Have a Happy Halloween with Edward Gorey in Special Collections

Happy Halloween, Ghouls and Ghosts!

Last week, I was listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast’s recent episode on Edward Gorey, and I wondered if Virginia Tech University Libraries had any of his work. Fortune looked brightly on me – not only does the Libraries have numerous texts, but Special Collections actually has three rare books illustrated by Gorey! And since it’s Halloween, I decided to make this week’s post about a modern master of the macabre, author and illustrator Edward Gorey!

My first exposure to the work of Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was from the opening sequence of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery!, which has been used since 1980, but he may be best known for his book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), an alphabetical book about the deaths of 26 children. Gorey studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, before joining the U.S. Army during World War II and eventually graduating from Harvard in 1950, where he befriended the poet Frank O’Hara. They, along with other Harvard friends, founded the Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge. In 1953, Gorey began working at the Art Department of Doubleday, illustrating numerous classics, and that same year Brown and Company published his first book The Unstrung Harp. He published his first anthology Amphigorey in 1972, and the next designed a set and costumes for a Nantucket production of Dracula (see more below). In 1979, Gorey moved to Cape Cod and became involved in local productions, even writing his own plays and musicals, and he lived there until his death in 2000.

Let’s take a look at the earliest book we have, Son of the Martini Cookbook by Jane Trahey and Daren Pierce, illustrated by Edward Gorey and published by Clovis Press, 1967. The book includes a handful of food recipes, ordered by how many martinis you’ve had and thus of increasing simplicity. (However, I recommend cooking before you drink, to be safe!) The authors include fictional biographies, but are likely advertising executive and author Jane Trahey (1923-2000), who’s book Life with Mother Superior was adapted into Ida Lupino’s film The Trouble with Angels, starring Rosalind Russell and Hayley Mills, and author and interior designer Daren Pierce (1922-1984), who founded a store dedicated to needlepoint designs, according to the New York Times. Clovis Press was a bookstore in New York, which closed its doors in 2006.

Next is The Rats of Rutland Grange by Edmund Wilson with drawings by Edward Gorey and published by Gotham Book Mart, 1974 (original in Esquire Magazine, December 1961). A long poem of rhyming couplets by Wilson, the story is about rats who steal the family’s food and destroy their things. On Christmas eve to kill the rats, the children of Rutland Grange put out poisoned chocolate, which bodes poorly for dear, old Santa (spoiler: don’t worry, Santa survives to live another Christmas!) The book indicates only 1,000 copies were printed, including 100 signed by the authors and 26 specifically for Gorey and Gotham Book Mart. (Sadly, our copy is not signed.) Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was a literary critic and author. The Gotham Book Mart was a New York City bookstore, owned by Gorey’s friend Andreas Brown, who heavily advertised Gorey’s work and published several monograph, according to the New York Times.

Finally, we have Dracula: A Toy Theatre, sets and costumes designed by Edward Gorey (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979). This books contains drawings based on Gorey’s designs from the 1979 Broadway production of Dracula, a revival of the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston and based on Bram Stoker’s novel. The intention is for the book owner to produce the play by cutting out the costumes and sets, using the book as the backdrop for the set. It also lays out a synopsis of the play and cast. According to the Internet Broadway Database, this production of Dracula ran from 1977 to 1980 and earned Gorey the 1978 Tony Award for Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Scenic Design. Frank Langella portrayed Dracula, earning his own Tony nomination for the 1978 Best Actor in a Play award.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the works of Edward Gorey, and remember that you never know what awesome, spooky works may be in Special Collections!

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For the Birds

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The Birds of Florida, Plate 58: Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Female), Florida Cardinal (Male & Female), Blue Grosbeak (Male & Female), Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Male)

Nestled among our primary collecting areas focused on the American Civil War, the History of Food and Drink, and the History of Women in the Built Environment, there are a few collections on ornithology (the study of birds) and oölogy (the study or collecting of bird eggs). One of those collections has been blogged about here before in Hidden History at Special Collections II: The Harold B. Bailey Autograph Book with a focus on a unique autograph book hidden in a collection about birds. Unlike that previous post, this one is For the Birds!

