Orra White Hitchcock

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

This summer in the Library, we have four excellent Digital Humanities interns conducting research in the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Collection.  Working with these interns has been a great excuse for me to delve a bit more into this collection and fall in love with the artwork of Orra White Hitchcock, perhaps the Pioneer Valley’s earliest female botanical and scientific illustrator.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College



Orra White, born March 8, 1796 in South Amherst, began teaching mathematics, astronomy, botany, and the decorative arts to young girls at the Deerfield Academy when she was only 17 years old.

While teaching at Deerfield Academy Orra met Edward Hitchcock, a local naturalist, and with Orra lending her hand to watercolor illustrations for an herbarium, the two began what would become a lifetime collaboration of joining science and art.




In 1821, Orra White married Edward Hitchcock who would become the third President of Amherst College and appointed state geologist of Massachusetts.  Orra lent her skill in scientific drawing to the publications of Edward’s geological findings, with many of her illustrations appearing in Hitchcock’s 1833 Report on the Geology of Massachusetts and the 1841 Final Report.

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Edward Hitchcock held the position of professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College from 1825-1845.  During this time, Orra painted over 60 large format charts on linen depicting geological formations and prehistoric skeletons for Hitchcock’s classroom lectures.  These charts allow us a look at of how science was taught at Amherst in the mid 19th Century, as well as a glimpse of the geological landscape of the Pioneer Valley during her time as an artist.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

These charts are held in the Archives, where we hold the largest collection of Orra White Hitchcock’s artwork.  Orra’s classroom charts have been digitized and made freely accessible through the Amherst College Digital Collections.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Our digitized maps are now available in TIF format

This post is of special interest to the mapping community and may be too technical for some researchers.

We digitize all of our images—photographs, maps and text—as TIFF master files, which are processed through our digital preservation system and preserved in our secure digital storage. We have been making all our digitized images available to researchers in our online search in JPG format. It allows us to make high-resolution files available in a fairly small size so they can be opened and viewed quickly. The quality is good enough for most uses.

Clicking on this map image will bring up the high-resolution JPG version, which can then be downloaded.

Clicking on this map image will bring up the high-resolution JPG version, which can then be downloaded. Note the usual descriptive metadata below the image.

The mapping community has told us that JPG files are not good enough for their use. TIF or PNG formats give the best results when manipulating files in mapping software. The original scanned files, without any compression artifacts, would be the most useful.

To support the use and re-use of these valuable resources by everyone, we’re making losslessly compressed versions of the original TIFFs of our scanned maps available for download. We’ve added a link to the TIFF of a map to our online search as part of the descriptive record for that map.

Scroll down to find the link to the TIFF on the City’s FTP site.

Scroll down the description to find the link to the TIFF on the City’s FTP site.

So that you can verify that the file downloaded correctly and completely, we’ve included the full file size and the MD5 checksum.

We’d like to thank City Information Technology, whose recent upgrade of the City’s FTP site made it possible for us to make the files available this way.

Nazi Not-Exactly Summer Camp

“They Who Wait” is the story of Robert, a French prisoner of war in a camp “somewhere in Germany.” He tells his listeners—in a distinctly American accent—about the starvation rations and horribly cramped cabins he endured. The play was one episode of “This is Our Enemy,” a weekly series of anti-Nazi, anti-Japanese radio dramas produced by the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1942 and 1943.

Last May, Radiolab ran a story about the American prisoner-of-war camps in World War II. Though they’re a somewhat forgotten chapter of U.S. history, these camps were scattered all over the United States.

The Germans held there were still prisoners, but they lived well. They got ham, and musical instruments, and pottery classes.

According to Radiolab’s reporting, the residents of cities like Aliceville, Alabama (home of Camp Aliceville) initially seemed pretty comfortable with their German prisoners. The camps represented American compliance with the Geneva conventions—the idea was to treat these POWs as they would like American soldiers to be treated.

Except then, Americans started hearing the OWI-type stories about the prisoner of war camps in Germany. The Radiolab piece mentions these kinds of broadcasts, and the role that they played building American resentment against their German POWs.

“They Who Wait” is particularly interesting because it focuses on German disregard for international mandates. The thickly accented Corporal Gefeiterhinteruber weasels his way out of every convention, forcing men sick with rheumatism to work and pressuring non-commissioned officers into labor camps with threats and other tricks. The radio play ends on a somewhat happy note. Robert, along with one hundred and fifty other French POWs, is sent back to France. Robert insists, though, that they are only freed because they are simply too sick or starved to continue working.

So if a big part of the motivation for providing pottery and ham to German POWs was the idea that the Germans would be giving pottery and bratwurst to the American ones, then it’s no wonder that these less-than-favorable broadcasts struck a nerve.

Bad Children of History #10: Beware the Drunken Bull

Today’s Bad Child of History is, in my estimation, not bad so much as annoying. His name is Jack, and he comes from Charles Bennett’s 1863 book Little Breeches.

Unlike other bad children, who crash about with no regard for the mess they leave behind, or for the stress they cause to undeserving nurses and kind butchers, Jack is a bit of a hand-wringer.


Here one can see Jack in his perpetual state, namely: positively beside himself with terror. In true 19th-century style, he wanders about the countryside completely unsupervised, leading to a series of terrifying encounters with scary animals, after each of which he wails for his father.

A “genteel Wasp” inquires about the time (which would, truthfully, give me a fright, as well); an upright cat in a jacket with some sort of lumpy club asks “civilly” for directions; a Francophone gander wearing a Chemex as a hat says nothing at all; and yet each time, Jack shouts for assistance.


Why is he crying for his father? Well, “when anybody said anything to him, he was afraid lest they should hurt him; so he would call out ‘Father!’ as loud as he could, although his father might not be near at the time, and if he were would only be very angry with him for being so silly.”


As if this isn’t scary enough, Jack also encounters a spider who needs help finding a fly, an oversized frog in pants (alarming enough to cause Jack to fall into the pond), and a bull who is inexplicably wearing leather breeches, smoking a pipe, and enjoying a mug of beer.

Seeing Jack’s state of abject terror, the bull wisely offers him some of the beer (for what negates fear like a mug of ale that probably just had bull lips on it?). Of course, in response, Jack (you guessed it) cries “Father!”

If this is truly to be the story of a Bad Child of History, of course, something ill must befall Jack such that he learns his lesson.


“Very well,” said the Bull, looking after him. “I tell you what it is: if you come crying ‘Father’ to me any more, I think I know where you’ll go to.”

And the next morning the silly boy did meet the Bull again; again the Bull offered him some beer; the boy cried “Father!” and the Bull, who always kept his word, ran after him. Where do you think he went to?

Why, up into the withered tree, for that was where the old Bull tossed him, and there he is now for all I know.

Modern translation: don’t have a childhood anxiety disorder, or a drunken bull could toss you into a withered tree.


Magician of the Week #36: Hammo the Great

This week’s wild-eyed magician, “Hammo the Great”, is featured on the cover of the August 1941 issue of Genii.


(It’s a little hard to see, but that’s definitely glitter lettering spelling out “Hammo”.)

If this magician’s mug looks familiar, it’s because Max Terhune, the man behind Hammo, wore several other (literal) hats: he played Lullaby Joslin (great name!) in the B-movie Western series The Three Mesquiteers, he was a well-known stage ventriloquist (and his dummy, Elmer, roamed the range alongside Terhune in the Mesquiteers), and, in his earlier days, he traveled widely as a competitive whistler and animal imitator.

