#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.

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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.

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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!

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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 https://vtspecialcollections.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/summer-of-the-white-city/

Hitting on a Girl, Civil War Style

I love stumbling across letters in our collections that offer a glimpse of everyday romance. It’s something we can all relate to. So I when I came across a letter while digitizing a collection from a Confederate soldier confessing his feelings of “something more than friendship, far exceeding gratitude,” I was excited to share.

The letter, found in the Koontz Family Papers, was written by Angus Ridgill, a private from Alabama, to Nellie Koontz, a young woman living in the Shenandoah Valley, in August, 1863. The letter was ostensibly written as a thankyou note to Nellie and her family for housing him recently as a lone soldier, but Angus also uses the opportunity to confess his infatuation with her.

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First page of Angus Ridgill’s letter to Nellie Koontz, dated August 17, 1863. See it online here

He writes:

“I am naturally a creature of impulses, and the first few moments I passed in your company was sufficient to make me entirely subservient to your will, be that what it may.”

He continues with assurances that this confession was not his original intention of the letter, that he doesn’t expect his feelings to be fully reciprocated, and can only wait for an appropriate response-

“still I do trust that you will allow me time and opportunity to prove anything which you may wish to know…”

He finishes with an apology:

“if all this time I have been presuming too much upon your former kindness I most humbly ask your pardon, hoping at the same time that I have not forfeited your friendship.”

Whether Angus ever received a response from Nellie is not known. But seeing as this letter was not immediately torn to shreds, but instead, carefully saved alongside those from her brothers and cousin (who were also off fighting for the Confederacy), we can assume his message had some significance to her.

An ‘A.G. Ridgill’ is listed as a private in the Washington Battalion, Louisiana Artillery, and in the 1870 census, Angus Ridgill is listed as age 24, making him only 16 or 17 when he wrote this letter. In the 1860 U.S. Census, Ellen F. ‘Nellie’ Koontz was listed as 16 years old, making her 19 in 1863 at the time of this letter. I guess this proves teenage love messages were alive and well 150 years ago, just with more cursive and less emojis.

Sadly, census records also tell us that Angus and Nellie didn’t end up together. In the 1880 census, A.G. Ridgill, now 33, is listed as living in Van Zandt, Texas, working as a farmer and married to an Elizabeth, age 29. Also living with him is an 8 year old step son, and two daughters, ages 5 and 3. In the same year Nellie, now listed as Nellie F. McCann, is married to N.F. McCann, an editor, and also has a son, 8, and two daughters, ages 4 and 2.  Hopefully they both found true love with their respective spouses and were happy with their marriages and families at this stage in their lives.

In addition to this letter, the Koontz Family Papers contains correspondence from brothers George and Milton Koontz and their cousin George Miller, each of whom served in the Confederate armies of Virginia. The collection also includes letters sent from other friends and two diaries and a sketchbook from Milton Koontz. The entirety of this collection is now online, including transcripts. Take a look at the collection here.

 

The Power of Provenance

“Where are you from?” is one of the first questions people ask when meeting someone new. Knowing where a person is from is a way to understand, connect, or relate. Where you are from does not define you but it adds important contextual information.

For archivists and people doing archival research, the origins of documents, photographs, or objects is crucial. Where the material comes from, who owned it, what person or organization created it, and how it relates to other material from the same origin is known as provenance. This principle guides the decision to acquire new materials through donation or purchase, as well as how to arrange and describe the material.

A few weeks ago I received a call from a local book and manuscript dealer who frequently acquires local and university history materials. Usually they have letters, photographs, and old books to offer. But this time, the dealer had a snare drum that belonged to a Virginia Tech cadet from the 1940s. As I frequently tell people, Special Collections is a research archives and not a museum of objects. So at first, this offer seemed like an easy one to dismiss, until I learned the provenance of the drum.

Picture

Robert V. Kelsey, from The Bugle, 1942

Robert V. Kelsey was the owner of the drum. Robert grew up in Blacksburg and followed in the footsteps of his father V.E. and older brothers Donald and Paul by attending Virginia Tech. He enrolled in 1941 and was in the regimental band.

Music, movies, and theatre were a large part of Robert’s youth. His father was vice president and general manager of the Commonwealth Theatre Corporation. The Kelsey family owned the Lyric Theatre from when it opened in 1930 until 1989. The family also owned and operated the Little Theater on Main Street.

band

The regimental band in 1942, The Bugle, 1942

After two years of study Robert joined the Air Force and began pilot training. On October 1, 1944, Robert was injured in a plane crash at Courtland Army Air Field in Courtland, Alabama. He died the next day. As recognition for his service, R.V. Kelsey’s name was etched into the pylons at the War Memorial Monument alongside the names of other Hokies who made the ultimate sacrifice for their county.

Pylons

What began as an offer of an old snare drum, which I first thought belonged in a museum somewhere, turned into a much more compelling story. The provenance connected the item to its owner and made further discovery possible. With that information I found his picture in The Bugle, read his obituary notice in The Techgram, and discovered his named etched into stone a mere ninety-five feet from Special Collections. That power of provenance creates connections and makes seemingly static, inanimate objects, documents, and photographs come alive.

drum

It was an easy decision to acquire Kelsey’s drum and make it available for future generations of Hokies. Because archives do not usually collect drums, a custom box has been ordered. In the meantime I am sharing my desk with this unique item. So stop by, take a look at the drum, and tell me where you are from.

