Occasionally I get the chance to work with something in our collections that give me shivers, and the notebooks that astronaut Michael Collins used on the NASA Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions definitely fall into that category. I mean, it isn’t often that you get to handle and scan items that have actually been in space! You can see the online collection here.
Michael Collins is probably most famous for his role as the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 Mission, the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin descended to its surface.
In 1989, Virginia Tech Special Collections was honored to receive his papers, which cover Collins’ Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. While this collection has been heavily used by students and researchers for many years, it wasn’t until this past summer and fall of 2016 that we were able to get a large portion of it scanned and ready to go online. I’m really excited to get some of these items out there for the wider world to see.
Before the Apollo missions, Collins was also involved in the Gemini missions, serving as pilot of Gemini 10, launched July 18, 1966. During this mission, Collins and commander John Young set a new orbital altitude record and completed a successful rendezvous with a separate orbiting space vehicle, paving the way for modern day space vehicle maneuvers such as docking with the International Space Station. Another notable achievement from this mission was the successful completion of two spacewalks by Collins. Collins was the was fourth person ever to perform a spacewalk (referred to by NASA as an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), and the first person to ever perform more than one.
After retiring from the NASA astronaut program in 1970, Collins worked for the US State Department and the Smithsonian Institute, serving as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum. The collection also includes many items related to his later work, as well as many items sent to him by adoring fans and space enthusiasts from around the world. What’s now online is just a portion of the collection, hopefully we’ll be able to get more up soon. You can see the finding aid for the collection here.
Sherwood Anderson’s “The Cornfields” first appeared in print his first collection of poems, Mid-American Chants, in 1918. It’s the first poem in the book, too. So, a lot of “firsts” here. It would be dangerous for me (a two-time English major and avid poetry consumer) and a long read for you, if I were to launch into an interpretation of “The Cornfields.” Besides, one of the great joys of poetry is finding your own message alongside an author’s, tucked away inside their words. Editions of Mid-American Chants were issued and reissued over many years (we have three in Special Collections), but one of the things that makes “The Cornfields” stand out is that in 1939, it was published on its own:
In this form, it is a four-page booklet, produced by the House of Russell publishers in New York. It consists of the pages above, plus a short author biography at the end. Our recently-acquired copy also includes another small folded sheet of paper called “Trends of the Times: Poets Now Publishing in Brochure Form.” It’s basically an argument by the publisher for authors to publish individual poems, rather than entire volumes–ultimately because it’s a cheaper and more profitable format. It suggests that Anderson’s poem could have easily been a test case or advertisement for other authors. Anderson was a prolific and well-known author at the end of the 1930s, after all, and if he did it, perhaps others would follow suit. Our copy of the 1939, single version of the poem will be one of only 4 known copies in academic libraries, so we are quite pleased to add it to our holdings.
Of course, there’s a danger, too, in publishing a poem that was originally part of a collection on its own. The cover of the 1918 edition of Mid-American Chants features a simple image: an ear of corn next to the title and author. As a whole, a number of the poems rely on images and concepts relating to corn and agriculture more broadly, and there are themes of conflict and struggle in throughout, especially the growing industrialization of America and the urban v. rural contrast of the time. “The Cornfields” is only a small piece of Anderson’s voice in the larger volume. We can certainly appreciate it on its own…but also as part of a larger narrative, too. You can read Mid-American Chants online, if you’re curious to see more of Anderson’s poetry (he would published one more collection in 1927, A New Testament).
Before we part ways with Anderson, just a note about some other resources we have here. We’ve previously had a post on Sherwood Anderson and some of the “newer” manuscript materials (acquired in 2015) we had to share. At the time, the collection was being processed–now we can say it’s done (more on that in a moment)! Because of local ties to Anderson, we were also acquiring some other accessions relating to people in Anderson’s extended personal and professional circle during 2015 and 2016–A sort of of literary and artistic group of people in Southwest Virginia, if you will. I’m glad to say that, at long last, ALL of these collections are processed! I think we’ll need to work on some sort of visualization to clarify the relationships between people, but for now, here’s a list, complete with links to the finding aids and, where it isn’t obvious, an explanation of the connections in brackets:
Sherwood Anderson Collection, 1912-1938 (Ms1973-002). Correspondence among author Sherwood Anderson and family members, most notably letters written by Anderson to his daughter Marian, as well as some of his professional correspondence. Also includes research material about Anderson.
