Please note: Special Collections will be closed to the public on Thursday, May 18, 2017, while we have some internal staff meetings. We will reopen as usual at 8am on Friday, May 19, 2017. We look forward to seeing you then!
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.
A Young Blacksburg Woman Falls Victim to Infatuation
We may be just a little late for Valentine’s Day, but of course the subject of love is never passé. And that brief, trite introduction leads us to the 1919 diary of a young Blacksburg woman named Olivia Tutwiler. Pouring her heart into a small composition book, this young schoolteacher gave vent to the frustration and consternation caused by a crush that she had on a cadet at nearby Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute—now Virginia Tech. Along the way, Tutwiler provides us with some insights into what life was like for a young woman in a small, sleepy college town a century ago.
The diary spans the first two months of 1919 and was written by Tutwiler while she was away from work—her school in nearby Riner, Virginia, apparently having been closed during an influenza outbreak. Purchased at a local estate sale 95 years later, the diary was donated to Special Collections last year. Whether Tutwiler maintained a journal only during this short period or was a lifelong diarist, we don’t know.
Tutwiler’s diary is somewhat unusual in that the entries are written as though addressed to the object of her affection. The entry for January 1 sets the tone for much that follows: “So dear boy I saw you again to-day and spoke to you too. … Oh boy if you only knew how much I love you.” On the following day, Tutwiler provides a description of the young man: “I couldn’t help thinking of you. I like your black hair its [sic] so nice and crisp with just a little bit of curl and blue eyes. What makes you have dimples and be so altogether good looking and adorable,” she writes.
For the next several weeks, Tutwiler chronicles her failed attempts at winning the affection of this young man. Each time romance seems about to blossom, however, her desires are waylaid by a a miscalculation, the cadet’s reticence, or Tutwiler’s own pride and code of conduct. On January 5, she summarizes the challenge of her lovelorn melodrama:
You’re really the most extraordinary boy I’ve ever seen. No one seems to be able to get anything out of you one way or the other. I used to think you cared a lot for me but I’ve evidently been mistaken from all I hear and see. Its [sic] a funny thing how boys will be in love with one girl and still try to make all the others think he’s wildly in love with them by acting if not speaking. They all seem to do it and I suppose youre [sic] no exception to the rule.
Frustrated by the young man’s seeming hesitancy and insincerity, Tutwiler on January 14 reports taking the as much initiative as she dared within the strictures of polite society of the day:
I had to see you so I called you up to come down tomorrow night so I could see about the bastket-ball game + candy pull…. And you’ll never know that it was mostly to see you. How your voice changed when you knew it was me over the phone. Like you were so glad. Were you? I do hope you will take me to one of the games. And I went in the drug store just to see you too. Foolish and crazy but you don’t know so what difference does it make?
Just who was this reportedly handsome fellow, who won the heart of at least one steadfast admirer? Unfortunately, his identity will have to remain a mystery. Throughout her diary, Tutwiler refers to her beloved only as “dear boy.” She slips on one occasion (January 18) and uses his given name, Charles. A little digging found that there were no cadets named Charles in the VAMC class of 1919. There were two in the class of 1920, but neither had black hair. The class of 1921, however, had no fewer than five students named Charles—plus a Charlie—all with dark hair. Of these, only Charles Thornton Huckstep had hair with “just a little bit of curl.” Though his hair doesn’t appear jet black in his photo, he seems the most likely candidate.
Given the lengthy discourses about her crush, we might be excused for imagining Olivia Tutwiler pining away alone in her room and for expecting her diary to hold nothing of interest. In fact, however, Tutwiler lived a very active social life, and her diary would be of interest to local historians as a record of a young woman’s activities in Blacksburg early in the 20th century. Tutwiler frequently attended VAMC basketball games, parties (including her own Valentine’s Day party), and movies. She also picked up some temporary work at the Extension Service and was active in her church.
Also of interest to local historians would be Tutwiler’s mentions of the flu epidemic, soldiers returning from service in World War I, and road and weather conditions. Researchers might also benefit from her passing comments about acquaintances, such as this catty remark on January 7: “Miss Logan has her spring hat already [sic]. Doesn’t it seem foolish to be wearing one with snow and ice on the ground?” She also briefly shares her opinion of a number of cadets.
