The Fugitive Author

Robert Burns Escaped from the Georgia Chain Gangs, Then Strove to Abolish Them

Here in Special Collections, we hold a number of books that have altered the course of history. Such works as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Communist Manifesto, Common Sense, and Walden have all profoundly shaped human thought and history, and all have places on our shelves.

Today, I want to tell you about another book in our collection that—though not as celebrated as the above examples—has had a significant influence on the course of events. Robert Elliott Burns’s I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!  is an account of the author’s experiences in—and escape from—the Georgia penal system of the 1920s. Burns’s vivid description of the system’s brutality and inhumanity has been credited with spurring 20th-century penal reforms in Georgia and beyond.



The Special Collections copy of I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, a souvenir edition from Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, is inscribed by the author.

A New York City accountant, Burns volunteered for the army when the United States entered World War I. Assigned to a medical detachment with the 14th Railway Engineers, he served mostly at the front from September 1917, until armistice 14 months later. His service took its toll, and, according to his brother, Robert Burns returned home “nervously unstrung and mentally erratic—a typical shell-shock case.” In more recent years, Burns might have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Returning to New York, Burns struggled to rebuild his life, expecting that his military training and service would be valued by potential employers. He soon found, however, that his status as a veteran instead proved a handicap in securing employment. Burns arrived at the same conclusion as many veterans returning from that war and others.

The promises of the Y. M. C. A. secretaries and all the other “fountain-pen soldiers” who promised us so much in the name of the nation and the Government [sic] just before we’d go into action turned out to be the bunk. Just a lot of plain applesauce! Really an ex-soldier with A. E. F. [Amy Expeditionary Forces] service was looked upon as a sucker. The wise guys stayed home—landed the good jobs—or grew rich on war contracts … I went through hell for my country and my reward was the loss of my sweetheart and my position.

Disillusioned, Burns drifted from town to town as a vagrant, alighting in Atlanta in 1922. There, he participated in an armed robbery with two other men. Burns paints himself as a reluctant accomplice in the crime, coerced by the ringleader’s trickery and intimidation. The robbery netted the perpetrators a mere $5.80, and the three were captured 20 minutes afterward.

For his part in the theft, Burns was sentenced to six to ten years at hard labor. Expecting to serve his time in a penitentiary, Burns instead found himself designated for roadwork on a county chain gang. Issued a convict’s striped uniform and shackled with heavy chains, Burns was transported to one of Georgia’s many county prison camps.

Burns describes the Campbell County prison camp as filthy and dehumanizing. The endless days were filled with backbreaking and mind-numbing work; frequent beatings by guards; and subsistence-level, sometimes putrid food. The system made no pretense of reformation but instead sought to inflict harsh punishment and exploit a captive workforce.

One was never allowed to rest a moment but must always be hard at work, and even moving in the mass of chain was painful and tiring—yet if one did not keep up his work greater terrors and more brutal punishment was in reserve. If a convict wanted to stop for a second to wipe the sweat off his face, he would have to call out “Wiping if off” and wait until the guard replied, “Wipe it off” before he could do so.

Dinner came in a galvanized iron bucket …The contents of the iron bucket was boiled, dried cowpeas (not eaten anywhere else but in Georgia) and called “Red beans.” They were unpalatable, full of sand and worms.

Determining that he’d be unable to serve out his time in such conditions, Burns escaped the chain gang after several months. Evading his pursuers, the fugitive made his way to Chicago and arrived there with 60 cents in his pocket. He soon secured employment and began saving money. By 1925, Burns had saved enough to begin publishing The Greater Chicago Magazine, and he became a well-known figure about the city. During his rise to prominence, Burns claims, he was compelled by extortion into an unwanted marriage. Soon after he initiated divorce proceedings in 1929, Burns was arrested as a fugitive—betrayed, he asserts, by his estranged wife.

Citing the law-abiding and productive life that Burns had led in the seven years since his escape, a number of prominent Chicagoans helped Burns fight extradition. Assurances of leniency from Georgia authorities, however, persuaded Burns to voluntarily return. Upon arriving in Georgia, Burns found that the promises of fair treatment soon evaporated. Relegated to Troup County’s prison camp, Burns experienced conditions that were even more primitive and cruel than those he had experienced in Campbell County several years earlier.

After 14 months, Burns made a second escape, and he provides the reader with a step-by-step description of his flight. A natural-born storyteller, Burns keeps the reader in suspense through several close calls and daring risks.

Burns made his way to New Jersey, but, with the nation in the throes of the Great Depression, the success that he’d found in Chicago during the 1920s would elude him. Working at a series of menial jobs and living under an assumed identity, he decided to write a scathing indictment against the penal system from which he’d escaped. “It’s now my life’s ambition to destroy the chain-gang system in Georgia,” he told a friend, “and see substituted in its place a more humane and enlightened system of correction.”

