95%: Describing the National Archives’ Holdings

The National Archives Catalog has reached a milestone: we now have 95% of our holdings completely described at the series level in our online catalog. This is a monumental achievement. Why? Because the National Archives holds over 13 billion pages of records, and we are adding hundreds of millions of pages to that total every year.

Describing our records in the online Catalog means that the information for all of those holdings is in one central place for researchers anywhere to search and browse, and is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Description enables us to provide the archival context of records as they are shared and re-used by researchers, citizen developers, and the public.

We’ve come a long way since our first online catalog was released in 2001. By 2003, only 19% of our holdings were described online for the public to view. This means that without coming to an archives facility or contacting reference staff, the public could only be aware of 19% of our records. We know how difficult this made archival research.

National Archives Holdings Described 2003-2016

Describing our records also ensures that our archival holdings fit into an archival hierarchy. At the highest level of that hierarchy are Record Groups and Collections, and beneath those are Series. Beneath Series are more granular description levels – File Units and Items. When we say we have 95% of our holdings described, we mean at the Series level.

records hierarchy

For example, the series Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981 consists of photographs documenting American activity, the bulk of which is military, from 1918 to 1981. You can see the robust level of description in this series identifying the hierarchy of records, dates, finding aid information, as well as scope and content notes. From this series description, you will also find a link to the items and digital objects in this series that are also currently described in the catalog. By reaching 95% series description, we have improved the ability for the public to be aware of and access our records.

The credit for describing our records goes to the over 500 archival staff at National Archives locations across the country. These locations include 13 Presidential Libraries, the Center for Legislative Archives, and 20 other archival units from our Washington, DC-area and regional facilities. The hard work and archival expertise of these staff were indispensable to the effort to describe to 95%, and we would not be here without them! Thank you all for your hard work and for your public service describing the primary sources for America’s history.

Just because we’ve reached 95% doesn’t mean our work is done. Our holdings continue to grow each year as we constantly receive new records. Our plan for the foreseeable future is to maintain 95% described as our overall holdings continue to grow, while working to add more lower level descriptions as well. To do this, archivists will continue to actively describe our remaining records, and will complete descriptions as new records are accessioned. We are committed to continuing to provide online access to as many of our records as we possibly can.

Description of the records of the National Archives is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Without description, the public will not have enough information to access and make use of the records. Fundamental to the archival profession, description shines a light on our holdings so the public can search and make use of the records of the National Archives, increasing transparency and accountability in our democracy.

Now on Exhibit: Portals art!

While the Portals exhibition (February – June 2016) showcased historical items describing imagined futures, local artists were hard at work researching in Special Collections and creating derivative art, both through programming at the library and in their own studios.

We’re lucky to have our exhibit cases jam-packed with selections of this Portals art, on view at the library now through August 15th!


Left to right: miniature dress and headdress created by teens in RISD CE fashion classes at the library; 18th century French funeral invitation from the Barrois Collection of Funeral Invitations, alongside a candle by Burke & Hare Co.; drafts, color separations, and layout notes from the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout.

The exhibit includes illustrations, song lyrics, candles, comics, letterpress prints, short stories, headdresses, and clothing designs by Rhode Island artists including Walker Mettling, Mickey Zacchilli, Brian Whitney, Dan Wood, Caitlin Cali, Guy-Maly Pierre, Dailen Williams, Jim Frain, Joe DeGeorge, Veronica Santos, Burke & Hare Co., Jeremy Ferris, Keegan Bonds-Harmon, and many teen fashion designers.

New creative works are displayed alongside the historical items that inspired them, including Maukisch’s Das Jagen, Fangen, Zähmen und Abrichten der Thiere (1837), The Necropolis of Ancón in Peru (circa 1880), design classic The Grammar of Ornament (1856), Academie Universelle des Jeux (1824) (from the Haynes Checkers Collection), Rational Recreations (1794), and other gems from the stacks.


Some of these artists’ original items are available for sale. (The library doesn’t receive any proceeds from these sales, but we are thrilled to support local businesses and Rhode Island artists!) You can purchase Burke & Hare Co’s Horace B. Knowles candle here, or their Repose en Paix candle here. To get a copy of the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout comics newspaper, visit Ada Books in Providence or contact Special Collections!

Wallace Monument Anniversary Exhibition

The Library has contributed three items of Wallace Monument memorabilia to an exhibition at the Wallace Monument. It is 155 years since the foundations of the Wallace Monument were laid. The Victorian Masterpiece exhibition on the third floor of the Monument contains exhibits which have been crowdsourced from local museums, libraries and private owners. This is what we contributed:

  • Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the lake, 1869 edition bound in mauchline ware, photograph of the Wallace Monument on the front cover. The Wallace monument was completed in 1869.
  • A 1930s panorama of views from Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, published in Stirling by R. S. Shearer.
  • William Power’s Wallace Monument: the official guide, published in the 1950s.


To find out more about the Wallace Monument and the exhibition see http://www.nationalwallacemonument.com/the-monument/building-the-monument/

If you visit, remember that it’s on the third floor, reached by a narrow spiral staircase – wear sensible shoes!





Helen Beardsley


Remembering the Cheap, Tawdry, Downright Immoral Times Square

When you walk shoulder to shoulder through Times Square—where it looks like the sun is out at any hour of the day—it is difficult to imagine that this modern, Disneyfied tourist convergence was once a gritty, run-down hub for pornography and crime.

In this 1961 speech given to the West Side Association of Commerce, Monsignor Joseph A. McCaffrey, the Reverend at the nearby Church of the Holy Cross, laments the immorality of Times Square as “the greatest retail market of pornography in America”.

McCaffrey does not blame the “ever alert” police department, but rather the judicial system for enabling the proliferation of these establishments and calls on the city to revoke the licenses of such businesses. He concludes by associating the rise of sex crimes to juvenile delinquents:

We all deplore juvenile delinquency, and while we do not maintain that pornographic material is a basic cause of juvenile delinquency, still we maintain that it is a contributory cause, and certainly it is a cause for the alarming increase of sex crimes in our city and in our country. And so it is our hope tonight that the West Side Association of Commerce, despite all discouragement, will continue in their efforts to bring back to Times Square a semblance of public decency.

The recording begins with Judge Owen McGivern, Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, who presents an award to Monsignor Joseph A. McCaffrey for his “great struggle to cleanse and uplift the west side area particularly Times Square, for his unending battle against the cheap, the tawdry, the downright immoral.” McGivern was presumably an important ally against lower court judges who, in McCaffrey’s eyes, showed immoral leniency to Times Square criminals. According to McGivern,”…we are told that some nights the man in the moon blushes for shame when he sails over Times Square west of 42nd street.”

In a 1968 New York Times article, on the occasion of McCaffrey’s retirement, “…he was forced to acknowledge that the Great White Way was ‘worse than ever.’ He admitted discouragement and added that he was leaving the challenge to younger men.” It took four decades to transform the seedy Times Square into today’s LED monument to commercialization. With cooperation from city government and private investment in the 1980s, reputable businesses began to move back in, “legitimate” theaters were renovated on Broadway, and the pornographers were ushered out. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150464
Municipal archives id: LT9437

Camping Out

1873 Camping Out by C. A. StephensWith summer heat now upon us here in Amherst, many a thought is turning to tents and s’mores.

How did camping come to hold such a central place in the dominant national narrative of summertime? I’m pretty sure that anyone in the town of Amherst 200 years ago would have been deeply perplexed by the idea of voluntarily sleeping in the wilderness in a canvas tent just for fun (in fact, the even concept of “leisure time” and using it for “fun” would have been quite suspect).

I pulled together a handful of books from the archives to look at the questions of “How did camping get to be a thing?” and “For whom?”

1883, Camping in the Alleghanies; or, Bodines by Thad S. Up De Graff
1882, Camps and Tramps in the Adirondacks by A. Judd Northrup

In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, with rising industrialization in the east and the slow end of the frontier era in the west, dominant American culture became obsessed with masculinity. Fears that scholars and theologians were becoming weak, anemic, book-bound push-overs gave rise to the “Muscular Christianity,” anthropometry and physical education movements

1905 Camp Fires in the Wilderness by E. W. Burt

1905 Camp Fires in the Wilderness by E. W. Burt

(which played central roles in the history of Amherst College). Native Americans were re-cast in the popular (white) imagination from enemy #1 to romantic, historically-distant “noble savages.” Even the popular conception of nature itself slowly shifted from a brutal force to be subdued to an idyllic, primal Eden to be communed with (and later still to a feminized Mother Nature to be protected). Popular heroes were no longer statesmen and religious leaders, but frontiersmen and cowboys in the Davy Crockett mold. Camping, along with other outdoor pastimes like hunting and fishing, became a way for elite, white men to display their masculine prowess, as the explosion of books about all three topics during this era clearly documents.

1909, The Book of Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart
1918, Tenting To-night by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1908, The Way of the Woods by Edward Breck

1916, Camping on Mount Mitchell, issued by the Southern Railway

1916, Camping on Mount Mitchell, issued by the Southern Railway

In the following decades, outdoorsiness trickled down to the middle class with the establishment of the Boy and Girl Scouts and growing access to travel and consumer products (like tents and camp stoves). Women were increasing included, but, as a leisure activity, camping remained (and remains) a very white pursuit for a variety of reasons including segregation of parks and

1961, Complete Book of Camping by Leonard Miracle with Maurice Decker

1961, Complete Book of Camping by Leonard Miracle with Maurice Decker

campgrounds and the very real risk of racial violence in secluded, largely white environments.

The Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression greatly expanded the facilities at many National Parks and new advertising campaigns after World War II began selling camping to families as a part of the wholesome American identity.

Amherst College’s Special Collections can be used to look at a wide variety of questions around cultural interpretations of nature and people’s relationships to it. I would recommend the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, the Frederick Lane Angling Collection, the Charles M. Adams Southern Appalachian Mountain Collection, and the many other natural history collections in our holdings.

And for those who could do without camping entirely? We’ve got you covered too:

1875, Popular Resorts and how to Reach Them by John B. Backelder

1875, Popular Resorts and how to Reach Them by John B. Backelder



WNYC and the WPA Federal Art Project

The Works Progress Administration or WPA was launched in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment during the depression. Under the WPA there were new roads, dams and other public works project. It also put artists, actors, writers and musicians to work contributing their share to the cultural development of the nation.[1]

Artists were paid by the hour, on average 26 dollars a week and many were given their professional start by the WPA. On WNYC’s Forum of the Air in 1939 the actor Burgess Meredith credited the WPA with promoting new art.

(Meredith) Although the WPA art project was primarily designed to give employment to unemployed artists, the result has been the establishment of the beginning of a vital art movement which is unparalleled in history.

At the time there was a lot of controversy about funding abstract works. Yet, one of the few places open to such new ideas was WNYC.

Stuart DAVIS

Of all the artists who were engaged to do the murals at WNYC, Stuart Davis was the most well known. He was famous in his day and he was someone who very much promoted abstract art. He spoke at the unveiling of the murals in 1939.

