Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving in the Suwannee Room
Thanksgiving in the Suwannee Room, 1941

From all of us here at FSU Special Collection & Archives, we wish you and your family a safe and lovely Thanksgiving holiday.

Special Collections & Archives will close at 11:30am on Wednesday, November 22 and remain closed Thursday and Friday, November 23 and 24. We will return to our normal operating hours on Monday, November 27. For up to date information about the Libraries’ hours, visit the Hours page on the website.

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have much to be thankful for here at the National Archives. We are grateful for the records we hold in trust, and for a mission that lets us serve the democracy and the people of this Nation.

I also give thanks this year for the industrious staff at the National Archives, especially those whose hard work and dedication has led to the opening of our newest exhibition, Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam veteran, telling the story of the Vietnam War and giving a voice to both sides is especially important to me.

The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than 80 original records from the National Archives – including newly declassified documents – to critically reexamine major events and turning points in the war. The exhibit is open now through January 6, 2019.

SP/4 Terry Wedmore (B Co., 2nd Bn., 8th Cav, 1st Air Cav. Div.) takes his first bite of turkey drumstick while having Thanksgiving dinner in the field, November 10, 1967
Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives and Records Administration

From all of us at the National Archives, we wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving.

153 Years of Thanks

First, a quick note: tomorrow (November 22nd), the library is closing early, so our Special Collections open hours will be abbreviated, running from 3:00-5:00 (instead of the usual Wednesday hours of 3:00-7:00).

Second: Have you been sitting at your computer thinking, “gosh, I wonder what people in Sheffield, Mass. were doing 153 years ago on Thanksgiving?” Well, are YOU ever in luck! Today we’re featuring a pamphlet with a discourse delivered in Sheffield on Thanksgiving Day during the American Civil War. (It’s not very exciting-looking, admittedly.)


As you likely already know, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the United States as a harvest celebration since a presidential proclamation in 1789, and became a federal holiday in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln called for a nationwide day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” (In the interest of historical accuracy regarding early Thanksgiving celebrations, we’d like to recommend the article from today’s New York Times entitled “Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving is Wrong.”)

The discourse in the pamphlet above was delivered one year after Lincoln’s proclamation by D. Dubois Sahler, the pastor of Sheffield’s Congregational Church. (It’s unclear whether it was delivered in the Congregational Church, but that seems likely. Sheffield’s Congregational Church building was erected in 1760 and still stands–check out their website, or look at this not-very-beautiful street view of the beautiful church from Google maps):


Sahler’s discourse is like a hit parade of popular 19th century Christian topics. He praises the United States for its beauty and its fertile land, gifts from God to remind us of His Heavenly intent and to keep us secure from famine:


In the North lies a chain of lakes or inland seas. They claim, after their kind, preeminence in beauty and extent. Our coasts present inviting harbors to the mariner. The Hudson, with an easy grace, carries away the crown for attractiveness from other rivers… In the center and heart of our country are found the almost unlimited prairies. We see them in the flowery bloom of spring, and in the green and gold of their summer attire. Once beheld, they can never be forgotten… From east to west, ten thousand valleys, springs, and rivulets reflect the smiles of Heaven. Mountain chains traverse the country and vary the landscape…

The hit parade continues with a good dose of xenophobia, as Sahler praises the Pacific Ocean for keeping the United States at a great distance from Asia and its purported atheists:


Upon our Western borders… the Pacific rolls for ten thousand miles its silver tides. Beyond, lie those mysteries of human existence, the nations of Asia. It is well that their crowded and suffocating millions are not at our doors. The characteristics of these nations are insatiable avarice and ututterable atheism. Their proximity would be the omen of a moral and physical struggle of portentous magnitude and duration. Our virtue and our patriotism might not save us from terrible disaster or destruction. The widest expanse of water on the earth is made to separate between us and them.

Phew. He then discusses slavery as a familiar yet immoral institution, and describes the Civil War as a moment for “a nation’s ruin or regeneration.” Sahler’s language here is especially interesting in light of current media focus on political polarization in America:


We are here reminded we can not be mere spectators of this national drama. We are actors in these scenes. There are things for us to determine and to do. Present duty demands our attention. Let us attempt to follow its direction.

As a nation, we are evidently entering upon a new era. The time has, therefore, come when those who have been opposites as to governmental policy should be reconciled, and mutually forgive. Let, therefore, the past be past. Let the bitterness, the partisanship, and the sectional feeling which have arisen sink forever in the depth of generous forgetfulness.

Unfortunately, the tensions from the Civil War have not exactly sunk “forever in the depth of generous forgetfulness,” even 153 years after Saleh delivered his discourse. I’m also fairly confident that many of us will be discussing these same issues at our Thanksgiving tables later this week.

If you’d like to read more of this pamphlet, or any of our many other pro- and anti-slavery Civil War pamphlets, please visit during our open hours or make an appointment!


A Boy’s Song

Is this, is this your joy,
O bird, then I, though a boy,
for a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!*

Arthur Yates Statham, around 1910.

We all know how the years go — how they glide by, gathering speed in autumn such that the end of December arrives and the year is gone, and more youth too. Before 2017 departs entirely, there’s a centenary to note: the loss in World War I of a British soldier, Arthur Yates Statham, who died in France during the Arras offensive  in May, 1917.

But stop there. –Is it better to remember how he lived or how he died? His death in battle could reasonably overwhelm the rest of his story, but if we could ask Arthur, how would he want to be remembered? Would he want to be defined by the circumstances of his death or by his life?

In this post, we consider his life, brief though it was, and remember him through a two-part diary from 1913.

The diary forms a small section of the Dicken-Statham Family Papers at Amherst College. This collection – a handful of boxes –surveys the lives of several generations in a British family that lived and worked and fought wars in India, England, France, and Iraq over the course of about 150 years. Arthur’s years were in the middle: he was born at the end of the 19th century but didn’t survive into the 20th as long as he had a reason to expect he might.

The Stathams: left to right standing, Arthur, Noel (who died in WWI three months to the day before Arthur), Heathcote, and Maud. Left to right seated, Gilbert, Florence, Irene, and Heathcote. About 1910.

Arthur Yates Statham was the son of Heathcote and Florence Statham. He was the youngest of six children – he had three brothers and two sisters. The family lived in London for many years while his father was writer and the editor (for 20 years) at “The Builder” magazine.

In April, 1913, Arthur’s mother packed him up for a vacation in Hastings & St. Leonards, where he stayed with “Miss O.” – Miss Ogle – who was probably a relative on his mother’s side.  The diary from this vacation shows us something of Arthur, aged about 15.  Here is the boy, with all his vitality and humor, to suggest the man who might’ve been. In some ways he’s Everyboy, in other ways he’s just Arthur. It’s not that there’s “important content” in his diary, unless you consider a soul on the page as a thing to reckon with.

Here are a few excerpts about the things Arthur did on vacation. He loved cycling perhaps most of all, but he also loved games, visiting people and places, movies, and Sherlock Holmes.  He does everything with joy — every experience is not just new, it’s NEW!!!


Arthur frequently begins an entry with an excerpt from a poem or popular song:
“8th Tuesday

‘There is no place like home yet I’m

afraid to home in the dark

‘That is why I did not go overnight.  A slow cab, a fast train, a nice guard, a good dinner, a middling magazine (no names mentioned) made up together with a ticket my journey to Kings Cross.  Such trifles as myself and my luggage went also…  At Kings Cross my mother (all names, as I have already remarked, are to be suppressed unless I forget this rule), intent on losing baggage (I speak of the author of this libelous rag) came 69.357 seconds late!  (for any mistakes in figures please apply [to] the mathematician, who, for obvious reasons, is anonymous.)”

Warrior Square, St. Leonards

“This train, a half-animated serpent of metal crawled to St. Leonards Warrior Square Station. (Loud cheers)…  A cab, that, much to my astonishment, once managed to break into an ambling trot, took me to the house of a Miss O., who lives at 9 St. P. Road in St. Leonards.”  Image courtesy the East Sussex Libraries; see their Flickr page for an abundance of images of Hastings-St. Leonards.

Arthur brought his bicycle (perhaps one like this) to St. Leonards in parts and reassembled it at Miss O’s: “9th Wednesday. It never rains but it pours. St. Leonards is not hilly it is mountainous. After breaking my fast I went upstairs and for nearly one hour (how time flies) I tended my cycle, an extraordinary creature it is too! I bought oil and oiled it and parafined [sic] it and rubbed it and scrubbed it and corked it and polished it and screwed it and many other such things.”

It would be instructive (and no doubt impressive) to add up Arthur’s many miles on his bike — he almost always notes where he went and how many miles he covered. He includes an excerpt from Henry Charles Beeching’s poem “Going Downhill on a Bicycle/A Boy’s Song” and adds his own enthusiastic opinion on the sport: “This is true, there is nought like this. Going downhill on a cycle is glorious.”

However, he hit a patch of rainy days –day after day of it:
“10th Thursday. ‘Rain, Rain, go to Spain, go and don’t come back again.’ This is my song, my remark, my saddened cry, my pitiful song, my wail. Yesterday, it rained, a thing not unprecedented, you will be surprised to hear. The morning was passed in mourning (this is an accidental pun). With great energy I got out my cycle, turned round four times in the middle of the road and then started off[.]  7.145921 minutes later I returned. It was RAINING!!!!! Cousin G. told me I did a wise thing in returning, of course I like being complimented (especially as all compliments to me are well-deserved)…”

Arthur visited friends of the family a lot (probably following his mother’s instructions) and in general was very good-humored about engagements with the grownups in a situation where some of us would’ve felt really growly about all that visiting.

A cranking old invalid

“In the afternoon I went and saw a lady Mrs. Sayer Milward. Her husband is ill. I cycled to see her. The ride was 10 miles there and back… A Mrs. Grant was there. She asked me to come over to a cottage she had hired and spend an afternoon there. I mentally arranged that Friday afternoon was suitable. I returned home”;  “11th Friday. ‘The more, the merrier.’ So it is here. The more friends the merrier. 9 ladies are unhappy because they have made my acquaintance…”; “After tea I paid two calls, one to Mrs. [Samson?] who is very old, to use her own words, “A cranking old invalid.” [Excerpts from multiple entries.]

Like any good tourist, he visits all the local sights: “We strode off and climbed to Lovers Seat. There are sign-posts pointing to Lovers Seat everywhere, and I am perfectly sure that the poor lovers can get no peace, so I suppose they find some other haunt. We eat sugar candy there, a prosaic thing to do in so touching a spot.”

Image courtesy Pett Level Archive.

“17th Thursday.  ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’  That is why I and the Grants became friendly when going for a walk.  Immediately after breakfast I cycled with all speed to the Grants, where I arrived at 9:55 and found them preparing to go to Pett Level, a very good beach about 5 miles away. We started off but soon it started to rain. So we hied ourselves to the coastguard station where we could hide ourselves from the elements of nature. We looked at the lamps at the fog-horn or siren, and I interested myself about the acetylene gaslamp and the signaling code, which I know, for, when all is said and done, I know a lot!”

Glass slide of the Albert Memorial in the center of Hastings. Gift of “moonspender” on ebay.

Once or twice, we see shades of his father, editor and writer for “The Builder” magazine and, to judge from the archival record, a stickler for details and accuracy:

“…we caught a tram…and we were soon falling down the tremendous hill that leads from Bohemia to the memorial. I pause to remark that Miss O. was ignorant of what the memorial was about.  I had to find, stranger though I am, and tell her that it is an Albert Memorial.”