Even as Tutwiler set her heart on an unobtainable suitor, so too did she inspire unreciprocated feelings among several other young men. January 5: “I like Bush a lot and I believe if I’d fall in love with him.” January 17: “Its [sic] funny that you and Fred should both like the same picture isn’t it. He insisted that I give him one this afternoon but I didn’t.” January 23: “[Johnnie] asked me if I wanted to wear his V.P.I. class ring.” January 25: “Oglesby insisted on one of my pictures but nothing doing.” February 9: “I didn’t know [Pat]’d ever try to kiss me but he did twice and I had to tell him a few things.” February 17: “Had a letter from Hampton to-day and he said … how much he loved me…”
When Tutwiler finally returns to her school on February 2, we learn something of her experiences as a young teacher in a rural community, as she navigates between parents and school officials. At her boarding house, she endures local gossip and less-than-desirable living conditions, while at work, she contends with a crowd of indifferent and unruly students, as in this entry from March 4: “Gee but I’ve had a time to-day. I just got so mad at dinner when two of my kids set the field on fire. The seventh grade just doesn’t seem to know a thing…. I kept Frank and Fred in until 4:30 to day [sic] and made them learn poetry. They certainly are bad. I had to slap both of them to-day.”
Never far from Tutwiler’s thoughts, however, is the elusive cadet.
By January 27, Tutwiler is already questioning her feelings: “Do I love you or do I not?” Her entry of February 6 reflects deeper thoughts, as she questions her motivations: “I want you oh so much dear dear heart or is it only what you stand for now.” Her February 25 entry finds the young teacher looking into the future, wondering what it will bring: “I would like to know how all this is to turn out and whether you’ll ever love me or I’ll ever love Bush. We may all drift apart and perhaps I’ll fall in love with some one else.” By this time, just a few weeks after commencing her diary, Tutwiler seems ready to admit a temporary defeat and look for love elsewhere.
Mentioned only a few times in passing within Tutwiler’s diary is the name “Bunker.” Henry Harris “Bunker” Hill, a native of Scottsville, Virginia, obtained both his bachelor’s (1907) and master’s degrees (1909) in chemistry at VAMC. By the time Olivia Tutwiler was pouring her deepest feelings into a composition book, Hill had already been employed as a professor with the university for a dozen years.
In 1922, Olivia Tutwiler married Hill, and the couple would have two children. She continued to teach, eventually opening a school of her own in the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. She retired from education in 1969, following a 50-year career. Of teaching, her obituary quotes her as saying “I certainly have had a good time teaching and I surely do hate to quit. I have been most fortunate, not only to have a job I like to do but to be paid for it.” Though things didn’t take the direction she wanted in 1919, Olivia Tutwiler seems to have had a happy life. One has to wonder, though, whether she sometimes took out her diary after a long day and pondered over her youthful infatuation.
You can read Olivia Tutwiler Hill’s diary in its entirety here. We’ll soon add a complete transcript of the text. The diary’s finding aid contains more biographical information on Tutwiler. We also hold the papers of “Bunker” Hill, the finding aid for which may be found here.
Just like our sister blog What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections, this blog has been on WordPress for about 4 years and the platform has been great! Still, it was about time for a new look. This new template should be more responsive and easier to use on mobile devices. You’ll still find the great content we’ve always had – just with a more contemporary look and feel. Thanks for following us and look for some new content tomorrow!
Although Thanksgiving has its roots in the 1620’s, the nationally recognized holiday in late November is a product of the American Civil War. After two years of horrific fighting, Abraham Lincoln established the national day of thanks in 1863, encouraging the public to remember those “who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.” Despite the name, the first official Thanksgiving, planned for November 26, 1863, was not a day of celebration. As the Northern people prepared for their proclaimed day of thanks, a battle raged in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Unaware of the upcoming holiday,
a twenty-nine year old man named John Henning Woods sat in chains behind Confederate lines, listening to the cannon fire. A resident of Alabama, husband to the daughter of a prominent slave-holder, and an outspoken Unionist, Woods had brought nothing but trouble to the Confederate Army of the Tennessee since his conscription in October of 1862. Thankfully, the highly unusual story of his life survives in the form of two journals, one diary, and a three-volume memoir that now reside in Special Collections.