Today, we’re flying in to take a look at the Bailey-Law Collection 1825-1971 (Ms1982-002). This collection has 32 containers of manuscript material in Special Collections and over 350 monographs (books) in both the main library collection and our rare books collection that can be found in the library catalog by searching “Bailey-Law Collection”. In addition to the holdings that remain here at Newman Library, the collection included numerous bird skins, bird eggs, and mammal skins. These were of particular interest when the collection was originally acquired by the Department of Biology in 1969. When the collection transferred to the library in 1990, they were placed in the Virginia Tech branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. They were later transferred to the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, VA. In 2014, some of the museum staff came here to look through the papers related to their specimens. You can check out their blog post about the visit here: A Visit to the Bailey-Law Special Collection.

Much of the collection includes personal correspondence and notes from research and field work. What really grabbed my attention when looking through the collection were the two books by Harold H. Bailey: The Birds of Virginia (1913) and The Birds of Florida (1925). Not only do we have copies of these works – we also have the author’s personal correspondence, papers, and research notes from his time writing the books. It’s all pretty swanky. The Birds of Florida is especially thrilling for a bird enthusiast because it is full of lithographs of gorgeous water-color paintings done for the book.

The first of these volumes is The Birds of Virginia. Published in 1913, it has 362 pages of information about birds that nest in Virginia. The photographs are primarily black-and-white and often depict bird nests filled with eggs. For your viewing pleasure today, we have a picture of the cover, some advertising for this book, an couple interior shots of the book, and scans of three of the plates used to print the photos in the book.

Left: Cover of The Birds of Virginia by Harold H. Bailey (1913)
Upper Right: Pages 102-103 of The Birds of Virginia showing images of baby Marsh Hawks and a chapter on Family Buteonidae (Hawks, Eagles, Kites, Etc.)
Lower Right: Pages 250-251 of The Birds of Virginia showing part of a chapter on the Summer Redbird and an image of Summer Tangers.

Note the insect damage on page 250-251. This is likely the result of a larval anobium punctatum or similar beetle – one of many insects colloquially referred to as a “book worm”.

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Above are some ads from yesteryear. These ads are all extolling the virtues of The Birds of Virginia. Would you have been moved to purchase?

Upper Left: “The Virginia Rail” “At Home” (top) “After Leaving” (bottom). Photos by V. Burtch
Lower Left: “A Red-Tailed Hawks’ Nest” Photo by C. F. Stone
Right: “The Author in a Heron Rookery” Photo by W. D. Emerson

Finally, for The Birds of Virginia, three plates used in the printing process for the book. Two of nests and one of the author, H. H. Bailey.

Next up: The Birds of Florida (1925). This book was just a few years later but has a very different focus. Where the earlier book was focused on nesting behavior of the various bird species and included photos of nests and eggs; this book is more on par with The Birds of America by John James Audubon — A reprint of the double elephant folio of the Audubon book is on display in our Special Collections reading room. It has gained the nick-name “The Big Book of Birds” thanks to the library’s radio show Stacks on Stacks on WUVT — which depicted what the birds look like in beautiful watercolor. Here for your viewing pleasure are some shots of the different versions of this book we have, advertising, interior shots, and scans of some of the lithographs of the watercolors.

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Two copies of The Birds of Florida by H. H. Bailey

Here are the two copies of this book that are in our rare books collection. The one of the left is a proof and contains all of the original watercolor paintings pasted onto paperboard. The one on the right is an actual published copy.

Left: Ad for The Birds of Florida from Library Journal
Middle: Ad for The Birds of Florida
Right: Ad for The Birds of Florida

These are some ads for The Birds of Florida. At least one appeared in Library Journal and two are very directly targeted toward librarians. One mentions that the author knows the book came out too late and everyone had already spent their budgets. It asks that people still order the book now and pay for it later.

Left: Original watercolor from proof of The Birds of Florida
Right: Lithograph from published copy of The Birds of Florida

Above are two images from The Birds of Florida depicting the Carolina Paroquet (parakeet), Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, and Southern Hairy Woodpecker. The one on the left is from the proof and is the original watercolor painting done for the book. The one on the right is the lithograph that appears in the published copy of the book. I chose this image because I happen to like parrots and the Carolina Parakeet, now extinct, was the only species of parrot native to North America.