Image courtesy of St. Matthew’s Church.

His religious instruction was not neglected during this vacation:

20th Sunday: [An] exciting day for a Sunday. Miss O. and I went [to] church at St. Matthews where Mr. Askwith, the Vicar, preached. This sermon was about socialism and he pointed out what it really was. He said that he could and would tell us roughly what the chief points of Socialism are:

1. There is to be no King.
2. There is [not to be] Patriotism (if we are invaded, we are not to fight)
3. All property will belong to the state.
4. No one will do any work, you will be fed and clothed by the State.
5. The “shirkers,” as they call all who do not do manual labour, will be abolished, all will be equal.
6. There will be no religion of any sort, all churches will be pulled down and taken, as all other property will be, by the state.”

Image courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Games constituted the entertainment for most evenings: “We had supper and then Miss O. and I settled down to drafts.   In all we played five games and Miss O. nearly got a fit of joy because she won the first; then I leap almost out of my chair and said “Vengance!! Vengance” [sic] and ended the next game by my having 7 kings Miss O. 1!!!  The third game was mine, I always have 2 out of three games, you see I give Miss O one to make her happy.  In the last two games she won the first and I said “Vengeance” and had 6 kings to her 1.  So if I had said “Vengance! Vengance!” twice I would have had 7.  However I am best out of five and three.   The weather was fine and very hot.”

“In the evening I played four games of drafts with Miss O.  I act all the while, for I look at the clock and then Miss O. looks at the clock and then forgets her piece is in danger and I take it.  Also when she does a move good for me I make a noise of sorrow and terror, and she thinks she has “done” me and really she has done me a good turn.”

Image courtesy the Victory and Albert Museum.

“I played two games of Spilikins [with Miss Ogle] and beat her (of course)!!!!!!!

“…I beat Miss O. in six games of drafts running.  She thinks ozone has made my brain as sharp as my nose!!!! (Which is a great deal)–“


“After supper we played drafts, where in 3 games, I won two, Miss Ogle one.  In Spilikins my steady hand nearly lost but just won. The games were closely contested.  There is not much more to say.  I had a bath!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Finally, there is Sherlock Holmes.  Arthur mentions him many times, including this section in which he gloats at his superior reasoning over that of Miss Ogle.  The section begins with an excerpt from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

“13th Sunday.

‘Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.’

Gray’s Elegy

“Only too true, I might have been a Sherlock Holmes, I might have been a Dr. Statham.  My genius in detection has been wasted on the desert air.  On coming down [for] breakfast on the Sunday morning aforesaid, Miss O. remarked to me that a plan was in her head.  I remarked that I would try and guess it.  My first guess was right in every detail.  She suggested that we should go to Fairlight.  The reasoning was as follows: Miss O. had thought of something which we could both do.  Therefore cycling was not in it.  The plan was either a walk or a tram ride.  Had it been a walk surely Miss O. would not have been so excited.  Therefore it was a tram ride.  But where to?  Sunday is a day for paying calls. On whom then should we, taking a tram, call.  The Sayer Milwards at Fairlight!  The reasoning is elementary, superficial.”  Later: “I read some Sherlock Holmes to Miss O.  The reasoning did not seem as clear to her as to me.”

Arthur’s diary closes with these lines: “So our happy walk ended.  I recited poetry to Miss O. and then I read the Strand Magazine while Miss O. indulged in the newspaper.  So the evening ended.” 

Two years later he was at war.  It feels like a triumph to point out that the boy who knew all about the signalling code in the coastguard station became the “Signalling Lieutenant” in his battalion.

Arthur at 18.

The Dicken-Statham Papers also contain many of Arthur’s wartime letters to his sister Irene.  Like perhaps the majority of such letters, they contain descriptions of pastimes, duties, and boredom followed closely by battle.  One often senses the need to read between the lines to guess at what he must’ve felt behind the comforting words written to family members.

A colleague and I remarked on what may be an “archival thing” (although probably only because of the likelihood of the experience in an archives): the way you look for textual evidence of the death you know will come but the writer doesn’t.  You look for foreshadowing, and it haunts the experience of reading because you expect to see a sign around the corner of every sentence.

On this blank page that isn’t blank at all I felt Arthur’s living shadow in the impression of his pencil from the previous page.  It contrasted with the boldness of his youthful diary, as though here his life ebbed through the paper, a sign that it would soon be gone.

 Arthur was last seen during the Third Battle of the Scarpe, on May 3, 1917.  He is said to have been killed by a sniper as he turned to address his men.  The Germans took the area in which Statham died, so his body was never recovered.  His name is included at the Arras Memorial.

Arthur’s fellow soldiers remembered him in ways that echo the boy of the diary.  A superior officer said, “He was signalling officer of the battalion, work in which he showed the utmost keenness.  He was given a special job to do in the operations on the 9th April, and I found him at the objective one and a half hours after our attack, coolly working away…” and his Captain said, “We all regret his loss to us, as he was a tremendously cheery companion and a brave officer.”

–O bird, see; see, bird, he flies.


*Excerpt from Henry Charles Beeching, “Going Down Hill on a Bicycle: A Boy’s Song”

There is much more to discover in Arthur’s diary.  Complete PDFs of the manuscripts are available at no cost from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

A New Digital Collection from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience

Special Collections & Archives is excited to be working with FSU’s Institute on World War II and the Human Experience on an extensive digitization project to bring a large set of letters into  DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository. As we add new items to the digital library from this collection, the two students in charge of the project will share information about the work and collection on the blog so here is the first post about the new collection!

The Hasterlik-Hine collection housed at the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University is a unique letter collection in terms of its depth and scope. Donated by Giulia Hine (maiden name: Hasterlik) in 2003, this collection has roughly 14,000 German and English letters spanning familiar generations from the 18th to the 21st century. In preparation for the Letters in Troubled Times: Evaluating Epistolary Sources conference set for February 16, 2018, in Tallahassee, Florida, the Institute processed a portion of the collection focusing on letters to and from Giulia in the years 1938 to 1943 and 1945 to 1948.

Page from a letter from Elizabeth ‘Lisl’ Urbantschitsch to Giulia Hasterlik, January 3, 1939.

Giulia Hine was born into a middle-upper class family in Vienna, Austria on September 30, 1925. Her father, Julius Kortischoner passed away in 1928. Before the outbreak of World War II, Mia Hasterlik-Kortischoner, Giulia’s mother, arranged for Giulia and her older half-sister, Suzanne “Susi” Wolff, to emigrate out of Vienna, Austria to escape persecution under the Nuremberg Laws which deemed the family Jewish. At 13 years old Giulia was safely housed in Switzerland where she lived with Frau Alice Sigerist and her daughter Gretli from the end of 1938 to 1946. Susi sailed to Kenya to meet and marry Robert Seemann in an arranged agreement to keep her safe. Mia stayed in Vienna, Austria for a time in order to take care of her elderly father, Paul, who decided he did not want to leave. Eventually, though, Mia left for England and then emigrated to the United States where her sister Auguste was living in New York, New York. As the family scattered all over the world they wrote hundreds of letters to and from her one another and countless friends back home.

Within the letters, one begins to see the intricacies of maintaining long-distance relationships during one of the most dangerous times in modern history. The use of self-censorship in order to avoid creating worry is apparent in letters written by all. For example, while in Switzerland Giulia contracted Poliomyelitis and yet she kept the entire ordeal from her mother until the end of the war. Susi, on a similar note, hid the details of the abuse she suffered while married to Robert. Despite the troubled times and personal struggles, the letters also reveal many small delights encountered by family members and friends such as anecdotes about pets and school trips. One gains an understanding and appreciations for the bonds of family while reading each letter, especially the heartfelt correspondence between Giulia and her grandfather, Paul. These letters serve as a testament to the strength and ingenuity of a family determined to survive and thrive.

The first set of five sets being digitized are now available in DigiNole: FSU’s digital repository. Translations of the letters are forthcoming for this first batch and will be included in each subsequent batch for the project. Stay tuned for new items in the collection over the next few months.

On the house history hunt for 2116 Maple Street – Part 1: Fire Insurance Maps, Water Service Records and Building Permit Registers

House history research is one of the most common reasons people find their way to the Archives. As such, we thought it would be helpful to write a series of blog posts on the type of resources we have to help in the quest. To illustrate the process, I have chosen a house located at 2116 Maple Street to research. This post will introduce the fire insurance maps, water service records, and building permit registers in the Archives’ holdings.

I begin my search by starting with the fire insurance maps.

Bound volume of Goad’s 1912 Fire Insurance Atlas

Fire Insurance Maps

Fire insurance maps or atlases were created as a way to quickly appraise the risk and distribution that architectural and environmental factors posed should a fire break out. The first Vancouver fire insurance atlas was produced by the Charles E. Goad Company in 1912. Charles Goad also created the system of partial revisions, allowing for multiple corrections slips to be printed on one page, cut out, sent out to the underwriters, and finally pasted over the area of the map requiring updating. This decreased the need for printing completely new editions each year, thus making updating the maps economical. Consequently, the later fire insurance atlases (Map 599 and Map 610) include a date range, rather than one specific year. By 1975, due to company amalgamations and the changing needs of the insurance industry, fire insurance maps ceased to be produced.[1]

For my house of choice, 2116 Maple Street, I begin with the 1912 fire insurance atlas (Map 342), and will subsequently work my way through Map 599, and Map 610.

Map 342

To access the Goad’s 1912 atlas, I like to go to VanMap, the City’s GIS system, since the atlas was released as a layer option in 2015. Click the “Start VanMap” button and, once in VanMap, I insert the address and click “Go”. Using the tool bar on the left side of the screen, I make sure “1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map” is checked. This is found under the option of “Aerial Imagery.”

VanMap. Make sure the 1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map is selected located under “Aerial Imagery.”

An advantage of viewing the 1912 fire insurance map through VanMap, rather than the microfiche in our Reading Room, is that it is in colour. The colour of the buildings indicates which type of material a building was constructed: yellow indicating wood, and pink indicating other building materials, such as brick or stone.

The address I am searching will appear in a highlighted green rectangle.

A neighbourhood view of 2116 Maple Street on VanMap

To zoom in on the property, keep clicking on map, near the property to centre it on your screen.

A closer look at 2116 Maple Street from Map 342 on VanMap

Even though the house I am researching was not present on the 1912 map (likely because it had not yet been constructed when that portion of the map was surveyed), the map still provides some interesting clues. First, it appears that the original lot division of the block was different than it is currently, with two larger lots (outlined in black) facing West 5th Avenue, rather than the four smaller lots facing Maple Street (the modern-day VanMap property lines in orange). Second, the map indicates that there were quite a few houses and other buildings, as well as rail tracks, in existence in the neighbourhood by 1912.

The block view 2116 Maple Street.

Also, by double clicking (if using Google Chrome, or Ctrl + clicking if in Firefox) on the highlighted green square (i.e. the property which you are researching), a report for the property will open, including the legal description. The legal description consists of a District Lot number, Primary Lot, and Block numbers. Unlike civic addresses which may be change over time, the legal description remains constant and thus extremely useful for property history.

For the house in question, the legal description is Lot D, Block 266, Plan 4249, District lot 526 NWD of lots 1&2.

Property report from VanMap where the legal description can be found.