(Davis) I say it is of crucial cultural importance when a city institution like the Municipal Broadcasting Company comes forward in sponsorship of abstract art. It is in harmony with the broad democratic cultural policy of WNYC.

The Stuart Davis painting was eleven by seven feet and hung in WNYC’s Studio B. 

(ladders and waves and antenna shapes, all these different things that he’s taken from the abstract imagery of sound) the tonal intervals of music have their counterpart in painting in intervals of tone, color, contrast, size, and direction. [2]

In 1965 the mural moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on long-term loan. It hangs in an area where it’s surrounded by some of Davis’ other work, and it’s seen by millions of visitors every year.

John von WICHT

In Studio C, there was a very different kind of wall panel by John Von Wicht. He was one of the many immigrant painters who worked for the WPA, and his work was a lot more geometric. The shapes seem to be both floating in space and anchored at the same time. At the time Von Wicht said he was trying to emulate the style of Bach in his work. Today the mural is at the Brooklyn Public Library. It may be difficult to think that it was created for a radio station but if you look at it closely you can see some microphones and, of course, a record.


Louis Schanker mural for lobby and reception area.

There’s a lot of movement in Louis Schanker’s mural. He liked to paint big and he was a very animated personality. In fact, at WNYC, a group of his fans who called themselves the Kibitzer’s Club used to come and watch him. He was an eccentric kind of guy. He ran away from home and he went to join the circus and in his case to look after the elephants. If you look closely at this picture there is a lute and a zither and a harp, and the suggestion of ghostly musicians keeping them in play.


Byron Browne WNYC mural.

Of all the artists, Byron Browne was the only one who tailored his work to fit the studio. He painted directly onto the acoustic tiles that were the soundproofing of the room. The mural (as well as the von Wicht) and some of WNYC’s Warren McArthur furniture had been used as part of 1986/87 Brooklyn Museum show The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941. Unfortunately the mural did not return to WNYC but was moved to the city office of Management and Budget on the north side of the Municipal Building. Eventually there were changes to those offices and the work was stored with the Art Commission of the City of New York. The mural was recently conserved and installed in the new Staten Island Courthouse.


Louis Ferstadt's 'Radio Service to the Public' in April, 1938.
The second unfinished WNYC panel accompanying Louis Ferstadt's Radio Service to the Public.

The real mystery works are the two panels by Louis Ferstadt. They were never hung although originally commissioned and intended for the Director’s Office. The smaller incomplete panel features an ear in the center, a radio announcer or operator and a girl on a swing with her legs like a phonograph needle on spinning record. The second panel shows musicians, an ear and around the outside are figures of people. It was titled “Radio Service to the Public.” Of all the murals it is the least abstract. One might liken it to the more social realist works of the period with a political message. In this case, that radio is here to bring people together and enlighten them.

Louis Ferstadt is probably better known as a comic book artist than as a muralist. Many in the world of comics and graphic novels revere him for his pioneering work in the field. As for myself, I can’t help but think that because he did a significant amount of work for the American Communist Party paper, The Daily Worker in the 1930s, may have something to do with why the WNYC mural never got mounted, and to this day, cannot be located. Perhaps, dear reader, you know where it is?



In 1941, two years after the installation of the first murals, Lee Krasner was chosen to create a work. She was a gregarious young abstract painter who was influenced by Mondrian with whom she used to go dancing in Harlem. Later she married Jackson Pollock. Krasner worked hard and did many sketches for her WNYC assignment. They began as a series of still-lifes and gradually became more abstract. Unfortunately, she never got to complete her painting because the WPA mural project came to an end with World War II.  However today, at her bequest, her estate sells sketches for the murals and it’s at her insistence that the money from them goes to support young needy artists.




Finally, one last contribution of the WPA Federal Art Project to WNYC remains on site. It is a cast aluminum sculpture “Harpist” by Max Baum.


[1] The WPA played a major role in WNYC’s history and ensured that the station not only stayed on the air, but grew significantly and prospered. WPA funding underwrote programming, artwork, the rebuilding of our studios and the construction of a state-of-the-art transmitter facility in Greenpont, Brooklyn.

[2] O’Meally, Robert, G., ed., The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Columbia University Press, 1998, pg. 179.

This article is based on a slideshow script originally written by former WNYC Senior Archivist Cara McCormick.

Audio clips courtesy of The New York City Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.





If War Comes to NYC, We’ll Take Care of the Homeless

We’ll Take Care of the Homeless is the—to a modern listener—misleading title of this 1942 broadcast. The “homeless” in question are, in fact, those whose homes would be destroyed if the Nazis bombed New York City! Welfare Commissioner William Hodson is questioned by radio journalist Elmer Davis about the city’s preparedness plans should Hitler attack. Emergency Centers will be set up, staffed by regular Department of Welfare workers. Cash allowances will be handed out to people who need to shelter in hotels or travel to relatives. Lists of affordable rental units will be provided. Emergency clothing needs will be met by the WPA Clothing Project. Hodson goes out of his way to defend this particular program against critics who call it “…another one of those boondoggling projects. To me, it is one of the greatest services that the WPA has rendered.” Davis, recalling Blitz-ravaged London, asks how people will find friends and family members lost during the chaos. Hodson says central registry points will be set up. Sensitive, it would appear, to charges that his agency is wasteful, he emphasizes that no new staff has been hired. Workers who live near the emergency centers will be on duty there at night. The program ends with a call for volunteers in the event of an emergency to register now at the Civilian Defense Office.

William Hodson (1891-1943) was a career social worker at a time when that field was in its infancy. As the website SNAC reports:

In Minnesota he was instrumental in establishing the laws that became Minnesota’s Children’s Code. He moved to New York City in 1922 and joined the Russell Sage Foundation, first as director of its Division of Child Welfare, then as director of its Dept. of Social Legislation. He was the executive director of the Welfare Council of New York City from 1924 to 1934 and was Commissioner of Welfare from 1934 to 1943.

To be New York’s Commissioner of Welfare during the depths of the Depression could not have been an easy task. The Brooklyn Eagle, in its obituary, notes:

Mr. Hodson had one of the most gigantic relief problems in the nation. … He took a vigorous stand against those who contended those on relief rolls were too lazy or dishonest to work.

A few months after this broadcast, Hodson took a leave of absence to join UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In January 1943 he was killed in a plane crash over Surinam. Mayor LaGuardia told the New York Times that Hodson’s death was “one of the greatest blows that has come to me in a long time.”

Elmer Davis (1890-1958) rose from being a well-respected newspaper journalist to become what we would now consider a “radio personality” during World War Two. The website Radio Days relates how:

…Ed Murrow wrote to Davis, “I have hopes that broadcasting is to become an adult means of communication at last,” said Murrow. “I’ve spent a lot of time listening to broadcasts from many countries . . . and yours stand out as the best example of fair, tough-minded, interesting talking I’ve heard.” An example of Davis’ tough-minded talk was his broadcast recommending the government organize news information under one organization. This would prompt FDR to create the Office of War Information, which Davis would be asked to head. Though reluctant at first, Davis finally accepted. Davis always thought of himself as a writer first, but eventually managed to create a powerful organization with one goal in mind: “This is a people’s war, and the people are entitled to know as much as possible about it.”

After the war, Davis was conspicuous for speaking out against McCarthyism. He portrayed himself on film and narrated an Emmy-award-winning television show before dying of a stroke in 1958. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150197
Municipal archives id: LT4724

New Yorkers at Work: The Complete Series

New Yorkers at Work was an eight part miniseries that aired on WNYC November 9-19, 1981. It was a co-production of WNYC and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, created and directed by Wagner Labor Archives Head Debra Bernhardt. The series tells the story of twentieth century New York from the perspective of the men and women who took part in the labor movement during that time, drawing from oral histories created through a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. The above audio is a composite of all eight episodes of the series in order, with a short gap between each episode, with each episode focusing on a particular era or a common theme in the history of the labor movement. To listen to each each episode individually, click on the links below. The series page is available here.

The episodes:

  1. Life Under a Hardhat: A Question of Skill
  2. Greenhorn Dreams Lost and Earned: Immigrants at Work
  3. Hard Times and Picket Lines: The 30s and the CIO
  4. Solidarity Asunder: Labor After the War
  5. Climbing that Ladder: Jobs and Opportunity
  6. Bargaining, Bailout, Burnout: Public Employees and the Service Crisis
  7. Sixty Words per Minute: Clerical Workers Have Their Say
  8. Where Have All the Jobs Gone: The Eighties

Kuo Kong Silk Company fonds

Researchers often point to the Sam Kee Company fonds or the Yip Sang family fonds as important records in our holdings that document Chinatown’s history. However, the first group of Chinese records acquired by the Archives was the Kuo Kong Silk Company (國光絲髮公司) fonds. Kuo Kong Silk Company was a retail shop located in Chinatown that operated for over 70 years.

Cover of 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale.

Cover of 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale.

The records were donated by Mrs. S. Jackman, proprietor of the company, in 1975 and include business correspondence, financial records and statements, personal correspondence, silk samples and product catalogues.

Label from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1-- Catalogues of silk samples.

Label from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1– Catalogues of silk samples.

The company was founded by Mr. G. Jackman (朱直民) and Mr. Mah Young (馬宗揚) in 1922 and first appeared in the Wrigley-Henderson British Columbia directory in 1925. The company was originally located at 47 East Pender Street and was moved to 27 East Pender Street in 1927. In 1937, the company expanded its business by establishing two subsidiary operations, International Clothing (located at 44 East Hastings Street) as another sales arm, and National Dry Goods Manufacturing (located at Market Alley) as an additional manufacturing outlet. Besides selling silk products imported from China, the company manufactured fine silk dress shirts, sheets, pillowcases, work shirts, restaurant uniforms, and overalls. These goods, plus a wide range of men’s and women’s apparel, were sold along with Chinese curio items. The company continued to operate until 1987.

Storefront of 4 West Pender, summer 1976. Photograph by Paul Yee. Reference code AM1523-S6-F30-: 2008-010.1600.

Storefront of 4 West Pender, summer 1976. Photograph by Paul Yee. Reference code AM1523-S6-F30-: 2008-010.1600.

Although the company was based in Vancouver, its business activities were by no means limited to the city. By 1930, a mail order system was in operation to sell goods across the country. This progressive approach is evident in the company’s records. In order to keep track of customers and promote its products, the company kept very detailed client records and was one of the very few companies in Chinatown that published its own catalogues.

Page from 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale.

Page from 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale.

Besides selling their goods nationwide, the company also actively expanded its business from the Chinese community to mainstream society. They even issued English versions of their catalogues. In the catalogues, the company stated clearly that a special bonus would be offered to any customer who could refer a new “westerner” customer to the company.

Page from 1935-1936 English catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale

Page from 1935-1936 English catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale

With a good sales strategy, the company set a successful example for small businesses in Vancouver. Even during the harsh years between 1940 and 1945, according to the company’s balance sheets, its average yearly gross sales income was about $70,000.

Page from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1-- Catalogues of silk samples.

Page from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1– Catalogues of silk samples.