There is so much more I could write about this collection but this is already a massively long post. So, I’ll just leave you with a selection of images from The Birds of Florida. If you should wish to see these wonderful books for yourself, there are copies in the Newman Library collection and in Special Collections. To see the additional materials we have from the author, visit the Special Collections reading room anytime Monday-Friday 8 to 5 and request collection Ms1982-002.

Upper Left: The Birds of Florida, Plate 36: Swallow-Tailed Kite, Everglade Kite (Adult & Immature), White-Tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite
Upper Middle: The Birds of Florida, Plate 40: Bald Eagle (1st year, 2nd year, Adult), Osprey, Harlan’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk
Upper Right: The Birds of Florida, Plate 19: White Ibis (Adult & Immature), Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, White-Faced Glossy Ibis, Scarlet Ibis, Wood Ibis
Lower Left: The Birds of Florida, Plate 47: Chimney Swift, Whip-poor-will, Chuck-Wills-Widow, Nighthawk
Lower Right: The Birds of Florida: Plate 68: Magnolia Warbler (Male & Female), Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-Throated Warbler, Black-Throated Blue Warbler (Male & Female), Myrtle Warbler

 

The Peabodian, 1939

While looking through some recently acquired items, I came across a yearbook from 1939. Generally, an old yearbook is a good reference book for research about people or a school but they’re also relatively easy to find. This one, however, seemed special. The yearbook is The Peabodian from 1939. There are a few things that make it interesting: the history of Peabody High school, the content of the yearbook, the construction of the yearbook, and how few copies are available for use. This book has history.

It’s clear from the moment one picks it up that this yearbook is special. The cover is faded and stained with a late-art deco style design. The interior contains 111 pages printed on the front only. Each page is mimeographed and bound through two holes to the cover. The photos in the yearbook are black-and-white prints that were pasted to the pages. Looking at each page, the age of the volume is apparent. The paste used to secure the photos began to release at some point and someone taped the photos in. Then, the tape was removed and the photos were glued in again. Because of the failing adhesives over the years, there are some photos missing. Still, the volume is beautifully made and was likely somewhat expensive when it was printed. At this time, the only copies of this yearbook that we know of are the one we just acquired and one other at the University of Virginia.

About the school

Peabody High School was originally known as the Colored High School. Instruction began in 1870 in an old First Baptist Church building in Petersburg, Virginia. It was the first public school established for people of color in Virginia. The first five principals were white men. In 1874, after outgrowing the old church, a new building opened to house the school. It was named for Massachusetts Philanthropist George Peabody because much of the funding for the new building came from The George Peabody Fund. In 1882, the first person of color was named principal: Alfred Pryor. In the early nineteen-teens, the school moved again. The new site had two buildings: Peabody, the senior high school, and Williams, the junior high school – named for Henry Williams, the minister of the Gilfield Baptist Church in Petersburg. This came shortly before Virginia schools moved from a three year high school course of study to a four year course. By 1921-1922, Peabody had an accredited four year high school course of study. It moved again in 1951 to a new facility. Due to Virginia’s campaign of Massive Resistance, the school remained segregated until 1970. When it was finally integrated, the school board decided Peabody would be a middle school and Petersburg High School would be the area’s only high school. The school is in operation to this day as Peabody Middle School.

The yearbook contains a dedication to Mr. H. Colson Jackson. This is Henry Colson Jackson who was born in 1903 in Petersburg, Virginia. During his 70 year teaching career, one of the places he taught was Peabody High School.

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Dedication page

The dedication reads:

We dedicate this book to one who has held a place of respect and admiration among the students of Peabody High School for many years. One who has been a friend and advisor to all who have asked his help or advice. One who is untiring in any endeavor he undertakes, and who strives for perfection, a man who is cooperative and understanding – – – – Mr. H. Colson Jackson.

More about H. Colson Jackson and his wife can be found in Special Collections and Archives at Virginia State University in The Alice and Henry Colson Jackson Papers and The Colson-Hill Family Papers.