From Map 342, I now move onto Map 599, created between 1925-1950, and Map 610, created between 1954-1966. These maps are found on microfiche in our Reading Room.

Map 599

From Map 599, a number of things can be gleaned about the house and the property by using the Key of Signs (i.e. the map’s legend). First, which comes as no surprise, is that this building is a dwelling, as indicated by the “D”. It had a car park building (labelled “Auto”). The 1 ½ notation indicates that it is a one-and-a-half storey house. The “X” indicates wood shingles or boards were used on the roof.

A broader view of 2116 Maple Street from Map 599, sheet 229

A zoomed-in view of Map 599, sheet 229 showing 2116 Maple Street

Map 610

By comparing Map 342, Map 599 and Map 610, a bit of how the house and the neighbourhood changed can be surmised. For instance, the house as of Map 610 no longer had wooden shingles, but “patent, or tar & gravel” roofing. The garage also seems to have been removed. A building has appeared to the south of the house, and is contains a company related to insulating materials (this I cross-referenced with the city directories, which listed it as the Home Insulation Company). On a larger scale, some of the buildings in the neighbourhood have disappeared, while others have been built.

A broader view from Map 610, sheet 229 of 2116 Maple Street

A zoomed-in view from Map 610, sheet 229 of 2116 Maple Street

The next resource to consult after the fire insurance maps is the Water Service Records.

Water Service Applications

Water service applications are used to find the approximate year the house was completed, the name of the owner, the value of the water project, the legal description, and sometimes they give a hint as to the building’s use. Water service was usually the last utility to be installed, and hence why the date of the building can be taken from these records. The exception to this rule is researching buildings located in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood. Since this was C.P.R. land until the mid-1940’s, all water service records from that area are dated as 1945, or 1949, when they were connected into the City’s water lines, rather than the date a building was completed.

In the case of 2116 Maple Street, the house was built in 1912. The reason it did not show up on the 1912 fire insurance map was probably because it was under construction, or perhaps construction had not yet begun when that area was surveyed. From the original water service paperwork, I can see that the Vernon Brothers were the owners.

Water service record from 1912

A later water service record, found under the same application number, dated 1946, shows a meter was installed

After the water service records, it is time to look at the building permit registers.

Building Permit Registers

Searching the building permit registers is rather straight forward if the building is pre-1929, thanks to the Heritage Vancouver Society’s building permit database, where the original handwritten records held at the Archives have been transcribed. Knowing the legal description makes the search very easy. For buildings post 1929, more time and patience are required, as research involves reviewing the physical building permit registry books that are arranged by date, rather than by address or owner.

Knowing that 2116 Maple Street was built in 1912, I can easily find the permit data by entering the legal description into Heritage Vancouver Society’s database.

Search screen and result set from HVS building permit database

The building permit register data tells me that the house was built along with the three other neighbouring ones by the Vernon Bros., Ltd. Subsequently, the way in which the two lots were divided into four smaller ones makes more sense, given that the Vernon Brothers developed them all.

Looking for the records of a house built after 1929 involves looking through the pages of the building permit registers in the Archives’ Reading Room. Here is a sample page.

Sample page from building permit register, March 1932. Photo by Bronwyn Smyth

Now that I have gathered information from the fire insurance maps, water service records, and building permit registers, I am ready to do some hunting for photographs relating to the house and its neighbourhood of Kitsilano. Join me next time.

[1] Rainville, Alain. (1996), “Fire insurance plans in Canada,” The Archivist, No. III, p 25-38.

1953 American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters Awards Ceremony

A snapshot of the American cultural establishment is provided by this recording of the 1953 American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters Awards Ceremony.  Archibald MacLeish starts the festivities with some brief observations on the relationship between artists and the state. Pointing out that “artists are the most fanatical individualists on earth…they have to be,” he seems to be acknowledging the tightrope all the participants are walking by taking part in this government-sponsored event. (It’s important to remember that 1953 was the height of the McCarthy Era.) Louis Kronenberger introduces the new members, reading citations about their work. The most notable are Rachel Carson and Reinhold Niebuhr. Marc Connelly then bestows grants of $1,000 each on a variety of artists, again lauding their accomplishments. The recipients include Jacob Lawrence, Paul Goodman, and Delmore Schwartz. The Rome Prize, given by the American Academy in Rome, goes to the novelist Sigrid de Lima.

The Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Poetry is presented to Marianne Moore. The presenter, Glenway Wescott, tells of his copying out her poems from magazines as a young man. He describes meeting her for the first time, and of her trying to describe a particular bird. She finally took down a shoebox of feathers and, in the act of rummaging through it, “talked plumage,” going on about bird-life until she “transposed their music into words.” Wescott extends this metaphor to encompass Moore’s hard-won aesthetic, concluding with: “suddenly the feather sings; it is a poem.”  It’s a very moving, highly stylized encomium. Moore, not to be outdone, starts off her response with a phrase which sounds exactly like one of her lines: “Magnanimity is a magnificent anomaly.” Fans of her poetry will be interested in hearing her flat, midwestern accent as well as the recognizably eccentric rhythm of her speech.

The Gold Medal for Architecture is presented to Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright, who was in his nineties at the time, sits patiently through an introduction comparing him to Prometheus, Moses, and Walt Whitman. Accepting the award, he remarks wryly on the “outrageously inadequate” description and worries that the slew of awards he has been receiving will bring on the “disease of humility.” He then launches into a bare-fisted assault on “Greek abstraction,” arguing for “an architecture of our own,” dreaming of an American culture, the absence of which is “disgraceful.” “To say that you’re a poet is to confess a certain measure of weakness, isn’t it?…It puts you in the back yard and rather out of things.” Yet the artist must be a poet “or he is nothing.” Wright remains, in this speech, an uncompromising visionary. His message sounds as urgent today as it must have over a half-century ago.

The Award of Merit Medal for Sculpture is presented to Ivan Meštrović. Meštrović, who has chosen not to attend, in a written acceptance speaks of art’s “apostolic mission which is akin to religion.”

The concluding event of the evening is the Blashfield Address, delivered by the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen. Her talk, entitled “Subject and the Time,” asks “How do we judge contemporary art?” We certainly can’t judge by a set standard for “today is fluid.” Failure to see that is to “mistake the very nature of the contemporary.” Bowen contends that the art of the past, merely in the act of surviving into the present, has seen its “original harshness” evaporate. It is this quality contemporary art must be prized for. Today’s art must “put us through the ordeal of pure beholding,” and so is allowed to break the rules of the past. Speaking specifically about her own genre, Bowen says that the novel “stands at the edge of art.” Because it can’t afford to be wholly abstract as, say, music or painting can, the subjects of novels inevitably repeat and reappear. But it is in the choice of portrayal, how a subject is treated, that the writer’s sense of his or her time is revealed. “We need not seek far for subject. Subject is found by Time.”

MacLeish then gives very specific instructions on how various sections of the auditorium can reach the reception area. Organ music accompanies the conclusion of the ceremony, reinforcing the sense that we have indeed been listening in on a quasi-religious gathering.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150189Municipal archives id: LT3423

Remembering Vietnam

The National Archives opened our newest exhibition, Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War on November 10, 2017. The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than 80 original records from the National Archives – including newly declassified documents – to critically reexamine major events and turning points in the war and address three critical questions about the Vietnam War: Why did the United States get involved? Why did the war last so long? Why was it so controversial?

More than 50 years after the United States committed combat troops to the war in Vietnam, and more than 40 years since the war ended, the complexity of the conflict is still being unraveled. Historians continue to make discoveries in National Archives’ records that provide insight into this critical period.

Remembering Vietnam Exhibit. National Archives photo by Jeff Reed

Remembering Vietnam follows the trajectory of American involvement in Vietnam through six Presidential administrations, and from its World War II origins to the fall of Saigon in 1975. This groundbreaking exhibit uses original National Archives documents, artifacts, and film footage to explore the policies and decisions that initiated and then escalated American economic and military aid to South Vietnam. Interviews with veterans, journalists, members of the peace movement, Vietnamese civilians, and leading Vietnam War historians provide first-person testimony and analysis of the events. These interviews and historic film footage will be screened in three mini-theaters within the exhibition.

In honor of this exhibit opening, Vietnam-era helicopters arrived and were installed on the grounds of the National Archives in Washington, DC in time for Friday’s opening of the new exhibit.

Helicopters are moved off of transport trucks onto the lawn of the National Archives in preparation for the opening weekend of the new exhibit Remembering Vietnam. National Archives photo By Jeff Reed

The helicopters, provided by the North Carolina Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, arrived after dark November 6, and were offloaded with cranes and moved onto the lawn, where they remained throughout the opening weekend. The public was invited to tour the aircraft and speak to members of the association who were all pilots of these types of aircraft during the war. In addition to the helicopter display, the National Archives will host many special programs this fall to mark its first-ever Vietnam War exhibit.

To learn more about the Vietnam War and see the resources available at the National Archives, we’ve also developed a Vietnam War research portal. The National Archives has a wealth of records and information documenting the U.S. experience in the Vietnam conflict, including photographs, textual and electronic records, audiovisual recordings, exhibits, educational resources, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events. This portal creates a central space for all National Archives resources and content related to the Vietnam War for use by researchers, students and educators, museum goers, veterans, and those curious about the conflict.

Remembering Vietnam is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 6, 2019. It is presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, AARP, FedEx Corporation, and the National Archives Foundation. Additional support provided by the Maris S. Cuneo Foundation, The Eliasberg Family Foundation, Inc., and HISTORYⓇ.

Hitting the Court

1986-87 Florida State University Lady Seminole Basketball Media Guide
Page from the 1986-87 Florida State University Lady Seminole Basketball Media Guide

It’s basketball season time again in college sports. The men’s Florida State University team takes to the court in their first non-exhibition game of the season this evening against the George Washington Colonials. The Lady Noles already have two wins on the books for this season!

Over the summer, we digitized and made available in the FSU Digital Library, media guides and almanacs highlighting past teams. From the first handbook in our collection featuring the 1966 men’s squad to the almanac celebrating our men’s 2012-13 ACC Championship win to the first women’s team media guide we have in our collections from the mid-1980s, these materials provide a fun and detailed look into past basketball teams here at FSU. Looking forward to watching both teams this year live up to their predecessors! To browse all the Sports Media Guides, visit the FSU Digital Library. You can limit your search to a specific sport using the terms listed under Topical Subject along the lefthand side of the screen.

2012-13 Almanac Men's FSU Basketball
Cover from the FSU Men’s Basketball 2012-13 Almanac

1966 National Book Awards: Janet Flanner, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., James Dickey and Katherine Anne Porter

“Welcome to Fun City!” Mayor Lindsay jokes, kicking off the 1966 National Book Awards. The crowd laughs knowingly, perhaps in reference to the “killer smog” that had recently descended on Manhattan, or one of the many other trials New York was undergoing at the time.

The award for Arts and Letters is presented to Janet Flanner for her Paris Journal, 1944-65. Flanner, The New Yorker’s European correspondent, gives an eloquent evocation of that city’s recent history. While the Twenties and Thirties were “innocent and mostly intellectual,” the present Paris, since Liberation, “is of greater interest…more serious.” She travels back and forth in time, referencing Victor Hugo, Goethe, a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp… The speech is reminiscent of her prose, hammered and supple, suggesting great attention and formidable intellect.