The editor of Genii colorfully describes Terhune’s “sublime prestidigitatorial skill”, as well as his “careless dress [and] high-heeled boots”. Said editor also notes that it’s “a fact” that Max Terhune has no enemies.

Max Terhune: what a guy!


Art//Archives Sneak Peek: 1939!

This week, for Art//Archives Visual Research Hours, we’ll be featuring periodicals from the year 1939, with a focus on style and fashion.

1939 brought the start of the Second World War, the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and the publication of The Grapes of Wrath.

It was a year when stylish transportation looked like this:


When wool jackets were cool and Dobermans looked almost exactly like they do today:


When women dressed impeccably, for television or for the (table) tennis court:


And when the “it girls” in Paris were, apparently, pursuing this new aesthetic:


Come peruse 1939 issues of Newsweek, Vogue, The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, and other magazines tomorrow (Tuesday, 6/29) between 10:30 and 1:00!

Impeccable Science, or, the Flames of Intemperance

What do you do when you want to evaluate if an article is a reliable, credible source of information? Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, my favorite wellspring of writing advice, counsels that “responsible, credible authors will cite their sources so that you can check the accuracy of and support for what they’ve written.” Sensible advice, in my opinion.

Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at this July 1812 issue of The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (vol. 1, no. 3), which features some of the most fantastically impeccable science I have ever encountered in my short but highly scientific life.

The name sounds pretty legit, no? It even says “sciences” in the title!


How reliable is the author? Does he cite his sources so that we can examine the support for what he’s written?


Ooo, yes, plenty of (poorly photographed) footnotes, and some of them are even in French! This author does his homework, and he’s bilingual, to boot. I’m leaning towards deeming this a trustworthy source for information about…


“Combustion of the Human Body, produced by the long and immoderate use of Spirituous Liquors”.

Hang on, what? Drinking too much can make your body catch on fire? I’d consider that “destitute of probability”, as author Pierre-Aime Lair notes that some readers, myself apparently included, may be apt to consider. He promptly addresses our collective doubts:


Is it more surprising to experience such incineration than to void saccharine urine, or to see the bones softened to such a degree as to be reduced to the state of a jelly? The effects of this combustion are certainly not more wonderful than those of the bones softened, or of the diabetes mellitus.

Point taken– the human body can be strange and marvelous. I still want more proof, though.

In physics, facts being always preferable to reasoning, I shall here collect those which appear to me to bear the impression of truth; and, lest I should alter the sense, I shall quote them such as they are given in the works from which I have extracted them.

Oh good, facts! The author’s “facts” are henceforth presented in nine thoroughly footnoted pages of wildly gruesome recollections wherein women, in their drunkenness, were reduced to piles of ash, often with a few extremities preserved in near-perfect condition. It’s an awful lot to take in, and I’ll spare you the bulk of it, lest you be haunted by nightmares like the ones I’m sure to have tonight. Highlights include a woman whose maid found her as “a heap of ashes, in which could be distinguished the legs and arms untouched”, a room full of “a moist kind of soot” which was “conveyed to a neighbouring kitchen… a piece of bread in the cupboard was covered with it, and no dog would touch it”, a woman whose trunk had “the appearance of a log of wood”, and an ash pile next to an extremely small hearth with a “right foot… found entire, and scorched at its upper junction”.

So, that’s terrifying. For readers who are, no doubt, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this horrific evidence, the author sums up commonalities in a handy list:


1. The persons who experienced the effects of this combustion had for a long time made an immoderate use of spirituous liquors.
2. The combustion took place only in women.
3. These women were far advanced in life.
4. Their bodies did not take fire spontaneously, but were burnt by accident.
5. The extremities, such as the feet and the hands, were generally spared by the fire.
6. Water sometimes, instead of extinguishing the flames which proceeded from parts on fire, gave them more activity.
7. The fire did very little damage, and often even spared the combustible objects which were in contact with the human body at the moment when it was burning.
8. The combustion of these bodies left as a residuum fat foetid ashes, with an unctuous, stinking, and very penetrating soot.

All of my modern, feminist sensibilities are offended by the idea that this fate only befalls older women. Why do women have to bear the brunt of the ill effects of heavy drinking? How on earth do fiery accidents distinguish between male and female bodies in the first place? How does one become so deeply imbued with liquor that one’s body is essentially a figgy pudding?

Not to fear, Pierre-Aime Lair can explain.


The female body is generally more delicate than that of the other sex. The system of their solids is more relaxed; their fibres are more fragile and of a weaker structure, and therefore their texture more easily hurt. Their mode of life also contributes to increase the weakness of their organization. Women, abandoned in general to a sedentary life, charged with the care of the internal domestic economy, and often shut up in close apartments, where they are condemned to spend whole days without taking any exercise, are more subject than men to become corpulent. The texture of the soft parts in female bodies being more spongy, absorption ought to be freer; and as their whole bodies imbibe spirituous liquors with more ease, they ought to experience more readily the impression of fire.

Um. Women have weak fibers and are spongy. But why older women, specifically?


Dancing and walking, which form salutary recreation for young persons, are at a certain age interdicted as much by nature as by prejudice. It needs therefore excite no astonishment that old women, who are in general more corpulent and more addicted to drinking, and who are often motionless like inanimate masses, during the moment of intoxication, should experience the effects of combustion.

Older women are “spongy”, AND they’re “motionless like inanimate masses”?! They’re more likely to be drunk, and therefore more likely to light on fire while going about their daily business? This is amazing! This is impeccably scientific! Surely our female readers are now convinced not to imbibe in excess.

Does that mean that nothing bad ever happens to men who drink? Not the case, according to dear old Pierre-Aime. It’s just that men don’t burn in place, leaving behind forlorn hands and feet, but rather tend towards having flames shoot out of their bodies.


Sturmius says, that in the northern countries flames often burst from the stomach of persons in a state of intoxication. Three noblemen of Courland having laid a bet which of them could drink most spirits, two of them died in consequence of suffocation by the flames which issued with great violence from their stomachs. We are told by Thomas Bartholin, on the authority of Vorstius, that a soldier, who had drunk two glasses of spirits, died after an eruption of flames from his mouth.

There are the facts, folks. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Edison Series Major Award Winner

In 2001, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wanted to allow five failing schools to be taken over by the for-profit management company Edison Schools. But New York state’s charter school law required a vote by the parents. WNYC’s Beth Fertig covered the controversy and won a du Pont-Columbia Award for digging into the bitter political campaign.

The jurors noted, “Fertig lets all of the constituencies speak for themselves as she reports on the interplay of teachers, minority parents, school officials and Edison’s public relations campaign. She explains why the vote was doomed to fail, despite the best intentions of everyone involved.”

Her four reports are here:

The Edison Lobby – February 3, 2001


Charter Schools – March 13, 2001


Discussion on Edison Schools with Morning Edition Host at WNYC – March 27, 2001


Interview with Schools Chancellor Levy – April 3, 2001





A Trip to Warm Springs

67 years ago today, Senator Claude Pepper and many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate along with members of the press and other dignitaries, made their way to Warm Springs, Georgia for the dedication of the Little White House on June 25, 1947.