Serialized in True Detective Mysteries magazine in 1931, the fugitive’s story gained national attention. I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! was later released in book form and became a bestseller. A popular film adaptation, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, soon followed, netting three Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for leading man Paul Muni and Best Picture.



The Steel Pier Souvenir Edition of Burns’ book features on its end papers several scenes from the film adaptation.

In 1932, Burns was again arrested as a fugitive, but public outcry convinced New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore to refuse extradition to Georgia, and Burns was soon released. In 1945, Burns again voluntarily returned to Georgia and appeared before the parole board, with no less a figure than Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall serving as his counsel. The board commuted Burns’s sentence to time served.

Burns died ten years later, but he lived long enough to witness reforms to the cruel system he opposed. The state of Georgia, spurred perhaps not so much by humanitarianism as by embarrassment, implemented a series of penal reforms in the 1940s. In abolishing the use of chain gangs within the state, Governor Arnall cited Burns’s story as the impetus behind his actions. Though chain gang systems remained in place in other Southern states, their abolition in Georgia signaled the beginning of an incremental change that would accelerate during the civil rights movement.

In Robert Burns, the chain gang system had perhaps created its own worst enemy: an inmate with the background, eloquence, and determination to attack it. His book caused widespread outrage and sparked condemnation of the chain gang system. It is impossible to gauge the influence of I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! within the context of a wider movement for prison reform, and the book certainly didn’t cause the immediate demise of the chain gang system, but it undoubtedly implanted the need for reform in the national consciousness.

In addition to Burns’s book here in Special Collections, the library also holds the film’s screenplay and a videocassette copy of the film.

Native Voices: or, The History of Whitepeople

On September 16, 2016, Newman Library began hosting the Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness exhibit. The exhibit was developed and produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and came here as part of a tour put together by the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office. It will remain on display in the library’s 2nd floor commons until October 25 when it will leave us to continue its tour.


The Native Voices exhibit on display in Newman Library

This post isn’t really about the exhibit. If you want to know more about it, The National Library of Medicine has a website with tons of info. The reason I mention the exhibit is that it prompted me to look through our collections for items that would complement the exhibit and be appropriate to highlight during Native American Heritage Month (October 10 – November 15). I managed to find some interesting items in our collection of Michael Two Horses’s papers (Ms2006-001). They aren’t spot on with the focus of the exhibit but I think they are worth sharing – especially considering that Banned Books Week happened recently.

Michael Two Horses was a visiting professor at Virginia Tech from fall 2003 until his unexpected death in December 2003. He was affiliated with the Sicangu Lakota and the Wahpekute Dakota. During his time at Virginia Tech he taught as part of the American Indian Studies program, the Humanities Program, and served on the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity. We acquired two boxes worth of his papers following his death including academic and personal writings, research for the classes he taught, the transcript of an oral history he gave, various writing samples, and some artwork.

When I was reviewing the materials in this collection looking for something to share, I came across a letter he wrote in response to an email while he was a professor at the University of Arizona. The initial email took umbrage at some of the texts Professor Two Horses was using in one of his classes. His response was eloquent and well presented. After reading it, I checked and we have copies of all three texts included in the collection! I want to share the letter and show you the texts that prompted the complaints.


This is the complaint that was submitted to the American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona. There is a handwritten note from “Shelly” to see her about the email.

Professor Two Horses’s response was a little over two pages in length. As Professor Two Horses indicated in his response, the texts were used to illustrate how elementary texts incorporate stereotypes about Native Americans. These texts illustrate to students how those texts appear to Native American students.


Page 1 of Michael Two Horses’s response.


Page 2 of Michael Two Horses’s response.


Page 3 of Michael Two Horses’s response.



WARNING: Reading the first two texts can provide a bit of a jolt for Caucasian Americans because (a) they aren’t used to being identified with any sort of modifier (they’re normally just “Americans”), and (b) they aren’t used to reading about themselves in this type of tone. When reading, be sure to think about children’s books about Native Americans – these are spot on parodies of them.

First up: The Basic Skills Caucasian American Workbook

Book 2: 10 Little Whitepeople: A Counting Rhyme


Here’s the cover of the second book: “10 Little Whitepeople”. It is also embellished with dollar signs as illustration.

Book 3: The Truth About Columbus: A Subversively True Poster Book for a Dubiously Celebratory Occasion

Professor Two Horses’s comments about the third book just speak to the research that has been done into the history of Christopher Columbus and the fact that most American schools taught a limited scope on the subject.