There are many interesting insights to be gained from the records. By reading the company’s 1940 catalogues, we learn that a silk dress shirt was $5.50, a pair of dress pants was $3.75, and a J.A. Henckels 12.5” cutting knife was only $4.25. Moreover, offered a seven-day return or exchange satisfaction guarantee to their customers. The employee records show that in the 1940s a store manager earned $38.46 per week, a clerk earned $15 per week and the standard working hours were 44 per week. In a 1945 staff record, it is startling to discover that over half of the company’s 12 employees were not Chinese.

The Kuo Kong Silk Company records not only supplement the Archives business holdings but also document a successful Chinese business operation in the last century.

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post appeared in Archives Newsletter Volume 3, Number 1: Spring 2007]

Clifford Burdette: African-American Radio Pioneer

There are times when you know the newspaper radio listings, articles and scripts just won’t do justice to the story, but it’s all you have to go on. This is one of those times when the paper trail is extremely enticing, but the audio (so far) is nowhere to be found. 

Clifford Burdette’s weekly program Those Who Have Made Good premiered on WNYC on May 11, 1941, with actor Canada Lee as his first guest and musical back-up from the Juanita Hall Choir. Lee was then playing the lead in Orson Wells’ production of Native Son at Manhattan’s St. James Theatre. The actor, who had also worked with Wells in the ‘the Negro Macbeth,’ provided Burdette and WNYC listeners with a summary of his earlier career as a violinist, jockey, and prize fighter. He set the tone too for future shows by feeling at ease to discuss the need for black actors to break out of stereotypical roles and praising the work of writers Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, whose work gave African-American actors an opportunity to take on substantive roles. (Together the duo had turned DuBose’s book Porgy into the play Porgy and Bess). In reviewing the opening show Variety saw promise.

Obviously inclined to appeal to Negroes, it should nevertheless get a reasonable following from all groups on its own strength…Among the ten Negro subjects of the shows are genuinely impressive figures. If the scripts and production measure up, the program should prove inspiring.[1]

The year-long Sunday afternoon series became a veritable Who’s Who of accomplished African-Americans in 1941 and 1942. Along with Lee, interviewees included: the great performer and activist Paul Robeson; singer and actress Georgette Harvey; the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell; aviator James Peck; composer W.C. Handy (see photo below); folksinger, Josh White; poet Countee Cullen; tenor Horace R. Mann; actor and comedian Eddie Green; New York City police officer Samuel J. Battle; Bishop William J. Walls of A.M.E. Zion Church; composer, lyricist and playwright Noble Sissle; singer and actor Kenneth Lee Spencer and dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson; activist Max Yergin; soprano Anne Wiggins Brown; conductor Dean Dixon; bandleader Count Basie; actors Musa Williams and Reginald Bean; and groups like The Charioteers and The Golden Gate Quartette.

Burdette’s fifth guest in June was NAACP head Walter White, who described the group as “a fighting organization” waging a long battle against lynching, with some nineteen Supreme Court victories for civil rights.[2] In August, the outspoken theater professor Owen Dodson called for a new approach to African-American drama saying, “We’ve got to choke that Mammy with her bandanna and take all those ribbons out of the pickaninnies’ hair.” Dodson also read two of his poems, The Lynching and After the Lynching, for which the progressive tabloid PM’s radio reviewer commented, “strong talk for any radio station except the uninhibited WNYC.”[3]  In September, jazz singer and pianist Hazel Scott discussed her career and played an arrangement of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”.  The New York Amsterdam News called it “the only program on the air which allows Negro artists and professional men to speak the truth about their views on conditions in America today.”[4]

The Sunday program, sponsored by the NAACP,[5] is among the earliest of African-American radio programs devoted to serious interview and discussion.[6]  Burdette is certainly among the very earliest of black radio producers, although no studies or statistics were available until 1947, when the National Negro Congress released a damning report indicating that of the thirty thousand white collar radio jobs in the U.S., there were only two African-Americans in the position of radio director and producer. Those two, as it happens, were Bill Chase and Clifford Burdette, with WNYC’s program Freedom’s Ladder, a show focused on civil rights and race relations.[7]

Burdette was profiled in the January 1942 Daily Worker, the American Communist Party’s newspaper. The piece likens the 27-year-old’s story to a Horatio Alger transformation, although Burdette’s biography is more rags to respectability than rags to riches. Author James Morison quotes Burdette on radio’s early influence on his life.

During my school days in Georgia, I became the boy soprano of the school glee club, traveling over the state reciting poems based on the Negroes of the South. When I was only eight years old, I owned my own radio, buying it with the money I earned selling newspapers. It was a crystal set, but it was good enough for me to hear the voices of Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and other great Negro singers…

Hearing that Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett was coming to Atlanta and wanted “a group of Negro boys to sing spirituals for him,” Burdette managed to get his glee club to sing for the renowned tenor. After high school, Burdette spent a year at Morehouse College and tried, unsuccessfully, to get a position with the WPA Theatre Project. He then worked digging ditches and selling Coca Cola to get by. Eventually, he made his way to New York and contacted Tibbett, who helped him with money and connections. He got a job as a stock clerk at a 14th Street silk store and as he tells it:

I induced WNYC to let me experiment with an interview program, and finally, the NAACP sponsored it. Today it is a popular feature with Negro and white listeners wherever WNYC is heard… My program is dedicated to the progress of the Negro people, to acquaint all of America with our achievements and to promote the cause of true democracy in the United States…[8]

WNYC radio host and producer Clifford Burdette in 1941.

By late May of 1942 Burdette had reached his fifty-fourth show at WNYC and was looking to spread his wings. He wanted to produce a radio salute to African-Americans in the armed forces using some of the celebrities he had interviewed on the station like Noble Sissle and Joe Louis. The Times wrote, “He thinks it ought to be on a national hook-up and is willing to talk it over with any interested party from a network.”[9] While it doesn’t appear he got any calls, he did start a new program on WNEW called All Men Are Created Equal. He described the thirteen-week series as ‘a powerful fight for equal rights for all people.’ Among those appearing were folksinger Josh White, band leader Cab Calloway, and the actors Canada Lee, Zero Mostel and Vincent Price. The program reportedly received a thumbs up First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the suggestion it be underwritten by the Office of War Information.[10] After its run at WNEW the show moved to WINS for an additional ten weeks and was sponsored by the National Negro Congress.[11] A year later, Burdette joined the production staff at WOR. That was followed by a brief stint in the Army, where he was stationed in Gulf Port, Mississippi. There he staged a production called Wings of Jive at the base camp.[12] Once he was out of the service, 1945 found him back at WNYC, where he teamed up with host Bill Chase to produce Freedom’s Ladder.

Beyond WNYC in 1947, Burdette’s life remains a mystery. If you have any information on him, please contact us.


[1] Radio Reviews, Variety, May 14, 1941, pg. 32.

[2] “Walter White Heard On Air,” The New York Amsterdam News, June 14, 1941, pg. 2.”

[3] “Strange Fruit,” PM,  August 25, 1941, pg. 20.

[4] “Battle’s Story on Air Lanes,” The New York Amsterdam News, September 20, 1941, pg. 20.

[5] According to the New York daily PM, the program’s first ten weeks of expenses were paid for by the NAACP, with the following weeks covered by Burdette’s “own meager pocketbook” and many times leaving him “without food for the rest of the day.” PM, November 24, 1941.

[6] Those Who Have Made Good was not the NAACP’s first program on WNYC. Between November 20, 1929 and July 16, 1930 the civil rights organization had a weekly Wednesday segment of talks by prominent members. The first November program came just two and a half weeks after the premiere of WSBC Chicago’s The All-Negro Hour the first weekly radio variety show featuring African-American entertainers.

[7] “The Negro’s Status in Radio,” 1947, papers of the National Negro Congress cited by Sonja D. Williams in Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom.

[8] Morison, James,“Success and Clifford Burdette: Negro Radio Impresario at 27,” Daily Worker, January 20, 1942. Reproduced in the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, edited by Steven A. Reich, Vol. 3.

[9] “One Thing and Another,” The New York Times, May 29, 1942, pg. X10.

[10] “Cliff Burdette Still Plugging,” The New York Age, October 17, 1942, pg. 5.

[11] “Clifford Burdette Gets WOR Spot,” The New York Amsterdam News, July 24, 1943, pg.20

[12]Jottings,” The New York Amsterdam News, June 10, 1944, pg. 6B.



Maxwell Taylor and The Uncertain Trumpet

Although he jokes about his editor suggesting that, as a publicity stunt, he “get himself court-martialed,” General Maxwell Taylor has pretty much done the next best thing, ostentatiously retiring as Army Chief of Staff at fifty-eight so as to have the freedom to write his highly critical book, The Uncertain Trumpet, which he is here at this 1960 Book and Author Luncheon to promote. Quoting Clemenceau, “War is too important a matter to be left to the soldiers,” he is in effect going over the head of his superiors and taking his case directly to the American people. His thesis is America’s post-war policy of relying heavily on nuclear missiles has lost its justification. We have no longer have a monopoly on nuclear weapons, indeed there is now a “missile gap” in relation to the Soviet Union, and we have failed develop any anti-missile defenses. Meanwhile “we continue to accept inferiority in the case of ground forces.” Taylor calls for a complete “reappraisal of military policy.” This can only be done by reestablishing civilian control of the military. He speaks of his time as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as one of “endless wrangling” during which nothing was accomplished. He then begins to offer a number of “quick fixes,” including organizational changes and modernization of equipment, before, unfortunately, the recording abruptly ends, completed on a missing transcription disc.

Maxwell Taylor (1901-1987) was as qualified and attractive an example of the American military establishment as one could ever hope to find. As the New York Times described in his obituary:

The tall, ramrod-straight general was a hero in the invasion of Sicily and Italy and, when he parachuted with the 101st Airborne Division into Normandy on D-Day in June 1944, he became the first American general to go into battle on French soil. He was a major figure in the winning of the Battle of the Bulge. General Taylor might as easily have pursued an academic career. He had been a top honors graduate of West Point and later taught languages there. Fluent in several languages, he was as familiar with Virgil and Polybius as he was with Caesar and Clausewitz.

Yet to many historians, as well as participants in the Vietnam conflict, Taylor bears the brunt of responsibility for involving America in a hopeless and unnecessary war. The impetus for recommending the country escalate its mission in a small, strategically insignificant country, can be traced to the very program Taylor is pushing in this talk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, power within the armed forces had shifted to the Air Force, which could deliver bombs. This was a far more cost effective means of defense than maintaining large ground troops which, because of those bombs, might never be necessary in the event of full-fledged global conflict. Taylor, foreseeing the level of Mutual Assured Destruction that would eventually be reached, correctly argued that in the future there would be numerous smaller “brushfire wars,”  for which the Army must be prepared. Shortly after this speech, with the election of Kennedy, Taylor was back in the Army, eventually being appointed Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Critics accuse him of ignoring the other Joint Chiefs’ misgivings about engaging in the sort of small scale war he envisioned and actively sought in Southeast Asia. Kennedy himself was leery of the project. It is unclear how committed he was to sending troops, whereas Johnson felt he had “inherited” the war from his predecessor. As the website for Arlington National Cemetery summarizes:

…General Taylor was accused of intentionally misrepresenting the views of the Joint Chiefs to Secretary of Defense McNamara, and cutting the Joint Chiefs out of the decision making process. Whereas the Chiefs felt that it was their duty to offer unqualified assessments and recommendations on military matters, Gen. Taylor was of the firm belief that the Chairman should not only support the President’s decisions, but also be a true believer in them. This discrepancy manifested itself during the early planning phases of the war, while it was still being decided what the nature of American involvement should be. McNamara and the civilians of the Office of the Secretary of Defense were firmly behind the idea of graduated pressure, that is, to escalate pressure slowly against the N. Vietnam, in order to demonstrate US resolve. The Joint Chiefs, however, strenuously disagreed with this, and believed that if the US got involved further in Vietnam, it should be with the clear intention of winning, and through the use of overwhelming force.