This yearbook comes just a few years after the start of many of the school’s clubs:

  • The Peabody Script (school newspaper) – Started in 1936
  • Dramatic Club – Started in 1937-1938
  • Girls Club – Started in 1937
  • Peabody Melodic Club – Started in 1938
  • Civics Club – Unknown start date but sponsoring faculty changed in 1939
  • Domestic Science Club – Started in 1934
  • Domestic Art Club – Started in 1936, Reorganized in 1939
  • Peabody Hi-y Club – Started in 1932, split into a Senior Hi-y Club (for juniors and seniors) and a Junior Hi-y Club (for freshmen and sophomores) in 1939
  • Public Speaking and Debating Club – Started in 1936
  • Athletics (football, basketball) – Started in 1936

These extracurriculars mostly began during the short time that Clarence W. Seay was principal and then continued once Donald C. Wingo took the position. During the short time they existed up to this point, the clubs were active in bringing art and entertainment to the student body and the area. The Dramatic Club had already participated twice in the Annual State Dramatic Tournament and the Peabody Melodic Club had hosted the Huntington High School Chorus and was raising money to buy a “radio-victrola” (a radio).

At the back of the yearbook, there is a section for advertisements which mostly consists of ads from local establishments in Petersburg, Virginia. In addition to that, there is a full-page color advertisement for Milton Bradley Co. School Supplies. This is indeed the Milton Bradley Company that comes to mind today as a board game manufacturer. Milton Bradley (the person) believed strongly in early childhood education and this led him to expand his business beyond games and into school supplies. Some interesting information on this can be found on the FindingUniverse site or in various biographical articles about Bradley. This part of the business continued until the end of the 1930s depression era.

Looking through this volume of Virginia history, U.S. history, and the history of education for people of color highlights the joy and pride this group of students and educators took in their pursuits. From senior quotes to senior superlatives and debate to football, the students at this school were engaged and amazing.

More about the history of the school can be found on the Peabody High School National Alumni Association site. For more on education for people of color in Virginia and the commonwealth’s struggle to desegregate, check out the Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE) project hosted by Old Dominion University’s Special Collections and University Archives. To see the yearbook for yourself, stop by Special Collections at Virginia Tech and we’d be happy to let you take a look.

The Cornfields of Sherwood Anderson

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.
  • Sherwood Anderson Photograph and Postcard, 1929, 1939 (Ms2011-004). The collection consists of one postcard of Notre-Dame from Sherwood Anderson to Bert and Clara Dickenson and a photograph of Sherwood Anderson and Bert Dickenson in Florida with a line of fish in between the two men.
  • Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson, 1918-2006, n.d. (Ms2015-020). This collection contains several series of materials: correspondence to and from Sherwood Anderson, correspondence and research files about Sherwood Anderson, and a small group of photographs, audio, video, and graphic art materials. Materials generated by Anderson date from 1918-1940. Other materials date from about 1929-2006. [This was the collection mentioned in our previous post here.]
  • Sherwood Anderson Correspondence with Llewellyn Jones, 1916-1924, n.d. (Ms2015-044). This collection consists of eight letters written by American author Sherwood Anderson to Llewellyn Jones between 1916 and 1924 with three undated (but likely from the same period). Jones was the literary editor for the Chicago Evening Post. The correspondence primarily discusses the reviews of Anderson’s works by Jones and other critics. This collection is also available online.
  • 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.]
  • James T. Farrell Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, 1952 (Ms2017-005). This collection contains four letters written by American author James T. Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson between February and May of 1952. [Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson was Sherwood Anderson’s third wife.]

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)!

A Book (by its) Cover

This week, I really wanted to do a post highlighting materials related to the various wintertime holy days and celebrations that happen during December. That didn’t exactly work out. I did find some materials in our rare books collection that were Christmas related but I had trouble finding things for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Yule, and Eid (I would have included it even though it’s not really the same and was in September this year). So, I shelved that post for another year when we’ve made better progress increasing the representation in our collections.

As I searched for something else to post about, I saw them: Wood and Metal book covers. They were just my style and I had to share them. The wood-bound (and metal housed) books I’ve chosen today are from our History of Food and Drink Collection and focus on Southern cuisine, Astrology/Mixology, and general cookery.

woodbooks16First, a little bit about wood book covers in general. If you take a moment and do a quick Internet search (I’ll wait…), you will likely discover that there are hundreds upon hundreds of sites providing instructions on how to make your own wood book cover. Wood has been a popular material for electronics cases and other applications for a few years now (I’ve personally watched as the number of products in this space has increased exponentially). Not surprisingly, this is a phenomenon that falls squarely into the category “everything old is new again”. The covers from our rare books collection are not freshly made. They mostly hail from the late 1930’s (one is on a book from the 1970’s – another period where wood was exceedingly popular on everything from cars to walls). Going back a few centuries further, the Copts of North Africa lent their name to the technique of binding with wooden covers sewn together around pages. So, that hip new trend is actually ancient – – and still amazingly beautiful (if you can get past the problematic racial issues raised by the illustrations).

woodbooks1Our first two examples both focus on Southern style cuisine. They also rely on the Jim Crow mammie caricature. The introduction from the 1930’s volume reads “The very name ‘Southern Cookery’ seems to conjure up the vision of the old mammy, head tied with a red bandanna, a jovial, stoutish, wholesome personage . . .”