I hope glimpsing these challenged titles was enjoyable for you and made you think a little about the Native American perspective. If you want to see everything they have to offer, we have all three among many other interesting papers from Michael Two Horses in the Michael Two Horses Collection (Ms2006-001). We would be happy to share them with you in our Reading Room.

The Sherwood Anderson Odyssey

Woodcut by J.J.. Lankes

Woodcut of Troutdale, Virginia by J.J. Lankes

In 1925, Sherwood Anderson, the father of the modernist style of American literature, visited Troutdale, Virginia not far from the town of Marion, to escape New Orleans’ oppressive summer heat. By that time, Anderson’s writings, such as Winesburg, Ohio (1919), The Triumph of the Egg (1921), and Dark Laughter (1925), had brought him critical acclaim and some commercial success. He was so taken by southwest Virginia that he purchased property in Grayson County and built a cabin which he named Ripshin. Anderson once again re-invented himself—he bought two weekly newspapers in nearby Marion, became active in local politics, and accompanied his fourth wife and Marion-native Eleanor Copenhaver on tours of southern factory towns to rally for worker’s rights and unions. He traveled the region, commenting on life in Wytheville, Pulaski, Roanoke, and Christiansburg. From the mid-1920s until his unexpected death in 1941 (peritonitis due to swallowing a toothpick from a martini) Anderson became a southwestern Virginian through and through.

Ripshin located in Grayson County

Ripshin located in Grayson County

The published works on Anderson and his writings are immense. The largest collection of his original papers and manuscripts were placed at the Newberry Library in Chicago. In Virginia, several libraries and archives acquired collections related to Anderson and his associates. Because of his connection to southwest Virginia, faculty and students at Virginia Tech have maintained a strong research interest in Anderson. The high-water mark of interest occurred during the 1980s when Dr. Charles Modlin and Dr. Hilbert Campbell in Virginia Tech’s English Department authored countless books, articles, and presentations on Anderson’s legacy. To support that research interest, Special Collections at Virginia Tech built a large printed collection of his published works and acquired a small number of original items related to Anderson’s family.

Scarcity and the passage of time are the greatest challenges of finding “new” materials for an archives program, especially for a topic with an extensive bibliography. My first efforts to locate available Sherwood Anderson material for Special Collections, nearly ten years ago, resulted in a few sparks but no fire. Then, and quite unexpectedly, in the spring of 2015 I was surrounded with a largely undiscovered cache of original Sherwood Anderson material.

Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson

The first collection came in March 2015 when a book and manuscript dealer listed a set of eight original Sherwood Anderson letters from 1916-1924. The letters were from Anderson to Llewellyn Jones, the literary editor for The Chicago Evening Post. The correspondence discusses reviews of Anderson’s recent books, his new writing projects, and a 1918 letter mentions his having “this damned Spanish Influenza.” Following acquisition of the small collection, it was processed, scanned, and placed online with full transcripts.

As is often the case, the discovery of one collection leads to another. I could not contain my excitement about the new acquisition and shared that information with another book and manuscript dealer. At that time he had largely been securing collections related to Virginia Tech history, such as original scrapbooks and personal papers from past graduates. To my surprise, he mentioned that one of his good friends was Dr. Welford D. Taylor, an emeritus English professor at the University of Richmond who had spent much of his academic career studying Sherwood Anderson.

In the weeks that followed, the dealer arranged for me to meet Dr. Taylor at his Richmond home. Dr. Taylor was a delightful host and an incredible resource on American literature, art, and Virginia history. From these discussions I learned that Dr. Taylor had a large collection of original Sherwood Anderson material that he had amassed over his academic career. Further, he was looking to place the collection in an archives program in Virginia where scholars would benefit. I made multiple trips to Richmond to talk with Dr. Taylor and by June we agreed to the terms of the agreement. His collection included several hundred letters, selected ephemera, and dozens of rare publications related to Sherwood Anderson. In addition, Dr. Taylor donated scarce publications, letters, ephemera, woodcuts, and other related pieces.

A 1928 letter from Anderson describing his opening a small library in Marion.

A 1928 letter from Anderson describing his opening a small library in Marion.

The Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson, 1927-1992 (MS2015-045), represents a significant collection of material on Anderson’s years in southwest Virginia. The collection documents Anderson’s life in a small mountain community, newspaper publishing, finding inspiration for new writing, labor organizing, the publishing industry, and reactions to literary criticism. A highlight of the collection is over fifty letters written between Sherwood Anderson and J.J. Lankes, a significant illustrator and woodcut artist who worked with Anderson and other literary luminaries. The letters begin in 1927 continuing until the early 1940s. There are dozens of documents from other members of Anderson’s family including correspondence from Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson and his son Robert Anderson. Dr. Taylor is also represented in the collection, as he corresponded with Anderson’s family and associates for many years.

