Words of Comfort: An exhibit of letters from around the world in the April 16th Condolence Archives

Things have been busy in the University Archives of Special Collections this month, with two exhibits going up this and next week. The first is the memorial exhibit honoring the memory of the victims and survivors of the tragic day of April 16, 2007. Every year we commemorate that day with an exhibit of items from the April 16th Condolence Archives. Please read the press release below to find out more about this year’s event.

The second is an update to the Virginia Tech Alumni Association’s (VTAA) Alumni Museum, with whom Special Collections has worked for over a decade to provide university memorabilia for display. Several archivists and students have been selecting items to update the current display, which will be installed next week. There is no end date for the display of these items, as we plan to continue to working with the VTAA for years to come. Also, if you are attending next weekend’s Black Alumni Reunion, you will get to see several additional photographs from the university archives of many pioneering black female students and alumnae at Virginia Tech, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first six black women to attend the university in 1966: Linda (Adams) Hoyle, Jackie (Butler) Blackwell, Linda (Edmonds) Turner, Freddie Hairston, Marguerite Laurette (Harper) Scott, and Chiquita Hudson. You can learn more about them at The Black Women at Virginia Tech History Project.

Words of Comfort: An exhibit of letters from around the world in the April 16th Condolence Archives

Day of Remembrance display in Newman Library shares words of comfort and hope

Following April 16, 2007, schools, fellow universities, children, community and religious groups, businesses, and other individuals from around the world sent words of comfort and hope to Virginia Tech. These cards, letters, signs, and other handwritten items expressed the world’s condolences and gave Virginia Tech a global community of support.

This week, on April 15-16, many of these items will be on display in the Multipurpose Room on the first floor of Newman Library at 560 Drillfield Drive in Blacksburg. The exhibit, “Words of Comfort: An exhibit of letters from around the world in the April 16th Condolence Archives,” is free and open to the public, and will be on display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

These items represent over 40 countries and every continent, showing the outpouring of support from around the globe. Selected items on display include:

The materials are part of the Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Condolence Archives of the University Libraries.

Campus visitors also left symbols of comfort and signs of support at memorials around Virginia Tech, which were displayed on campus for several months before being gathered and inventoried under the direction of University Archivist Tamara Kennelly. Together, the collection consists of more than 89,000 materials available through Special Collections in Newman Library.

In the summer of 2007, many items were digitally photographed for preservation and to share with the world. A large portion of the Condolence Archives of the University Libraries is now publicly available online.

The upcoming exhibit is organized and curated by Laurel Rozema, processing and special projects archivist for the University Libraries’ Special Collections, and Robin Boucher, arts program director for Student Engagement and Campus Life.

Free parking is available on weekends at the Squires Student Center and Architecture Annex lots along Otey Street. Before 5 p.m. on weekdays, a valid Virginia Tech parking pass is required to park in these lots. Find more parking information online, or call 540-231-3200.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Laurel Rozema at 540-231-9215 during regular business hours prior to the event.

For more information and other expressions of remembrance, please visit the We Remember site.



Upcoming Events: Montgomery County Memory Project: People, Places, and Things of Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Memory Project: People, Places, and Things of Montgomery County, Virginia seeks to uncover local treasures hidden in corners of family homes, making connections within and among people in the community.

With the support of the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center, the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, and the Christiansburg Library, along with a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Samantha Parish Riggin organized a series of events for the Montgomery County community.

These events will educate the public about preservation and identification of artifacts, documents, manuscripts, and photographs while offering the opportunity to digitize them. Creating digital versions of family items will give visitors the opportunity to preserve items that may not withstand time so their families can have permanent digital keepsakes. The Memory Project events may also lead to discoveries that enrich Montgomery County history as well as visitors’ own family histories.

There are several events associated with the project:

  • A talk by Samantha Parish Riggin, “Antique Speak,” on April 10th from 2-4pm at the Christiansburg branch of the Montgomery-Floyd Public Library
  • Digitization day, April 23rd from 10am-2pm, Community Room at the Christiansburg branch of the Montgomery-Floyd Public Library
  • Digitization day, April 30th from 10am-2pm, Multipurpose Room on the ground floor of Newman Library at Virginia Tech
  • A talk by by Spencer Slough later in the summer, based on some of the items digitized at events in April. More information will be forthcoming in the future.


