The Loch Ness Monster: Exploitation of Myth or Happy Coincidence? And Does It Matter?

Not quite a year ago, I took a call at the Special Collections and University Archives reference desk from Dr. Henry H. Bauer, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Science Studies and Emeritus Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences here at Virginia Tech. Dr. Bauer had been contacted not long before by a researcher exploring the life of British author Digby George Gerahty, better known by pseudonyms Stephen Lister and Robert Standish. Hoping to pass them along to his new acquaintance, Dr. Bauer wished to retrieve from the papers he donated to SCUA in the 1990s any copies of his brief correspondence with Gerahty in the summer and fall of 1980.

I was intrigued as to the exact contents of the correspondence, but thought I had a good sense of how the exchange would read. Maybe Gerahty wrote to pick Dr. Bauer’s brain about the particulars of some chemical reaction he wished to feature in a story. Maybe he wrote to run some dialogue by Dr. Bauer to ensure a scientist character sounded authentic. Surely, Gerahty was the one seeking information and surely the answer would be based in some cold, hard truth tested a thousand times in a sterile lab.

You must realize from the title of this post that I had set myself up for a bit of a shock.

Continue reading “The Loch Ness Monster: Exploitation of Myth or Happy Coincidence? And Does It Matter?”

A Peter Newell Tangent

With the growth of a literate middle class and the greater availability and affordability of paper and printing, children’s literature came into its own in the mid-19th century, and here in Special Collections and University Archives, we hold many of examples of colorful, richly illustrated children’s literature from the late 19th / early 20th century.

Included within our holdings are at least two “movable books,” publications that enhanced young children’s reading experiences by allowing them, though the use of pull tabs, flaps, and other gimmicks, to simulate action. Among our holdings are at least two examples of movable books: a reprint of Ernest Nister’s Revolving Pictures (1892) and a 1979 reprint of The Doll’s House by Lothar Meggendorfer, considered the father of the pop-up book, a form that continues to be very popular today.

Though his books didn’t rely on movable parts, Peter Newell (1862-1924) was an innovator in creating novelties that appealed to young readers. The rare book collection includes two unusual books published by Newell. In both The Shadow Show and The Hole Book, as well as his other works, Newell manipulated the book form to help tell his stories.

Peter Newel (frontispiece from Through the Looking-Glass (1901))

Peter S. H. Newell (1862-1924) was born to a family of farmers in Illinois. He studied at the Art Students’ League and by the time he was in his mid-twenties had become a popular illustrator for various periodicals, his work regularly appearing in such publications as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. He was particularly noted for his imaginative caricatures, some of which would be regarded today as racially insensitive.

In The Hole Book (1908), also one of Newell’s more popular works, the story follows the path of an errant bullet as it causes mayhem through a neighborhood. The story’s inventiveness is found in Newell’s imaginative use of an actual small, round hole that pierces each successive illustration in the book.

A sample illustration and rhyme from The Hole Book

Similarly, The Slant Book (1910) tells the story of a runaway baby carriage, with the story being enhanced by the book’s shape, which, instead of the usual rectangle, is a slanted rhomboid. (Newman Library holds a 1966 reprint of The Slant Book in its circulating collection.) Newell’s idea for The Slant Book led him to file a patent claim, in which he wrote, “In books made according to my invention the shape of the book itself and of the pages therein suggests the action or motion in which is intended to characterize the illustration contained therein.” Newell was granted patent 970,943 on September 20, 1910. It was one of several patents granted to Newell for book and toy designs.

Newell’s A Shadow Show (1896) relies on the translucency of paper for its gimmick. Rather than telling a story, the book simply presents a series of rather oddly contrived colored illustrations. When the reader flips the page, the previous page’s illustration appears in silhouette, revealing a much different subject. Unfortunately, the copy in the rare book collection has not held up well over time, and the illustrations have all transferred to adjacent pages, making the silhouettes difficult to distinguish.

A sample from A Shadow Show (Due to the condition of the original, this digital copy has been altered for illustrative purposes.)