Pepper and fellow Senators at the Little White House dedication, June 25, 1947.
Pepper and fellow Senators at the Little White House dedication, June 25, 1947.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt built the Little White House in 1932 while still serving as governor of New York, prior to being inaugurated as president in 1933. As a young man, FDR first came to Warm Springs in 1924 hoping to find a cure for the infantile paralysis (later known as polio) that had struck him in 1921. Swimming in the 88-degree, buoyant spring waters did not bring him the miracle cure he sought, but it did bring improvement. During FDR’s presidency and the Great Depression, he developed many New Deal Programs based upon his experiences in this small town. A steadfast proponent of the New Deal and other FDR policies such as the Wage and Hour Bill, Social Security and Lend Lease, Claude was devoted to his commander in chief. When the opportunity to attend the dedication of the now historic site in Warm Springs presented itself, Pepper did not miss the chance. The trip allowed for the attendees to experience a part of the Presidents life that was not widely known to the American public. In an excerpt from a letter to his family written on June 26th 1947, the Senator from Florida wrote of the impactful experience:

“This was one of the most wonderful trips I have ever made. I have never been, you know, to Warm Springs before. About 160 or 170 people went down on a special train. Upon arrival at Warm Springs we were driven to the Warm Springs Foundation area and shown through the Little White House, where the President died, and about the grounds.

Several of us made a trip through many of the wards seeing the patients, talking to the doctors and nurses and seeing the braces which they manufacture for the use of the patients. We also saw the new pool now in the medical area and a few of us went down to see the original pool where the President first began to bathe and where he himself continued to swim until the end.

I wish every citizen could go through this Foundation, not only for the inspiration they would derive from the presence of President Roosevelt that is still felt there but to see the most cheerful, bravest group of people they can see anywhere.”

Little White House dedication event ticket.
Little White House dedication event ticket.
Little White House dedication event schedule.
Little White House dedication event schedule.
Warm Springs Foundation 20th Anniversary booklet.
Warm Springs Foundation 20th Anniversary booklet.

To learn more about Senator Pepper’s time in office or about our related political collections, please visit the Claude Pepper Library website at: https://www.lib.fsu.edu/pepper-library or come in and visit us from Monday through Friday 9am-5pm!

Bad Children of History #9: the Perils of Solo Journeys

Many of the volumes in our Edith Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books contain descriptions of the frightening things that can befall children who choose to travel great distances alone: being kidnapped, having to become chimney sweeps, getting lost in dense forests once the sun sets, being conscripted as sailors. It’s a scary world out there.

Today we explore the lessons in Little Truths Better Than Great Fables, a teeny-tiny book published in 1800. Most of the book is in a question and answer format (“What are acorns?” “The seeds of the oak; and one acorn brings a young tree, which, in a number of years, is cut down and squared for use.”), with explanations of the natural world, customs of rural American life, and gentle admonishments not to eat unripe fruit or strike at bees.

The frontispiece of the book belies its soft tone, for one flips open the paper cover to reveal this alarming scene:


What, pray tell, is happening to this poor fellow?


As the caption kind of (not really) explains, he presumably got on a horse without a parent’s knowledge, leading to the horse springing, carousel-style, over a raging waterfall, while said bad child was flung many feet into the air, and consequently left dangling precariously over an aqueduct. Terrible!

I had to examine the text carefully before I found this:


Yet, I fear, my little Charles would not be long content with so steady a horse as the plowboy rides; he rode his wooded horse at home so fast as to throw both down, broke the horse’s head, and made his own nose bleed.

When Charles insists that he would hold on tight, even when astride a spirited horse, his parent reminds him of the story of Lambert’s Leap, wherein:

Cuthbert Lambert, of Newcastle upon Tyne, who was riding full speed over Sandiford stone bridge, and endeavoring to turn his horse round, the beast leaped over the battlements; the horse was killed by the fall, being twenty feet to the bed of the water, but the man was providentially caught in the boughs of an ash, where he hung by his hands, til relieved by some passengers coming that way. I hope, therefore, my children will be careful never to get on a horse without my knowledge.

Ooooh, okay. The engraving shows an irresponsible adult of history, and the caption is a warning for would-be careless child equestrians.

Unfamiliar with Cuthbert Lambert’s story, I dug about on the internet until I found a page from John Sykes’ impressively-titled Local records; or, Historical register of remarkable events which have occurred in Northumberland and Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, with biographical notices of deceased persons of talent, eccentricity, and longevity. Sykes’ meticulous register notes that Lambert’s ill-fated leap took place on September 20th, 1759, although, according to Sykes, Lambert actually remained seated on the horse during the entire descent, and an ash branch broke their fall. (The popular misconception that Lambert was stuck in a tree came from a Mr. Pollard’s 1786 print of the affair.)

Sykes also describes how, upon landing, Lambert’s mare “stretched itself out and died almost immediately; being a great favourite, its skin was preserved in the family.”

Um. Therefore, don’t ride a horse without permission. Got it?

Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Alex Macgillivray, confirmed to give remarks at the PIDB’s Public Meeting

The PIDB is pleased to announce that Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Mr. Alex Macgillivray, will participate in the June 25th public meeting of the PIDB.  (Click here to RSVP to the public meeting.)

The President appointed Mr. Macgillivray in September 2014 to the position of U.S. Deputy CTO and in his role he focuses daily on a variety of key priority areas for the Administration, including Internet policy, intellectual property policy, and the intersection of big data, technology and privacy.

Mr. Macgillivray will discuss his thoughts on leveraging technology and talent in government to assist records management, data management and declassification.  He will offer commentary on the U.S. Digital Service, the National Action Plan, the Technology Policy Task Force and possibly other White House initiatives that focus on expanding access to government information through the use of technology.

Mr. Macgillivray holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a JD from Harvard Law School.  He is an internationally recognized expert in technology law and policy, most recently serving as General Counsel and Head of Public Policy at Twitter from 2009–2013.  Before joining Twitter, Mr. Macgillivray was for six years deputy general counsel at Google.  He is an actively practicing developer and coder, contributing to his ability to formulate creative and sensible technology policy and understand its ramifications.*

To RSVP to the PIDB’s June 25th public meeting, please visit Eventbrite and register to attend.

*Cited in White House Press release, dated September 4, 2014.

Lynd Ward and the Equinox Cooperative Press

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

In 2010 the Library of America reissued all six of Lynd Ward’s “novels in woodcuts” (also called “novels without words”) in a two volume set. If you like graphic novels but have never read Ward’s work, these are a great introduction, and you can check them out from any of the Five Colleges libraries. If you like what you see, you can also visit the special collections at Amherst or Smith to compare the experience of reading one of the original editions. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst owns a second printing (from December 1929) of Ward’s first, and probably best known, wordless novel Gods’ Man. Even though it was first published a week before the Stock Market Crash, the book sold so well that it went through five printings by October of 1930, with a sixth printing in 1933, totaling more than 20,000 copies.

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

Note the deliberate placement of the apostrophe in the title; as Ward himself explained:

And for what it is worth, you may also be interested in knowing that the first title I suggested for the book was “All art is useless.” The name we finally worked out, “Gods’ man,” using as it does the plural possessive, stemmed from the idea that it is usually phrased somewhat along these lines: the Artist is always the darling of the Gods.

This quote is from a 1958 letter from Ward to Irving Steingart, as noted by Perry Willett in his 1997 exhibition catalog The Silent Shout: Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and the Novel in Woodcuts. The personal papers of Lynd Ward are held by the Georgetown University Library, who have presented several excellent exhibitions of his work.