The 21 volume set of The Complete Works of Sherwood Anderson (1982).

Other gems include The Complete Works of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Kichinosuke Ohashi (1982), a rare, out-of-print, set of Anderson’s work published in Japan still in original custom-made boxes.

The Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson represents one of the most significant acquisitions for Special Collections at Virginia Tech in recent memory. It will be a deep resource for scholars studying both Sherwood Anderson and the history of the southwest Virginia. The complexity of the collection has made processing much slower than expected, but once fully arranged and described there will be further updates and the release of a detailed finding aid. Those goals symbolize the end of this acquisitions story, but serve only as one chapter in the lengthy and ongoing odyssey to find and acquire new Sherwood Anderson materials for Special Collections at Virginia Tech.

Although still being processed, the collection is available for research use in the reading room. If you want more information about this and other Sherwood Anderson related collections held by Special Collections at Virginia Tech please send an email to

#AskAnArchivist Day 2016

Next Wednesday, October 5th, is #AskAnArchivist Day! During the day, several members of our staff will be on social media to take YOUR questions! Wonder about the oldest book in our collection? Curious about the number of  collections we have? Interested in what archivists do all day? Want to know why we’re so passionate about what we do and why it matters? Just ask!

Archives around the country (and the world!) will be answering questions and engaging with people on Twitter. If you want to ask us about something, be sure to include us (@VT_SCUA) in your tweets. Or head to the Facebook page for the International Archive of Women in Architecture and ask there. You can also ask questions to the broader community–just use #AskAnArchivist and see who responds! Join the conversation on October 5th!

Challenging and Banning Literary Classics

This week is Banned Book Week (September 26-October 1, 2016), a week in which many libraries, teachers, readers, and their many allies celebrate the freedom to read and the many books which have historically (and still) face challenges and bans by a variety of people, organizations, or even whole countries. The ALA Banned Book website explains that “[a] challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Taking a tour through our British and American literature books, we’ve put together a slide show of 10 banned classics you’ll find on our shelves, along with an explanation of what has made each of them the topic of so much controversy and attention. Some books were banned or challenged in a specific place, during a specific time, and/or for a specific reason. Dates in the gallery indicate the year our edition was published. A number in parentheses indicates year the book was first published.

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  • Ulysses by James Joyce. First published in serial format between 1918 and 1920, first published as a single volume in 1922. Ours is number 222 of the first 1000 printed. Ulysses was not only banned for obscenity, it was actually burned in some countries, including the U.S. (1918), Ireland (1922), Canada (1922), and England (1923). It was banned outright in England in 1929; not officially, but unofficially banned following an obscenity trial in the U.S. in 1921; never officially banned in Ireland, but never easily available. In 1934, it was available freely for the first time in the U.S.
  • An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1927, following several censorship efforts for alleged obscenity, and a subsequent trial.
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Challenged at a religious college in South Carolina in 1987 due to both language and sexual references.
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1930, in Ireland in 1953, and in Riverside and San Jose, CA, in 1960 because of it language and use of profanity, and its central focus on sex, promiscuity and the overall decadence of its characters. It was also burned by the Nazis in Germany in 1933, possibly for the decadence of its characters and/or for its realistic depictions of war.
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence. Banned for obscenity by U.S. Customs (1929), in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), and Canada (1960-1962). In addition, it was banned by the Chinese government in 1987.
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. The novel appeared in a June 1929 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, resulting a ban of the magazine in Boston, MA, that year. The novel was banned in Italy in 1929 for its depictions of war actions (specifically those taken by Italian forces); in Ireland in 1939; and, like many of Hemingway’s works, was burned by Nazis in 1933. It was later challenged by school districts in Texas (1974) and in New York (1980) for its discussions and depictions of sex.
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. Banned in a school district in Kentucky (1986) for profanity and language (eventually overturned due to pressure from the ACLU and negative publicity). Challenged in school districts in Kentucky (1987) and Maryland (1991) for language, dialect, and obscenity. Banned temporarily by a school district in Kentucky (1994) for profanity and questions about the existence of God.
  • Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Banned in Anaheim, CA, high school (1978) and an Illinois school district (1984) for use of racial slurs.
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. In 2005, an Alabama Representative proposed legislation limiting the use of public money to purchase books that “recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” and proposed removing any such books from school, public, and university library shelves.
  • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike. Banned in Ireland (1962-1967) for obscenity, indecency, and promiscuity. Restricted to students with parental permission in a Maine school district (1976). Removed from a Wyoming school district reading list in 1986.