It is difficult to judge, even now that the passions of the Vietnam War have cooled, if Taylor was simply a zealous, well-intentioned patriot or if he let the bruising turf wars among the various branches of the armed forces cloud his judgment. In either event, he had to live with the catastrophic results of his policies. The website Why Vietnam Matters reports that:

…in an interview before his death, Gen. Maxwell Taylor concluded we had failed in Vietnam because “we didn’t know ourselves. We thought we were going into another Korean war, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn’t know our South Vietnamese allies. We never understood them, and that was another surprise. And we knew even less about North Vietnam.”

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150253
Municipal archives id: LT9000

PUBLIC MEETING TODAY: New PIDB White Paper, “The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification”

A public meeting of the PIDB will be held today, June 23, 2016 from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the National Archives Building.  The members will discuss the white paper below:

“The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification”
A White Paper of the Public Interest Declassification Board
June 2016

Introduction to the PIDB Declassification Technology Working Group

At the direction of the President, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) continues to investigate technologies and related policy solutions to transform the security classification system to one capable of functioning more effectively in an increasingly complex information age. [1]  Core to our democratic ideals is the ability for the public to access its government’s records.  The responsibility lies with senior government leaders to develop sound policies and implement technological capabilities that will ensure long-term preservation and accessibility to the nation’s historical records.  Nearly all users of the security classification system agree that it is no longer able to handle the current volume and forms of information, especially given the exponential growth of digital information that is only exacerbating the many challenges facing the system.  As the PIDB has previously noted in all of our reports, we reaffirm that our most important recommendation for developing and ensuring such a system is the adoption of a government-wide technology investment strategy for the management of classified information.  

In support of this recommendation and those commitments found in the President’s Open Government National Action Plans, the PIDB began an in-depth study of agency declassification technology initiatives last year.  In May 2015, we established an informal Declassification Technology Working Group (Working Group) at the National Archives and asked for agency participation in a high-level questionnaire concerning agency preparedness for declassification in the digital age.  We sought support from agency Chief Information Officers (CIOs) when setting up the Working Group in order to highlight declassification technology development as a need for agencies.  We believe the support of agency CIOs is critical to modernizing declassification and making the management of classified information at agencies a priority in planning their information technology programs now and in the years ahead.

The Working Group has representation from technologists at 14 agencies and departments in the Executive Branch.  The PIDB hosted four Working Group meetings in the past year.  These meetings are an opportunity for agencies to share their successes, challenges, best practices, requirements and declassification program needs.  Agenda items covered at these meetings included agencies briefings on their efforts at declassification technology planning, discussions of best practices concerning the management of classified records (including email), the sharing of metadata standards and transfer guidance, and more.  We have received positive feedback from agencies about the usefulness of meeting in this informal Working Group environment; agency technologists are able to work collaboratively, share best practices and discuss new ideas with their inter-agency counterparts on these often overlooked technology challenges.

Now, at the one-year anniversary of the beginning of our Working Group exercise, we have collected some observations and lessons-learned to share from these meetings with the public.  Our goal is to reflect on the progress of the Working Group and plan next steps and potential areas in need of further study.

Finding the Baseline: Where Agencies Stand

Overall, agencies lack appropriate technological investment to support the activities of their declassification and related records management programs.  Most agencies do not possess basic workflow applications to assist human review of records, applications that are readily available in the commercial world.  While one or two agencies are exploring advanced content understanding and analytics as technical capabilities to assist review, the vast majority of agencies lack the most basic technological infrastructure to support simple automation or search technologies to assist in the management of records through the review process.

By policy design, declassification largely operates in an information environment twenty-five years in the past, making paper the dominant review format agencies must prioritize.   Solutions that can assist in managing the large volumes of paper found at agencies and the National Archives already exist in the commercial world.  But implementing these known solutions within government remains elusive and problematic.  Funding for declassification and records management in most agencies is minimal, at best.  What little funding is available supports outdated processes designed in the 1990s in response to the mandates afforded with the onset of automatic declassification.  Prior to the notion of automatic declassification, declassification review occurred ad hoc and inconsistently across agencies.  When adopted and implemented, these 1990s processes elevated declassification review to the program level.  They have served their intended purpose – to institutionalize declassification at agencies – and presently are largely outmoded for managing electronic records.  These 1990s processes will remain in place for the foreseeable future, barring resources for the development of new processes and the adoption of automated workflow tools.

In addition to the challenges of outdated paper-based processes, agencies also lack capabilities to manage the review of special media formats and legacy electronic records, including first generation born-digital records.  As prioritization of records for declassification review largely depends upon records’ age, the coming of “age” of electronic records review is now of serious consequence for agencies, with the added complication that no relief from paper records review appears to be in sight.  Common challenges exist among agencies in managing legacy electronic records, yet there is no serious effort underway to acknowledge or describe these challenges, let alone develop a universal approach or solution.

Other common problems exist concerning electronic records beyond the issue of exponential growth and volume in need of review.  Connectivity, integration and communication of systems that support declassification and records management within and between agencies is fragmented and sparse.  Agencies lack universal metadata requirements and standards for managing declassification.  Requirements and standards are of the utmost importance as declassification is increasingly dependent on the ability of agencies to refer their records to other agencies for equity review.  Agencies must adopt and implement common solutions to these challenges across government; progress of any one agency in building a technological framework to modernize its declassification program is dependent on its ability to interact and share information with its counterparts.

Sharing information among agencies also exposes cultural challenges found in the declassification world.  A common understanding and agreement for how agencies should mitigate risk does not exist.  Agency practices are intolerant of risk and the consequences of not striking a balance between openness and continued secrecy in declassification review are too high for the system to sustain indefinitely, both in resources and credibility.  Today’s information world, including the national security structure, is increasingly dependent on transparency and open source informational content.  Risk management and mitigation must be key elements of forethought in designing technical declassification capabilities, not an afterthought in response to disclosure events.

Next Steps: What Agencies Need

Technological modernization of declassification and its related functional counterpart, records management, will require leadership and resources.  Agencies require both simple workflow tools and advanced content processing, analytic tools and storage/access means. Agencies should integrate declassification reviewers and records managers, organizing for success, to share best practices, manage metadata and efficiently harvest all the capabilities of information age technologies for the benefit of all system users, including policymakers and historians.  Additionally, special media and first generation born-digital records demand serious consideration.  A government-wide investment strategy should consider and build upon those tools in use at agencies with more modernized declassification capabilities, such as the intelligence community.

A phased adoption of sophisticated content analytic solutions should occur, beginning with an increase in the number of pilots used to test these capabilities within declassification programs.  Capabilities, like those developed at the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, should be implemented to a greater extent at agencies. [2]  For most agencies, there is an immediate need to implement automated workflow solutions and basic search capabilities, solutions that largely exist in the commercial world that are readily available for adoption.  Even while grappling with basic workflow challenges, agencies must also seriously invest in advanced content analytic tools.  The sustainability of the system is dependent on agencies exploring advanced content analytic solutions while also solving immediate workflow automation challenges.

Even more importantly, the long-term transformation of the declassification system will require leadership from the White House and a commitment to funding a government-wide technology investment strategy.  The PIDB will continue studying declassification technology investment at agencies with the recommendation that agencies receive the resources they need to make the records of our government accessible to future generations. Our desire is to support policymakers, while maintaining our principle responsibility of responding to the public interest in having an open and transparent government.  We believe the government will only be able to achieve this goal with the adoption of technological capabilities that will modernize the security classification system to function effectively in the current digital information environment.

[1] Memorandum   for   Implementation   of   the   Executive   Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” December 29, 2009, 75 FR 733, Document Number E9-31424.

[2] At the request of the CIA and the National Archives, the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin piloted decision- support technology for records declassification review and release.  The pilots successfully yielded a Sensitive Content Identification and Marking (SCIM) tool that uses a combination of natural language processing, expert systems, machine learning and semantic knowledge representation to identify sensitive content in textual information found in classified email records.  The SCIM tool is the only tool of this level of sophistication being explored for the sole purpose of aiding decision-support in classification and declassification.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Presidential Appointees

Yesterday evening, the President announced his intention to appoint Trevor W. Morrison and James E. Baker to each serve three-year terms as members of the PIDB.  The President also named Mr. Morrison as the new Chairperson.  You can find a link to the White House press release announcing the appointments here.  The members of the PIDB look forward to working with Mr. Morrison and Mr. Baker as they continue their study and work on transforming the security classification system.

A College Responds to the Spanish ‘Flu Outbreak of 1918-19

Archaeologists – at least the ones in our archives – had a knack for using whatever came to hand for their own purposes. This often leads to the preservation of surprising nuggets of social history wedged in between the archaeological research, photographs and correspondence.

This week, a volunteer working on the lantern slide collection found a piece of postcard re-used as a section divider for maps of Asia in a lantern slide draw. The postcard had been sent to Professor John Myres’ home address on Banbury Road.

box 354001On the other side of the card was a summons to a College meeting to discuss ‘the question of inoculation against influenza’:

box 354002

In the autumn and winter of 1918-19, the influenza pandemic had led to unprecedented death rates. One of the cruelest aspects of the so-called ‘Spanish ‘flu’ was that it hit young adults particularly hard. The ‘flu died down through the spring and summer of 1919, but as winter approached, another wave of the ‘flu struck, causing widespread illness, though this time it was to be less deadly (Shanks and Brundy 2012).

There was very little that medicine could offer to counter the devastating effects of the ‘flu, but there were attempts to find and use inoculations against its lethal impact, as this little card testifies.

You would think, given ‘the question of innoculation’ was the purpose of the meeting, the dons of New College would have prioritized the matter, but in fact, as Jennifer Thorp, archivist at New College found out, the meeting on November 15th spent too much time discussing outstanding business from the previous meeting (on the 11th) to get around to ‘the question of inoculation’, which was instead discussed at yet another meeting on the 19th! Finally, at this meeting:

‘It was agreed to provide facilities at the beginning of the ensuing Lent Term for the inoculation of members of the college against influenza. The Junior Bursar was requested to make recommendations to a subsequent meeting as to the provision for nursing within the college in the event of an influenza epidemic’ (New Coll. Archives MIN/W&F 6, p. 295).’