In Support of the Veterans in Society NEH Summer Institute

Masthead for the Veterans in Society Summer Institute website

Masthead for the Veterans in Society Summer Institute

For months, co-directors Jim Dubinsky of the English Department and Bruce Pencek of the Library, along with Heidi Nobles have been working to plan and seeking to provide for every detail necessary to make this three-week long NEH-supported Summer Institute for College and University Teachers a reality. This past Monday (the 11th) was the first day in a schedule that will have the 25 extraordinarily accomplished participants from all over the country in Blacksburg this week and in D.C. next week before returning to Blacksburg for the third and final week of the program.

The official name of the Institute is “Veterans in Society: Ambiguities and Representations.” The impressive list of faculty include Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. Among his other accomplishments, Shay has served as the Chair of Ethics, Leadership, and Personnel Policy in the office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel and, in 2007, received a MacArthur fellowship for his work on trauma and the moral injuries of war. Jim Marten is past president of the Society of Civil War Historians, author many books, including Sing Not War: Civil War Veterans in Gilded Age America and the award-winning The Children’s Civil War. Donna Musil is a documentary filmmaker, writer and activist, whose film, Brats: Our Journey Home will be shown as part of a three-show film series that is open to the public. More about that in a moment. Actually, these are just three of the stellar faculty that are participating in the Institute along with Tech’s own Paul Quigley, Director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and James I. Robertson, Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War History; Edward Fox, Professor of Computer Science; and David Cline, also from the History Dept. and who specializes in 20th century U.S. social movements, oral history, and public history. You get the idea . . . and I’ve left all kinds of folks out. For a complete list, see the Institute’s terrific website.

So, what is it that all these fine folks have come to Virginia Tech to discuss and study? Broadly speaking, they are defining the dynamic that may be leading to the emergence of a new interdisciplinary field, that of Veterans Studies. More specifically, the topics range widely, from the ways in which classical literature may play a part in understanding and assisting veterans to the role commemoration and monument building play in cultural memory and the process of reconciliation following war; from the ways in which stories of military service can be captured in oral history to a consideration of the unique perspectives offered by women veterans; from asking, “Who is a veteran?” and considering the social status of veterans to the effects of war on military children and the ways the voices of veterans emerge in music and literature . . . and everything in between and beyond. The reality is that the fact and aftermath of military service define threads that run through every culture, across the generations, and have an impact on the most significant aspects of life and society. Through the seminars, presentations, and activities listed on the Institute’s syllabus, the participants will seek to investigate these and other questions, while defining the beginnings of individual research projects.

Display of materials related to veterans at Special Collections for the Summer Institute

Display of materials related to veterans at Special Collections for the Summer Institute

On their second full day in Blacksburg, the members of the Institute had an opportunity to hear about collections of primary sources that may be of interest to them at Special Collections. We set up a display of a few documents and other items and, after a brief introduction, made that exhibit available to them, and to the library community for much of the week. While some of the materials have been displayed before, there were several items that have not been exhibited in recent memory.

Theophilus Cocke Letter, 1907, Ms2008-057

Theophilus Cocke Letter, 1907, Ms2008-057

For example, to the right is a scan of a letter written in 1907 by Theophilus Cocke of Carroll County, Virginia. Mr. Cocke was a veteran of the Mexican War (!) writing about the provisions of a new pension bill that would raise his allotment from $12 per month to $20.

In a letter written from Kansas in June 1865, H. E. Norton complained that veteran members of his Michigan Brigade were due to be mustered out following the end of the Civil War, but were instead sent west. He writes, “[I]t is Generally Believed that the Michigan Brigade was Basely sold by the Governor of the State of Michigan for we could never have been transfered to this Dept. if he had not consented to it.” Norton ended up in Nebraska Territory. Extended tours are, apparently, nothing new.

From the Conan W. Vaughan Papers, Ms1991-050: photographs from the European theater, 1945; a copy of Stars and Stripes; a French 10 franc note; and a piece of a German Ju-88 shot down over Iceland

From the Conan W. Vaughan Papers, Ms1991-050: photographs from the European theater, 1945; a copy of Stars and Stripes; a French 10 franc note; and a piece of a German Ju-88 shot down over Iceland

Once in Washington, the Summer Institute participants will spend a day at the Library of Congress and visit Arlington National Cemetery. They’ll talk about the LC’s Veterans History Project and stop at the Confederate memorial, Arlington House, and the U.S. Colored Troops graves. On the way back to Blacksburg, they’ll stop at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

Back in town, there will be more seminars, more opportunity to explore topics of interest, and to discuss ideas with the other participants. More time to check out primary sources.

Veterans In Society Summer Institute Presents Film Night

Veterans In Society Summer Institute Presents Film Night

There is also a public component to all of this. The Institute is sponsoring a Free Movie Night. The showing of Coriolanus has already gone, but on July 21st they will be showing The Best Years of Their Lives, a terrific, Oscar-winning movie about returning World War II vets, and on July 25th will be a showing of Brats: Our Journey Home, the documentary mentioned above, with writer and director Donna Musil on hand. These shows begin at 7PM in the MultiPurpose Room on the first floor of Newman Library. Again, the public is invited and admission is free!

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