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!
Recently 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Many times over the course of this blog either I or one of my colleagues has written about an aspect of the job of being an archivist that can best be described as “discovery.” Typically, we find something we’ve never seen before, didn’t know about, or never heard of. Sometimes, it’s finding out that several of those Eudora Welty editions that you’ve walked by hundreds of times are signed by the author. Or—as mentioned in a recent post by one of our student workers—discovering in a newly acquired collection that some number of rodents had a fondness for those hundred year-old letters . . . a fondness for eating them or living in them. Not long ago, I came across a letter in which a sitting president of this university turned down an offer to become president of the University of Virginia. I’m sure someone knew about that, but I didn’t. On and on. Surely, it’s one of the most interesting aspects of working in the archives.
Sometimes the discovery is both significant and puzzling. No, not significant in the way that an original letter by Ralph Waldo Emerson was found in a Brown University library book as it was about to be checked out in 2015. And perhaps we shouldn’t be puzzled when a quick google search on combined terms such as “found letter library” turn up instances of letters by Orson Welles, Robert E. Lee, Napoleon, Walt Whitman, Jack London, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert the Bruce, among others, all being found in unexpected places in libraries in recent years.
Even so, it was surprising, if not a bit mysterious, when, several years ago, an entire collection of pamphlets—ten cubic feet of pamphlets and other publications from the 1920s through the early 1970s—mostly having to do with African American politics and history, but also with Africa, the West Indies, Asia, and the Communist Party of the United States, was “found” in a Special Collections storage area. At that time, our staff had increased sufficiently to be able to begin to process the unprocessed or minimally processed “hidden collections” we expected to find there. Also, the space needed to be reclaimed for more active purposes. The materials were in folders labeled by section and most of the pieces had an adhesive label that named the section and numbered the item, the labeling bit being a very un-archivist-like action!
Right there in the upper right-hand corner, for example, is a sticker that reads, “Black Panther Party no.13” on a booklet titled, Here and Now for Bobby Seale: Essays by Jean Genet. The back cover has a New York phone number and the name of the Committee to Defend the Panthers. There is no date on the publication, but it is a reprint of articles published in the June 1970 issue of Ramparts. In the essays, Genet presents his appeal to defend Seale against murder charges in New Haven. The booklet concludes by presenting the Panther platform and program and offering subscriptions to the Black Panther Party Black Community News Service. Here are a few other examples from this part of the collection:
A full list of these publications can be viewed in the finding aid for the collection. In addition to “Black Panther Party,” you’ll see section titles that designate a wide variety of subjects, including: Black Power, Black Nationalism, ACLU, Arts, Brownsville TX, Church, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Convict Labor, Communism, Courts, Education, Music, Lynching, NAACP, Propaganda-Communist, Prisons, Race Problems, South, and many others. The African American material accounts for about half the collection. The material related to Africa, about a quarter of the collection, similarly, represents a wide range of topics, from Apartheid, Algeria, Britain in Africa and Burundi to Uganda and Zambia. The Caribbean material is grouped, first, by country or island, and then by social and/or political issue, with topics such as Trade Unions, Revolution, Industrialization, and People’s National Movement represented. Another box contains about 60 publications grouped simply under the title, “Communism.” These tend to share in the radical/leftist perspective of many of the others—though not exclusively—but have little or nothing to do with Black America or Africa. Pamphlets on the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or the House Un-American Activities Committee are present alongside more Soviet-related matters, such as Trotsky as counter-revolutionary or the assassination of Sergei Kirov. Here are some examples from these areas:
So, what was this extremely rich collection doing in a storage area? How long had it been there? How had the collection been used in the past. How did it get here? When? Who put those labels on the individual items? We started using the collection almost immediately, even before we wrote the finding aid, mostly in conjunction with classes that came to Special Collections for instruction, but the questions remained. I wondered if it had been brought in decades ago as a general collection for the library, not by Special Collections, perhaps made available and then put away for some reason and largely forgotten. Maybe too much radical material? And there was just the nagging impression that the collection had not been processed the way any self-respecting archivist would have done. Yet it had been foldered, even though some of the classifications were odd and then there were those #$@*&! stickers!