A different note is struck by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who receives the History award for A Thousand Days, his insider’s account of the Kennedy administration. Kennedy’s death is still fresh in the nation’s psyche. Indeed it has been, he points out, only another “thousand days” since the president’s assassination. Schlesinger’s speech is one of frank hagiography, making lofty claims for Kennedy, such as, “His own acuity of vision for a moment bathed the world itself in a fresh new light.” He praises JFK for rescuing a country “mired in a morass of dogmas,” and asks, was he “…an accident? An aberration?” or, more hopefully, did he express “…the depth and best impulses of American life?”

There is no award this year in the field of Science, Philosophy, and Religion. The judges were unable to reach a decision.

The award for Poetry goes to James Dickey for his collection Buckdancer’s Choice. Dickey, thirty-three at the time, displays none of the bombast or alcohol-fueled folksiness he became notorious for later in his career. “Most of you have never seen me before and very likely you will never see me again,” he begins his acceptance speech. Clearly nervous, he thanks his wife “the greatest wife a poet ever had,” before turning to a written text and delivering a meaty, compressed attempt to answer the impossible question, What is poetry? He connects it with memory, which he praises for its “implicit meaning.” The poet, he proposes, “writes poetry  because he wants to know something, that is…come to know it,” his hope, quixotic as it may oftentimes seem, being that “what meaning is, can sometimes be said.”

Before awarding the medal for Fiction to Katherine Anne Porter for her Collected Stories, the master of ceremonies reads a special tribute from the judges lamenting the recent death of Flannery O’Connor. Porter protests a magazine calling her “the gloomiest misanthrope in American literature,” arguing that she is really a “disappointed idealist.” Writing, she feels, though not religion, “springs from the same source.” She then launches into her own quite funny reminiscence of O’Connor, telling a story about O’Connor’s forced breeding of two different types of chicken, an anecdote which sounds amusingly out of place in this New York City ballroom.

Janet Flanner (1892-1978) was known to readers of The New Yorker magazine as “Genêt,” the author of fortnightly reports from Paris for over five decades. A mysterious figure in American letters, partly because though omnipresent in print she was so rarely apparent in person, she seems to have embodied some of the same trans-Atlantic qualities as Henry James, not quite an expatriate but not a conventional citizen, either. The novelist Geoffrey Wolff, writing in the New York Times, recalls the impression she made during one of her infrequent returns to the United States:

…managing to seem at once majestic and resolutely minor (in her own estimation), an actor in the best sense, playing a dignified and honorable version of Civilized Woman, stern and persuasive, a scold to such mischiefs as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, not without humor or proportion, and, incidentally, dressed and coiffed to kill.

Arthur M. Schlesinger (1917-2007) was one of the most prominent historians of his generation. In addition to the National Book Award he is awarded this evening, he won two Pulitzers, another National Book Award, and the prestigious Bancroft Prize. As his acceptance speech indicates, his book on Kennedy was perhaps less an objective effort than those he wrote on Jacksonian democracy or Roosevelt’s New Deal. Schlesinger was a speechwriter for Kennedy and then served as the President’s special assistant. It was from this privileged perch in “Camelot” that his later public persona emerged. An obituary describes how he:

…wore a trademark dotted bowtie, showed an acid wit and had a magnificent bounce to his step. Between marathons of writing as much as 5,000 words a day, he was a fixture at Georgetown salons when Washington was clubbier and more elitist, a lifelong aficionado of perfectly-blended martinis and a man about New York, whether at Truman Capote’s famous parties or escorting Jacqueline Kennedy to the movies.

James Dickey (1923-1997) rose from receiving the small degree of hard-earned recognition in early middle-age that he speaks of during this speech to, for a poet, astounding fame and visibility following the publication of his novel Deliverance in 1970 and its subsequent 1972 film adaptation (in which he had a small part.)  He served as Poet Laureate, read a poem at the inauguration of Jimmy Carter, and was commissioned by Life Magazine to celebrate in verse the launch of Apollo 7. This overexposure led to the inevitable pitfalls of repetition and self-parody. But at his best Dickey was a  true innovator. The website of the Poetry Foundation notes:

His expansionist aesthetic is evident in his work’s range and variety of voices, which loom large enough to address or represent facets of the American experience, as well as in his often violent imagery and frequent stylistic experiments.   … One of Dickey’s principal themes…was the need to intensify life by maintaining contact with the primitive impulses, sensations, and ways of seeing suppressed by modern society.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was born in Texas but managed to transcend the label of “Southern writer.” She is best remembered for her short stories, though her late novel, Ship of Fools (1962) was a financial if not critical success. Her subjects were unusual for their time, particularly for a female writer, as was her point of view which, as she alludes to in this speech, was perceived as relentlessly pessimistic. But the high polish of her prose, contrasting with a willingness to engage with “unladylike” material, gives her work a unique tone. Hilton Als, writing on the New Yorker, points out:

Porter was the first modern white woman writer to turn Southern racism and machismo and their ramifications into art. … She was at her most assured when she was writing about the poverty and the dust, the casual racism and the surreal violence of her native state.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150024Municipal archives id: T1895-T1896

A Brief History of FSU’s International Programs

Florida State University’s international programs celebrate 60+ years of connecting students interested in new cultural experiences and a brand new learning environment. Within the program today, students can choose from more than 20 locations, ranging from Panama to China and everywhere in between. Those who are interested in studying abroad, are offered a flexible schedule, allowing them to choose any semester that best suits them so they do not have miss out on the opportunity due to timing. Within Heritage & University Archives, we house the original documents creating the organization, includes the creation and original operation of the international programs.

italy florence brochure
Florence brochure, 1966

On August 1, 1966, a group of 120 students from Florida State University traveled to Florence to embark on their cultural adventure for a total of eight months. On November 4, 1966, the Arno River, located in Florence, reached a frightening elevation and eventually surpassed the embankment. This flooded the city, causing damages and causalities and causing the journey for the Florida State students to take a turn for the worst. Florence was covered in mud. Relief efforts by volunteers, known as “mud angels,” were underway to help the residents of Florence. Among these mud angels were the Florida State students, helping preserve invaluable artifacts and manuscripts. Despite relief efforts, Florida State students and faculty were eventually relocated to Rome for the health risks became overwhelming.

car destroyed florence
Car destroyed by Arno River Flood, Florence 1966

Their efforts to aid the city of Florence were recognized by both the cities of Rome and Florence and were even thanked by Pope Paul VI. Currently, Heritage & University Archives is hosting an exhibit about the students who went to Florence in 1966 and became part of the relief effort. The exhibit is located in the Mary Lou Norwood Reading Room, open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m and available to the general public.

For more information on the Arno River Flood of 1966 and the students who participated in the relief efforts of Florence, please click here.

SAA 2017 Annual Meeting – Alike/Different

Last July, I was among the many archivists who, seduced by legends of the land of milk and honey food trucks and microbreweries, braved the Oregon Trail to attend the 2017 Society of American Archivists conference in Portland OR.

The Oregon Trail – video game version

The first half of the week was taken up by a two day workshop on arrangement and description of digital archives, led by Carol Kussman (University of Minnesota Libraries) and Chris Prom (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). This was an excellent opportunity to assess our current practices at the Archives, to measure the maturity of our own digital preservation program against other institutions of different scales and to get an idea of how we rate relative to other programs. The workshop was very popular – SAA ultimately expanded the number of seats available due to the demand.

Oregon Convention Center conference hall

The remainder of the week was occupied by conference sessions. Some of the highlights from the many sessions I attended included:

The Future of Appraisal and Processing of Digital Materials: Software, Strategies, and Scalability. Because of the intangible nature of digital records, it can be difficult to develop a holistic feel for the nature and character of a fonds that only exists on a hard drive. The presentations examined different visualization tools, such as tree viewers that can be used to get a better understanding of the number, size, and distribution of various file types present on a physical medium, and techniques like perceptual hashing that can identify files that have similar content. These can help provide the big picture view of the content and structure of a digital accession.

Two visualization tools: QDirStat on the left and duc on the right.

Navigating the Digital Maze of Visual Material Description and Access. An underlying theme of this session was that traditional approaches to making visual records accessible are being called into question due to their ever-increasing numbers and their integration into all kinds of records. The presenters were consistent in discussing the need for accurate and appropriate metadata. The utility of traditional arrangement was also called into question, with several presenters suggesting that links between descriptions need to be considered in terms of loops or interconnected nodes, rather than branching hierarchies that terminate in dead ends.

Systems Integration and the Archival Enterprise. This session discussed the pros and cons of extending the capabilities of existing archival processing, management and access systems vs. integrating with other systems. A valuable takeaway was the concept of establishing a “System of Record” when it is necessary to have multiple metadata systems.

Building Better Bridges: Strategies and Best Practices for Engaging Archival Communities. This session was a series of lightning talks that discussed institutions’ efforts at community outreach. My favorite idea was The Archives Bazaar – an event wherein multiple archives from across a region get together at a single location to exhibit select parts of their collections and talk with each other and with the community about what each institution has and how they relate to each other.

Playing the Oregon Trail at Ground Kontrol – as iconic government records archivist T.R. Schellenberg

Portland is a great city, and there was no lack of things to do and see in the off-time. I even got to get experience a different kind of digital preservation when I visited Ground Kontrol – a video arcade filled with classic arcade machines from 80s and 90s. Congratulations to the presenters and organizers of SAA 2017 for putting on a great conference.

Sigmund Spaeth, “The Tune Detective”

“Music should not be limited to people of talent,” Dr. Sigmund Spaeth argues at this 1952 Books and Authors Luncheon. He is here to plug his book, Opportunities in Music, a vocational manual for those who wish to make their living in the music industry even if they are not exceptionally gifted. Seated at the piano, he divides his talk into The Serious Side of Music and Fun with Music. For those contemplating a career, he counsels, “you must have something to sell.” The key is to treat whatever one’s musical skills are as a business, to “patent” this trademark ability and then “merchandise” it. The intent of his book is to “remove the glamour…which has been such a menace to musical careers.” As an example of an ordinary job in music, he mentions selling sheet music over the counter.

But this luncheon audience consists mostly of well-to-do ladies, so he quickly moves on to the second part of his presentation. Demystifying the art of music, he claims “we need today more bad musicians.” He claims anyone can play the piano in five minutes without a lesson. Indeed, he blames lessons and piano teachers in general for ruining the natural fun a piano effortlessly provides. Their misguided emphasis on scales and exercises “turns music into a drudgery!” He goes on to demonstrate how with the aid of only one chord, pounded over and over again, one can supply a melody by singing and “play” almost any popular song. There is something very can-do American and at the same time dazzlingly philistine about this approach. Spaeth is in the midst of elaborating on this non-technical technique when the recording, perhaps operated by a more conventionally-minded music lover, mysteriously stops.

Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965) was known to many of this luncheon’s audience as The Tune Detective. His unparalleled knowledge of both the classical canon and popular song enabled him to trace almost any melody back to a common historical ancestor. He appeared first in vaudeville (wearing a deerstalker cap, short cape, and checked tweeds in imitation of Sherlock Holmes,) then for many years on the radio, showing how all music was essentially based on a set of simple principles (“patterns” he calls them in this talk, “the same as you would find on wallpaper.”) He also gained unlikely notoriety as a legal authority, debunking claims of stolen musical authorship. As the New York Times reported in its obituary:

The contention that brought Dr. Spaeth fame was that behind the tune of each popular song were roots reaching back to folk music and classics. He first displayed his talent and his remarkable memory for tunes in a 1928 plagiarism case involving “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” Dr. Spaeth, who was called to the stand as an expert witness, demonstrated by singing and tapping his feet that parts of the song could be found in the great chorus of Handel’s Messiah and in Michael Balfe’s “Bohemian Girl,” several Wagner operas, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls,” and “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party.”