Jennifer’s research in the archives suggests that little further action was taken, since the Junior Bursar was never called upon to present their recommendations at any subsequent meeting, and student numbers indicate that New College wasn’t badly affected by influenza. There were only 30 students in residence in the Autumn of 1918, when the ‘flu was at its most lethal – most of the College’s men and staff were still involved in the war effort. Numbers rocketed to 135 in the next term, as students were able to return to College and resume their studies.

The question still remains, however – what were the students to be inoculated with? An effective treatment for ‘flu wasn’t discovered until 1933.


Many thanks to New College Archvist Jennifer Thorp for providing information on New College meetings and student numbers.


Killingray, D. and Phillips, H. (2003) The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: New Perspectives Routledge 

Shanks GD, Brundage JF. Pathogenic responses among young adults during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2012 Feb [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1802.102042

A Recap of Future Bummers

It’s been more than a week, but we’re still basking in the hilarity and creativity of our 2016 Creative Fellow Walker Mettling’s library story night, “A History of Future Bummers“.


Jeremy Ferris performs a clam-centric ritual in front of his projected illustration. The drawing is based on historical photos of clambakes in the Rhode Island Collection.

During the month of May, Walker asked a number of local artists, writers, and musicians to visit Special Collections, each armed with a research assignment. They then were asked to write a story or create a comic based on their research.


Dailen Williams, Alexander Smith, and Veronica Santos (l-r) share their stories on stage.

These artists’ various creations were showcased at the resulting “A History of Future Bummers.” Writers including Caitlin Cali, Veronica Santos, Dailen Williams, Alexander Smith, Jim Frain, Jeremy Ferris, Keegan Bonds-Harmon, William Keller, and Julia Gualtieri shared their stories, punctuated by musical interludes from Joe DeGeorge. (You can listen to Joe’s sketch demos of these library-based songs here, here, and here. The last one is based on entries about vandalism in our Rhode Island index card catalog!)


Providence Sunday Wipeout cover; “Faces of Narragansett Bay” by Walker Mettling; huge and colorful illustration by Aaron Demuth (clockwise from top left)

The evening also marked the official release of a new, Special Collections-themed issue of the Providence Sunday Wipeout comics newspaper. WOW! Lots of familiar historical items, local lore, and strange tales appeared in illustrated format in this VERY large format publication.


Walker printed the paper in color on a risograph, and a small army of intrepid volunteers taped and folded pages. Thanks to all for their hard work and for a hilarious and highly entertaining evening!

(Stay tuned for more info about seeing drafts and originals of these awesome creations live and in person!)


A Different Sort of Summer Camp

“Real life captured right on the spot,” is the promise of It’s Your Life, a short-lived but innovative radio program that aired during 1949 on WMAQ in Chicago. Taking advantage of then new technology, notably the portable tape recorder, It’s Your Life focused on health-related stories, particularly formerly taboo subjects such a mental illness and birth defects.

In this installment, entitled In the Woods They Walk, three handicapped children are interviewed before, during, and after their experience of attending a special camp for children with disabilities. We meet Dick, a quiet, thoughtful fourteen-year-old who matter-of-factly describes for the audience how, “my right arm is off at the elbow and my right leg is off at the knee. And then my left foot is turned over, a club foot.” Catherine, who suffers from spastic paralysis, is looking forward to camp because “I can’t go up and down stairs so good.” Finally, there is Joe, a chatty ten-year-old, who has “a badly damaged leg from polio.” 

A few weeks later, reporter Don Herbert (later to be TV’s Mister Wizard) visits the children in the woods of Wisconsin. They describe their adventures playing baseball and volleyball as well as taking an overnight trip. Joe has a secret he’s not allowed to tell the reporter. It turns out later he has learned how to shoot a rifle. Dick, more subdued, has had a good time but looks ahead to an impending operation. “They’re going to amputate my leg,” he states flatly, since his club foot provides no support. A camp counselor describes some of the special measures taken to accommodate the children. Upon their return to Chicago, the three are interviewed once again. Catherine feels she is less shy, able to make friends now with the kids on her street. Joe also feels he is less shy, although he admits he “has never been that quiet.” As for Dick, we visit him in the hospital, where he is confined to a wheelchair. He can walk with crutches but looks forward to being fitted with his new leg, which will give him more height. He wants to caddie next year. The show ends with a message for parents of disabled children to call the Community Referral Service if they are interested in sending their child to a special camp for the summer. Next up? Three Alarm Fire, in which Don Herbert rides an ambulance to a burning building.

It’s Your Life was critically well-received but lost its sponsor (Johnson & Johnson) after only one season. Its producer, Ben Park, was an early exponent of the radio documentary. His previous effort, Report Uncensored, won a Peabody and Dupont Award but also failed to retain its sponsor. Faced with the challenge posed by TV, Park both defended and lambasted his medium in Billboard Magazine:

All of a sudden we are asked which is better, radio or television? The answer is that radio has failed to establish itself as an indigenous literary medium. The radio industry has in the main resisted assuming its responsibility inherent in accepting the facts of radio’s enormous potential….If we had been developing an indigenous radio literature that stemmed from the basic limitations and potentialities of the medium we should not have found ourselves in this sorry state.

One can see in this plea an almost heart-breaking misperception of what lay in store for radio. “Literature,” indigenous or otherwise, was of no interest to commercial stations. Park’s thoughtful, edgy docudramas, as we might now call them, were utterly out of step with the subsidiary role to which radio was about to be reduced. Indeed, the next mention we find of him is as producer of The Eddy Arnold Show, a musical variety program…on TV. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150100
Municipal archives id: LT1968

New Acquisition: the FSU Panama City Collection

Aerial photograph of FSU Panama City, ca. 1987

We are happy to announce HPUA’s latest acquisition of records from FSU Panama City. This collection contains records documenting the history of FSUPC, photographs, AV materials, and other ephemera about the campus.

While ground breaking for FSUPC wasn’t until 1983, FSUPC’s history extends back to the early 1970s. After the Naval Coastal Systems Center, Gulf Coast State College, Bay County School Board, and Tyndall Airforce Base began lobbying for an institution of higher learning, the Florida Board of Regents directed the University of West Florida to establish a center in Panama City in 1972. During that summer, 65 elementary education students and a staff of two began classes, using facilities at the Bay County School Board Office Building and Gulf Coast Community College.

Program from the Dempsey J. Barron Building and the Florida State University Panama City Campus Dedication Ceremony, 1986

By 1976, the Bay County Commissions purchased 17.5 acres between GCSC and the waters of North Bay for use by the center. The Bay County Commission also donated another 2.54 acres and three quadriplex buildings. In 1983, ground was broken for the campus, and it was formally dedicated in 1986.

Since the 1980s, FSUPC has grown exponentially and now offers 30 degree programs, including Electrical Engineering, Information Sciences, Elementary Education, Social Science Education, and Social Work. The campus supports almost 1,500 students and has more than 30 full time faculty members.

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.

U.S. Digital Registry

The National Archives is pleased to participate in the U.S. Digital Registry, the authoritative resource for official third-party websites, social media platforms and mobile apps managed by the U.S. federal government.

The U.S. Digital Registry is an API-generating platform designed to authenticate third-party sites in the federal government in order to help maintain accountability over our digital services.

As more users access services, communicate, and engage with their government online and through social media, the U.S. Digital Registry makes it easier for users to identify official government sites and services, and more quickly access the information they need. Access to accounts is improved as users can search for accounts by platform, language, agency, and topic.

Woman using card catalog

Use the U.S. Digital Registry to find the government services you need. Photo: “Card catalog in Central Search Room, July 31, 1942.” Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/3493244

The U.S. Digital Registry has grown to a resource of more than 8,200 third-party accounts and 350 mobile apps from across the federal government. With so many federal agencies providing services online, it is more important than ever to find ways to enhance access and raise accountability, while providing a platform for developers to use the data to build technological solutions for federal agencies. For example, this visualization presents data from the Registry, and allows users to filter by agency, platform, or keyword.

The National Archives currently has 114 social media accounts listed in the U.S. Digital Registry, including our official Facebook, Flickr, GitHub, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.

Services such as these have the potential to help us more meaningfully analyze and make informed decisions about our online presence, and help us gain insight into how to improve our communications, while delivering the best service possible to our customers.

Learn more about the U.S. Digital Registry from the General Services Administration.

Amherst College Early History Collection

With Amherst College’s Bicentennial coming right up in 2021, we in the Archives are working closely with the Digital Programs Department to digitize collections relating to Amherst College history, including the Amherst College Olios and soon, The Amherst Student.  With this in mind, we have revised the finding aid for the Amherst College Early History Collection in preparation for digitization.

The Early History Collection is an artificial collection, meaning a collection of material with varied provenance assembled around a single topic, in this case the early history of Amherst College.

"To the public" pamphlet in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 3, folder 7)

“To the public” pamphlet in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 3, folder 7)

The Early History Collection contains printed material, legal documents, financial records, correspondence and other papers documenting the history of Amherst Academy, the Charity Fund, and the inception and founding of Amherst College.

Noah Webster, publisher of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and trustee of Amherst Academy since its incorporation in 1815, was president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees in 1821.  Webster played a vital role in fundraising, advocating for, and founding “the Charity Institution,” which would become Amherst College.  The Early History Collection includes Lucius Boltwood’s transcription of Noah Webster’s notes on the history of Amherst Academy and Amherst College.

Lucius Boltwood transcript of Noah Webster's notes in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 1, folder 2)

Lucius Boltwood transcript of Noah Webster’s notes in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 1, folder 2)

The Charity Fund was the first endowment of Amherst College.  Stanley King writes in The History of the Endowment of Amherst College, “The goal was a fund of fifty thousand dollars.  Pledges and gifts were secured from some two hundred and seventy-five subscribers.  The largest subscription was for three thousand dollars and was paid by the transfer to the College of land in Maine; the smallest was for five dollars.”  The Early History Collection includes four subscription notebooks showing pledges paid in full, as well as pledges paid with labor.

Subscription notebook <em>in</em> Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 3, Folder 3)

Subscription notebook in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box 3, folder 3)

This collection includes early circulars and catalogs of both Amherst Academy and Amherst College, including the first “Catalogue of the Faculty and Students of the Collegiate Institution” printed in March 1822.

First catalogue broadside of the Collegiate Institution, 1822 Mar in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box OS-1, Folder 9)

First catalogue broadside of the Collegiate Institution, 1822 Mar in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box OS-1, folder 9)

The Massachusetts Legislature granted Amherst College its charter in 1825—the same year that the college awarded degrees to its first class of 25 graduates.  This collection includes many pamphlets petitioning for or opposing the incorporation of Amherst College, as well as the proposed charter and newspaper articles reporting on the founding and incorporation of the College.