Two of the largest sections—series, as they are properly called—are titled, Discrimination and Negroes. (The latter, especially, may suggest a clue as to when the collection arrived.) Here, too, broad ranges of topics are covered, but often overlapping with other series. There are materials, for example, on discrimination in housing and employment, in the military, and with regard to voting and transportation. As in the rest of the collection, there are original pamphlets; also reprints of articles from publications as diverse as the New York Times, Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, and Political Affairs. There’s a typed November 1929 release from the Negro Labor News Service and an article clipped from the April 1944 issue of Spotlight written by Adam Clayton Powell while he was first running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here’s a view of some of the pieces in these series:
Yes, that’s Joe Louis with the rifle and bayonet. If you look through the galleries above, you’ll get a sense of just how rich this collection is. There are even some right-wing pamphlets thrown in, like the one that declares the 14th amendment unconstitutional or one from Christian Crusade Publications that proclaims, “The Black Panthers Are Not Black . . . They Are Red!”
But to get back to the mystery, it appears that the collection arrived sometime by April 1974. We found a memo dated 4 April 1974 (we are the Archives, after all) that reads:
Pamphlet files on Afro-American Studies, Communism, and Viet-Nam
Each of these files has its own set of catalog cards in Spec—shelf, author, title and subject, prepared by a cataloger who worked in Spec for this project only. Mr. Bechanan is considering what should be in the Main catalog referring patrons to these files.
H. Gordon Bechanan was Assistant Director of Newman Libraries from 1972 to 1974, when he was made Director. He served in that capacity until 1984. The reference to the collection as a project does suggest that the collection was brought in—undoubtedly, purchased—as a complete entity. The Library did not assemble this collection itself. Most likely, those stickers and the designation by subject was done by the dealer from whom the collection was purchased. (Again, no archivist worth his or her salt . . . never mind.)
As for the efforts of the cataloger and those shelf cards, we found them, too. How they might have been used is anyone’s guess, but the information on them was apparently not transferred to the library’s online catalog when the card catalog system was replaced. I’ve heard that the collection may have been purchased in response to a suggestion or expectation that an African American studies program or department would be formed on campus, but that didn’t happen here in the 1970s. So, as is sometimes the case, maybe there are other records not yet found or maybe, as was true of Special Collections in those years, record-keeping may not have been nearly as complete as it is today. But the answer to the question of how this collection ended up in a storage room remains uncertain.
What is certain is that this is a fabulous collection. As someone who cares deeply about primary source research, I know there are countless questions for which this material will provide a step or several steps along somebody’s research path. Do you know who Angela Davis is, or why there were calls for her to be freed? (She did speak briefly at the Womens March in Washington the day after the inauguration last January.) Why do we have several pieces about her in German? Who was Lieutenant Leon Gilbert or Harry T. Moore or William Milton? We know about Emmett Till, but have you looked at any sources from time of his tragic death? This blog offered a post about the Scottboro trials and, specifically, Langston’s Hughes’s relation to that situation, but did you know about the Freeport GI slayings in 1946? I didn’t until I looked at “Dixie Comes to New York,” one of the pamphlets in the collection.
Once lost, but then found, the Black History Pamphlet Collection provides an important gateway to understanding, a route to discovery and rediscovery. We have kept the classifications as they are, even though they may be inaccurate and, at times, anachronistic, in keeping with the imperative to respect the original order of the collection. In other words, we’re treating the collection as a cultural and documentary artifact itself. And although most of our digitization efforts focus on unpublished sources—because they are truly unique—Special Collections is considering this collection as a candidate for such an effort. We need to find out just how many of these pamphlets are held elsewhere and how many may already be available online, but the importance of the collection is undeniable. At any rate, for those folks in the area or those who can travel to Blacksburg, it presents significant opportunities for reading and study. Come visit Special Collections!
As part of Virginia Tech’s annual observance of its Day of Remembrance, condolence items and artifacts received by the university in the days that followed April 16, 2007, will be displayed at several locations across campus. The displays are among several “Expressions of Remembrance” that will be located in Newman Library, Squires Student Center, Moss Arts Center, and Holtzman Alumni Center; they are free and open to the public.
Each year, in observance of the Day of Remembrance, University Libraries at Virginia Tech displays materials from the April 16 Condolence Archives and invites the community to reflect and remember.