Newell is perhaps best remembered for his first book, Topsys and Turvys (1893) and its two sequels. In the Topsys and Turvys series, each page contains an illustration and accompanying first line of a rhyming couplet as a caption. When the page is inverted, a much different illustration is revealed, and the caption appearing below the flipped image completes the rhyming couplet, explaining the illustration. Illustrations from these books continue to be frequently used as examples of optical illusions. A digitized version of The first Topsys and Turvys book may be found on the Library of Congress website.

In addition to providing illustrations for popular magazines and publishing his own books, Newell also illustrated the works of other authors of children’s literature, chief among them, perhaps, being his illustrated edition of Through the Looking-Glass (1901), which also may be found in the rare books collection. Later, Newell tried his hand at comic strip illustration. For 18 months in 1906/1907, Newell’s “The Naps of Polly Sleepyhead”  appeared among such acknowledged comic strip pioneers as “Buster Brown” and “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” A second strip, “Wishing Willy,” wasn’t so successful and lasted through only six installments in 1913.

I’d planned here to provide the briefest of overviews on our holdings in children’s literature but instead got sidetracked by this Peter Newell tangent. Suffice it to say, the few books mentioned here comprise just the smallest part our children’s literature holdings, many of which overlap with our collection focus areas in the history of food and drink, the Civil War, local and regional history, etc. Together, these works can provide a different perspective on their subject matter or be used to examine popular culture and early childhood education in earlier eras.  Or they can  can simply be enjoyed for what they were intended: fun reading for the young and young at heart.

 

Altered Images and Words: A Call for Creative Submissions

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Make an animation. Make a gif. Make a collage. Write some microfiction. Write a poem. Get out your digital black-out marker to create some redacted poetry. Make something entirely unique that was inspired by an image or string of text. Remix and stretch your creativity. Archives are here to inspire!

Archives matter. They preserve records of human history and offer glimpses into the past. Historians mine them for the sources that make up their books and artists, musicians, and writers pull inspiration for their creative works. Genealogists seek out threads of family history and alumni find scholastic treasures.

October is American Archives Month and to celebrate special collections departments everywhere we’re holding an Archives Remix event all month long. Take some inspiration from the Virginia Tech Library archives and stretch your creative muscles by producing a visual or written work that uses one or more of the VT Special Collections images that are posted above.

Share your work on social media (Twitter or Instagram), tag #VTArchivesRemix and @VT_SCUA, and let us know which image(s) inspired your work. We’ll be sharing your artwork and written pieces all month long!

Send us your creations:

Crumbling under the weight of words:
Send us a piece of microfiction inspired by one or more of the images. Economy is key, so make sure to exercise efficiency of language. Submissions should be 200 words or less.

Altered images:
Use one or more of the images to create a new visual work. Think beyond boundaries and remix the images with your own work or repeat elements of the same picture to create something entirely new. Stills or animations, collages, videos, photographs, memes—we want to see it all.

Brief and bold:
Poetry is the ultimate in brevity and elegance of prose–no room for stray words or useless turns of phrase. Take inspiration from a fleeting image or line of text. Redact words on an existing page to unveil something entirely new. We can’t wait to read your poems, written or redacted.

Choose from the following images to inspire your own works:


Need a little extra inspiration?

  • Read this incredibly moving microfiction piece, Sticks, by George Saunders.
  • Explore eleven amazing pieces of microfiction.
  • View some collages and gifs from the Mid-Atlantic Region Archivists Conference (MARAC) and from the Library of Congress.

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  • Learn about redacted poetry and read some phenomenal examples.
  • Delve into practice with this Atlantic article about the process Lydia Davis uses to create her very short stories. It’s worth visiting just to read her 69-word composition In a House Besieged.

Check out the following link if you want to see more images and consider also entering the Virginia Archives Month 2018 Archival Oddities Remix Contest.

We can’t wait to see what you produce!