Ward’s fourth woodcut novel was published in 1933 by the Equinox Cooperative Press. Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings is described this way by Ward, in an essay reprinted in the Library of America edition (p. 643):

I have always thought of Prelude to a Million Years as a kind of footnote to Gods’ Man, a sort of codicil that would acknowledge that changes had occurred and that these changes required an amendment to the earlier testament. It was a very limited statement, running to a total of only thirty blocks. Because it was a minor work it was printed directly from the woodblocks on a beautiful rag paper in a small edition. Prelude was the third publication of Equinox Cooperative Press, a group of young people, including myself, working in printing, publishing, and the book arts who wanted to do non-commercial books, just for the love of doing it. Each copy of Prelude was bound by hand and made with loving care.


The Amherst copy is in very good condition, and although this picture doesn’t do justice to the original cord-stitched copper coated spine, it does show the patterned boards that were designed by Ward and later used as the endpaper pattern in the Library of America edition.

The Equinox Cooperative Press published 16 books between 1932 and 1937. It was founded by Ward, his wife May McNeer (a journalist and author), Henry Hart (an editor at Scribners), and six others.

In all its decisions, Equinox was guided by a belief in the democratic process. The discussions of every basic point were wide-ranging, always completely frank, and often interminable. … In seeking a corporate form that would reflect this belief in the democratic way, we decided to organize as a cooperative. But we discovered that the laws governing cooperatives were sharply defined, with consumer cooperatives on the one side and producer cooperatives on the other. Since we were producers, we were incorporated as a producer cooperative. But since most producers are, in the nature of things, farmers, we became the only publishers in the history of Western culture who had to file annual reports with the New York State Department of Agriculture. — Lynd Ward, in the foreword to Henry Hart’s A Relevant Memoir: The Story of the Equinox Cooperative Press (1977).


Microfilm Scanners

In the last couple of years, we’ve been replacing our old, analogue microform reader-printers with new digital microform scanners. We’d like to show you why researchers like them so much.

Microform workstation with Indus 4601-SL scanner.

Microform workstation with Indus 4601-SL scanner.

Microforms still have to be used by researchers, as we have hundreds of reels of film and thousands of fiche and aperture cards. These new scanners provide fast and convenient viewing and saving of images.

The workstations can be used with many styles of microform and will also scan to file or scan to print.

The scanners will work with all these different styles and colours of fiche, aperture card and film.

The scanners will work with all these different styles and colours of fiche, aperture card and film.

The scanners produce crisp, high-resolution scans and will scan in colour, greyscale or bi-tonal. Images can be cropped and rotated. Scans can be saved in common formats like PDF or TIFF.

Screenshot from a fire insurance plan.

Screenshot from a fire insurance plan.

The workstations have a wireless internet connection, so saved scans can be sent through email or dropped into cloud storage, as well as copied to a flash drive. Note that if you keep a copy of a work that is under copyright to a party that is not the City of Vancouver, you are responsible for obtaining permission of the copyright owner for publication. You may use the copy for fair dealing purposes covered by the Canadian Copyright Act, such as private study.

The scanners are attached to 27” monitors to provide a readable full-screen view of maps, plans and other large-format originals.

If you have used one of our microfilm scanners, we’d love to hear your feedback!

What’s New in the National Archives Catalog: British Photographs of World War I

As part of our efforts to digitize photographic and moving image records related to World War I and World War II, we recently digitized a series of British Photographs from World War I (1914-1918) and made them available in our online catalog.

This series of photographs taken by British photographers depicts the military activities and personnel of several nations during World War I, and includes subjects such as major military campaigns of the war showing the marching of troops, living conditions in the trenches, transportation and communication problems, food supply movement, human misery behind battlefield experiences, as well as the homefront commitment.

These public domain records are being digitized through a gift to the National Archives Trust Fund with the goal of making them more accessible for everyone to use, from teachers and local community groups, to museums and filmmakers.

Some highlights include:

A.S.C. Women at Work

A.S.C. Women at Work. National Archives Identifier 16577208

The irrepressible Australians at Anzac. An Australian bringing in a wounded comrade to hospital, circa 1915

The irrepressible Australians at Anzac. An Australian bringing in a wounded comrade to hospital, circa 1915. National Archives Identifier 533106

King George of England visits American Cemetery near St. Quentin Canal, France

King George of England visits American Cemetery near St. Quentin Canal, France. National Archives Identifier 16576501

Cataloging Clues: Book Owner’s Letter Provides Insight into Napoleon Collection Item

A found letter, addressed to Proctor P. Jones, in the book.

Today in Special Collections, we are exploring a new addition to the Napoleon Collection which led catalogers on an interesting research journey. Recently, a book titled The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, printed in 1821, found its way into Special Collections’ Napoleon Collection. While the text itself contained riddles about the author’s identity and the source’s authenticity, it also contained a letter addressed to the book’s previous owner, Proctor P. Jones, who donated the book to FSU. The text and letter led Cataloger Elizabeth Richey to consider the possibility of fabricated memoirs and how to catalog such things.

At a quick look, The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte looks like a normal memoir. However, a closer look at the memoir from a cataloger’s perspective raises questions about its accuracy, which leads to the question of how do we catalog a possibly fabricated book?Nap_Title_PagePreface_Nap


Elizabeth recognized some possible hints that made her question the memoir’s authority and accuracy. For example, the book’s publisher is listed as “Is only to be had of the author, No. 27, Cirencester Place, Portland, Place, April 1821″, while further research shows that the book was printed by Fargues of Berwick Street, Soho.

Even more interesting is the attributed author of the text: Mademoiselle R. d’Ancemont. After much research and exploration, Elizabeth and other catalogers could not locate any information about this mysterious author; instead, she found evidence that this author may have used a pseudonym. This was supported by a letter found in the book. The writer of the letter argues that due to two references within the text, the memoir was written by “Dangeais”, not R. d’Ancemont. He continues to argue that this name may also have been a pseudonym, and that we may never know who the true author is. Without the author’s real name and background, we are left to wonder if the author is a reliable writer.

As a result of questionable information in the book as well as doubts about the author and publisher, the writer of the letter believes the entire book may be “a fake.” In the letter, the writer states that he thinks the memoir is “completely fabricated”, as was the case for many memoirs written during this period. He and other researchers go as far as to believe that the entire text is not only a fake, but also a fake originally created in English, not a French to English translation as the title page suggests. Other catalogers and researchers seem to share this opinion about this mysterious text. Whether or not the book is a “fake”, it still belongs in Special Collections since it provides insight to this historic era and is a perfect example of a potentially fake memoir.

This interesting find illustrates the amount of time and research a cataloger must devote to cataloging all resources. Without proper information and detailed records, it is difficult for library users to locate sources. Sometimes, the item itself does not present enough information for a proper record. In some cases, particularly with older and donated books, catalogers are lucky enough to find outside sources of information within a book, such as the letter found within this book. In either case, Special Collections catalogers strive to make accurate records so that the collections rare and interesting items can be found and explored by FSU students and faculty.

Bad Children of History #8, or, “Mom, I’m bored!”

In mid-June, we’re just entering school vacation season, which means a few things: sunburns, beach trips, ice cream trucks, complicated daycare/camp logistics, and, of course, bored children engaging in mischief. For example, take a look at this guy:


Master Jacky here is on his school holidays, and he is “bored to death”. He’s already read all the books in the house, flopped around on the couch, and peered through whatever that vase-on-a-stick-thing is.

What’s a kid to do? The answer to that query is deftly illustrated in “Young Troublesome”, a veritable mid-19th century montage of the shenanigans of a bad child of history.