Sending You All Our Love
The exhibit will include materials received from other colleges and universities, as well as some of the large white boards and signs created on the Drillfield the week of April 16, 2007. Additional items include flags, t-shirts, and condolence books, and a quilt from the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at State University of New York College at New Paltz. The exhibit title came from one of the quilt squares, each of which was made by a SUNY student.
This display can be seen April 8-16 in the Old Dominion Ball Room in Squires Student Center.
Remembering Those Lost
Artifacts include flags flown over the Statue of Liberty and at Tikrit Air Academy in Iraq by soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Farham Aboussali’s painting Ceremonial Eternity; Carol Davis’ 32 hand-decorated eggs; Marilyn Rogge’s painting of a child releasing a red balloon; a KoKeshi Doll from the U.S. Navy Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan; and some of the paper cranes received.
This display will be held April 8-16 at Newman Library Special Collections (first floor). Part of the exhibit is in the windows of Special Collections onto the cafe, open during library hours. A second portion of the exhibit is inside Special Collections, open Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.
A Community of Learners, a Legacy of Achievement
A selection of books will be displayed to honor of the students and faculty lost on April 16, 2007.
This display will be held April 8-16 at Newman Library Learning Commons.
Communities of Caring
A digital exhibit featuring community expressions of support from the April 16 Condolence Archives.
This display is available online at http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/april16/introduction.
April 16 Condolence Archive display
Items include cards and letters written to police and first responders; a display of the badges of police units who came to help Virginia Tech; Cheryl Thompson’s painting, Remember the 32; condolence books; quilted squares from Union Village United Methodist Church; black marble laserworks by David Cunningham, and April 17th Hokies United by Miss Price’s second grade class from Riverlawn Elementary, Fairlawn, Virginia.
This display will be held April 12-May 3 at the Holtzman Alumni Center.
A quiet, contemplative space for remembrance and reflection, this display will include prayer flags from the Virginia Tech Graduate Arts Council, Hillel, Living Buddhism, and Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the New River Valley and photographs from the community.
This display will be held April 12-16 at the Miles C. Horton Jr. Gallery and Sherwood P. Quillen ’71 Reception Gallery in Moss Arts Center.
Last time I wrote a post, it was on Sherwood Anderson and our newly-acquired copy of The Cornfields, one of Anderson’s poems which was separately printed. In that post, I mentioned a collection relating to Mary Sinton Leitch, which I had recently processed and was indirectly connected to Anderson. This time around, I thought I would talk about Mrs. Leitch and her letters to J. J. Lankes.
Mary Sinton Lewis was born in New York City, New York, in 1876 to Carlton Thomas and Nancy Dunlap McKeen Lewis. After attending Smith College and Columbia University, as well as schools in Europe, she worked in New York City, first as a women’s prison inspector, and later as a contributing editor to several magazines and newspapers. In 1907, after taking some time to travel, she married John David Leitch and the couple settled in eastern Virginia. She helped to found the Poetry Society of Virginia, serving as both its president (1933) and co-president (1944-1945). She contined to service in editorial capacities, editing the Lyric Virginia Today (vol. 1), though writing became her larger focus. Between 1922 and 1952, she authored seven collections of poetry and short fiction: The Wagon and the Star (1922), The Unrisen Morrow (1926), The Black Moon (1929), Spider Architect (1937), From Invisible Mountains (1943), Himself and I (1950), and Nightingales on the Moon (1952). Leitch died in August 1954 and is buried in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In 1932, she was introduced to J. J. Lankes, a draftsman turned draftsman/artist and illustrator for much of his life. Lankes would collaborate for many years with Sherwood Anderson. Lankes, it seems, was brought to visit Leitch in the company of writer Louis Jaffe. Our collection consists of letters written by Leitch to Jankes between 1932 and 1950, during which they 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). Leitch seemed to a center for social activity for writers and artists, hosting Lankes, Frost, Louis Jaffe, and others, and many of her letters include plans for events relating to the Poetry Society of Virginia. The majority of the letters were written at “Wycherley,” Jack (who she often refers to in her letters as “Himself”) and Mary Leitch’s home in Lynnhaven, Virginia.