But there was more to Spaeth than this parlor trick of finding similarities in comically diverse samples of music. He was a relentless educator and advocate for all sorts of music, writing serious histories of what were then largely dismissed as “popular” songs, while also attempting to remove the forbidding sheen of scholarship that made the classical repertoire such an off-putting proposition. The website describes a series of educational records Spaeth made for the Remington label with explicit instructions as to how they were to be used:

This is a special recording in the series Music Plus, selected by Sigmund Spaeth whose voice is heard in recorded comments on each number. These comments appear on additional bands towards the center on each side. For home use it is suggested that the music always be played first, after which Dr. Spaeth’s remarks can peruse a second hearing and be reviewed from time to time as desired. For schools, colleges, clubs and broadcasts the introductory material should naturally preface the playing of each selection, adding the printed backgrounds if needed. In order to simplify such public performances, an accurate timetable is appended, covering the Spaeth comments as well as the music itself.

Spaeth was also a passionate promoter of barbershop quartet singing. He organized musical groups for the blind and arranged to have records sent to servicemen overseas. The picture one gets from studying his life is of a nation far more adept at making and understanding music than we are now. He comes out of the era of when people gathered around the piano, when dances relied on the local accordion player. Yet radio, the very medium which brought him fame, was largely responsible for a shift away from this type of home-grown entertainment. One can hear, as Dr. Spaeth (who for all his pooh-poohing of scholarship had a Ph.D from Princeton) barks out a primitive one-chord version of Little Liza Jane, the echo of what even in 1952 must have sounded like a quaintly archaic reference to a bygone time. 


Editor’s Note: Beginning in the fall of 1942 Sigmund Spaeth launched a program on WQXR sponsored by Columbia Records and called, Dr. Sigmund Spaeth and His Record Library. The thrice-weekly show had Spaeth illustrating his analysis of themes and forms on the piano before playing discs from his collection.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150145Municipal archives id: LT2316

Congressman, Senator, President Kennedy


On Saturday, October 28, Amherst College was honored to host Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III who delivered an address on the steps of Frost Library as part of a day-long celebration of the legacy of President John F. Kennedy. You can watch his speech and read more about the event here: JFK 100: Of Poetry & Politics.

President Kennedy’s visit to Amherst College on October 26, 1963 is well known; he gave an important, and frequently quoted, speech about the role of the artist in society before participating in the ground-breaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library. We recently made more images of that event available through Amherst College Digital Collections:

Amherst College Photographer Records: JFK at Amherst
Kennedy Convocation Collection: Color Slides

Audio of Kennedy’s address is freely available through the Kennedy Library & Museum in Boston, and this small web exhibition includes scans of many documents held in the Archives.

What is less well known is that the Frost Library ground-breaking was not Kennedy’s first visit to Amherst College, nor was it his first contact with members of the Amherst Community. As I dug into our holdings to prepare an exhibition for the “Of Poetry & Politics” celebration, I turned up some interesting items, such as these two letters from then-Senator Kennedy to Karl Loewenstein:

JFK to Loewenstein 1954

JFK to Loewenstein 1957

German-born emigré political scientist, professor, lawyer, and government advisor, Karl Loewenstein had a long academic career, which began in Munich and continued at Yale (1933-1936) and Amherst (1936-1961) after his emigration to the United States.  He worked as an advisor for the Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense of the American Republics (1942-1944) and for the U.S. Office of Military Government for Germany (1945-1946). The Karl Loewenstein Papers are held by the Archives & Special Collections.

In addition to responding to Loewenstein’s letters, Senator Kennedy also reached out to Amherst College President Charles Cole:

JFK to Cole

Charles Woolsey Cole, Class of 1927, served as Professor of Economics at Amherst from 1935-1942 and as the twelfth College President from 1946-1960. In this letter, Senator Kennedy invites Cole to participate in a lunch with himself and “others in the academic, research and related fields” to give him advice on policy.

It is likely that Senator Kennedy met both Karl Loewenstein and President Cole when Kennedy spoke at Amherst College in May 1956. Senator Kennedy’s 1956 visit might have been forgotten were it not for this small piece that appeared in the Amherst Student:

JFK in Amherst Student 1956

I have not found any additional documents related to this visit anywhere in our holdings yet, but we will keep looking.

JFK Inaugural

John F. Kennedy was the first President to invite a poet to participate in his inaugural celebration; Frost supported Kennedy during his campaign and he agreed to recite “The Gift Outright” at Kennedy’s request. Kennedy was unaware that Frost also composed a new poem – “Dedication” – as a preface to his earlier piece. Unfortunately, because of the inclement weather and difficulty reading the typescript, Frost did not read “Dedication” and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. When asked to comment after Frost’s death in January 1963, Kennedy said:

“I’ve never taken the view the world of politics and the world of poetry are so far apart. I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life.”

But Robert Frost was not the only poet involved in the 1960 inaugural celebration:

JFK to Bogan

Louise Bogan was a poet who frequently appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, Poetry, Scribner’s and The Atlantic Monthly. For thirty-eight years, she reviewed poetry for The New Yorker. Here, the President thanks her for her participation and asks her for any further suggestions she might have for “contributions the national government might make to the arts in America.” The Louise Bogan Papers are held by the Archives & Special Collections.

Kennedy’s connections to Amherst faculty continued into his Presidency, as seen in this letter to Amherst Professor Willard Thorp:

JFK to Thorp

Willard Thorp, Amherst Class of 1920, was a pioneer statistician, economist, domestic and foreign policy advisor, international development expert, and private business consultant. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs from 1946-1952, he played a critical role in the design and implementation of the Marshall Plan and later held a number of United Nations appointments. Thorp taught Economics at Amherst from 1927-1935 and from 1952 until his retirement in 1965. In this letter, Kennedy thanks him for his work on cultural exchange with Japan. The Willard L. and Clarice Brows Thorp Papers are held in the Archives.

The invitation to President Kennedy to speak at Amherst College for the ground-breaking of Robert Frost Library was sent by John J. McCloy. Here is the President’s letter formally accepting the invitation:

JFK to McCloy

John J. McCloy graduated from Amherst College in 1916 and served on the Board of Trustees from 1947-1989. He thought of himself as a public servant and in his speeches often emphasized the importance of public service. Among his many influential posts, he served as Assistant Secretary of War from 1941 – 1945. He was an advisor to President Kennedy, acted as Chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the US on Cuban Missile Crisis, and was a member of the Warren Commission charged with investigating President Kennedy’s assassination.

In his Convocation address, the President describes the invitation he received from McCloy thus:

“The powers of the Presidency are often described. Its limitations should occasionally be remembered, and, therefore, when the Chairman of our Disarmament Advisory Committee — who has labored so long and hard, Governor Stevenson’s assistant during the very difficult days at the United Nations, during the Cuban crisis, a public servant of so many years – asks or invites the President of the United States, there is only one response.” 

The John J. McCloy Papers are one of the most heavily used collections held in the Archives.

Less-well-traveled paths at the National Archives

Today’s guest blog post comes from T.J. Stiles, author of Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America.

TJ Stiles photo with Custer's Trials book cover

I could not have written my last book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America—nor have won the Pulitzer Prize for it—without the National Archives. But the reason may not be obvious.

George Armstrong Custer’s death at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, forever associates him with the western frontier. But the frontier that truly defined him, the one I refer to in my subtitle, was a frontier in time. He spent his life embroiled in the changes that gave rise to the modern United States, particularly through a career in the Army, which played a key role in creating the nation we know today.

Combat draws most of the attention in Custer’s life, from his starring role in the Civil War, to his controversial attack on Southern Cheyennes at the Washita, to his disastrous last day. Yet I also wanted to understand how Custer functioned within the institution of the Army. There are plenty of sources about battles, but the information I needed on Custer as middle manager could be found only in the National Archives.

In August 1863, for example, only a month after he emerged as a national hero at the head of his cavalry brigade at Gettysburg, he endured a series of reprimands from his division commander, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Custer provoked Kilpatrick by going outside of the chain of command to communicate directly with Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, chief of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He also held an unauthorized parley with a Confederate colonel, who sent an embarrassing account of the meeting to a newspaper. I discovered these conflicts—small moments that presaged greater trouble to come—in a volume of the 3rd Cavalry Division’s Letters Sent, August 1863–June 1865, in Record Group 393.

A decade later, this kind of conflict appeared again when Custer led the cavalry detachment in the military escort for a survey party of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the Dakota and Montana territories. The expedition’s commander, Col. David S. Stanley, wrote to his wife of his disdain for Custer. At one point Stanley ordered his arrest, and Custer talked dangerously of arresting Stanley in turn—possibly a mutiny—for his superior’s drunkenness. This has always appeared as a kind of personal spat. But a deeper dive into military records reveals that he had developed a nasty reputation within the Army as a problem officer.

When I scrolled through Microfilm Publication M1495 (Special Files of Headquarters, Division of the Missouri, Relating to Military Operations and Administration), I found a brawl between Custer and Department of Dakota headquarters in St. Paul. He demanded more resources for marching his men from Yankton to Fort Rice, the staging point for the Northern Pacific expedition, and complained of other matters. “Custer’s request for wagons is absurd,” General Alfred Terry wrote to his adjutant, O.D. Greene. “He can have made no calculations.” Greene wired back that Custer had sent him “a telegram of ten pages . . . principally fault finding and making unnecessary difficulties in regard to the march. . . . I report it extremely difficult to get along with the present Commander [i.e., Custer].”

Interestingly, another officer investigated and largely backed Custer. But Custer’s reputation within the Army was so bad that his superiors assumed the worst about him. This otherwise pointless squabble tells us that his inability to get along with the chain of command—a problem that first appeared in those August 1863 reprimands—had grown worse over the years. His feud with Stanley reflected his difficulties with the institution of the Army, a personal quirk yet also an echo of the nation’s troubles in adapting to a more organizational future.

In my introduction, I wrote that I was trying to change the camera angle on Custer’s life. I was still interested in the episodes that had been written about so well before, but I wanted to find new significance in them. Thanks to the riches of the National Archives, I could place his high-profile battles and expeditions in a new context, to understand a man and a nation struggling into a new era.

T.J. Stiles received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History for Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Alfred A. Knopf), as well as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the 2009 National Book Award for Nonfiction for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

FSU’s Law School & President Emeritus D’Alemberte

Inaugural, President John E. Champion, left to right, Justice Richard E. Ervin, Govenor Haydon Burns, justice Campbell Thornal, Justice B.K. Roberts.

Established in 1966 by former Florida Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts, Florida State University’s College of Law has contributed many notable individuals to the law community, such as current Florida House of Representatives Majority Leader Adam Hasner and current Senior Judge for the United States Air Force, W. Thomas Cumbie. A scrapbook documenting the planning of the school is located in Special Collections & Archives.


d'alemberte window
D’Alemberte dedicated window. Located within the FSU Heritage Museum.