To “Friend William:” A Letter from Weldon Railroad, VA, 1864

We talk a lot about items and collections in Special Collections having stories to tell. Sometimes, those stories are full of clear details, exciting new surprises, and a creator about whom we can discover quite a bit. Other times, well, you might get a more interesting mix. The kind that results in some on-going, Scooby-Doo-style sleuthing. Like this letter!

This is a relatively new accession and it isn’t even processed yet (consider this a sneak-peek!). But, it caught my attention as I was thinking back through some recent acquisitions in search of a subject, probably because it has some mystery elements to it. Written November 6, 1864 from Weldon Railroad (just south of Petersburg), Virginia, it’s simply addressed to “Friend William.” We don’t have the original envelope, so we don’t know William’s last name or where he lived at the time. However, based on the contents of the letter, we might guess that William is from Brookfield, NY. One of the other reasons this letter jumped out at me was the first page:

Letter from “Raz” to “Friend William,” pages 1 & 5 (with cross-hatching)

The writer started his letter, finished four pages, and still had more to say. In a time when paper was often scarce (and in other times and places when letters were paid for by the recipient and cost by the page), “cross-hatching” was a common occurrence. Not done writing? Go back to the first page, turn it 90 degrees, and keep going! (That should be totally easy to read, right??) Case in point, this letter actually isn’t as bad as some others. I’ve seen examples done in different colors or in pencil or ink that has faded over time. I was actually able to transcribe the majority of the text (and I’ll be going back to work on those and other missing words down the road). Weldon Railroad was located just south of Petersburg, which was a hotbed of activity during the last 6 months of the Civil War. The 189th Regiment, New York Infantry, the regiment with which the writer served, was newly formed in October 1864, and soldiers in it would spend the majority their service around Petersburg:

we left City Point
tuesday last and after forming corps
and moveing new the Weldon road
in the entrenchments near Petersburg we
have been in this camp three days and have
got some good log houses built and are
quite comfortable we are having good
times now but expect to have some
fighting to do soon

By now, you may have noticed that I keep saying “the writer.” And with good reason. At the very end of the cross-hatching, in the upper-right corner of the first/last page, the letter simply reads “write as soon as you get this Raz.” Raz. That’s what we have to go on for the author. However, most archivists love a challenge, myself included. While identifying the writer is an on-going challenge, a cursory glance at a roster of the 189th New York Infantry actually gives us a couple of prospective Raz-es: Riley (Rila) Razey and Warren Razey. Raz seems a likely nickname among friends, though there’s still plenty of research to be done.

Here are scans of all the pages:

For a letter that, on the surface, looked like it would be hard to read and lacking in solid information due to its mysterious correspondents, Raz has proved me wrong. His 4+ pages cover a bit of the usual: the weather here is pleasant, you should write more, today is dull, here’s how all our mutual friends in my unit are doing. But he also has some interesting details and insights. On the second page, he writes:

the army moved last week and
tried to take the south side railroad but
through some mistake one Corps did not
move as thay were ordered and it proved a
failure. so thay called it a Reconnaisence
and came back to camp. I think we shall
try it again soon.

Railroads were always coveted property during the war, but soldiers don’t always write so frankly about mishaps. Given that this is a more recently formed regiment, it’s mix of new soldiers and those who have been fighting for a while. Raz notes:  “I think we have had a good time but some of the boys think it hard. but thay will see their mistake before the year is up.” Shortly after that, he adds:

I suppose
thay are having great times about Electhion
ant thay. well we have something else to think
of down here it dont interest one much
it will make but little difference who is
president the ware will go on no mater who
is president

One wonders if Raz would have a different view of the war in one, three, or six months’ time. Perhaps if we can figure out who he is, we can figure out some of his post-war life, too. When we process the collection, we’ll try to post an update with new information! In the meantime, you’re welcome to view the letter in person or look at the images online and challenge yourself to read more of Raz’s handwriting.

Dear Eleanor…Affectionately, James

I feel like, at some point, I should stop posting about Sherwood Anderson and his extended circle (this makes #3 for me and #4 total in the 18 months or so). On the other hand, over the last two years, we’ve been able to acquire some great new materials. This week, I’ve got a short set of letters from James T. Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson.