Master Jacky begins his misdeeds by playing sports inside the house, much to the horror of a guy carrying an enshrouded dinner tray:


He  encourages the other children in the house to join him in his tomfoolery, although he does, thankfully, have the forethought to put an elegant cushion at the bottom of this banister to soften their landings:


(Notice the distressed adults at both the bottom and the top of the stairs.)

He develops new, filthy habits (and no, he isn’t vaping):


He even drags his visiting schoolmate into the fray, which is so shocking that it causes a woman in a bonnet to throw her scissors into the air, increasing the ambient danger by at least 75%:


Gosh! Is there anything Master Jacky wouldn’t do?


Nope, I guess not. Here’s my advice to those of you with bored children flopping around your house and peering through vases on sticks: do NOT show them this book, historically accurate and educational as it may be, or you may find yourself with a gang of indoor-cricket-playing rascals and/or with ash and charcoal marring the backs of your pristine white knee socks. Try the community pool instead.

Magician of the Week #35: Jesse J. Lybarger

This week’s magician is taken from the cover of the December 1932 issue of The Linking Ring.


Here’s Jesse Lybarger inside a vignette with playing cards, coins, a bird in a cage, balls, the devil emanating from a radio tower, and the Angel of Death with lightning bolts radiating from the hood of his robe.

The latter’s a little hard to see, so here’s a close-up, enhanced for extra green-ness:


Lybarger was an Ohio native and sewing machine salesman; his magical claim to fame is that he sold the first known routine involving sponge balls in 1925 (although Al Cohn, known as the “Sponge Ball King”, claimed to have invented the prop nearly 20 years later; Robert A. Nelson invented the “sponge rabbit” in mid-1940s).

Next time you’re enjoying a magic trick involving sponge balls, don’t forget to thank Jesse J. Lybarger.

FSCW Student Government Bulletins are now available in the FSUDL!

Bulletin of the Student Government Association of the Florida State College for Women and Official Circular of Information of College Customs and Regulations, 1923-1924
Bulletin of the Student Government Association of the Florida State College for Women and Official Circular of Information of College Customs and Regulations, 1923-1924

We are excited to announce that a set of Florida State College for Women (FSCW) Student Government Bulletins are now available in the Digital Library! Bulletins were distributed yearly to each student and outlined the rules and regulations of campus, and now provide a glimpse into the life of FSCW students throughout the early 20th century. Prior to becoming Florida State University (FSU) in 1947, the Florida State College for Women was a bastion for educating women and encouraging them to live well-rounded lives, embodying the concept of femina perfecta (the perfect woman).

Marjorie Fogarty and Janie Mattison smoking cigarettes with rolled up pants, two prohibited activities (Marjorie Fogarty Lee Collection, HP 2007-014)
Marjorie Fogarty and Janie Mattison smoking cigarettes with rolled up pants, two prohibited activities (Marjorie Fogarty Lee Collection, HP 2007-014)
The majority of the bulletins contain standard rules and practices that most students would expect nowadays, but some of the guidelines read downright draconian compared to modern standards. In a 1925-26 bulletin, the “Decorum” section states that “quiet, ladylike demeanor is expected at all times and in all places.” Students weren’t allowed to dry their hair in front of buildings, attend dances, play cards, roll down their stockings below their knees (or wear pants!), smoke, and could only pick flowers on Mondays. On Sundays, church attendance was required, and “pianos and other musical instruments are not to be played… except as on other days, fifteen minutes before and fifteen minutes after meal time.” In that span of 30 minutes, don’t even think about playing rag or jazz music!
The FSCW Student Government Bulletins can be viewed in the FSU Digital Library. To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

WNYC Covers the Great Anti-Nuclear March and Rally at Central Park, June 12, 1982

On June 12, 1982, 33 years ago today, as many as one million people gathered in New York City’s Central Park making it, at the time, the largest political demonstration in American history. The march and rally were to mark the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament which had begun several days earlier.

In the morning there were speeches near the U.N. at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza followed by a march across town to the Great Lawn in Central Park for an afternoon of speeches, entertainment, music and rallying. Among those addressing the crowds were nuclear freeze campaign organizer Randall Forsberg,  activists Dr. Helen Caldicott, and the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., union leader Victor Gotbaum, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, and City Council President Carol Bellamy. The performers included Jackson Browne, Peter, Paul and Mary, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez.

WNYC News Director Marty Goldensohn orchestrated the station’s live coverage of the event with help from Robert Krulwich and direction by Karen Frillman and more than a dozen reporters and engineers from a rented Winnebago at the Central Park Sheep Meadow. Gathering tape and interviews in the field were Peter Freiberg, Andy Lanset, Terry Johnson, Tod Shapera, Johanna Cooper, Jerry Hatch, Janica Hurwit, Margaret Howard, Leslie Peters and Myles Gordon. Additional production help came from Karen Pearlman, Sara Fishko and David Rapkin.  The post event documentary (above) was called Voices of Disarmament and was broadcast on WNYC in the days following the great march and rally.. Unlike most coverage of the event, the production was a documentary record of the marchers rather than the famous voices from the stage.


Ornette Coleman on WNYC’s Meet the Composer in 1985

The American jazz composer Ornette Coleman died today at 85. Coleman was one of the founders of free jazz, a 1960s movement that played with dissonance and abrasive sounds. He released more than thirty records over the course of his life,ranging from Free Jazz and The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959 and 1960 to his 1972 composition for jazz ensembles and orchestras, Skies of America. In 2007, he received a Pulitzer Prize for his album Sound Grammar.

Ornette Coleman spoke with WNYC’s Tim Page on Meet the Composer in 1985, above. In between selections from The Shape of Jazz to Come and Of Human Feelings, he discussed his mixing of musical styles, drew comparisons between Bach and Charlie Parker, and expressed his frustrations with ideas like keys, chords, and genres.

He described keys as “clichés” that steered people away from music. As for genres, he told Page, “To me, everyone in the Western world uses the same notes, they just use them in a different way, you know, to create what they call their style.”

Instead, he saw genres as interchangeable, and even skill as a matter of taste. All composers were essentially equal, Coleman argued—the only difference was whether or not you liked what they composed.

“Basically,” Coleman told Page at the end of the interview, “I think everyone has a potential of being a composer.” They just had to create, “something they haven’t heard that they want heard.” 


Trinity Orff-Schulwerk Levels Concert in Special Collections on Thursday, June 18th

You are invited to attend a Recorder Concert presented by members of the Trinity Orff-Schulwerk Levels in the Special Collections Room of the Coates Library, Thursday, June 18 at 3:30 PM. Performers are 61 general music educators from across the country who are on campus for two weeks to study music and movement pedagogy. These teachers will be performing in small groups on various voicings of recorders. Repertoire will include music from the Renaissance, folk songs, and contemporary arrangements. This is the 15th anniversary of the Trinity Orff-Schulwerk course which is co-sponsored by the Music Department and the Office of Conferences and Special Programs.

–Diane Persellin, Department of Music

Bad Children of History #7

This week’s bad child of history comes from Meddlesome Matty, a 1925 volume that is chock-full of devilish youth doing misguided things: eating an entire plum cake, hoping people will admire a new ruffly dress, trying to steal an apple, throwing balls in the general vicinity of windows, fishing for fun instead of profit– all manner of atrocities.

IMG_1655One particularly dire warning focuses on Richard, a lad who often stops to “loiter and chatter” instead of diligently completing tasks. Here he is:


It’s obvious from this illustration that the goat is up to no good (and what goat isn’t?), but what did Richard do to deserve such a caprine intervention?