A native of Missouri, Woods was born on July 4, 1834. At the start of the war, he was a law student at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee and husband to a wealthy Alabamian woman. The outbreak of conflict sent him back to Alabama, where he spent his days farming and arguing about the fate of the Union. He ignored his first conscription notice in May of 1862, refusing “to take part with the Slave-holders in this wicked rebellion.” However, the threat of imprisonment in October finally
forced Woods into the ranks of army. His conscription only hardened his pro-Union sentiments, inspiring him and a few other conscripts to pledge “to work against . . . this unprovoked rebellion.” Their so called “Home Circle” attracted an increasingly large number of soldiers, eventually planning a mutiny to take place during a review parade. Before the plan could be enacted, the plot was betrayed and Woods was imprisoned to wait for a trial. His memoirs reveal his experience of the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga as a prisoner, wistfully overlooking the Union camps across the battlefield and wishing to walk across and “embrace the emblems of my country.”
Following his court martial in mid-December, Woods was informed that he was to be executed by firing squad the following day. His memoir includes a moving account of his reaction regarding the news:
I felt a flush through my system, upon the announcement to me, similar in feeling to that of an electric current from a Galvanic battery. . . . I told him I felt prepared to die whenever the proper authority should call for me, — that I thought God’s power is above the power of the Southern Confederacy, and that, notwithstanding the apparent certainty of my pending execution, I believed he would provide means for my escape.
Woods’ faith in God was rewarded, as his execution was delayed at the request of General A.P. Stewart. He was then sent to Confederate prisons at Tullahoma, Wartrace, and Atlanta, awaiting his death once again. As he endured the horrors of imprisonment, his father-in-law and A.P. Stewart mobilized to secure a pardon from Jefferson Davis, a relief that did not come through until just two days before his proclaimed execution date. Following his pardon, Woods was assigned to building defenses around Atlanta until his eventual escape to Union lines, where he spent the remainder of the war as a clerk in the Union army. Unfortunately, the memoirs and journals reveal very little about his life following 1873; however, we do know that he died on March 5, 1901 and is buried in Lawrence Country, Missouri.
The detailed drawings, genealogical trees, and colorful prose that Woods left behind in these journals provide a unique look into the mind and experience of a Unionist Southerner during the war. It is clear through out that he wrote with the knowledge his unique place in history, making it invaluable to researchers. Though the collection is brand new to Special Collections and therefore currently closed to the public, it should be available fairly soon. In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!
Since the 2016 election was last week, I thought I’d take a look at what political items Special Collections has in our collections. We have papers of politicians, committees, and local interest groups from students at Virginia Tech to U.S. legislators. These are, of course, only a handful of the collections in Special Collections that you may find of interest if you desire to know more about politics and campaigning in the New River Valley, Virginia, and Appalachia, so come down to learn more or contact us with your queries!
William C. Wampler Congressional Papers, Ms1982-003
I mentioned previously the William C. Wampler Congressional Papers, when I discussed our offsite storage in A Look Behind the Glass Door… Part 2. A Virginia Tech graduate, Wampler served nearly two decades in the U. S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s-1980s. His collection contains legislative files, constituent letters, photographs, campaign material, and documents from the house committees he served. Photographs below depict just a portion of the 250-box collection while being inventoried.
Dana Harmon Papers, Ms2011-013
Special Collections is also home to the Dana Harmon Papers, who ran as a Republican in Tennessee in the early 20th century. The two-box collection contains letters, newspaper clippings, family papers, financial papers, and a scrapbook.
Virginia Tech Young Democrats Scrapbook, Ms2014-005
We also have collections related to the Democratic Party in Special Collections. First, we have the Virginia Tech Young Democrats Scrapbook. This collection contains a scrapbook put together by the Young Democrats for 1986 thru 1988. It contains photographs, event programs, newspaper clippings, certificates, newsletters, and local campaign materials. Below are items from the scrapbook.
The following is the Virginia Tech Young Democrats Constitution, c. 1986:
Montgomery County [Virginia] Democratic Committee Records, Ms1989-061
Next is the Montgomery County, Virginia, Democratic Committee Records. Dating from 1961 thru 1994, this eight-box collection consists of minutes from the county Democratic conventions, correspondence with the state electoral board, committee meeting minutes, materials about candidates and campaigns, newspaper clippings about local political issues, polling and registration information, and assorted publications. While the bulk of the material focuses on the Democratic Party’s issues and candidates, there is also literature about Republican and independent/third-party candidates as well as the League of Women Voters.
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.
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.
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.