This collection contains four letters written by author James Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson between February 1952 and May of 1954. The two had some on-going correspondence of which this represents only a small piece. As the letters suggest, one thing the two had in common was social activism–at various points in time, both worked for and supported various rights and activist causes. The April 8th letter is primarily concerned with Farrell’s updates about contacts in the UAW and his efforts to help Anderson get a job with them, if she was interested. (It appears she was not, as she was re-hired by her previous employer, the YWCA, in 1951, and she remained with the organization until 1961.) The third and fourth letters are about some of Farrell’s recent writings on Sherwood Anderson, Anderson’s influence on Farrell, and Farrell’s own writing efforts at the time.

The finding aid for the collection has biographical notes on Farrell and Anderson and you can view it here: http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=vt/viblbv01848.xml. (The nice thing about revisiting it is discovering one’s typos and fixing them!) I hope to have the letters posted on our digital site soon, at which point I’ll include links to those in the finding aid, too. While the collection is a small one, for Special Collections, it’s yet another piece of the Sherwood Anderson history we have here. It tells a little part of his posthumous story, showing how much of an influence and subject he proved to be consistently in the 10+ years following his death. Equally important, it gives us more insight into Eleanor’s continued connections with the literary circle and her own passion for social activism.

Where the Rubber (Historical Collection) Meets the Road (Monument)?

One of the first collections we received after I started at Special Collections in 2009 was that of a Union private from Pennsylvania, Charles F. McKenna. (Acquisitions and Processing Archivist Kira here, this week–which I’m only pointing out because this post is about a collection, but also some connections came full circle for me last month).  We know quite a bit about Charles F. McKenna, since he survived the Civil War and went to have a career as a lawyer and judge–more on that in a bit.

The Charles F. McKenna Collection contains diaries, personal papers, and published materials relating to McKenna’s Civil War service. The materials date from 1861 to 1998 (bulk 1861-1913). The collection is divided into two series: Personal Papers and Published Materials. The Personal Papers include McKenna’s original diaries (1862-1865); bound photocopies of the diaries; transcriptions on CD-rom; McKenna’s discharge papers; photographs of two generals; and a letter regarding the publication of Under the Maltese Cross, from Antietam to Appomattox, the Loyal Uprising in Western Pennsylvania, 1861-1865; Campaigns 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers Regiment, Narrated by the Rank and File. The Published Materials include two articles featuring McKenna’s letters; a map of McKenna’s travels; an issue of Civil War News; and Civil War sheet music.

McKenna’s diaries. On the left, 1863-1865, on the right, 1862-1863, from the Charles F. McKenna Collection (Ms2009-031)

Pages from 1862-1863 diary, from the Charles F. McKenna Collection (Ms2009-031). This diary has headers added, probably at a later date, to the pages.

Pages from 1863-1865 diary, from the Charles F. McKenna Collection (Ms2009-031)

McKenna’s discharge papers,1865

Several times since 2009, I or a colleague have brought out the McKenna collection for one reason or another, but to be honest, I haven’t thought about it since about this time last year, when we had it on display for visiting 6th graders (as we did again this very morning). However, I’m getting ahead. Suffice to say, until recently, I hadn’t though about Charles (as I still think of him 8 years after processing his papers and as if we were friends across historical eras) lately. Before we jump into why he popped up again, a little about him (see the link the finding aid at the bottom of this post for more info–there’s a lot to say on him!)