Marvin H. Neel Papers, 1933-1988 (Ms2016-022). This collection includes biographical resources, ephemera, correspondence, and writings and woodcut prints by and related to Marvin H. Neel (1908-1978), created between 1933 and 1988. [Neel corresponded with Lankes and the two were artistic collaborators.]
Mary Sinton Leitch Correspondence with J. J. Lankes, 1932-1950 (Ms2017-001). The collection includes 27 letters (some with covers and envelopes) written by Mary Sinton Leitch to J. J. Lankes between 1932 and 1950. Introduced by a mutual friend, Leitch and Lankes maintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). [Lankes was a friend and artistic collaborator of Anderson.]
Of course, the bulk of Sherwood Anderson’s papers are housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson donated them in the 1950s. But if you’re in or near Blacksburg, we encourage you to stop by and make a connection. In addition to the manuscript collections, we have more than 260 books and publications by Anderson in Special Collections, too (plus one, when “The Cornfields” is cataloged)!
Sometimes figuring out a subject for the blog is surprisingly challenging. I like to look at what I’ve done lately, but a lot of that amounts to committee work, organizing incoming materials, and cleaning up data for the catalog and archival management software. And the end of the semester/year is my usual “catch up” time to dig through the piles in my office, problem solve, and return to some on-going projects. Interesting for me, but not “blog” interesting, to be sure–trust me! The most recent collection I processed is the topic of a relatively recent post on “The Sherwood Anderson Odyssey” (if you’re interested in that topic, the finding aid is available online), so there’s no need to re-hash that subject just yet. After a bit of digging through the memory banks, I thought it might be fun to revisit a manuscript collection we acquired in three parts back in 2011: the William Leonard Papers, 1864-1865 (Ms2011-106).
William Leonard was born about 1843 in Massachusetts, as were his two sisters, Leonora and Roselia. In his letters, he often mentions Leonora, who he calls “Nora.” He was living with his family in Great Barrington when he was drafted into service in July 1863, supposedly for a three-year term with Company F, 16th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. The following year, however, the 16th Regiment mustered out and along with the remaining veterans, Leonard was transferred to the 11th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry.
The collection includes the 1864-1865 diary of Leonard, along with 35 letters written to his both is parents or specifically to his mother during the same time. His letters indicate that by August 1864 and through Lee’s surrender in April 1865, he served as an ambulance driver, shuttling the wounded from battlefield to hospital, primarily around the Petersburg area.
While waiting to muster out in 1865, he was stationed around Washington, DC, where he continued to serve in a driver capacity, often civilians in and around the city. He continually reassures his mother not to worry about it and passes along war news, though he had a distinct lack of interest in the soldier’s life, writing, “we have got a good man to steer the machine, that fellow they call U. S. Grant. Sheridan & Sherman are giving them fits. I have seen Grant & Mede a number of times this summer I had a great deal rather see you + Pa. I dont want to see Nora because she wanted me to go soldiering”
In spite of his medical association during the war, he does not hesitate to share his opinions on what he sees around him. In a May 1865 letter, he wrote that “The Doctors here dont have any thing fit to give any one and the bigest of them dont know how to doctor a hen anyway. They take the wounded men legs and arms off half the time. when there is no need of it, do it practice there has been a number of times I have heard of that…The Doct of the Regt was a clerk in an apothecary shop…” and the following month, detailing the sight of unburied dead men and horses on the battlefield.
After the war, Leonard returned to Massachusetts. He worked in a local woolen mill and later purchased and ran a plumbing and steam-fitting business. In June 1886, he married Hattie Goodsell (b. 1862). They had at least one daughter (Nellie, b. 1897). It is unknown when Leonard died, but he does appear on the 1910 census and not on the 1920. Both Hattie and Nellie were boarding with another family in 1920, suggesting William died in the interim. Nellie later married Courtland Sparks and they had a daughter.
Since its acquisition, Leonard’s diary and letters have all be digitized. They are available on our digital platform. The images also include transcripts, which are searchable, in case you want to dig around and see what he talks about most! You can also see the finding aid for the collection online. And, of course, you can always visit us and see Williams’ words in person.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Letter from Norolk & Western Railway Company, February 24, 1917
Letter from Nordyke & Marmon Company. Inc., June 19, 1917
Letter from Stone Printing & Mrg. Co. (Roanoke), October 22, 1917
Handwritten order from Bluefield, WV, December 1917
Freight bill from Norfolk & Western Railway Co., November 24, 1917
Handwritten sketch, possibly a proposed plan for the revision of the mill, n.d. (c.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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!