There’s a nice collection of Mary Sinton Leitch’s papers at VCU, including some of her original works and more of her correspondence with other friends, poets, and artists, which you can read about online here. The finding aid for our collection is available online. I only digitized a couple of letters for this post, but we do have transcripts of the letters currently under review and I hope to have the whole collection scanned in the near future.
A few of the letters in this collection are currently on display in our reading room for Women’s History Month, but I scanned three others to share today. The first is among the early letters between the two, written on Easter Sunday, 1940. Leitch was involved not only in the Poetry Society of Virginia, but also an art league. This letter details Leitch’s efforts to have Lankes’ work displayed somewhere in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area. (Mrs. Leitch’s handwriting seems a bit daunting at first, but if you give it a few minutes, it starts to become mostly readable–that being said, I’ve posted a transcript below, too.)
Dear Mr. Lankes:
Stera Bosa (Mrs. Frank Walton, 636 Redgate Ave, Norfolk) Pres of our art league is ? us & we have talked ? with various members of her board the matter of your woodcuts. They are very eager to exhibit them in the fall. At present & on into May, the space in the museum is filled. Anyway, even were it available then, Mrs Walter says, would be a most unsuitable home to show the pictures. Very few persons visit the exhibits after this date & to put your pictures on display so late would not be to your advantage.
To show in our library is, is seems, not possible. There are no exhibits held there: theres no space, as far as we know. But in the museum you will find your work will be seen not only by the art group but by the general public. All the intellegensia of Norfolk flock there.
We’ll just let Mrs Walton know what’s what about the autumn; also whether you could let her have enough of your woodcuts—or paintings also–to make up say forty pictures.
This would complete the number needed for a one-man show. With fewer pictures, how about exhibiting someone else’s work with yours, though I think the other way (all Lankes) would be very preferable.
I must run. This is a servantless day & I hear Himself setting the table.
It was delightful having you with us together with Mr. Frost. Come again!
I am really very keen to see the Country Churchyard woodcuts. I shall have the Frost farm house framed this week.
In February 1945, she typed a letter to Lankes talking about activities of the poetry society, a desire to host Lankes again, correspondence with a mutual friend (another writer), and a discussion on the nature of writing and art. The envelope in which was sent also includes a sketch, probably made by Lankes after he received it.
The final letter I picked is from March 1947. It’s a bit more of the same: news about common friends and poetry society activities, but it had a few lines and ideas that struck me. Leitch, clearly in reply to a letter we don’t have, talks about the challenges of receiving praise for one’s work. Then, despite that she was on her second round of leadership in the Poetry Society of Virginia, she writes that “Poets are such d— d— critters to deal with”–yet she seems to have suffered her efforts for good reason. Lastly, the very end of the letter has a small post script: “Your letter has been destructively destroyed.” I love reading and deciphering correspondence–it’s one of the things that drew me to this profession–and notes like this can haunt someone like me. Because we only have a piece of the record in this collection, which doesn’t include Lankes letters to Leitch, all I can do is wonder about what his last letter said that she would destroy it (likely at his request?)!
Mar 5 1947
Bob Coffin writes that he will visit “Wycherly” & read at Williamsburg the 2nd Sat in May. So he lived up to attend that meeting!
Tut tut! I can’t believe Mrs Mahler is sneaky unless she were caught in flagrante delicto! She seems so open & aboveboard I just can’t believe she snoops among private documents. I wonder why you suspect her of such a naughty habit.
Yes, one can be damned with much praise as easily—more so perhaps—than when the praise is faint. However much you may deserve such ? I know exactly how you feel. I often wish one friend would cease telling people that I am a rival of Shakespeare & Milton. He only makes a fool of me & sets people against me.
There’s no doubt that his admiration of your work is deeply sincere. That is something anyway!
I wired something on Friday asking when he arrives & when he leaves. I can’t make any plans till I know & friends are clamouring to entertain him. The answer came on Mon & was from Mrs Carl “lecturing in the west & left no forwarding address” His agent made all the arrangements & clinched the ? So I suppose the lion will turn up. But I’m powerful jittery. There will be a big crowd to hear him & if he doesn’t turn up?? We got to get out of this co-presidency. It will be the death of me. Poets are such D— D— critters to deal with. But not Sir Frestrain. He’s all right. The reason I asked him again is that the Soc. has grown—has doubled in since since he read here. Also I’m wishing he will be heard by heaps of folk who couldn’t come to Norfolk, from Richmond, Hampton, Newports News et al.