WVTF ran a story over the weekend that includes an interview with the project’s director, Samantha Parish Riggin. as well as some additional information. You can read the article and listen to the story online. Questions may be directed to the Samantha Parish Riggin, Program Director for The Montgomery Country Memory Project at 724-493-0750.

Breaking News: You can follow us on twitter, @VT_SCUA!

Recently, our graduate student Rebecca asked about our twitter account – the question being why aren’t we on twitter yet?! Thanks to her prompting, we now are – check us out at @VT_SCUA!

Our twitter @VT_SCUA
Our Twitter @VT_SCUA

Our first post you will notice is about the exhibit currently on display in our reading room windows about the history of African American female students and student groups at Virginia Tech. And guess what….one of our student volunteers, Alexis, came up with the idea and put it together!

Part of exhibit on African American Women at Virginia Tech
Part of exhibit on African American Women at Virginia Tech

With millions of users on Twitter, it’s a great way to stay current with different Virginia Tech departments and other libraries. Also, we hope the website will encourage our users to engage with us by asking questions, sharing their ideas, or notifying us of relevant stories and news. Because of its nature – being only 140 characters per tweet, we’ll be able (we hope) to share with our followers and others a bit more frequently than we are able to just via our blogs. Some tweets to look for from us include photos of neat items from our collections; announcements of new finding aids, new exhibits, or digital exhibits; upcoming events; and new blog posts on either this blog or our food and drink blog, What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!

We hope that you will enjoy this new way to interact with us at @VT_SCUA!


Lincoln…in the Library!

This past Monday, a new exhibit opened on the 2nd floor of Newman Library. If you’re in the area over the next month or so, you might want to drop by! “Lincoln in Our Time” is an exhibit that includes documents, artifacts, pictures, and an interactive display with videos and presentations. Many of the materials on display come from Special Collections, and the videos are the work of a class in the Department of History, HIST2984: Abraham Lincoln: The Man, the Myth, the Legend.” You can read a bit about the exhibit in one of the photos below, but you’ll have to visit the library for more details. “Lincoln in Our Time” will be in place until April 15, so you’ve got plenty of time!

*Special thanks to Scott Fralin in University Libraries for the great photographs!

If “Lincoln in Our Time” isn’t enough Civil War history for you, you should also know about the upcoming Civil War Weekend on March 13-15, 2015. There will be guest speakers on a range of topics, showcasing Civil War history at Virginia Tech and beyond. Special Collections’ own Marc Brodsky, Public Services and Reference Archivist, will be talking about resources you can find here in our department. You can find out more about the events and register on the website!


Upcoming Event on Campus: October 18

Later this week, from October 16-18, Virginia Tech will be celebrating the installation of our 16th President, Timothy Sands. There will be a wide variety of events taking place around campus, all of which you can read about online: http://www.president.vt.edu/installation/index.html. This is exciting in and of itself, but we’re very proud to say that Special Collections has been invited to participate, too! On Saturday morning from 9am-12pm at the Inn at Virginia Tech, there’s going to be a showcase called “Experience Virginia Tech: Learn, Explore, Engage” (the schedule is online:http://www.president.vt.edu/installation/experience-virginia-tech.html). The showcase will include three-hour event featuring panel discussions, presentations, hands-on demonstrations, and talks by Virginia Tech’s master teachers. The event includes a series of “Living on Earth” displays: ” Water, Water, Everywhere,” “Food, Glorious Food,” and “Energy, Efficient and Sustainable,” we will be there with materials from the History of Food and Drink Collection! If you’re in the Blacksburg area, we would encourage you to come out to any or all of the events. And if you attend the showcase, be sure to seek us out! We’ll be there to sharing the History of Food and Drink Collection through original books and manuscripts, a digital display of images, the opportunity to view the culinary history blog, and an archivist or two on hand to talk about our collections and department!