Franklin Herald and Public Advertiser, 1823 Mar 18 in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box OS-1, folder 2)

Franklin Herald and Public Advertiser, 1823 Mar 18 in Amherst College Early History Collection (Box OS-1, folder 2)

In addition to the Amherst College Early History Collection, great resources on the founding and early history of Amherst College have been digitized and are freely available online:

History of Amherst College during its first half century, 1821-1871 by W. S. Tyler, 1873

History of Amherst College during the administrations of its first five presidents, 1821-1891 by W. S. Tyler, 1895

A History of the Endowment of Amherst College by Stanley King, 1950

“The Consecrated Eminence” The Story of the Campus and Buildings of Amherst College by Stanley King, 1951

Sketches of the Early History of Amherst College by Heman Humphrey, 1905

Reminiscences of Amherst College by Edward Hitchcock, 1863

Editions for the Millions: Early American Paperbacks

Original, colored, paper wrappers on nineteenth-century American paperbacks

FSU Special Collections & Archives recently added 33 late-nineteenth century American paperbacks to our rare book collections. These include such famous titles as Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott, and The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. They were published between 1865-1874 by D. Appleton and Company of New York and T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia, and, because they still have their original printed paper wrappers and advertisements, they are important artifacts in the history of nineteenth-century printing and the development of the modern paperback.

A Peterson “Cheap Edition for the Million” sold for 35 cents and would include illustrated plates, while the smaller Appleton editions sold for 25 cents. Authors like Dickens are famous for publishing their works as serialized novels, which could be bought in parts to make them more affordable to the growing numbers of working-class readers. Because they were often taken out of their wrappers and bound into single volumes, first editions of Dickens in their original covers (like FSU’s 1865 edition of Our Mutual Friend) are especially prized by collectors and historians.

Advertisements for other publications by T. B. Peterson & Brothers

By the middle of the nineteenth century, London publishers realized the additional fortune they could make on cheap reprints.¹ These were often sold at railway stations and called “yellow-backs” because of their colorful, eye-catching covers. The paperbacks published by Peterson and Appleton attest that the trend of cheap reprints was common on both sides of the Atlantic. Advertisements, like the one pictured above, list other available publications, all of which testify to the growing commodification of print in the nineteenth-century and the new technologies which made it possible.

These nineteenth-century paperbacks can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm and Friday 10am-5:30pm. For more information about titles in the collection, contact the Rare Book Librarian, Katherine Hoarn.

  1. Gaskell, P., A New Introduction of Bibliography, New Castle 2012, pp. 248-9.

Early City heritage program records now available

We are pleased to announce the availability of additional records relating to the history of Vancouver’s built heritage.

Records of the Planning Department’s early heritage planning and beautification programs have been transferred to the Archives and are now available to researchers, as series COV-S682 Built heritage research files and COV-S684 Heritage planning subject files. These records complement the Archives’ existing holdings related to the City’s Heritage Inventories and other heritage planning activities.

Drawing of Gilford Court from file COV-S682-F206 Pendrell Street

Drawing of Gilford Court from file COV-S682-F206 Pendrell Street

The new series COV-S682 Built heritage research files documents the City’s initial efforts to identify and assess the heritage value and features of structures across the city, beginning with a number of building surveys conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s in support of the Beautification Program. This program’s goal was to improve the visual appeal of city streets through design and construction of amenities such as new street lighting, benches, and sidewalks.

In 1971, the Gastown-Chinatown Architectural Survey, conducted in conjunction with the University of British Columbia, more intensively collected data on structures in those two neighbourhoods that were identified as having possible heritage value or features.

The records from these surveys were collected by the Heritage unit of the Planning Department into files based on street address, to be used as data for Heritage Planners. Forms for both the Beautification Surveys and the Gastown-Chinatown Architectural Survey include information on the building, such as assessed value, owner, physical characteristics, and historical information. Many of the forms include photographs of the building exterior (usually frontage only), which are attached to the forms.

A selection of forms and photographs for 53 Powell Street from file COV-S682-F211 Powell Street 0-131

A selection of forms and photographs for 53 Powell Street from file COV-S682-F211 Powell Street 0-131

The series includes records documenting later inventory activities conducted through the 1970s, in neighbourhoods across the city. Later forms tend to be simpler, and contain less qualitative data. In some cases, the demolition of a documented building is noted on the initial survey form.

Part of form for1730 Pendrell Street, from file COV-S682-F206 Pendrell Street

Part of form for1730 Pendrell Street, from file COV-S682-F206 Pendrell Street

The other new series of heritage-related records, COV-S684 Heritage planning subject files, documents the creation and early implementation of the Planning Department’s heritage program in the 1970s. The series includes minutes of the Heritage Advisory Board, studies on various aspects of heritage preservation, correspondence with planners and representatives in other jurisdictions, and correspondence with external heritage agencies.

We are pleased to be able to make more records on this very popular subject available to researchers.

Updike Award Ceremony 2016, Featuring Fiona Ross

I’m excited to announce that our speaker for the next Updike Award Ceremony will be Fiona Ross. Dr. Ross will be visiting us from the University of Reading, and she’ll be discussing her work on non-Latin alphabets.
 Fiona Ross is a pioneer in the field, beginning with over a decade at the helm of Linotype’s non-Latin font division. She recently received the Society of Typographic Aficionados’ Typography Award, among other honors.Dr. Ross’s lecture will take place as part of the ceremony to celebrate the finalists of our Updike Prize for Student Typography. The event, which will be accompanied by an exhibition of materials from our Updike Collection, begins at 5:30 PM on Monday, October 17th at the Providence Public Library.The event is free, but we request that anyone interested in attending RSVP at:


(Thanks to our fantastic sponsors, Paperworks!)

Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and The Secret Diary of Harold Ickes

When Robert Moses quit his post on the Board of Trustees at Hofstra University, it barely grazed a slow news day. He had left Hofstra in a huff, citing the dubious ethics of some so-and-so professor, unnamed in the recording above, who in the mind of Moses had committed a serious breach of ethics by using his lofty academic post for base political purposes. Whether this counts as news or not depends on your perspective. It might have been a hot item in Hempstead, but in The New York Times the controversy merited two brief columns on successive days on its double-digit back pages and then disappeared forever. Moses’ irascible nature was old news it seems, even at its freshest.

It helps to be specific when speaking about someone who has drawn the ire of Robert Moses – so many have felt the lash of his tongue, the sting of his pen, or worse, that it’s easy to get confused. The Hofstra professor brought to our attention by our emcee H. V. Kaltenborn, a future Radio-Hall-of-Famer borrowed for this broadcast from NBC, is either Dr. Charles E. Stonier, who earlier in the year had written a report on Moses’ beloved Jones Beach that had summoned the builder’s pique, or Hofstra President Dr. John Crawford Adams, who defended it. Maybe an amalgamation of both.

At this point though, who cares? History, perhaps rightly, offers a collective shrug at the Hofstra hubbub (though the relationship between Moses and his mouthpiece in the incident, Nassau County boss J. Russel Sprague, might be worth a closer look). Robert Moses did a lot of political posturing, pace Kaltenborn’s insistence in the audio above that Moses is “so far apart from politics that he can tell the truth as he sees it.” The truth is there was very little to stop Moses from speaking his mind. And the truth is he was deeply entrenched in politics, virtually immovable, despite his outward appearance as an untainted, above-reproach public servant. And true, Kaltenborn is kind of joking – the full recording, available in full below, is a from dinner hosted by the Long Island Daily Press, and carries a light tone, closer to a friendly roast than the undoubtedly more solemn ceremony that surrounded Moses’ honorary degree from Hofstra, conferred in 1948, in more peaceful times. Kaltenborn is piling on two things at once in his playful introduction: Moses’ combative nature, and his (deceptive) reputation as an upstanding public servant. But the addition of a single grain of sand to Moses’ vast beachheads of righteous rage and political maneuverings would seem to add little to the historical record that isn’t already there. 

Kaltenborn is building here, using the day’s topical grist – Moses’ minor skirmish with a fill-in-the-blank professor – to offer a suggestion for posterity: a book about Moses that wasn’t “laudatory,” one that was called “something like ‘The Ten Greatest Fights of Robert Moses.’” Dr. Hofstra U. wouldn’t make the cut, no. The best “summing up” of Moses’ contentious side, according to Kaltenborn, is The Secret Diary of Harold Ickes, and a political fight par excellence contained in its pages.

Marian Anderson is greeted by Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, at the Lincoln Memorial

Ickes, though less well-known today, was the New Deal. He was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior for his entire presidency, and in the early months of FDR’s administration was put in charge of the new Public Works Administration, which became one of the struggling nation’s chief sources of public relief. It was also one of its cleanest, spending $4 billion graft-free dollars over Ickes’ 6-year reign building bridges, highways, and housing throughout the United States. Famously curmudgeonly, and with a smart wit tart enough to match Moses‘, Ickes’ grim demeanor belied a genuine concern for the poor and dispossessed. He was an early champion of racial equality: acting as FDR’s main liaison with the African-American community, he was largely responsible for the formation of FDR’s famous “Black Cabinet.” Indeed, he was one of FDR’s trusted allies, a man FDR called to perform much of his political heavy lifting. For years he kept a diary, published posthumously in three volumes in the 1950s – a diary that Moses, Kaltenborn, and the evening’s attendees are clearly all well familiar with, or at least familiar with one of the stories held its first volume: the time when, in 1934, Ickes found himself in the center of a flame war between Moses and the president.

Roosevelt had long carried a well-established but publicly-hidden hatred of Moses. Shortly after ascending to the presidency, Roosevelt tasked Ickes with informing Fiorello La Guardia that he wanted Moses out. As La Guardia stalled on acting on Roosevelt’s wishes, Ickes prepared PWA Administrative Order Number 129, which would officially command that no New Deal funds would go to any authority that had a public official on its governing body – an order designed to effect exactly one man – Robert Moses. So long as Moses held public office, New York City wouldn’t see a dime in federal funds. La Guardia had little choice, first wavering, then wilting under the pressure of the New Deal fiat, finally promising Ickes in January of 1935 that he would oust Moses from his seat of power, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. However, before acquiescing to the order, La Guardia made the mistake of showing it to Moses, then considered New York’s most capable and dedicated public servants, who leaked it to the press, cultivating a rabid public fervor at Ickes’ perceived vendetta. Ultimately Ickes, La Guardia, and Roosevelt conceded defeat and hastily amended the order, grandfathering in City Housing Commissioner Langdon Post, and huh, look at that… I guess it applies to Moses too. (You can read more here or here.) 

Kaltenborn gives a tendentious overview of the affair in the broadcast above, cherry picking the choicest cuts from Ickes’ Secret Diary, those highlighting Moses contentious nature and Ickes’ and the president’s eventual defeat. After reading a passage describing Moses as a “highly disagreeable and unpleasant person,” he jokes that this is “the kind of biography that Bob Moses likes.”

Perhaps. But “perhaps” in small doses. Small doses in light roasts. Small doses that end with Moses arms akimbo over a vanquished and humiliated foe, with recently raised superblock towers and anger-grey parkways to praise and frame his glower. Those small doses. But even then I have my doubts whether Moses, hidebound and thin-skinned as he was, would have truly taken to such a biography.  Kaltenborn is today perhaps most famous for his “Dewey Defeats Truman” call during the 1948 presidential election. I’d argue history would prove him wrong on this account too, for when Robert Caro published The Power Broker, in September of 1974, 16 years after the recording above was laid to disc, Moses hated it.