John Brown is a man without houses or lands;
Himself he supports by the work of his hands:
He brings home his wages each Saturday night;
To his wife and his children a very good sight.
His eldest son Richard, on errands when sent,
To loiter and chatter is very much bent;
And in spite of the care his mother bestows,
He is known by his tatters wherever he goes.
His shoes too are worn, and his feet are half bare,
And now it is time he should have a new pair;
‘Go at once to the shop,’ said John Brown to his son,
‘And change me this bank-note–I have only one.’

So Richard comes from a working-class family, likes to chat, and wears worn-out clothes? That doesn’t sound so bad…

But now comes the mischief, for Richard would stop
To prate with a boy at a green-grocer’s shop!
And to whom in his boasting he shows his bank-note:
Just then to the green-stall up marches a goat.
The boys knew full well that it was this goat’s way,
With any that passed her, to gambol and play:
The three then continued to skip and to frisk,
Till his note on some greens Dick happened to whisk:
And what was his wonder to see the rude goat,
In munching the greens, eat up his bank-note!
To his father he ran, in dismay, with the news,
And by stopping to gossip he lost his new shoes.

The saddest part of the story isn’t even narrated in the poem, it’s just illustrated at the end. Not only does Richard lose the money and his chance at new shoes–


But also, he gets spanked through the trap-door of his pajamas, next to a teeny-tiny bed. With what looks to be a conductor’s baton.

Consider yourself warned.

Magician of the Week #34: Celeste Evans

The award for Most Stunning Magician Eyebrows goes to:


Celeste Evans! Would you take a look at those amazing arches?

The August 1964 issue of The New TOPS describes her act thusly:

This tall statuesque and beautiful girl makes a stage appearance at the outset which is quite electrifying. As Celeste appears in an evening gown, minus the “sleeves, pockets and concealed hiding places” worn by the men of her profession, the sudden production of eight doves and a real live Toy Poodle adds still more bewilderment to an already baffling act.


Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Terrestrial Research

As a natural complement to last week’s sky-themed Art//Archives, tomorrow Special Collections will have earth-themed visual research hours. IMG_1646

We’ll be featuring books from our historic collections with fantastic images of glaciers, geological cross-sections, fossils (including a fossil elk), prehistoric flora, and water flow patterns.


As always, open research hours will be tomorrow (Tuesday) from 10:30 until 1:00. Special Collections is on the third floor of the library, at the top of the marble staircase. Please stop in!

Murder in the Archives

Professor Snell.
In the tool shed.
With a piece of wood




Things are already not what they seem:  Prof. Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876, Class of 1822) was not a murderer, a murder did not take place in his tool shed, and he used the piece of wood as a door wedge.  So why does our title mention “murder,” and why would anyone save such an inconsequential-looking piece of cheap pine long enough for it to enter our archives?

The wood came to my attention some months ago when a patron asked for a document in the Snell Family Papers and the wood happened to be in the same box as the requested item.  It stuck right out of the file and poked at the box lid.  The file included a little card:


Click on image to see inscription.


Apparently Prof. Charles H. Morgan (not Morhan – a typo by someone else) found the piece of wood in Snell’s house and gave it to –a guess– the archivist of the time, Peggy Hitchcock Emerson, who kept it with the rest of the Snell papers.  Morgan, a professor in the Art Department, moved into the Snell house in 1932, and the information about the wood came to him from the last caretaker of the last Snell to live in the house.

The inscription raised several other questions, including “why would anyone commemorate the murder with this piece of wood, or (for that matter), any piece of wood?”  and “who is W. W. Snell?

Sun-Extra-Jan22-1842-JCC-via-Bro-Jonathan Murder-Samuel-Adams-fr-Bro-Jonathan-vol5 Blood-in-the-gutter-via-Bro-JonathanNeither Prof. Morgan nor Peggy Hitchcock had recourse to Google or to our digital newspaper archive to obtain answers.  A few simple search terms with these tools brought up plenty of information about John Caldwell Colt and his sensational murder trial.  Newspapers, including our local Hampshire Gazette, printed entire pages about the case and followed it from the victim Samuel Adams’ disappearance in September of 1841 to the discovery several days later of his body– stuffed in a pine box (a shipping crate) and loaded on a ship scheduled to depart for New Orleans — and then to the trial and conviction of his murderer in 1842.  At its simplest, the murder was about money: John Colt owed Samuel Adams money (they disagreed on the amount) for printing Colt’s work on bookkeeping.  Colt hadn’t planned to kill Adams on the day when the printer came to collect his money, but when the two argued and things went bad Colt murdered Adams with a hatchet. Colt then had to figure out how to clean up and dispose of the body quickly – hence the box in which he folded and tied the body in such a way that he could stuff it into a container that was said in court to measure 3’4″ x 1’10”  x 1’9″.  In Killer Colt, Harold Schechter writes that the box “had  been constructed by Colt himself, who assembled all the shipping crates for his books” (p. 108), and several witnesses mention seeing this particular box as well as the equipment Colt used to make them.

He got the box downstairs (not too big a box, not too big a body) and paid someone to help him get it to the wharf.

If the ship had departed with the body on board, Colt might have gotten away with it.  In fact, given that it took a week for keyhole witnesses (literally) to get the authorities’ attention, it’s a wonder he didn’t get away with it.  He was so close.  But things continued to go awry for Colt (not to mention Adams), and the ship didn’t leave on time.  Soon the contents began to smell.  The police, already alerted to the disappearance of Adams, came and pried the lid off the box.


From here events followed swiftly – the victim was identified, the suspected murderer was arrested, and the evidence was hauled away.  Including the box.

This much was clear and, in its way, straightforward and well documented. But still: why would Professor Snell have this piece of wood with such an inscription?  The answer (according to my theory) is in details from the small world that was Western Massachusetts in the early 19th century.

Hamp-Mfr-Co-ad-1829-Jul-8-Hamp-Gaz  If the reader hasn’t already made the connection, murderer John Colt was the brother of repeating firearms inventor Samuel Colt.  In the late 1820s and into the 1830s their father, Christopher Colt, worked at a textile mill in Ware, Massachusetts, where John and Samuel spent at least a little time (mostly coming and going quickly) and where Sam acquired notoriety on July 4, 1829, by blowing up a raft on Ware Pond.  On that occasion things didn’t go quite as he planned (apparently a Colt family tradition) and the explosion drenched the villagers who’d gathered to witness the event.  The villagers were angry and Sam barely escaped punishment.


View of Ware, ca. 1880, from “History of Ware”


The town of Ware is right next to Brookfield, where Ebenezer Snell’s family lived (specifically in North Brookfield), so it’s very possible that the Snells heard about the Ware Pond event, as well as about the mysterious explosions in the woods around town that the villagers came to suspect were Colt’s doing.