Charles F. McKenna was born in Pittsburgh, PA, on October 1, 1844. McKenna attended schools in Pittsburgh until, at age 14, he apprenticed to a lithographer, due to his interest in sketching. He would continue to sketch throughout his life, even providing illustrations for a published history of the 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers he edited. He didn’t successfully enlist in a regiment until 1862, though he tried previously and was delayed due to family issues. He served the next three years with Company E, 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry and saw action in some of the most pivotal Civil War campaigns: Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Mine Run, Fredericksburg, and Appomattox. After the war, he became a lawyer. By 1904, he was a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge and in 1906, became a judge for the United States District Court of Porto Rico [sic]. He returned to Pittsburgh in late 1906, unable to adapt to the climate. In addition to practicing law again, this time with his nephews, McKenna began to work extensively with Civil War organizations. First appointed to the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, he went to to serve as its president for many years. He also created an index of Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the Battle of Gettysburg for the Pennsylvania Historical Society. In 1911, then-Pennsylvania Governor John K. Tener appointed McKenna to the newly established County Court of Allegheny County. In 1921, he was elected to complete a second ten-year term. His service was cut short by his death on December 3, 1922.

McKenna had a life story that I got caught up in while researching him and, as is often the case, probably spent too much time investigating while processing the collection. But that’s as hazard of the job. Anyway, that mostly brings us to April of 2017…

Last month, while on route to a conference in NJ, My colleagues and I took a detour into Gettysburg (after all, what else can you expect from four archivists left to run wild?) and we briefly drove through a part of the battlefield, stopping at the Pennsylvania State Monument, which you can climb to the top of to look out across part of the battlefield. We climbed up, walked around, cautiously made our way back now the narrow stairs (meeting with visitors going up on the way), and that was when it hit me, staring at the plaque for a low-number Pennsylvania regiment. Charles had fought here! I wandered my way around the monument, looking up the finding aid and the note which had his regiment listed (yes, you can get cell service on the battlefield) and when I got to the 155th, there he was!

Photograph of the 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry plaque on the Pennsylvania State Memorial, Gettysburg, Pa. (taken April 2017)

Photograph of McKenna’s company (Co. E) on the Pennsylvania State Memorial, Gettysburg, Pa. (taken April 2017)

Photograph of Charles F. McKenna’s name on the Pennsylvania State Memorial, Gettysburg, Pa. (taken April 2017) Note: The asterisk is attached to the name next to McKenna’s, not his.

And all the sudden, I had this weird moment. Here was the name of this man whose papers I had worked on processing, whose life I had dug into, whose history in the war and beyond I knew, staring at me from this monument where it has been for the last 103 years (the monument was completed in 1914–you can read more about it here). And then I started thinking about the connection between this name in metal and the box back on our shelves. McKenna’s diaries are very much written in a style that suggests he expected them to be read and he even went back and worked on them later (if he didn’t entirely write and/or recopy and annotate them later on). As I wrote in the finding aid back in 2009:

Elements within the diaries suggest they may not have been recorded at the time of the war, but instead, written down at a later date. The loss of chronology and the absence of entries for large periods of time in 1864 hint at this. Several notes in the text also imply additions at another date. After the entry for June 23rd, the following appears: “[N.B. Here my notes ceased, as well as my dates and for the remainder of June and July I will be obliged to record the dates as well as facts from memory][C.F. McKenna. Aug. 1863].” In a lengthy entry for November 30th, an asterisk note reads, “Have since learned that it was Genl. Warren made this report to Genl. Meade.” At the very least, it appears additions were made to the diaries over time.

Some years after the war, McKenna would write the definitive history of his regiment, two copies of which we have in our book collection (and also available online). It’s clear that the war, for many reasons, had a powerful effect on him. In turn, that had an effect on me, standing on the Gettysburg battlefield on a cloudy April afternoon. Charles wanted to be remembered and he is, not only on the monument, but through the materials he created, which Special Collections now preserves. I’m extremely proud of the work we do as archivists (everywhere, not just at Virginia Tech), and I had a unique reminder of that day. Charles was a historian by choice (not training) and he  and his wfforts remain a piece of history for future researchers and scholars. The papers we have here aren’t all there is to Charles F. McKenna in the modern age, either, the monument reminded me. His story is in many places, which is, I think, one of the important takeaways for primary sources–it can often be like a treasure hunt and you have follow the threads where you find them. In this case, that could be to Blacksburg, Gettysburg, or even Puerto Rico.