Caro had built a beachhead of his own, one made of not tens, but hundreds of Moses’ fights, detailing not just the fair fights like the one traced above, but also Moses’ many mismatched, bullying, red-baiting battles – fights that revealed the often seemingly invisible legacy of indifference to public need in the most powerful public servant in New York history. The Power Broker wasn’t a rival to the outclassed hagiography written by Moses minion Cleveland Rodgers – there’s a reason boxers are split into tranches, from heavyweight down to straw – The Power Broker was a rival to Moses himself, and it severely damaged his reputation, perhaps irreparably. True, by 1974 the man who had fought and defeated a president was feeling forty years of wear, and was already ousted from many of his seats of power, but Caro pulled his punches, cutting down a 3,000+ page manuscript to a “mere” 1344, with Ickes and Order 129 counting for 18 of them.

Kaltenborn’s proposed book hasn’t really been written – Caro’s brilliant doorstop of a book skips over the battle over Moses’ proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (Lomex), one of Moses’ first real defeats and, I’d argue, certainly one of Moses’ “ten greatest fights.” But if our archives have learned anything from the dozens of Moses’ transcription discs we’ve reformatted in the last couple months, it’s that there is more to Moses than 1344 pages can handle, even when adding the recent 256 page book that covers the Lomex fiasco.

I’m not even sure Kaltenborn’s book is even the best book that could be written yet on Moses. Much of what’s interesting lingers in his small to mid-sized fights – the Title 1 clearance of Columbus Circle, the removal of Tuscarora Nation for the Robert Moses Power Dam at Niagara Falls, maybe even the Hofstra University controversy, which could lend further light to history of Moses’ early pet project, Jones Beach. The details matter because the people involved matter. Few New Yorkers have had such a massive, lasting effect on the lives of his fellow citizens than Robert Moses, and the stories of the men and women who found themselves forced by fate to try to face him down – Jane Jacobs and Shirley HayesClarence Kaskel, Chief Clinton Rickard, Drs. Charles E. Stonier and John Crawford Adams, and, of course, Harold Ickes – deserve to be told too. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150436
Municipal archives id: LT8045

Henry Cowell Talks Modern Music on the Masterwork Hour

We don’t hear the pieces themselves but do get Cowell’s illuminating and very personal descriptions of each work. He starts off talking about his own Hymning and Fuguing Tunes Nos. 2 & 5, describing a period in Boston in the late 18th century when hymn and anthem writers, cut off from England, came up with their own, uniquely American idiom that was “considered crude but had a tremendous strength and vitality.” His extension of these forms asks the question, “What if America had adopted this style rather than that of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven?”

Then he introduces a Sinfonietta by Dane Rudhyer, describing the ex-student of Debussy’s interest in Oriental philosophy. “It should all sound like one giant gong,” he reports the composer saying. Henry Brant’s Saxophone Concerto is next. Brant has “a Puck-like imagination and humor” when it comes to instrumentation. He is also “the world’s best player on the tin whistle.” Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ Three Gymnopedies show her “well-tailored simplicity” which is not to be confused with naiveté. Though Australian, she is “a citizen of the world,” as the very French-sounding piece illustrates. Finally, Cowell describes his own Symphony No. 11, in which each movement reflects “a use that is involved in music,” a lullaby, a work song, etc. Cowell was a relentless advocate of modern music These generous and informative introductions attest to that.

Henry Cowell (1897-1965) did not take the normal route to a career in composition. Born poor and on the West Coast, his musical upbringing exposed him to influences most musicians of the time never encountered. The Wall Street Journal tells how:

Living in San Francisco, the young Cowell and his mother couldn’t afford to attend European operas, so they sat outside the city’s Chinese-opera houses and listened to music few Westerners knew. Cowell regarded non-Western music as equally worthy of attention as European classical music, then a radical philosophy for an American musician, and in the 1920s staged some of the first concerts of non-Western music by non-Western performers on both coasts.

But Cowell’s work was more than just an exercise in assimilating exotic traditions. He was one of those true, stubbornly self-taught American “primitives,” unwilling to accept the conventional musical givens of the day. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes how:

…seeking new sonorities, he developed “tone clusters,” chords that on the piano are produced by simultaneously depressing several adjacent keys (e.g., with the forearm). Later he called these sonorities secondal harmonies—i.e., harmonies based on the interval of a second in contrast to the traditional basis of a third. These secondal harmonies appear in his early piano pieces, such as The Tides of Manaunaun (1912); in his Piano Concerto (1930); and in his Synchrony (1931) for orchestra and trumpet solo. Some of his other piano compositions, such as Aeolian Harp (1923) and The Banshee (1925), are played directly on the piano strings, which are rubbed, plucked, struck, or otherwise sounded by the hands or by an object. Cowell’s Mosaic Quartet (1935) was an experiment with musical form; the performers are given blocks of music to arrange in any desired order. With the Russian engineer Leon Theremin, Cowell built the Rhythmicon, an electronic instrument that could produce 16 different simultaneous rhythms, and he composed Rhythmicana (1931; first performed 1971), a work specifically written for the instrument.

Cowell has a separate place in history as a victim of the harsh penalties given to people engaging in homosexual activities. Convicted in 1936 of having consensual sex with a 17-year-old male, Cowell was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He served four years at San Quentin, where he taught inmates, started a prison band, and wrote over sixty compositions before being pardoned. His musical output after being released is more conservative, based on historical and folk antecedents rather than the more avant-garde explorations described above. Whether or not that is a result of his incarceration is a subject of debate. Cowell’s life, full of incident, of highs and lows, of astounding artistic production and radical innovation, still fascinates. The Juilliard Journal tries to sum him up:

Musical pioneer. Prolific composer. Piano virtuoso. Tireless proponent of new music. Globe-trotter. World-music advocate. Convicted felon. As Juilliard faculty member Joel Sachs said in a recent interview… “The problem with Henry Cowell is that if you had invented his life, no one would believe it.”

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150168
Municipal archives id: LT6770


Celebrating Diversity at the National Archives

The National Archives is committed to maintaining an “open, inclusive work environment that is built on respect, communication, integrity, and collaborative teamwork.”  Together, we are strengthened by diversity and advanced by inclusion. As part of NARA’s ongoing focus on the subject of civil rights and diversity, both in the historical record and as an organization, I am pleased to announce several exciting initiatives at the National Archives that both celebrate our diversity and provide a forum for education and communication.

Promoting diversity among our staff is an integral part of NARA’s diversity and inclusion strategy. One way we promote such diversity is through Employee Affinity Groups: voluntary, employee-driven groups based around shared interests or life experiences. The groups facilitate professional development, cultural connections, diversity, and communication throughout our workforce.  When the groups started in 2014, we had just two: Stonewall@NARA, a group for LGBTQ employees and allies, and IKE, our veterans group. In the last two years we have added four more to include: HALO (Hispanics and Latinos); disABILITY (Individuals with Disabilities); Say it Loud! (African-Americans); and WAG (Women’s). Among other activities, these groups have been working to develop web resources, identify relevant records, digitize documents, and add them to our Catalog.

Recently, the Stonewall@NARA group launched Discovering LGBTQ History on Tumblr to feature documents reflecting the history of American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women from 1778 to the present.

Harvey Milk Letter 152903

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s letter President Carter, June 28, 1978. Milk hoped that the President would “take a leadership role in defending the rights of gay people.” National Archives Identifier 152903. Read the full story on Discovering LGBTQ history.

2016 marks the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, one of our nation’s early attempts to form “a more perfect union.” We are celebrating this milestone with our Amending America initiative, which includes exhibits, National Conversation events, and online activities exploring the rights we have as a diverse society and examining the 11,000 attempts to amend our constitution. As part of this thematic focus, NARA will host a Wikipedia editathon in our Innovation Hub related to LGBTQ rights and the records we hold in the National Archives. This event will take place on Thursday, June 16 and is free and open to the public.

Continuing our tradition of supporting the Wikipedia community, the National Archives is excited to host the Wikimedia Diversity Conference on June 17-18. We are co-organizing the event with Wikimedia D.C., which reflects our shared commitment to embracing diversity. The Wikimedia Diversity Conference aims to address issues of diversity within the editing community of Wikipedia and related projects, including the highly publicized gender gap among Wikipedia editors. This event is an outgrowth of last year’s WikiConference USA at the National Archives, during which the topic of diversity became a major theme. The conference is open to the public, whether you are already a Wikipedia editor or not, especially anyone interested in the subjects of Wikipedia or diversity. The Wikimedia Diversity Conference will include workshops, panels, and presentations that highlight practices, tactics, or ideas addressing diversity in the Wikimedia movement, and related issues such as systemic bias and online harassment.

Wikipedia represents an important venue for NARA to “make access happen,” sharing our records with a wide audience in a way that is relevant to them. Hosting the Wikimedia Diversity Conference reaffirms the National Archives’ commitment to providing access to all government records for everyone. Our work with Wikipedia, and on the theme of diversity specifically, is another example of NARA innovating to achieve our vision of bringing greater meaning to the American experience through government records. You can read more about our Wikipedia strategy in NARA’s most recent Open Government Plan.

I expect NARA’s staff in attendance to offer valuable insight for the conference, as well as to learn and grow from the discussions that take place. We are proud be a part of this project which will encourage diversity in both the Wikipedia and the National Archives communities.

Magician of the Week #42: Viggo Jahn

It’s been far too long since we’ve featured a magician from  our Percival Collection! This week’s magician, Viggo Jahn, was originally a window decorator hailing from Copenhagen.


Here’s Viggo Jahn doing something totally inscrutable. Are those thimbles?

According to the November 1953 issue of M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might, Jahn took up stage magic during the occupation of Denmark in WWII; the “entertainment-starved Danes” were eager for new performers, and a theatrical agent recognized Jahn as “very good looking, intelligent and young, and engaged in a business that required a touch of showmanship”.

After preparing for just three months, Jahn began presenting his manipulations in public, and he quickly improved “by leaps and bounds”. After the occupation was lifted, he began performing in Sweden, then across Europe, and later all over the world. “Wherever the wealthy and the celebrated dined in lovely surroundings, there was Viggo,” says M-U-M. 

The article also notes that “he was still a darned good window trimmer”.

Repurposing the lantern slide way

One of our volunteers spotted this in one of the Institute’s lantern slide boxes and called it to our attention:


What was it that attracted his interest? Was it the little round label ‘6054’ which indicated that the slide had originally been one of Sir John Myres’ slides? Was it the beautiful map with incredible detail of ‘Latium and Campania’?


Here’s Vesuvius and the bay of Naples from the bottom of the map:


Or was it this?:


Our volunteer, Robert Petts, is a philatelist and he really knows his stamps. He tells us that this little strip of paper is a re-used edging of a sheet of 1 penny red stamps of Edward VII, printed in 1905. The ‘E’ tells you the part of the year – this sheet of stamps was printed in the first half. The ‘5’ gives you the year. So there you go – it’s amazing what you can learn in the archive when you have great volunteers.