Not every book is challenged or banned for the same reason, but even with these 10 examples, you can certainly see some themes. You can read more about other challenged or banned classics, as well other kinds of challenged or banned books and the reasons behind them online. But, as always, the decision about what to read is in your hands.

What’s a “vertical file”?

Have you ever heard the term “vertical file”? Typically, when researchers come in to learn more about a topic, the first place to look is in our vertical files. These are generally folders of newspaper clippings, brochures, press releases, and other items that are arranged by subject. The term itself derives from the vertical filing cabinets that archives may use to hold these collections [for your information, Special Collections uses boxes rather than filing cabinets].

Special Collections has several sets of vertical files:

But I’d like to tell you specifically about the Record Group Vertical Files. This collection is specifically about departments, offices, and colleges at Virginia Tech, including materials advertising the university and articles about it. For example, below is a postcard advertising the Virginia Tech College of Science, the Advisor’s Manual for the VT College of Arts & Sciences, an application for the VT Graduate School, and an issue of the Carilion Clinic Report about the VT Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.

In addition to the educational colleges and departments of the university, we have materials from the operational offices and student groups. Below are examples, including brochures for the Perspective Gallery and HokiePRIDE, an official VT flyer in Arabic, a program for the Alpha Kappa Delta National Sociology Honor Society, and an article about the Muslim Student Association.

The finding aid for the Record Group Vertical Files describes some of these groups when possible, including administrative history, former names of units, topics within the terms, and references to other related groups.

Whenever you are looking up the history of the university and you don’t know where to start, this collection is a great place to start. The same holds true for looking up any subjects in all the vertical files we have!

“Dear Willie”: The Conway Correspondence

Over the course of three decades, an ex-Confederate soldier named Catlett Conway dutifully wrote a string of letters to his half-brother, Dr. William Buchanan Conway, or “Willie,” of Athens, Georgia. While some of the letters are addressed to Catlett from his daughter Mary Wallace or brother John, most of the letters begin with “My Dear Brother,” or “Dear Willie,” and always inquired after the health and happiness of all members of the family. William Conway, five years Catlett’s junior, served as the Physician and Surgeon for Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College — the school we now all know as Virginia Tech — in 1871 and moved to Athens twenty years later to run his own practice and contribute to medical journals. Catlett himself attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville prior to the start of the war. Catlett often congratulated William on his published articles, which Catlett sought after and read “with great interest.”

Catlett’s own employment story followed a more scattered path over the years, as he held bookkeeping positions at the Richmond Granite Company and Richmond-based coal and tobacco companies. In his letters, he often recounted the events in a course of a typical day: what time he rose from bed in the morning, what time he ate breakfast and what he ate, how long he spent at his job and who visited him at his office, what time he ate dinner and what he are, and what time he went to bed. He was devoted to routines and considered any opportunities to read books and letters by the fireside in the evening to be his favorite time of every day. Throughout the letters, one can follow the development of gas and electric lighting, as Catlett often complained that his eyes were growing weaker as he got older, but advances in medicine and electric lighting helped him to continue his letter-writing up until the collection concludes in 1920, while he was in his eightieth year of age.

Catlett Conway was 52 years old when he was writing in 1892, meaning that he would have been among the many twenty-something-year-old men whose lives were changed forever by the Civil War and the considerably fewer who survived. Catlett refers to his Civil War experiences, as well as his attitudes toward Reconstruction, in many instances throughout his letters — often in response to a new article or work of history that adds to Civil War literature. Catlett’s response to these pieces often fall into line with a sentiment of other ex-Confederates of the day who longed for the return of power to “Old Dixie.” Catlett’s memories of the war often lapse between wistfulness and pain, remembering the horrors of war among flashes of rosy prewar childhood memories. Occasions of dissatisfaction with new national directives for racial, political, social, and international policies are scattered among touching musings on heaven and the afterlife. Many of Catlett’s letters paint a unique, complicated picture of the Civil War and its legacy in public memory decades after its conclusion.


Catlett Conway writes to Willie on April 6, 1902, expressing his desire to write for publication on the subject of the Civil War — “I think of many subjects I think of importance which I would like discussed in the daily papers but which no one else seems to think of” — before sharing details of the Conway family genealogy.

Finally, many of Catlett’s longer, more detailed letters have to do with the subject of travel and perceptions of his surroundings. Later in life, Catlett did a surprising amount of traveling — especially by train — to visit children, grandchildren, siblings, and cousins throughout the country. These letters give vivid accounts of train travel along mountain ranges (such as the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies), over rivers and gorges, and through rolling hills and fields in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and other states near and along the east coast. Catlett recalls everything from the meals given on the train to the bustle of the train platforms upon arrival and the details of family walks throughout cities such as Baltimore and Cincinnati. By the end of his life, Catlett had moved from boarding houses and the homes of his daughters to settle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he often participated in Civil War-related events and reunions for veterans. Whichever city Catlett occupied, his letters always contained in-depth commentaries on that city’s social, political, and economic situation as he perceived it.