In October, Florida State University honored Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, Florida State University President Emeritus, former Dean of the Florida State University Law School, and former President of the American Bar Association through the dedication of a window at the Heritage Museum in Dodd Hall.  Featured are the highlights of D’Alemberte’s career, celebrating his service to the community and the university. Florida State University’s College of Law,  College of Medicine, the State Capitol, and his childhood home in Tallahassee can be seen within the window. During his tenure, D’Alemberte was responsible for envisioning and completing the Village Green for the College of Law, with its cluster of historic buildings and rotunda, the design inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s plan at the University of Virginia.

d'alemberte and former-current FSU presidents
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte (center), current FSU President John Thrasher (Left) and former FSU President Dale Lick.

At the unveiling, current Florida State University President, John Thrasher, spoke of his friend:

“Sandy has helped shape Florida State’s identity as a university that not only educates students, but develops good citizens who contribute to society in meaningful ways. He has spent his whole life trying to make this world a better place.”

The exhibit created for the unveiling of the window is still on display within the Heritage Museum. The exhibit and the window are open to the public for viewing, Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

The article documenting the unveiling of the window can be found by clicking here.

National Archives Releases JFK Assassination Records

The National Archives released 2,891 records on Thursday related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that are subject to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act). These records are available for download online.

The President has also ordered that all remaining records governed by section 5 of the JFK Act be released, and thus additional records will be released subject to redactions recommended by the executive offices and agencies. NARA will process these records for release as soon as possible on a rolling basis.

Based on requests from executive offices and agencies the President has allowed the temporary withholding of certain information that would harm national security, law enforcement, or foreign affairs. The President also ordered agencies to re-review their proposed redactions and  only redact information in the rarest of circumstances where its withholding “is made necessary by an identifiable harm to military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” These instructions will allow the National Archives to release as much information as possible by the end of the temporary certification period on April 26, 2018.

Following the release yesterday, our website saw nearly 44,000 active users, and our ten most active pages were related to the release of these additional documents.

Website active user following JFK records release

Snapshot of simultaneous users on at 8:00 p.m. 10/26/17

The National Archives previously released 3,810 related records on July 24, 2017, including 441 records previously withheld in their entirety and 3,369 records previously withheld in part. More information about this release is available online.

In addition, the National Archives is also releasing to the public the unclassified electronic records of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), including 52,387 emails and 16,627 files from the ARRB drives.

The National Archives established the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection in November 1992, and it consists of approximately five million pages of records. The vast majority of the collection has been publicly available without any restrictions since the late 1990s.

Find more information in these online resources:

Announcing our 2018 Creative Fellow

Those of you who read PPL’s Facebook have already heard, but we wanted to make it blog-official:

We’re pleased to announce the recipient of PPL’s 2018 Creative Fellowship–Becky Davis, an interdisciplinary artist living in Wakefield, RI. You can see some of her past work and read her artist’s statement on her website. We love the ways in which history informs her work, which is intelligent, challenging, and accessible.

During her Fellowship, Becky will create new work related to the topic of hair as part of our 2018 HairBrained exhibition and program series. We think she has a lot to add to the conversation, and are extremely excited to see what she creates!


Composer Wallingford Riegger ‘Fesses Up’ in this 1961 Interview

Wallingford Riegger working on a composition, date unknown.
(unknown/Wikimedia Commons)

We have just listened to a concert featuring the world premiere of Riegger’s Sinfonietta. But what about the other composers on the program? It turns out that William Richards, Walter Scotson, Gerald Wilfring Gore, John H. McCurdy, Edwin Farell, and others are all pseudonyms for Riegger himself. Riegger reflects on his method of composition, saying the music comes by “fits and starts, mostly starts.” In the case of the Sinfonietta he took a bunch of these starts, “good beginnings that went nowhere and up and finished them.” Having had a unique career, alternating between the classical and modernist styles, he compares himself to Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “A large part of my thinking is old-fashioned,” he confesses. But then there is the demon in him that composes in the twelve tone scale as well. The interviewer notes that while he used to be referred to as the Dean of American Music now that title is more often bestowed on Aaron Copeland. Reigger, in his seventies, does not seem miffed, mildly observing, “Doesn’t matter what a person is called, it’s what he does.” One leaves with the impression of a still-working artist, approaching the end of his career, at peace with his achievement.

The career of Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961) illustrates the danger of pigeonholing creative artists. An early success as both a cellist and conductor, he studied in Germany and began composing during the Twenties. While he did come under the influence of Arnold Schoenberg via Schoenberg’s American student Adolph Weiss, there is evidence that he had already sought out his own path before encountering the twelve tone system. As music critic Kyle Gann notes in Arts Journal:

Riegger wrote an astonishing Study in Sonority in 1928, more radical to my ears than anything Schoenberg had yet done, and attractive Third and Fourth Symphonies and a Piano Concerto all in a 12-tone idiom, and also a beautifully retro Canon and Fugue in old-fashioned D minor. 

In the 1930’s Riegger started composing dance for music for Martha Graham as well as Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey and Hanya Holmes. New Dance, by choreographed by Humphrey, is considered by some to be first genuinely modern dance. Performances of his orchestral work were rare, but he did find appreciation within the classical music community. As the website Pytheas Music summarizes:

American composer Wallingford Riegger was a proponent of none of the major twentieth century “schools” of composition, and until the very end of his long career he received little more than cursory notice from the American musical establishment. Nevertheless, his 75 completed compositions have proved a source of enrichment to several generations of musicians who are drawn to Riegger’s unique brand of modernism.

Some of this neglect may have been due to Riegger’s relationship with the Communist Party. He refused to answer questions about his alleged membership before the HUAC Committee. He found more acceptance towards the end of his life, as this performance and interview attest to. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary, cited on the Bach Cantatas website, tells how:

…after a long period of neglect on the part of the public and the critics, Riegger began to receive recognition. Several dance works, cast in more strictly neoromantic idioms, brought popular success as did his 3rd Symphony, which won a Naumburg Foundation Recording Award and was the choice of the New York Music Critics’ Circle in 1948. … In 1958, Leonard Bernstein honored him by conducting his Music for Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

It’s a stretch, but one could whimsically relate Riegger’s efforts to bridge the harsh relations between the camps of classicism and modernism to his unusual death. Coming upon two fighting dogs, the composer tripped over their leashes and received a head injury which proved fatal. 


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150257Municipal archives id: LT9101

Celebrating Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac Teaching
Paul Dirac lecturing at blackboard, Iowa City, Iowa.

Paul Dirac was an English theoretical physicist who provided remarkable insight towards the development of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. His discoveries led to him now being famously known as the father of modern physics and a Nobel Prize Winner. These discoveries constitute his own formula, known as the Dirac Equation, to describe the behavior of fermions, which are subatomic particles, and predicted the existence of antimatter, which are corresponding particles of ordinary matter.

paul dirac in front of house (madison)
Paul Dirac standing in front of house

His contribution to the study of physics and society is commemorated on this day, the day of his death, in 1984 at the age of 82. On October 19th, the day before the anniversary of his death, several librarians and students from the physics department go out and clean his headstone at Roselawn Cemetery and plant flowers to honor the man who spent his last decade at Florida State University teaching physics students and conducting further research.

paul dirac in office at FSU
Paul Dirac in his office at Florida State University







The FSU Special Collections & Archives houses The Paul A.M. Dirac Papers that consists of correspondence, books, manuscripts of scientific papers, calculations, photographs, framed certificates, and realia. A window is even dedicated to Paul Dirac within the Heritage Museum located in Dodd Hall, to remember his work and honor his footprint within physics.

Maharishi Award conferred upon Dr. Paul A. Dirac

Can There Be a New York, The Beautiful?

Can There Be a New York, The Beautiful? is the topic of this 1968 broadcast. Irving M. Levine, the host of New York Tomorrow, questions Ada Louise Huxtable about a wide range of subjects from downtown skyscrapers to outer borough housing projects to the relationship between social environment and bricks-and-mortar construction. Huxtable, an architecture critic for The New York Times, gives a lucid overview of the state of urban planning during this fraught time in the city’s history.

Huxtable’s initial response to the program’s ostensible question is, “No, nor should there be.” Beauty is not some preconceived notion relating to manufacturing a simulacrum of the past but rather creating responses that reflect and enhance “the vitality…the tremendous mixture” of New York today. She lauds the new attitude that has come in with the Lindsay administration, pointing out that the Planning Commission can now influence construction and, in some cases, halt the razing of old buildings. In the past, the use of such municipal power was thought to be impossible. As an example, she points to the recent zoning and bonus provisions that have led to more theaters being built on the first floors of the very office towers that had threatened to overrun the Theater District.

On the other hand, there are many “tragedies,” as she succinctly calls them. The constant building of banks, crowding out more useful businesses. The deadly architectural influence of corporate America, which she scathingly refers to as the “great visual illiterate,” and the urgent need for subsidized lower- and middle-class housing so that neighborhoods can be maintained and a sense of community fostered.

Huxtable’s take is not all gloom-and-doom, but what optimism she shows, mostly relating to the young, idealistic generation of designers and planners now entering the field, is tempered by a clear-eyed view of the bottom-line profit motive that drives a city’s growth. Her prescription for moving forward? One must either “develop an extreme cynicism or preserve an extreme naïveté.” One senses from her measured responses and long subsequent career that she was able to accomplish the even more difficult feat of maintaining both these attitudes.

For six decades, Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013) gave readers, first of The New York Times, later of The Wall Street Journal, the sense that they had a stake and a say in the architecture of New York City, a business which, in the past, seemed to be transacted literally over their heads. Her indictment of soulless office towers and championing of supposedly “dated” gems from the past opened up this hitherto elitist domain to the eyes of ordinary citizens. As the New York Times recounted in its obituary:

At a time when architects were still in thrall to blank-slate urban renewal, Ms. Huxtable championed preservation — not because old buildings were quaint, or even necessarily historical landmarks, but because they contributed vitally to the cityscape. She was appalled at how profit dictated planning and led developers to squeeze the most floor area onto the least amount of land with the fewest public amenities.

An essential element in this was Huxtable’s stylistic approach, which managed to combine scholarship, passion, and a journalistic flair for engagement. Architecture does not appear at first glance to be a “sexy” beat for a reporter, but she made it one, and in doing so acquired an outsized influence both in the popular media and in city government. As Alexandra Lange noted in The Nation:

Big mouth? Yes, if volume is measured in circulation. By making the case for architecture criticism as an essential beat for a metropolitan newspaper, by turning buildings into news and serving on the Times’s editorial board, Huxtable enjoyed a career that epitomized the argument she would repeatedly make in print: architecture is “the art we cannot afford to ignore.” Her irreverent tone, her lean, pointed prose and her willingness to follow the story wherever it led her—to politics and money, to urban history and feats of engineering—made her a critic admired by colleagues who agreed about little else. She approached buildings as a journalist, adapting her style and method to the occasion, and without ever losing sight of her core constituency: the public, who would use the urban fabric, tattered or rehabilitated, long after she was gone.

Like most critics, Huxtable is perhaps best-remembered for her negative reviews. (“Doctors’ offices are where Danish modern went to die.”) Her thundering condemnation of the destruction of Penn Station is a classic and is considered by many to have given birth to the preservation movement. (“We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”) But she was also deeply appreciative of what architecture could provide. Of the CBS Building, 51 West 52nd Street, by Eero Saarinen, she wrote,

“It is not, like so much of today’s large-scale construction, a handy commercial package, a shiny wraparound envelope, a packing case, a box of cards, a trick with mirrors. It does not look like a cigar lighter, a vending machine, a nutmeg grater. It is a building, in the true, classic sense: a complete design in which technology, function and aesthetics are conceived and executed integrally for its purpose.”