Not too long after the pond incident, Samuel Colt was hustled off  to Amherst Academy (or perhaps “back” — it’s unclear when he first attended the school).  If Ebenezer Snell didn’t know about Sam Colt from the latter’s days in Ware, he certainly came to know him in Amherst.  Snell had attended Amherst Academy himself and taught there later (1822-25).   By the time Colt got there, Snell was a professor at Amherst College, just a block away.  Although we don’t know for sure when Colt arrived in Amherst, we know when he left: shortly after July 4, 1830, when Colt and classmate Robert Purvis* stole Ebenezer Mattoon’s Revolutionary War cannon (a weapon with a long history of town escapades), dragged it up to the Amherst College campus, and scared the frocks off students and professors.  A newspaper comment from a few weeks later and a diary entry from the following year document the occasion and the excessive “huzzaing”:


"Hampshire Gazette," July 7, 1830

“Hampshire Gazette,” July 7, 1830

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832.  This entry from July 3, 1831:  …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises.  Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven.  Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven.  A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832. This entry from July 3, 1831: …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises. Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven. Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven. A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

In another bizarre twist in the “six degrees” way, the incident was recounted to Samuel Colt biographer Henry Barnard years later by none other than Edward Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s father, which makes one think the poet too might’ve heard about the Colts, maybe across the dinner table.  Edward Dickinson’s letter was published in “Samuel Colt: Arms, Art & Invention,” but two sentences mentioning Snell and confirming his awareness of the incident were omitted.  That part is provided here courtesy of a transcription from the staff at the Wadsworth Atheneum, where the original is located (the word “instance” in brackets below is my suggestion for an illegible word):

Amherst July 22, 1864

Hon. Henry Barnard

My dear Sir,

 Your letter of yesterday is just rec’d. I well recollect the main incidents of the celebration enquired about; tho’ I never before knew that the celebrated Hartford Sam. Colt, was the hero of that occasion.

A young wild fellow of the name of Colt of Ware, was a member of our Academy & joined with other boys of Academy Lodge, on College Hill, in firing cannon, early in morning of 4th July. (The day of the week, I can’t tell.)

Some of the officers of College interfered & tried to stop the noise. Colt, as Prof. Fisk [probably Professor Nathan Welby Fiske, father of Helen Hunt Jackson] ordered him not to fire again, and placing himself, as the story was told, the nest day near the mouth of the gun, swung his match, & cried out, “a gun for Prof. Fiske.” & touched it off – the Prof. enquired his name – & he replied, “his name was Colt, & he could Kick like Hell” – He soon left town, for good. This was the account given at the time – & has after been repeated here.

I met Prof. Snell, directly after receiving your letter, and as he was here, at the time, I enquired of him about it. He recollects Prof. Fiske relating to him, the [instance? i.e. “story” or “occasion”] of his being on the ground, & saying that the [instance?] started by some of the boys, that he, Prof. Fiske, tried to straddle the gun, was not true. So, I think I have given you about as it was. I am always happy to hear from you, & to meet you.  With kind regard & esteem, I am very truly yours, Edward Dickinson.”

So when in 1841-2 the Snells read of the trial of John Colt for the murder of Samuel Adams, they would have had personal memories of the Colt family, both because of Sam Colt’s notoriety in Amherst and because of the proximity of the Snell and Colt families in neighboring towns.  And there was yet another reason the murder would’ve shocked them: they knew the victim, probably very well.

According to the “History of North Brookfield,” Samuel Adams, John Colt’s victim, was also from North Brookfield.  He appears just before “ADAMS” in the center of the image below.**


Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

The Snell family knew the Adams family because Rev. Thomas Snell, Ebenezer’s father, led the church in town for 64 years, from 1798-1862, and Benjamin Adams, Samuel’s grandfather (d. 1829), was a deacon in the same church.  Thomas Snell said of Benjamin Adams, “At the time of my settlement, no member of the church had so much influence in ecclesiastical affairs as Dea. Adams.  He was a good judge of preaching, and a man of uncommon attainments for one who enjoyed no greater advantages.  At this time he was  the only member of the church who would take part in a religious meeting” (History of North Brookfield, page 485).  Benjamin’s grandson Samuel was also in the same age group as some of Ebenezer’s younger siblings, so they may have played or been in school and church together.  The “W. W. Snell” — William Ward Snell — of the inscription on the wood was born in 1821, so to him Samuel Adams would’ve been an older boy by a decade.

But let’s get back to that piece of wood in the Snell Family Papers. What is this piece of wood?

Accounts of the trial of John Colt reveal that the lid of the pine box containing Adams’ body went missing:


In court testimony about the missing lid a police officer remembered that the prison watchman had offered to show him the box.  The officer’s testimony “suggested that at least one man with access to the lid — Watchman Patrick — understood its value as a curio” (Schechter,  p 178).  Later, however, another watchman said that he had used the lid to build a fire on a particularly chilly night.  He offered the helpful (if suspiciously superfluous) detail that the lid had smelled “strong” when it was burned (Schechter, p.184).  Either way, the lid was gone, apparently for good.

Given the relationship between the Snells and those involved in the case (the Colt and Adams families), I wonder, then, whether the piece of wood that one Snell inscribed and another kept and used as a wedge for decades is in fact a piece of the missing lid.  I think that Ebenezer’s brother William Ward Snell somehow came into possession of that piece of wood, possibly through a member of the Adams family or a mutual connection of the Colts and the Snells.  In 1842, William Snell was a young man of 21 or 22 perhaps fascinated by a murder trial involving a victim he knew personally.  Like whoever took the lid, probably dividing it into several pieces, Snell would’ve viewed the segment as a souvenir of the crime or a memorial of the victim. But why does it appear among brother Ebenezer’s possessions?  I can’t answer that question (yet), but I do at least know that brother William moved out west and may have left some of his possessions behind, and I know too that Ebenezer himself wasn’t above a bit of rubbernecking at murder.  His memoir of a trip in August of 1827 reveals that he witnessed the hanging (a botched one, apparently) of Jesse Strang for the murder of John Whipple — the “Cherry Hill murder”:


[Last section, after describing his discomfort during trip from Northampton to Albany] “This lameness prevented my walking about the city as much as I had wished; indeed, I did but little more than attend the execution of Strang, the murderer of Whipple. He was hung, on Friday, August 24 in the valley, or rather, in the deep hollow near the jail in Albany. An immense concourse were present to witness a spectacle of a nature too horrid to be witnessed a second time.”

Ironically, Colt’s hanging never took place — not on the day indicated on the wood or any other day.  Instead, on November 18, between about 2:45 and 3:45 p.m., when he was left alone, John Colt stabbed himself to death in his cell.  When officials came to take him to his 4:00 p.m. execution, they discovered him lying on his cot with a knife in his chest.  The Snells would have known the appointed hour of Colt’s hanging and inscribed the piece of wood – the piece of the lid – on that day.  The news of Colt’s suicide would have taken at least a day to reach Amherst, more likely longer (it’s in the Hampshire Gazette on the 22nd), when it would have been odd – the emotion of the moment having passed – to erase or correct the inscription.  Either way, Colt was dead on the 18th — unless one believes the rumors…

If you look closely at the piece of wood, you can still see the nail holes where the piece was tacked down.  In Colt’s confession he describes how the box originally had only a few nails, not enough to keep a body secure, so he purchased additional nails and then stood on top of the box to force the body into its tidy package: “I had to stand on [Adams’ knees] with all my weight before I could get them down.  I then nailed down the cover.” (Edwards, Story of Colt’s Revolver, p 169; reprinted from Colt’s confession in “Authentic Life of John C. Colt”).

From one day to the next, you never know what you’ll find in the archives.


New York Sun, Jan. 30, 1842



* Contrary to the information on his current Wikipedia page and other sites, abolitionist Robert Purvis didn’t attend or graduate from Amherst College, he attended Amherst Academy.  The two schools are often confused.  However, students at the Academy were allowed to attend lectures at the College, so it’s quite possible that Purvis attended lectures here.

** Newspaper accounts of the case put Samuel Adams in Providence, Rhode Island, but he may have gone there to begin his career, perhaps through connections with his older sister Eliza Sackett, who lived in Providence.