Image taken from Catlett Conway’s entry on FindAGrave.

Catlett Conway died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December of 1929 at nearly 90 years old. As I’ve gotten to know Catlett in the later years of his life, I’ve been able to keep track of his mental and spiritual growth, as well as his fluctuating health, until his death. Catlett’s prolific eloquence as evidenced by this collection holds a lot of potential for anyone interested in multiple interest areas, such as the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded-to-Progressive Age; advances in technology, transportation, and medicine; the changing climates of race, gender, culture, the military, politics, foreign relations; everyday life in an American city… the list goes on and on. From thoughtful personal insights and bold opinions and claims to musings on the state of the nation and the world, it’s as if Catlett Conway somehow knew that he had the potential to serve as an incredibly rich source of interest for purposes of research and just plain curiosity. You can find the entirety of the collection available online here.

Retired Football Numbers

Only four Virginia Tech football players have had their numbers retired: Carroll Dale, Frank Loria, Bruce Smith, and Jim Pyne.

Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley

Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley, 1960 Bugle, p. 336


No. 84 Carroll Dale’s jersey was the first to be retired. Born in Wise, Virginia, he entered Virginia Tech in 1956 as an offensive and defensive end. After seeing varsity action as a reserve in the first game of the 1956 season, he started in the remaining 39 games of his college career. He became V.P.I.’s first bona fide All-American. As a junior in 1958, he was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year, and for three consecutive years (1957-59), he was voted the Roanoke Touchdown Club’s Lineman of the Year. He was team captain his senior year and earned first team All-American honors. In all four seasons, he led the Hokies in pass receiving. Dale finished his college career with 67 receptions for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Following graduation, Dale played five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass in his first NFL game. The highlight of his professional career came with the Green Bay Packers and three straight National Football League championships under coach Vince Lombardi. The 1967 and 1968 games were known retroactively as Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. After eight seasons in Green Bay, Dale played a season with the Minnesota Vikings when he found himself again in the Super Bowl. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. Carroll Dale Stadium, the football stadium of Dale’s high school in Wise, J.J. Kelly High School, was named for him.


Frank Loria

Frank Loria, football All-American

No. 10 Despite his 5-9, 175-pound frame, Frank Loria was one of the most tenacious football players ever to play for Virginia Tech. A native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, he played basketball, baseball, and football at Notre Dame High School. When he came to Virginia Tech, Loria started every game at safety from 1965-67 and rapidly established himself as one of Tech’s all-time greats. He was famous for his uncanny ability to diagnose opposition plays and was called a coach on the field. Loria was the first Virginia Tech football player to gain first-team All-American honors in back-to-back seasons (1966, 1967), and he became the Hokies’ first consensus All-American pick as a senior in 1967, making seven first-team All-American squads. During his Tech career, he had seven interceptions and a number of punt return records. He returned 61 punts, averaging 13.3 yards on each return. He ran four punts back for touchdowns. One was a school record 95 yards.

Loria was assistant coach at Marshall University on Nov. 14, 1970 when all players and coaches died in a plane crash. The tragic accident took 75 lives. Loria was 23 years-old and was married with two children and a third on the way. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. In the 1970s Frank Loria Memorial Field opened in Clarksburg City Park. Notre Dame High School plays its home games there.


Photograph; Dates: 1981-1984 (Virginia Tech career dates); football;

Bruce Smith battles Clemson, VT Sports Information photo

No. 78 Known as “The Sack Man” of Virginia Tech football, Bruce Smith capped his sensational college career in 1984 by winning the Outland Trophy as America’s top lineman. The Norfolk, Virginia native graduated from Booker T. Washington High. Following an all-state high school career, Smith accepted an athletic scholarship to Virginia Tech where he had a career total of 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses totaling 504 yards. Sports columnist Wilt Browning from The Greensboro Daily News noted that in four years Smith accounted for losses totaling more than five times the length of a football field (504 yards). Smith had 46 career quarterback sacks, including 22 during his junior season in 1983 when he was named first-team All-American. In 1984 he was a consensus All-American. His combination of strength, quickness, intelligence, and relentless effort made him the model for a pass rushing defensive lineman.

In the 1985 National Football League draft, Smith was the first selection of the Buffalo Bills. During his pro career, he established himself as one of the greatest defensive players ever to play the game. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996, when he was named to the NFL’s All Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s. He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility on August 8, 2009. He ended his 19-year pro career in 2003 as the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200. He anchored a defense that reached four straight Super Bowls. The Bills retired his No. 78 jersey in 2016. It joined Jim Kelly’s No. 12 jersey as the only numbers retired by the Bills. No player had worn number 78 since Smith left the team.