I’ve probably waxed a bit too philosophical in this particular post, or lingered too long on some boring little details, but there’s a lesson here about archivists, too. We get caught up in the stories of the materials and people we seek to preserve and provide access to every day. And sometimes, in a very unexpected place, we can have a moment where we realize just how meaningful our work can be. Well, at least if you’re me.

The finding aid for the Charles F. McKenna Collection is available online if you want read a bit more about what it includes and about Charles. We haven’t digitized it (yet), but you are welcome to pay us and McKenna’s collection a visit. You might just connect to history in a way you didn’t expect.

Illustrations from a Magnificent Character

6449374-mRecently added online are a collection of illustrations by Lucy Herndon Crockett, a successful author and illustrator from Southwest Virginia’s Smyth county. Lucy authored nine books during her lifetime, the most well-known being “The Magnificent Bastards” in 1954, about her experiences with the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1956, it was adapted by Paramount Pictures into an Oscar-nominated film “The Proud and the Profane,” starring Deborah Kerr and William Holden. In addition to her writing career, Lucy lead a very interesting life. 

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Movie Poster from Paramount Pictures’ ‘The Proud and the Profane,’ 1956, adapted from Crockett’s book ‘The Magnificent Bastards’

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1914, Lucy spent most of her childhood on various military bases around the world, including Venezuela and Switzerland. After high school, she accompanied her father while he served as advisor to Governor General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who was overseeing both Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. During World War II, she served a five year tour of duty with the Red Cross in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, the Philippines, Japan and Korea.

It was this time period that inspired much of the material for her books, including ‘Teru: A Tale of Yokohama,’ for which we have the original illustrations. Her passionate personality and strong sense of duty comes through in many of her characters. Interviewers described Lucy as a lady who “seemed too gentle for the ugliness she described” in her writings. In her book ‘The Magnificent Bastards,’ she said “The theme of my book actually is how each person has a breaking point, and if you are lucky in life you are not put to it. In my book I say it is frightening how we can never anticipate how we will react under strain, and my book is about strain.” When asked why she got into the war, she said that “war, horrible as it is, is an experience that some people cannot resist participating in if they possibly can. With me, I am sure a sense of duty is wrapped up in it.”

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Illustration from Terru: A Tale of Yokohama

In 1947, Lucy retired from the Red Cross and settled in Southwest Virginia. Her creative pursuits, many travels and strong opinions made Lucy a well-known eccentric character in Seven Mile Ford, where she lived most of her adult life in a historic 22-room house called ‘The Ford.’ Alongside her mother Nell, Lucy ran a gift shop out of the house called “The Wilderness Road Trading Post.” The shop featured her books, illustrations, paintings, decoupage and hand-hooked rugs. She designed the rug patterns which were then executed by local craftsmen.

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Illustration from Terru: A Tale of Yokohama

Over the years, Lucy became increasingly eccentric and paranoid of those around her; at one point, threatening behavior toward then President John Kennedy led to a period of house arrest. She was known to write many letters to local newspaper editors. One of Lucy’s most interesting letters detailed her objection to a landfill being built just north of Seven Mile Ford, near the Middle Fork of the Holston River. She described county officials as “displaying an ape-like display of leadership genius” in proposing to “turn this heavenly segment of landscape into a dump.” She argued that the site instead be turned into a resort that would attract tourists. She even suggested a name the project-“Cayetana,” after a friend of hers, Cayetana Alba, the “Duchess of Alba, grandee of Spain.” According to Lucy, the Duchess and her friends were “enthusiastically prepared to sponsor this project.”

Lucy Herndon Crockett died in 2002. The closing paragraph of her obituary best describes her character. She “always had people who were willing to try to help her. Perhaps they were drawn to her complex personality, her prominent possessions or her seeming helplessness. A caregiver who may have known her best at the end of her life described her as kind, loving, generous, selfish, fearful, distrusting and confused. Ironically, these are the same universal emotions which she so skillfully wove into her characters in her best known book, The Magnificent Bastards.”