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150908Municipal archives id: T5941 T5942

Vancouver property tax records to 2005 now available at the Archives

We are pleased to announce that after a significant transfer of records from the Revenue Services Department, the Archives can now make available property tax records up to 2005.

Map of assessment wards in the Municipality of Point Grey, with proposed changes, ~1927. Reference code: AM1594 : MAP 360

Unlike the majority of our previous holdings, these records are microfilm of tax statements (sometimes referred to as the tax roll), rather than assessments. However, the tax statements include the assessment information acquired from the BC Assessment Authority, one of the source data sets for the calculation of property taxes.

We have an almost-complete set of tax statements for the years 1976 to 2005 (1991 has yet to make its way to us), and the records include a variety of indexes that provide entry points to the records, which are organised by Tax account number.

Below you can see a sample statement (with owner’s name and address redacted):

Over the years, the statements become a little more complex as provincial grant programs and assessment averaging information are included, but the basics remain the same. The statements include:

  • assessed values of land and improvements;
  • Legal land description of the assessed property;
  • current civic address at the time of billing;
  • name and address of the registered property owner;
  • school, transit and other non-City levies that the City collects on behalf of other agencies;
  • non-tax City levies, such as Local Improvement and water rates charges;
  • information on tax reductions under various grant programs;
  • pre-payments made by the owner; and
  • interest charged on late or missing payments for previous billings.

With this transfer of City records, the CVA’s holdings of property tax records now include:

City of Vancouver (incorporated 1886-present, with significant additions 1911 and 1929):

  • 1887-1890 and 1929-1977 Property tax assessments: series COV-S435
  • 1971: Real property tax roll: series COV-S434
  • 1978-1990 and 1992-2005: Property tax statements: series COV-S289

Municipality of South Vancouver (incorporated 1892-1929, included Point Grey 1892-1908):

  • 1893-1895 and 1913-1927: Property tax assessments: series COV-SV-S221
  • 1895-1896: Property tax rolls: series COV-SV-S222

Municipality of Point Grey (incorporated 1908-1928)

Assessments for property in the region but not incorporated:

  • 1880-1898: New Westminster Assessment District assessments: AM619
  • 1896-1913: Vancouver Assessment District assessments: AM619

As a result of this transfer, we’ve taken the opportunity to update and revise our Property Tax Records Finding Aid, which lists and describes all the record series we have in our holdings relating to assessment and levying of property taxes going back to before the incorporation of the City.

You can download a copy of our new Property Tax Records Finding Aid from the Archives’ website or view it in the Archives’ Reading Room.

For researchers unable to come to the Archives to view these records, it is possible to have Archives staff conduct searches on your behalf. The charge for this service is $25.00 per property per year searched. Please contact the Archives by phone at 604-736-8561 or email to order tax records searches.

Sleepover at the National Archives

Washington, DC is home to some of the most fantastic museums in the world. Museums where visitors see one of a kind objects, are transported around the world through expositions, and participate in unique programming. The National Archives is one of those museums.  Here, visitors contemplate our democracy while examining the signed Constitution of the United States, travel the world as they view records documenting our interactions with other nations, and become inspired and engaged through programming for everyone pre-K to adults.

Adult and child in the National Archives Rotunda

Four years ago, the National Archives, in partnership with the National Archives Foundation, began a sleepover program for young museum goers. Designed for children 8-12 years old and their accompanying adults, these sleepovers are inspiring the next generation of historians, stewards of our nations records, and advocates for the work of the Archives. The themes for the sleepovers change, offering a glimpse into the diversity of holdings in the Archives and an opportunity for participants to come back again and again.

This past weekend, 120 participants from across the country embarked on this year’s space themed sleepover in commemoration of the JFK centennial. These participants got the “star” treatment right from the start as they paused to look through a telescope set up at the museum’s entrance.  After getting checked in, and being welcomed by both the Archivist of the United States and the Executive Director of the National Archives Foundation during orientation, sleepover goers set out to see if they were suited for space.  Hands-on activities throughout the museum engaged participants and ignited imaginations. A few examples of activities include making mission patches, putting together astronaut John Glenn’s genealogy scrap book, dressing like a space explorer, and training like an astronaut using neutral buoyancy. NARA also collaborated with the National Air and Space Museum who brought over telescopes, meteorites, and astronaut underwear, with Catherine Kruchten who taught participants how to engineer their own rockets, and astronaut George Zamka who shared experiences of his time in space. If you would like to see some of his experiences in space, look in the holdings of the National Archives. At the end of the night, everyone slept in the Rotunda next to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Setting up sleeping bags in the National Archives Rotunda

With Archives Sleepovers, participants not only see one of a kind objects, but sleep next to them. They are transported not only around the world but out of the world as they encounter the universe of space exploration. The unique programming that happens here could not happen anyplace else. Each one of the billions of records in the holdings of the National Archives unlocks a piece of what it means to be an American and adds to the stories told here.

Each amazing sleepover experience would not be possible without ideas, planning, creating, and enacting of many interns, volunteers and staff.  Each person involved in the process helps to make the Archives sleepovers a success from A to Zzzzzzz.  If you are interested in joining us, the next sleepover is set to blast off on February 24, 2018.

Anulus Nuptialis

We do quite a bit of patron-driven digitization in the Digital Library Center. A lot of it is for researchers who are unable to visit Tallahassee and we like to share these materials in DigiNole as often as possible because, as our manuscript archivist notes, if one researcher needed one, there is probably another one out there too! These sorts of requests have gotten large parts of the Admiral Leigh papers online and are the reason we’re currently working on the Sir Leon Radzinowicz papers as well. However, this one might be one of my recent favorites.

Page from Anulus Nuptialis
Page from Anulus Nuptialis

Anulus nuptialis: De amore sponsi celestis dyalogus incipit, cuiu s titulus est iste is a 1450 bound manuscript. Written in a humanistic hand by a single scribe on parchment with initials in red with gold, blue with gold and green with gold ornament, it is an unrecorded text in the form of a dialogue between Mother Scolastica and Symona and Felix, all brides of Christ, written by nuns in a convent. Ph.D. student, Rachel Duke,  here at FSU is working with this volume for her dissertation and needed high-quality reference images of the object for her work. We’re happy to be able to share out this incredibly unique work with everyone else now. I asked Rachel to share some information about the work to help people understand what it’s about. It somehow got even cooler:

It’s a dialogue, which you can see pretty clearly from the images, between Felix, Symona, and their mother Scolastica. Their lines are marked “Fe,” “Sy,” and “Ma” (for Mater). Symona and Felix are twin sisters and the biological offspring of the mother of the convent. This is during a time where a father would die and the widow and her daughters would all enter the convent.

I’m writing my dissertation about how the text demonstrates the rise of some humanist leanings in northern Italy in the 15th century, even in convent communities. Most convent literature doesn’t just have a dialogue between women, and the dialogue found here is so kind and understanding. Felix and Symona express their doubts about their ability to live up to the hefty role of brides of Christ, and Mater Scolastica repeatedly reminds them that they can find the strength within themselves to succeed in this life. It really is quite encouraging and loving. While I have a pretty good guess as to which convent this is related to (and have presented on those inklings at conferences), we don’t have a definitive answer to who these people were. Scriptoria were fairly common within convents, so there is the possibility that it was composed and even copied within a convent.

The text is in Italianate Latin, and in an extremely legible humanist hand. We can see many different colors of ink in the margins and in the decorations: (Brown, pink, purple, green, etc.). There are some locations where a space for a larger initial should have been left but the scribe likely forgot, and the letter has been squeezed in right next to it.

The book has gold brushed edges, something you can’t see in the images but is beautiful to behold in person. It is perfectly sized to fit in your hands comfortably, a little larger than the length of my hands in person.

We don’t have an exact date or location because someone has excised any information that could help us track down provenance. If you look on the first decorated folio, you can even see where someone attempted to wash out what was probably a library stamp. The colophon has an excision (actual rectangle CUT OUT from the text identifying the target audience). It is very frustrating.

We purchased this book from Laurence Claiborne Witten II, who was a pretty famous bookseller of the middle of the 20th century. He was famously involved in the sale of a likely forgery! Anulus Nuptialis might be a good starting point for a study into somewhat dubious antiquarian book sales.

Be sure to check this volume out! Even if the language isn’t familiar, the object itself is lovely to page through online.

Unexpected Names

Amherst College’s records are filled with names that would seem unusual today, like Preserved Smith (grandfather – 1828, grandson – 1901), or Heman Humphrey (2nd college president, 1823-1845). It’s less common to come across a name that stands out because it sounds modern to our ears. I was surprised when I found letters to a Crystal Thompson, curator of the Zoological Collection—written in 1923.

At first, I thought that the name might be an example of a name’s gender association changing, as with the name Leslie1, because the first letter, from Feb. 20, 1923, was addressed, “Dear Sir.”

Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, Mass. Feb. 20, 1923 Dear Sir: We have your favor of the 15th and believe your trouble can be corrected by loosening up the screw, which goes through the adjusting button on the left hand side of the rule, and taking an ordinary carpenter screw, laying it against the straight blade, square up your rule. Be sure the rule sets in position when you tighten the screw in the cam button. We enclose herewith direction card. If this should not overcome your trouble, please advise us further. Very truly yours, G. Falek.

Instructions for fixing a troublesome paper cutter, from Milton Bradley Company

However, the second letter (sent Mar. 13, 1923) was addressed to Miss Thompson. Now I was very curious.

Springfield, Mass. Mar. 13, 1923 Miss Thompson, The Zoological Collections, Amherst College. Dear Madame: We are today returning to you the Monarch Cutter. This machine has been thoroughly overhauled, and we are sure you will find it does the work you require in a satisfactory manner. We are enclosing circular showing the other sizes we manufacture. Awaiting your further favors, we remain Very truly yours, G. Falek. Milton Bradley Company.

This following letter, to Miss Crystal Thompson, reports the successful return and repair of the troublesome paper cutter.

Here was someone even more unusual—a woman working as curator of Amherst’s natural history collections. These letters are in the Department of Biology collection, with others concerning laboratory and museum supplies and material orders.

The Amherst College Biographical Record, which lists alumnae/i, college administration, and faculty, had no listing for Crystal Thompson, but the Amherst College Catalog for 1919 shows Crystal Thompson, M.A. as Curator of the Zoological Collection (as well as one Harriet Oakes Rogers, B.S., as Curator in the Chemistry Laboratory).

With a bit more research in the Board of Trustees’ Minutes, I found that Crystal Thompson had come to Amherst from the University of Michigan.  Their online yearbooks and other digital collections revealed that she had received her B.S. in 1909, her M.A. in 1910, and worked as an assistant in the Zoology Museum from 1911-1919. She co-authored several publications on regional reptiles and snakes, and their archives (via the Bentley Historical Library Image Bank, which is a digital library like our own Amherst College Digital Collections site, ACDC), has this 1918 photograph.

A young woman wearing a camp shirt, khaki pants, and field boots, sits on a tree stump in the woods.
Crystal Thompson, in woods of North Carolina, 1918. Image HS14930. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections.

