a thick program highlighting that year’s theme “A Journey By Faith.”  Along with sponsors’ ads and event schedules, the program features memorials, announcements, and autobiographies of African-American Paducahns that chronicle their lives, achievements, and spiritual journeys.  Included for that election year of 2008 was a scholarship-winning essay by a local high school senior on the topic “Is America Ready for an African-American President?”

The field workers also conducted an interview with James Dawson, a Hopkinsville native who had made his home in Paducah since 1951.  He recalled hearing his grandfather talk about the celebration, which drew African Americans from all over the country.  Dawson’s own memories included dances, bands, street parties, class and family reunions, and all-night merriment.  He and his son helped to serve up a food staple—barbeque (Dawson’s favorite was pork or mutton)—together with fried fish and hamburgers.  Unlike the old days, Dawson observed, the event had become less spontaneous, bringing in commercial food vendors and requiring committees, permits, insurance, security and all the accoutrements of modern civic existence.  Nevertheless, the 2008 gathering was another successful chapter in a tradition that retains its unique place in Paducah.

This project focusing on Paducah’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration of 2008 is part of the Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Ray and Ray

Maud Howell’s brother Ray (left) and his namesake (right)

Like many soldiers overseas, Bowling Green’s Ray Howell (1893-1977), who served in the U.S. Army from July 1918 to September 1919, exchanged correspondence with the folks at home.  Often included were personalized postcards with a photograph meant to assure the family that their boy was hale and hearty. 

One of Ray’s correspondents was his sister Maud, but the reply to her letter of December 3, 1918, complete with postcard portrait, was not quite what she expected.  “You start your letter Dear Brother,” it read.  “Sorry I cannot claim you as a sister I only have one and her name is Grace.”  None of the other personalities mentioned in Maud’s letter rang a bell: no “Uncle Ira,” no “Eli”—indeed, the writer “had no relations in Kentucky that I know of.” 

Ray, of course, hadn’t contracted amnesia.  This was a different “Ray Howell,” a private with the American Expeditionary Forces occupying Germany after the Armistice, to whom Maud’s letter had been sent by mistake.  But he had read its contents carefully, and his reply betrayed his eagerness to win a pen pal as he impatiently awaited demobilization.  “I have been here 2 yrs this coming June,” he wrote, referring her to an enclosed picture showing a uniformed young man with arms crossed who bore a startling resemblance to Maud’s brother.  “You can see by the stripes I wear on my lower part of left arm.  Each one represents 6 months 3 of them 4 in June.”  Further, if another letter were to come from his newfound “sister,” perhaps they could be strangers no longer.  Of the mistaken identity, Ray concluded, he was “hoping to get an explanation on this subject and hearing from you very soon.”

Click here to access a finding aid for the papers of Ray Howell, including the letter from Ray Howell #2, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more of our World War I collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Apollo 11

Hardin Planetarium Director Paul Campbell and WKU students examine a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission

July 20 at 10:56 EDT marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon.  Those of a certain age will remember the blurry TV images, Armstrong’s “one small step for man” declaration, and the achievement of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon before the close of the decade.

Mary (Rodes) Helm and her husband, Auburn, Kentucky native and New York banker Harold H. Helm, had been invited to Cape Kennedy to witness the launch of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on July 16.  Their host, Jim “Mac” McDonnell, the founder of McDonnell Douglas, was a space-age enthusiast whose company had been involved in the mission.  Mary had been initially reluctant to endure the crowds and Florida’s summer heat, but returned from the launch with a change of heart.  “It was a very moving and emotional experience which I did not expect,” she wrote her father, retired Bowling Green judge John Rodes.  “It may have been crowd psychology – so many thousand breathless & with a single thought & prayer.  But when that rocket went up as you saw it on TV – a man behind me murmured ‘God speed,’ I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.”  At a dinner the previous evening, she had met other astronauts from the program, including Wally Schirra (Apollo 7) and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and later 13).

Others in Bowling Green were equally uplifted.  “Wasn’t the moon landing and spectacular walk exciting?” Mary Kimbrough declared to a friend.  But like Mac McDonnell, who quickly asked “What next?” after the success of Apollo 11, she was looking ahead.  “They announced that my cousin, Jack (Harrison) Schmitt will go on the next trip – Apollo 12,” she wrote (he actually flew on Apollo 17).  “We’ve always said ‘Man in the Moon.’  We have to revise that to say ‘Man ON the Moon.’”

One of the unknowns about Apollo 11 was the danger of invasion by alien microbes or “moon bugs,” a possibility that kept the astronauts in quarantine for more than two weeks after their return.  But three years later, it was the cargo of rocks brought back from the lunar surface that scientists sought to keep in pristine condition.  In August 1972, a loan of one of these moon rocks arrived for display at WKU’s Hardin Planetarium.  To protect against leakage and contamination by the earth’s atmosphere, the sample was sealed in a container filled with pure nitrogen.  More than four billion years old, it was part of a 70-pound haul collected during the Apollo 11 mission.

Click on the links to access more information about these materials, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

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