Steppin’ Out’s Wild Past

The first Steppin' Out logo, from 1981
The first Steppin’ Out logo, from 1981

It’s the beginning of August, which for those of us living in and around Blacksburg, means the blocking off of Main Street and the beginning of Blacksburg’s biggest festival- Steppin’ Out. The annual street festival, which features hundreds of arts and crafts vendors and tens of thousands of attendees, has been a Blacksburg tradition since the late 1970s. It began as an effort to revitalize the downtown and generate revenue for various local charities. But while digging around in Special Collections’ Vertical Files (where we collect news clippings and articles on various local subjects), I discovered that in the early days, the festival had a much wilder, and unfortunately, darker side.

The annual festival was first organized in 1976 as ‘Deadwood Days’, based off of a successful annual festival of the same name held in Deadwood, South Dakota. The original Deadwood Days festival commemorated the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok, an infamous outlaw of the Old West, on August 2, 1876, in the town of Deadwood, and the Blacksburg version was held for the first time a week after the shooting’s 100th anniversary.

Thus, for the first four years, the three-day festival had a Wild West theme, and really lived up to that theme in more than just the decor. A 1980 article in the Montgomery News Messenger described it as “a rip-snorting, music-and-dancing-in-the-streets gathering enjoyed primarily by the under-40 crowd,” adding “It has also earned the reputation of a three-day ‘beer bust and drug festival.’” Festival events during those first four years regularly ran past 1am, with increasing rowdiness and numerous arrests made by the Blacksburg Police for marijuana and cocaine possession.

All of that came to a head in 1979, when the Deadwood Days festival was marred in tragedy. After leaving Deadwood Days on Saturday night, a 17-year-old Blacksburg High School student was shot dead by two teens that he’d given a ride from the festival. The teens had reportedly been drinking heavily at the festival, and “had no trouble getting ‘all the beer they wanted’ from downtown bars in the hours immediately proceeding [sic] the murder.” In the aftermath, community members blamed the “free-wheeling, shoot-’em-up atmosphere” of Deadwood Days for encouraging the murder, and in July of 1980, just one month before the 5th annual Deadwood Days festival was scheduled to begin, the Blacksburg Town Council voted 5-1 to ban the event.

In the wake of this decision, one council member was quoted in the Blacksburg Sun saying the festival would have to be planned “two steps this side of Mary Poppins if it is even to come off in 81 or 82.” And in August of 1981, with the strong support of Blacksburg’s downtown merchants, a family-friendly arts and crafts festival called “Steppin’ Out” was held. The festival changed from a three-day to a two-day festival, with an ending time of 9pm, and included more kid-friendly activities and a much more wholesome atmosphere. Needless to say, Steppin’ Out was still a hit, and 2014 will mark 33rd year of the this downtown Blacksburg tradition.

So if some curiosity for Blacksburg history suddenly strikes you while enjoying this weekend’s festivities in the historic downtown, remember that the Vertical Files in Special Collections has information on many of the buildings, events and people that have made this town what it is today, and we’re here to help you answer your local history curiosities Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, every week. But until then, enjoy your weekend, but don’t get too wild!

Two Upcoming Events!

If you’re in or around Blacksburg, there are two upcoming events you may want to know about! On March 24, 2014, the University Libraries is co-hosting the Third Annual Edible Book Contest with the Blacksburg branch of the Montgomery-Floyd Public Libraries. There’s still plenty of time to register for the event (and we won’t turn you away at the door, either). You can visit the website to find out more and sign up: http://tinyurl.com/AEBC2014. Even if you don’t want to enter, please come to the Blacksburg Public Library from 6-7pm on March 24th. It’s your votes that will help us determine the winners in each category!

3rd Edible Book Contest

And, on March 25th from 5-7pm, the University Libraries will be hosting the Second Annual Appalanche. Appalanche is a celebration of Appalachian culture. This year, the event will include music and food, as well as displays and information about wildflowers, quilting, apples, the Wilderness Road Museum, and more! Be sure to stop by and visit us on the first floor of Newman Library that evening!