The WNYC American Music Festival

The WNYC American Music Festival played a significant role in promoting American music of every genre and provided a forum for new American composers to get their works heard. Conceived in 1939, the festival began in 1940 and continued for nearly 50 years ending up as a day-long series of concerts called WNYC’s Americathon. Although it was no longer as many as 150 special broadcasts[1] during an eleven day period in February, the station continued to broadcast music by American composers and performers from Lincoln’s to Washington’s Birthday.

This celebration of American music and composers came about at a time of uncertainty at home when much of Europe had succumbed to the brutality of Nazi Germany. As a product of the then city-owned radio station, the American Music Festival was considered one of New York’s responses to “Hitlerian destructiveness and fanaticism.” It was meant to be seen “as an expression of a democracy in terms of human fellowship and [the] cultivation of beauty which constitute the final answer to the tyrannies and stupidity of fascism.”[2] The festival was also a response to an overwhelming cultural presence of European classical music on the airwaves at the time whenever classical music was broadcast. On the eve of the first series of forty concerts Station Director Morris Novik said, “American broadcasters have done a splendid job in developing an appreciation of classical music. Radio must do still another important job by focusing attention on American music, and by demonstrating that Americans have written good –even great—music.”[3]

It was an auspicious beginning for the music festival that set the tone and style for many years to come. This first concert series in 1940 heard from the works of Deems Taylor, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Oscar Levant, Morton Gould and Henry Brant. It included some broadcast premieres such as Brant’s Great American Goof suite and Robert Elmore’s tone poem, Valley Forge, 1777 as well as new compositions by Dante Fiorello, Randall Thompson, Wallingford Riegger and other composers. The audio at the head of this article is the only surviving recording from that first festival in February 1940. It features composer and comedian Oscar Levant at the concluding concert program. In a brief interview beforehand, he comments on the festival and WNYC.

This past week…thanks to the virtually humanitarian auspices of station WNYC, has been dedicated to the performances of contemporary American composers. Performances of modern American composers are about as frequent as social communion with a leper colony. These sparse performances are often accompanied by the same dread of contamination.  So, beware!

There are often problems with any endeavor the first time around, and there no doubt was some need to ‘work out a few bugs’ before embarking on the next series of concerts.

Indeed, the WNYC producers returned in 1941 with a substantially larger schedule of concerts and, with added broadcast publicity as well as word of mouth, were instrumental in mobilizing some 5,000 people seeking tickets to the opening concert at Hunter College. Some 2,000 were reportedly turned away that Lincoln’s birthday because there was no room for them.[4] That first concert included Deems Taylor’s, The Highwayman in which Richard Hale sang the baritone role and the Manhattan Chorus, the choral part. Also performing folk songs were Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes and Andrew Rowen Summers, as well as jazz from the Benny Goodman Sextet and The Lester Young Band. At the intermission of the final concert for that second festival year composer Aaron Copland was quite pleased with the outcome.

…As a composer, I feel that the more American music is played, the sooner we will create an important music of our own in this country. This festival, it seems to me, demonstrates, at least two things. One- it shows our composers are writing more music than ever before; that they are more active, creatively, than ever before. And secondly, I think it shows that they are not being performed to the extent that they should be performed…Because the radio public, not having to pay anything for admission to a hall, being able to turn off the radio whenever whatever they hear doesn’t please them, that radio public holds for us, I think, our future American audiences. In closing all I can say is, I hope for bigger and better WNYC festivals in the future…

Third annual WNYC American Music Festival ticket from 1942.

By February 1942, the United States was still reeling from the shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor two months earlier, so it is no surprise that evidence of the festival lacks for that year. Based on the paucity of available information one can only guess that WNYC management and staff were under a lot of pressure at that moment to deal with immediate issues concerning the war and to cut back on some of their festival plans despite its patriotic nature.[5] The following year, however, 97 live festival broadcasts were made.[6]

In reviewing the first five years of the festival in 1944, The New York Times reported that WNYC had accomplished one of its main goals with the festival since it was now “an established institution in the city’s musical life.”[7] ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers got involved, and the festival program read like a Who’s Who of American symphony, opera, jazz and folk music. Included were Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles, Aaron Copland, Sidney Foster, Robert McBride, Paul Nordoff, Vera Brodsky, Virgil Thomson, Henry Cowell, Josh White, Leadbelly and Alan Lomax, Tony Kraber, Richard Dyer-Bennet, Burl Ives and “other exponents of folk and hill music.”[8] 1944 also brought an engineering advance for the festival since it was the first year the music was heard over the “noise-free” frequency modulation (FM) station W39NY. With the end of the war in Europe approaching, the 1945 festival featured a swing-classical combo with Tommy Dorsey teaming up with Maestro Leopold Stokowski making the jitterbugs go wild.

After World War II there was a change in management at WNYC as Director Morris Novik went out with Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Seymour N. Siegel came in with Mayor William O’Dwyer. Siegel had long been with the station, and no doubt wanted to continue with something that brought nothing but praise to the broadcaster. Indeed, the festival continued to give a hearing to new and old works by American composers of every genre including songs from Tin Pan Alley and balladeer Woody Guthrie. In 1947 the 8th festival concluded with jam session including Tony Parenti on clarinet, Clarence Williams on piano, Pops Foster on bass and Baby Dodds on drums. The following year saw the Thelonious Monk Quartet make an appearance. Now, a decade in there was a healthy dose of the blues with one of Leadbelly’s final performances followed by Ruby Smith ‘channeling’ Bessie Smith, and the versatile Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry.  By 1950 Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Morton Gould, Paul Creston and Deems Taylor all had first radio performances of their work aired on the American Music Festival. There was a significant jazz presence too highlighted with performances by Miles Davis performed and Stan Getz and an interview with Teddy Wilson.

In 1951 plans for the upcoming 12th WNYC American Music Festival had to be altered for Cold War concerns. The series was to have featured avant-garde composer Edgar Varese’s, “Ionization.” The work called for the use of a siren “as a singing voice among some forty percussion instruments.” But WNYC had to rule it out with regrets since the New York City Civil Defense Office banned all sirens except those used for air-raid warnings.

In 1952 the widow of conductor and composer Serge Koussevitzky awarded WNYC the Koussevitzky Music Foundation’s first award for public service because the festival had, “encouraged creative talent, sent joy and beauty in the form of fresh musical ideas into the homes of its citizens and brought honor to its name.”[9] 1952 also saw the first appearance of the composer John Cage at the American Music Festival. Cage was described as a “younger upstart” whose experiments in rhythm produce “a strange phantasmagoria characteristic of the nation whose music can no more be classified than its society.”[10] In 1953, Leopold Stokowski conducted the festival’s final concert at the Museum of Modern Art. The bill included Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, and Letter from Morocco by Peggy Glanville-Hicks.[11] It was performed on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1960 at Town Hall in New York by the National Association of American Composers and Conductors Festival Orchestra under the direction of Alfredo Antonini.

It’s worth noting that in 1967 the folksinger Oscar Brand, a long-time station producer, arranged an American Music Festival folk concert at Carnegie Hall with Arlo Guthrie, John Hammond, Tom Paxton, Jean Richie and Len Chandler. Guthrie performed Alice’s Restaurant, described by The New York Times as “an amusing but pointed spoken monolog on the vagaries of law enforcement, the selective service draft and their relation to the war in Vietnam.”[12]

By its 30th year, in 1969, the number of live festival concerts had dropped off from a peak at the beginning of the decade. As the 1970s came in, so too did the city’s burgeoning fiscal problems that were well reflected in the declining American Music Festival programs.

The festival as a vibrant venue for a series of live concerts was revived for a while in the 1980s and with it came not so much a festival but what was called an “Americathon” a daylong live performance that spanned the whole range of American music, from Pulitzer Prize winning composers like Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and David Del Tredici to folk musicians like John McCutcheon and alternative pop singers like the The Roaches to improvising musicians like Muhal Richard Abrams. The programs also included harder to classify ensembles like Butch Morris’ “Conditions” who conducted improvisations by with large-scale ensemble and Music For Homemade Instruments whose load-in of auto brake drums, refrigerator racks and similar “gear” made the backstage area look more like a landfill. These were performed before a live audience in places like the New School, the Juilliard School, and Symphony Space, and broadcast live throughout the day and the evening. Since then, however, the “festival” as such has been largely a designated time for playing pre-recorded American music with occasional live studio and/or concert performances.  

The WNYC American Music Festival was extremely successful in achieving its goals for more than four decades. It was a pioneering effort that became a major New York cultural institution. It promoted the work of American composers, musicians, and conductors. It gave them a fair hearing. In the classical realm, it gave the WNYC listening audience a chance to reflect on American music long overshadowed by the European masters. Overall, it helped to move folk and traditional American music into the mainstream by giving equal weight to all genres of performance.

Finally, seldom mentioned but always present in its heyday and beyond for more than 40 years of festivals was WNYC’s Music Director, Dr. Herman Neuman. As a conductor and composer, he was also on the bill leading festival orchestras over the years. In 1966, some 50 works were performed for the first time at the festival. Perhaps he summed it up best saying, “Some of the music was good, some indifferent, some lousy, but now at least the composers have heard how their works sound in performance.”[13]

By the mid-1980s, WNYC’s American Music Festival had run its course. The last few festivals were a shadow of their former glory as eleven days of live concerts were compacted into a day-long “Americathon”. This single day of performances was sandwiched between scheduled broadcasts of American music drawn largely from commercial recordings.

Click here to listen to archive copies of American Music Festival programs on the web.



[1] Lohman, Sidney, “One Thing And Another WNYC Opens Annual Festival on Tuesday,” The New York Times, February 10, 1946, p.51.

[2] Downs, Olin, “Results of Five Radio Festivals,” The New York Times, February 20, 1944, p. x5.

[3] “40 WNYC Concerts to Give U.S. Music,” The New York Times, February 3, 1940, p.9.

[4] “U.S. Music Draws Audience of 3,000,” The New York Times, February 13, 1941. p.24.

[5] Sources indicate that the American Music Festival in 1942 did continue although its clear some momentum was lost. Another reason for the paucity of festival recordings during WWII is due to a change in media from aluminum to glass-based lacquer transcription discs.

[6]100 Composers Set For WNYC Festival,” The New York Times,  August 6, 1943. p.9

[7] Kennedy, T.R., “WNYC And A Musical Tradition,” The New York Times, February 13, 1944, p. x9.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “WNYC is Honored For Work in Music,” The New York Times, February 13, 1952, p. 35

[10] Downs, Olin, “Foster To Cage: WNYC American Music Festival Presents Native Music of All Characteristics,” The New York Times, February 17, 1952, p. 95

[11] Downs, Olin, “Stokowski Conducts Final Concert of WNYC’s Annual Music Festival,” The New York Times, February 23, 1953, p. 20.

[12]WNYC Folk Concert Sung in 6 Segments,” The New York Times, February 19, 1967, p.71.

[13] “Army Band Concert Closes WNYC’s Fete,” The New York Times, February 23, 1966, p. 45.