Your letter has been destructively destroyed
Until we acquired these letters, I had never heard of Mary Sinton Leitch. But, one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve been processing these Anderson and Anderson-adjacent collections in the last few months, is that I’m learning quite a bit about the literary and artistic circle of Southwest (and now eastern) Virginia. Mrs. Leitch brought the work of well-known writers and artists of the time to her community, recognize the important role poems, woodcuts, short stories, novels, or paintings can have on anyone in any place or time. And, even more so, she contributed to the literary conversation taking place, publishing extensively herself. So, on the last day of Women’s History Month, I thought she needed some time in the spotlight. She might just inspire us all to be creative in our own ways.
A little over a month ago, in honor of Black History Month, I wrote about the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF) in Blacksburg. This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the Household of Ruth, No. 5533. Household of Ruth is the women’s order of the GUOOF. In Blacksburg, Household of Ruth, No. 5533 was active for most of the time the Tadmore Lodge was active, starting a few years after the men’s group. The mission of the Household of Ruth is support of the men in their endeavors and relief of the needy, sick, and distressed. Among the papers we have from GUOOF there are papers from the Household of Ruth, including the General Laws and Regulations for the order.
Other papers from the Household of Ruth include general correspondence and a minutes book containing many notations about dues.
One of the most interesting items I found in the collection is a letter from the neighboring lodge in Radford, VA requesting assistance after their lodge building burned.
A particular highlight of the collection is a postcard addressed to Miss Nettie Anderson from another member of the lodge. The postcard is from around Thanksgiving in 1916 and features a scene with grapes and a turkey.
The Household of Ruth papers are included as part of the Blacksburg [Virginia] Odd Fellows Records, MS1988-009. They can be viewed in the reading room Monday through Friday 8am – 5pm or by appointment.
If I have learned anything in my ten months working in Special Collections, it’s that when processing a collection, you truly never know just what you might find.
Recently, while processing a collection called the Turner Family Papers (Ms2017-004) a series of family letters that span a century, roughly from the 1840s – 1940s, which includes three wars and multiple generations, I came upon a set of letters that had been thoroughly inspected – by little teeth! It became quickly apparent that these letters were one tough group.
In addition to surviving 100+ years to be with us today, they had survived being used as nesting material and meals for a variety of rodent populations before coming to live permanently (and safely) at Virginia Tech Special Collections. Of the 100+ letters, about 40 of the letters have significant portions missing.
The letters that have been subjected to this unsubtle nibbling are mainly from the 1940’s era and beyond, although there are a few years here and there that have pieces missing as well.
While certainly entertaining to look at, this nibbling poses a problem for archival staff. When collections are processed archivists complete a variety of tasks that span from organization, to transcription, to digitization and beyond. When at the transcription stage, it is important to be able to read what each document is saying – that’s difficult to do when parts of the letter are missing!
Many people have a variety of historical materials and fragile documents in their possession. With no room for them in the house, these materials are often stored in closets, basements and attics in particular. While this may seem like a harmless space for these items, there are a few factors that could potentially ruin your collection.
First, as we’ve discussed: rodents! Rodents frequently seek shelter inside crawl spaces, walls and other infrequently visited areas of your home; when you have unprotected materials such as paper and fabric, there is a risk that your items will be chewed and used as nesting materials.
A few other factors that can influence the safety of your historic materials are: exposure to fluctuating temperatures, humidity, water damage, insect damage, fading and darkening from exposure to sunlight etc. Below are some examples of letters from the same Turner Family collection that have been exposed to some sort of extra damage. Regardless of these examples of chewed and damaged items, the majority of this collection is in remarkable shape for its age.
As a way of prolonging the life of your documents and materials, try storing them in a place that you visit frequently so you can check on their condition as needed. Even better, call your local special collections office to discuss proper home care and even donation processes if applicable.
Visit us at Special Collections in Newman Library to see these letters in person.
More Tips and Tricks for protecting your historical documents from pesky pests!
- Preserving Your Family Papers: https://www.nha.org/history/keepinghistory/KHpreservingpapers.htm
- Preserving Records
- Smithsonian Institution Archives