Bruce Smith served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors from 2002 to 2003.


JIm Pyne

Jim Pyne in action against Miami Hurricanes, VT Sports Information photo

No. 73 Center Jim Pyne became Virginia Tech’s first unanimous All-American when he made all five major teams that were selected in 1993. In addition to All-America honors, he was named winner of the Dudley Award as Virginia’s Player of the Year. During his four seasons at Virginia Tech, he established himself as one of the Hokies’ top linemen of all time, leading the charge that rewrote the record books for scoring and total offense. He started 35 consecutive games and 41 of the 42 Tech games in which he played. He allowed just one quarterback sack by the man he was assigned to block during more than 2,700 career snaps. He played on 736 of a possible 770 snaps during his sophomore season. That translated to 96 percent of the Hokies’ plays on offense. He played every offensive down in six games that season and graded higher for his performance on the field than any lineman during Coach Frank Beamer’s first five seasons at Virginia Tech. He earned second-team All-BIG EAST Conference honors his junior year and was named to the league’s first All-Academic team. He played on 92 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and set a school weight room record with a 401-pound hang clean.

He helped clear the way for a record-setting offense in 1993 as Tech earned its bid to the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the first bowl bid of the Beamer era. VT won 45-20 over Indiana. He was named to the Big East Conference All-time team at the turn of the century. The offensive line meeting room at VT was named in his honor.

A native of Mitford, Massachusetts, he attended Milford High School, where he played for the Milford Scarlet Hawks and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut where he played for the Choate Wild Boars. The Pynes were the first family to play three generations of professional football. Pyne’s father, George Pyne III, played for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1965. His grandfather, George Pyne II, played for the Providence Steam Roller of the NFL in 1931.

Pine was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1994 draft, and he played four of his nine professional seasons with them as a left guard, starting in 38 of his 42 appearances from 1995 to 1997. He played for the Detroit Lions in the 1998 and then became the first overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 expansion draft. He was named team MVP by the Akron Browns backers and named top offensive lineman by the touchdown club.

New Policy on Retiring Numbers

In 2002, the Virginia Tech Athletics Department developed a new policy on retiring football jerseys. This special honor is bestowed to acknowledge an individual who has won an established national award in his sport, while allowing the number to continue to be worn by others. Virginia Tech no longer retires numbers.

Visit Special Collections

We have historical sports and other photographs, biographical files, sports programs and media guides in addition to many other treasures in Special Collections. We hope to welcome you.


Chilhowie Milling Company and Benefits of Business Records

Here at Special Collections, one of our goals is to acquire materials that people use for research and personal interest. On the blog, we talk a lot about different formats of collections, different topic areas represented, and even different uses for those collections. When we work with researchers, especially students, we talk about collections as primary sources: first hand accounts of events, place, people, etc. One of the forms that these primary sources can take (and one we don’t talk about quite as much as personal letters or diaries, for instance), are business papers. But, collections of business papers (letters, ledgers, account books, and the like) can tell you plenty. This week, I thought I’d share one such collection: the Chilhowie Milling Company Correspondence from 1916 and 1917.

You can view the finding aid for this collection online, though it isn’t one we have had a chance to digitize in its entirety just yet. You may notice that the finding aid says this collection was previously processed, but in 2015, we did some additional organization and description. We don’t have the time and opportunity to revisit every collection, but when we can, we like to try and improve access. In this case, there was a brief description of the collection, but no contents list or detailed notes. Plus, we discovered that the collection had originally been described as the Chilhowie Mining Company Correspondence. The milling company corresponded with a number of mining and ore related companies, but its mission wasn’t mining.

So, why look at a collection like this? It can tell you about business in the context of local history (or local history in the context of a business)–in this case, a business that existed in Smyth County, Virginia for over a century. You can get a sense of what it took to run a large business, the corporate partners and/or suppliers needed, the raw materials gathered, and, in this, what it took to renovate and rebuild. In a two year period, the Chilhowie Milling Company wrote back and forth with nearly 40 different parties. To name a few specialized companies, this list included:

  • Bank of Glade Springs
  • B. D. Smith and Brothers Printers
  • Bristol Door and Lumber Company
  • Crystal Springs Bleachery Company
  • Ferger Grain Company
  • Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills
  • Gruendler Crusher and Pulverizing Company
  • Invincible Grain Cleaners Company
  • Millers National Insurance Company
  • Norfolk and Western Railway Company
  • State of Virginia Dairy and Food Division
  • Virginia Iron, Coal, and Coke Company
  • Virginia Leather Company
  • Virginia Portland Cement Company
  • Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company

In the cases of some other business history materials at Special Collections, there might be even more to be learned! Interested in the personnel rosters of a textile mill? The account ledgers of a local grocery store? Records from a Saltville salt supplier during the Civil War? You might want to stop by and see us. You never know what new tidbits are to found, what reflections you might find on a given economic situation, or even what family history you can discover in business records!