Yikes! That alone makes me want to avoid this book. For more on the history of the mammie caricature, head on over to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia page.

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TX715.2.S68 L875 1939

Clearly that Jim Crow era attitude was still around in the 1970’s when the mammy image cover was placed around this cookbook with the ’70s dinner party cover.

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TX715.2.S68 S675 1972

Our next two offerings both focus on astrology and mixology, or the fine art of combining cocktails with mysterious planetary influences on our destinies. I ask you: What could go wrong?

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TX951 .M17

Well, to start, how about this cover from Zodiac Cocktails (1940). The artwork, while creatively using the tools of the bartender’s trade, manages to evoke racial and religious stereotypes about Caribbean Islanders and Voodoo priestesses. Surprisingly, once past the cover, the illustrations are more referential toward medieval British conceptions of the mystical.

woodbooks8The content of this volume is as it would be with any book of cocktail recipes: useful in making cocktails. Still, it’s hard to take the author seriously in his attempt to “. . . demonstrate that people born under one sign of the zodiac are capable of drinking one or more combinations of liquor without ill-effect, whereas other combinations bring less pleasing results.” He has formulated a cocktail for each sign that he believes is the ideal cocktail for anyone born under that sign. Since we are currently under Sagittarius, I share with you the ideal cocktail for that sign:

1 Lump Sugar
2 Dashes Cocktail Bitters
1 Glass Rye or Whiskey
Crush sugar and bitters together, add lump of ice, decorate with twist of lemon peel and slice of orange, using medium glass, and stir well.
This cocktail can be made with Brandy, Gin, Rum, etc., instead of Rye Whiskey.

woodbooks10The next item from 1939 will tell you your Bar-o-scope. This one is definitely not taking itself too seriously. It is described as:

Spiced with “Astro-illogical” guidance in rhyme + pictures for those REborn under the different signs of the Baroscope.

The cocktails are arranged in chapters by type and each chapter contains a little poem about a zodiacal sign:

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TX951 .B37 1939

Sagittarius
Nov. 23 to Dec. 23

The SAGGITTARIUS-born
Are idealists at heart
And to parties and functions
Good spirits impart.

It’s a fun little book, but it’s actually not bound in wood. It’s really press board (sometimes called particle board). It’s tied with leather thongs and is very similar to the traditional coptic binding style but has a spine added where one would not normally be present in coptic style.

woodbooks15Finally, there is a glorious metal “bound” cookbook from Pillsbury (1933). Right in the heart of the Art Deco period, this book incorporates elements of that iconic style into a housewife’s reference book titled Balanced Recipes.

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TX715 .B3 1933

The book includes sections for bread, cakes, cookies, desserts, luncheon and supper dinners, macaroni and spaghetti, meat and fish, pies, salads, soups and sauces, vegetables, and menus. The recipes included were developed in Pillsbury’s “home-type experimental kitchen” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Of all these books, this one is by far my favorite. It avoids the caricatures and racial issues of the others while being really cool to look at. It also has a connection to Minneapolis (my favorite big city). Plus, when I was flipping through, it gave me a holiday surprise and landed on a recipe for that perennial holiday favorite: fruit cake. Enjoy!

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For more about the History of Food and Drink Collection at Virginia Tech, check out the dedicated blog: What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!

The Fugitive Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fugitive004

fugitive001
The Steel Pier Souvenir Edition of Burns’ book features on its end papers several scenes from the film adaptation.

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

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

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

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

The Sherwood Anderson Odyssey

Woodcut by J.J.. Lankes
Woodcut of Troutdale, Virginia by J.J. Lankes

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

Ripshin located in Grayson County
Ripshin located in Grayson County

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

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

Sherwood Anderson
Sherwood Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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