She worked here at Amherst from 1919-1927, then returned to Michigan to be the curator of visual education when they opened a new museum building. She spent the rest of her career at Michigan, retiring in 1958.

There’s a lot that remains unknown about women employed here at Amherst College, especially before the 1940s. The first woman hired to teach was Madeleine Utter, as an interim French instructor just for the 1918-1919 academic year. Crystal Thompson was hired as curator the next year, along with Harriet Rogers for the Chemistry Laboratory.

As World War 1 was underway, there may have been a relative shortage of male candidates available, creating opportunity for these women at Amherst. Thompson’s arrival could also have resulted from the hiring of Professor Otto Glaser (who had been at the University of Michigan) as Chair of the Biology Department in 1918.

From around 1914 or so, the secretary to the President and other administrative positions are listed in the college catalogs, and names like Gertrude and Esther begin to appear. A systematic listing has not been created, but the catalogs are always available for anyone who is curious.

1. In 1900, Leslie was the 91st most popular boy’s name, while in 1997 (the last year it was within the top 1000, it was 881. As a girl’s name, Leslie was 646 in 1900, jumped sharply in the 1940s to the top 200, and remained there (hitting 56 in 1981) until 2010, when it began falling in popularity. You can search for any name at “Popular Baby Names.” Social Security Administration, 2017.

An Update on the FOIA Advisory Committee

On October 19, 2017 the FOIA Advisory Committee will meet in the William G. McGowan Theater. The three subcommittees will each present their ideas to the full Committee and the public for how to improve the administration of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and improve FOIA processes.

As I blogged about last June, the FOIA Advisory Committee is charged with looking broadly at the challenges that agency FOIA programs are starting to face in light of an ever-increasing volume of born-electronic records, and chart a course for how FOIA should operate now and in the future. The Committee is chaired and staffed by the FOIA Ombudsman’s office located within the National Archives, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), and includes twenty members with FOIA expertise from inside and outside of government who represent a wide range of interests and perspectives.

Photo of David Ferriero

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, gives welcoming remarks during the FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on July 21, 2016. Photo by Brogan Jackson.

At the Committee’s first two quarterly meeting, members discussed the greatest challenges in the administration of FOIA and determined in October 2016 to focus its efforts on three areas: increasing proactive disclosures; improving searches for records; and maximizing efficiencies and resources. To carry out its work, the Committee organized itself into three subcommittees, each of which is co-chaired by a government and a non-government member. Over the last year, these subcommittees have studied the issues and worked collaboratively to begin to develop recommendations to address key problems in the administration of FOIA.

One of the central themes that has emerged as the Committee work has progressed is the undeniable close relationship between a strong records management program and an effective FOIA office; and this relationship will only become even stronger as the volume of electronic records continues to grow. During the last Committee meeting in July 2017,  Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer spoke to the Committee about recent changes to federal records management policy and the steps the National Archives is taking to help transition federal agencies to an electronic recordkeeping environment and speed up the adoption of modern electronic recordkeeping practices. At the upcoming meeting, the National Archives former Director of Litigation, Jason R. Baron, will also address how the transition to electronic recordkeeping impacts an agency’s FOIA program.

I look forward to hearing about the subcommittees’ work, and to receiving the Committee’s final recommendations at the end of its term. Please join me for the October 19 FOIA Advisory Committee meeting in person and register using Eventbrite. The meeting will also be livestreamed via the National Archives YouTube Channel if you are unable to attend in person.

“Yes, type is sexy…”

We’re just over a week away from this year’s Updike Prize award ceremony, and we’re excited to welcome our featured speaker, Nina Stössinger, to Providence. If you want to get a head start and read a short article by Nina, try this one. Or maybe check out this interview with her and then follow her on Twitter.

But whatever you do, be sure to join us on Monday, October 23rd, at the RISD Metcalf Auditorium and hear from Nina in person!

From the College of Nursing: Florida State’s Part in the Cuban Missile Crisis

The College of Nursing at Florida State University has a significant history. Recently, Heritage & University Archives received a new accession from the College that illustrates when the College played a key role in being prepared for a nuclear catastrophe on American soil.

The newspaper clipping presented is from the spring of 1961, describing a “disaster drill” in an event of a plane crash and was given to the College by alumna Judith Butler White. White writes that this article describes the beginning of the implementation of the “worst-case scenario” preparation instated by President John F. Kennedy during the Cold War and that the Florida State University nursing students were part of this preparation plan. She recalls that a “Radiation Sign” and a “Location of Campus Assignment” in case of a nuclear disaster, was always hanging on her door in her room in Dorman Hall.

In October 1962, President Kennedy was informed by aircraft spies that Soviet nuclear missiles were placed within Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only were crisis plans in an event of a nuclear disaster methodically and rapidly developed, the nursing students in the state of Florida were being trained within their programs for emergency care in an event of a nuclear attack within Florida.


newspaper clipping
Article originally from The Miami News, 1962


Although most of America views the Cuban Missile Crisis as a tragedy that never occurred, White stated that the reality of a nuclear attack was very much a possibility and the State of Florida would have actual drills for its nursing students to aid the masses of victims if such a crisis did occur. In the article, it refers to nursing students collaborating in a “disaster drill” for a plane crash, when in reality they were being prepped for the first nuclear war that the world had ever experienced.


CON POST Letter white
Excerpt from a letter sent with the newspaper clipping from donor Judith Bulter White.


Please check out our extensive materials related the College of Nursing at Heritage & University Archives. Also, portions of the College of Nursing collection are available in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository.

1964 National Book Awards Ceremony

The 1964 National Book Awards ceremony, hosted by former quiz show personality (now Rutgers University president) Mason Gross, kicks off with the prize for Poetry being awarded to John Crowe Ransom. Ransom, grumbling about the five hundred word limit imposed on recipients, delivers a rather ornate and florid defense of lyric poetry, seeing it as “a homage to external nature, despite the griefs it causes us, and to human nature, despite its hateful and treacherous tendencies…” Valery and Bergson are then cited in an argument for the poet’s seeming immorality. The Devil, after all, must exist, or the job of temptation would fall to God. As if reveling in this excuse to behave badly, Ransom notes he has exceeded his five hundred word limit.

The prize for History goes to William H. McNeil, for The Rise of the West, still a much-respected work in the field.  The winner for Science, Philosophy, and Religion goes to Christopher Tunnard and Boris Pushkarev for Man-Made America: Chaos or Control? which warns of creeping urban blight and suburban sameness. The Art and Letters award goes to Aileen Ward for John Keats: The Making of a Poet. In her acceptance speech, she graciously recommends a rival biography of Keats published in the same year, Walter Jackson Bate’s magisterial John Keats.

The Prize for Fiction goes to John Updike for The Centaur. Updike, just days short of his 32’nd birthday, sounds strikingly young and endearingly nervous, a far cry from the self-assured media smoothie of later years. He makes a plea for “accuracy or lifelikeness” in fiction, which he admits sounds strange coming from the author of a book about Greek gods and goddesses appearing in rural Pennsylvania. But this, he insists, was reality for him. “…each of us who claims to be writers should strive, I think, to discover or invent the verbal texture that most closely duplicates the tone of life as it arrives on his nerves.” He goes on to describe the current writer’s condition as being one of isolation, both from other writers and from those of the past. “The writer now makes his marks on paper blanker than it has ever been.”

The second part of the ceremony is reserved for a paper delivered by the distinguished physicist and Nobel laureate I. I. Rabi. Entitled Science and the Other Culture, it makes the by a now familiar plea for a cessation of hostilities, both real and imagined, between science and the humanities. Rabi doesn’t do his cause much good by first reading a nasty description of scientists in academia by former University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins and then responding in kind. He goes on to envision a future shaped by what he sees as the three most important scientific achievements of the age: weapons of mass destruction, the great advances in communication, and the challenges posed by automation. Poets, scholars, and other representatives of the humanities “missed the bus” in the 18’th century when the Industrial Revolution was changing the face of the earth. Rather than sneer at and retreat from scientific advances they should have plunged in and tried to integrate the new earning with the old. He makes a plea that in this upcoming revolution, which he predicts will be just as earth-shaking as the last, such notables as the members of this group do not make a similar mistake. One senses a great deal of sincerity in this request. Rabi was a man of striking moral and ethical principles. He refused to work on the Manhattan Project and never patented any of his discoveries. One also senses a fair degree of exasperation.

The official part of the ceremony concludes with the reading of a telegram from President Johnson.

John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974) is best remembered now as a founding member of the literary group known as the Fugitives (later called the Southern Agrarians) and for his championing of the New Criticism. Both in his poetry and later critical writings, he extols virtues associated with a long ago and perhaps non-existent past. As Richard Gray observes on the Poetry Foundation website:

…the thesis that nearly all of Ransom’s writing sets out to prove, in one way or another, is that only in a traditional and rural society—the kind of society that is epitomized for Ransom by the antebellum South—can the human being achieve the completeness that comes from exercising the sensibility and the reason with equal ease.”

John Updike (1932-2009) was a prodigious talent, writing short stories, novels, poetry, casual humor pieces, and, in its quiet, unassuming way, probably the most far-ranging and penetrating critical oeuvre in American 20’th century literature. Updike’s closing plea in this speech, that the writer make something “useful and beautiful and, in a word, good,” dovetails neatly with the assessment handed down by the magazine he was forever associated with. In its obituary notice of Updike, Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes:

Updike’s great subject was the American attempt to fill the gap left by faith with the materials produced by mass culture. He documented how the death of a credible religious belief has been offset by sex and adultery and movies and sports and Toyotas and family love and family obligation. For Updike, this effort was blessed, and very nearly successful.

Isidor Isaac Rabi (1998-1988) was a brilliant physicist but also, as his contribution to these proceedings shows, deeply committed to the advancement of a cohesive, morally aware culture. A government insider, he was a strong voice for arms reduction and international control of atomic energy. Regarded by many as the conscience of the scientific community, he seemed utterly uninterested in personal gain. In his New York Times obituary he is quoted as recalling:

In the late 1930’s, I and my friends sat around and talked about what we’d do if we had a million dollars. I thought and thought and finally I said, ‘I think I’d buy a new hat.’


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150015Municipal archives id: T53 and T54

Deep-C Joins the Digital Library

One of our brilliant student workers just finished describing a born-digital collection for the University Archives. We’ll let her tell you more!

My name is Meg Barrett, and I’m a junior studying Art History and French. I started working as a Special Collections & Archives assistant last summer. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some really interesting projects. Most recently, I finished creating the metadata for the Deep-C Consortium papers.

The Deep-C (Deep Sea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico) Consortium was a four-year, interdisciplinary study of deep sea to coast connectivity in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The study, which began in 2011, investigated the environmental consequences of petroleum hydrocarbon release in the deep Gulf on living marine resources and ecosystem health. Deep-C examined the geomorphologic, hydrologic, and biogeochemical settings that influence the distribution and fate of the oil and dispersants released during the Deepwater Horizon (DwH) accident, and used the resulting data for model studies that support improved responses to possible future incidents. You can still visit the study’s website for more information as well.

As somebody who enjoys studying arts and languages, the idea of going through the Deep-C files, which are focused on scientific research, felt very out of my comfort zone. However, as I began sorting through the posters, images, and graphs from the study, I found the information presented so interesting. I really enjoyed the project, and I’m happy to have had the chance to work on it!


One of the posters in the Deep-C Consortium collection. See the original object here.