Ephemera as evidence: Uncovering glimpses of women in design history

The International Archive of Women in Architecture includes over 2000 cubic feet of unpublished primary sources (manuscripts, photographs, drawings, correspondence, business records and more). Researchers visiting Special Collections at Virginia Tech also have access to hundreds of published books, catalogs, documentaries, and encyclopedias about women in architecture and design. Many of these publications are scholarly or autobiographical in nature, but our growing collection of supporting materials also includes published ephemera (follow this link to learn more about the research value of ephemera) which shed light on the hidden contributions of women to design.

Publications like trade cards and catalogs, advertisements, and event posters represent fragments of evidence for the work of pioneering women architects and designers. The bulk of our resources in this realm reflect the contributions of women in the United States of America, working in an era where women had limited access to formal architectural education and licensure. These materials rarely divulge biographical details about their subjects, but suggest future possibilities for intrepid scholars.

Here are three examples that hint towards hidden contributions of women:

Vintage catalogs of house plans

Early 20th century designers in the US advertised their house plans by distributing colorful, eye catching catalogs to homebuilders, lending agents, and manufacturers. The Garlinghouse Company was founded around 1910 by homebuilder Lewis F. Garlinghouse of Topeka, Kansas. Advertising for decades under the tagline “America’s Pioneer Home Planning Service,” Garlinghouse Company was among the first and most prolific seller of home plans in the US. Iva G. Lieurance was the company’s principal house designer, and her plans appear in several catalogs through the 1950s. We know little about her work beyond what we can glean from the catalogs. She may have worked for the company as early as 1907, traveling around the country to document attractive homes and adapt their floor plans for customers in the midwest. An application with the Maryland Historical Trust calls Lieurance “the only known woman credited for design work associated with the mail-order house movement.”

Garlinghouse Company catalog, "Sunshine Homes", feat. designs by Iva G. Lieurance. (1938)

Garlinghouse Company catalog, “Sunshine Homes”, feat. designs by Iva G. Lieurance. (1938)

Lieurance’s credentials and her relationship to L.F. Garlinghouse may be lost to history. According to the 1940 census, 53 year old Iva G. Lieurance lived with her elder sister in Topeka, Kansas as head of the household. Her occupation is recorded as “Designer of Home Plans” and she reported working 50 hours per week. The census worker recorded 8th grade as the highest level of education she had completed. The 1954 Topeka, Kansas City Directory lists her as a designer for L.F. Garlinghouse, indicating a long and prolific partnership with the company.

Other collections in the IAWA suggest that residential design was more accessible to American women in the early 20th century than industrial or large-scale commercial work. Like Iva G. Lieurance, many pioneering women represented in the IAWA managed to apply their trade through creative partnerships that worked around credential barriers.

Browse specific titles in our collections featuring Iva G. Lieurance (including recent acquisitions not yet cataloged).

Trade Cards

This blog has previously featured the Coade Lithodipyra or Artifical Stone Manufactory Trade Card, a 200 year old advertisement for a manufacturing company in England run by Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). This trade card is probably the oldest item in the IAWA, although it is not the oldest item in Special Collections!


Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Manufactory Trade Card

World’s Fair Posters

The Town of Tomorrow and Home Building Center Souvenir Folder, a collection of ephemera from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, offers another glimpse into the historic contributions of women to design. Documenting an exhibition of 15 model homes, the collection of brochures features a design by one Verna Cook Salomonsky. Unlike Iva G. Lieurance, Verna’s contributions are somewhat well known. She first practiced architecture with her husband Edgar. Continuing as a solo practitioner after his death, she designed and oversaw construction of hundreds of homes in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California. She also wrote extensively about Mexican design traditions with her second husband, Warren. Her archives are maintained by the University of California at San Diego. Having partnered with a spouse or family member before branching out on her own, Verna Cook’s career reflects another common path for pioneering women architects.

Demonstration Home Brochure No. 12, "Town of Tomorrow" Model Village, New York World's Fair, 1939. Designed by Verna Cook Salomonsky.

Demonstration Home Brochure No. 12, “Town of Tomorrow” Model Village, New York World’s Fair, 1939. Designed by Verna Cook Salomonsky.

To learn more about World’s Fair related materials in Special Collections, see

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