(re)Introducing the Dime Novels Collection

A view of one of the Special Collections & Archives storage modules in the subbasement

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Bilbo tells his nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same might be said for visiting the subbasement of Strozier Library; it’s a dangerous thing, because you never know what new projects you might stumble upon. In this case, it was six boxes of uncatalogued dime novels stuffed unceremoniously into Hollinger boxes. Where did they come from? How long had they been here? Although we seemed to have more questions than answers, we knew we wanted to get these items stored properly and cataloged so that they would be available to researchers. And so, I was given the opportunity to rehouse and process my very first archival collection. Now, I would like to (re)introduce the Dime Novels Collection!

Dime Novels
Different dime novel formats (MSS 2015-003)

“Dime novels” is the term given to mass-market fiction publications from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which really ranged in price from five to twenty cents. They are essentially the American equivalent of Great Britain’s “penny dreadfuls.” Dime novels revolved around themes of action, adventure, and crime, sometimes drawing on contemporary and historical events like the American Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. Some come in a magazine-sized format, others as thicker, twenty cent pocket-sized editions. While they were never prized for their literary excellence, dime novels were a widely popular form of entertainment and continued to remain popular among collectors, inspiring periodicals like Dime Novel Roundup, a collector’s guide.

20 cent novels
20 cent thicker-format dime novels stored in boxes, protected by transparent sleeves

Although dime novels can be cataloged as books and given individual call numbers, the FSU Dime Novels Collection has been kept together as a collection. While a single dime novel might be an object of interest to a researchers studying depictions of Native Americans in popular literature or turn-of-the-century graphic design, the collection is also valuable as a whole. Along with the dime novels, I found handwritten note cards with titles and check-marked lists of issues owned, which bear testament to an unnamed collector. These sorts of notes give us a sense of how the dime novels were used and what importance they held. The value of the collection as a whole, as it was developed by its collector, would be lost if the dime novels were separated and cataloged individually.

Pocket-sized dime novels stored in a Hollinger box

Because they were designed to be cheap, mass-produced, and temporary, dime novels have often not survived over time or survived in poor condition. The FSU Dime Novels Collection has some serious condition issues. The acidity of the paper has made the novels extremely brittle, and this was exasperated by less-than-ideal storage conditions. Now, each dime novel has been placed in an archival-quality plastic sleeve, grouped according to titles, and stored in acid-free boxes. The smaller, pocket-sized dime novels were stored upright in individual folders separated by dividers in a Hollinger box. Pocket-sized novels with loose or detached covers were given additional protection from a card stock enclosure.

To find out more about this collection, view the Dime Novels Collection finding aid, which includes an additional description of the collection and list of titles included.

Bad Children of History #6

Back in the 1830s, Horace Selwyn decided something that children have been deciding for centuries: No more homework! No more adults telling me what to do!


Yes, that’s right, Horace decided to be his own master. After all, he was almost 13, and he was tired of being treated like a baby.

Since these were the days before Minecraft, the newly-liberated Horace decided to go visit a farm– despite his father’s advice to stay home because of gathering rainclouds. And we all know what happens when you ignore your father’s good judgment:


By the time that Horace and his companion arrived at the farm, they were soaked to the skin; to add insult to injury, they found the countryside to be boring when the weather’s poor. Horace spent the day moving things around the farmhouse and feeling “lonesomeish”.

What did this rainy excursion teach Horace? Nothing, apparently, because soon after arriving home, he decided to build a gunpowder volcano on a hillside above a military parade. His brother reminded Horace of their father’s exhortations not to play with gunpowder without his special permission (didn’t I read about that on a parenting blog somewhere?), but Horace, being his own master, just told his brother to stand back.

Horace’s brother, being both cautious and obedient, hurried home to fetch their father and bring him to the hillside; they arrived just in time to hear “a loud noise like the explosion of a cannon, and a wild piercing shriek”.


Yikes! Because this is a Victorian-era children’s book, i.e. a book from the times when children could still travel alone to farms and withstand gruesome storytelling, Horace is found “with his legs torn and bleeding, prostrate on the ground, covered with smoke and sand”. Swooping in to the midst of tragedy, his father carries him home, where he spends many weeks in bed recuperating from his injuries before he can again walk and play.

And what did Horace learn this time? While lying in convalescence, he spells it out for the reader: “Oh! How could I be so foolish as to suppose I had the wisdom, judgment and knowledge of my father.–But I never wish to be my own master again–no, never, never!”

Our online search has been upgraded

You may have noticed that our SearchArchives database looks a little different. For example, the information for a full record is in a more compact form, reducing the amount of scrolling you’ll have to do.

Illustration of reduced screen area for new results

Screenshots of identical dimensions show the dramatic difference. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

The software has recently been upgraded to version 2.1 of AtoM. Most of the changes in the updated version affect how things are handled behind the scenes. Besides the example above, there are other changes that affect users:

Improved search times. Updates to the search index have reduced the time it takes the database to respond to your search query.

Searchable subject and place terms. There is a search box that appears on the Browse Subjects and Browse Places pages that allows you to search for specific terms, rather than just browse them.  Be sure to hit the magnifying glass symbol (indicated below) to search.

Search results for subject term “building*”.

Search results for subject term “building*”.

Better list of search results. There has been a change to the results algorithm that will give you results in a slightly different order.

Results of searching for “dog”. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

Results of searching for “dog”. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

We are anticipating further improvements to our SearchArchives database with the AtoM 2.2 release later this summer.

Classic Cars: The Art of Paint, Polish and Pistons

New York is a city ruled by pedestrians and rife with public transit options. You don’t need a car to get around New York, and driving in the city is considered a skill all its own, requiring agility often coupled with aggression. But once in a blue moon you will see a driver who truly enjoys their ride, even on the streets of New York City – the vintage car motorist.

New York City has its share of automobile enthusiasts, and this video made two years ago by Petrolicious Productions gives a quick look into what it’s like to own and drive a vintage car on city streets in the 21st century. This episode of New York: A Portrait in Sound gives us a glimpse into this same world in the early 1960s.  Skilled mechanic Ernest Gleisner talks about the willingness to get your hands dirty to maintain a classic car. Bronx-born enthusiasts Scott Bailey, founder of the magazine Automotive Quarterly, and Ralph Stein, author of several books about classic cars, can be heard as well.

 While this episode is dominated by male voices, women have also made their mark in the American automotive world. Beverly Rae Kimes began her career as an automotive historian working as an editorial assistant at Bailey’s magazine, where she was later promoted to editor in the 1970s – the first female editor in automotive publishing. “Behind every great car is a great story,” Kimes said, and during her career she wrote 15 books about cars and was a member of Classic Car Club of America as well as editor of the Club’s magazine until she passed away in 2008.

New York City once hosted its own antique car run up Fifth Avenue, where antique car owners could take pride and pleasure in taking their automobiles out for a spin in the heart of Manhattan. The garage where Gleisner worked at 553 West 51st Street is now the home of the Irish Repertory Theatre, and the Fifth Avenue antique car run is no longer an annual event, but you can still glimpse the occasional classic on these city streets and enthusiasts still participate in runs and meets in New York. The Antique Automobile Association of Brooklyn hosts an annual car show at Floyd Bennett Field in June. Also, Citroen co-sponsors a Bastille Day rendez-vous of the classic french car, an event in its 16th year this July, with an official route running from Washington Heights, down Broadway and up Third Avenue.