Legacy of Dayton Kohler

Bookplate found on the inside front cover of many books from Kohler's collection.
Bookplate found on the inside front cover of many books from Kohler’s collection.

Drawing of Dayton Kohler by Karl Jacob Belser, 1931.
Drawing of Dayton Kohler by Karl Jacob Belser, 1931.

 
 
If you have an interest in modernist literature and have, on occasion, requested Special Collections’ copies of such worksespecially by American writers of fiction, though not exclusivelyyou may have discovered the bookplate shown above with a startling frequency. “From the Collection of Dayton Kohler . . . Virginia Polytechnic Institute . . . Carol M. Newman Library” appears time after time in books by many of the great writers of our time in the Rare Book collection. When I first started working here, just about five and a half years ago, as I came upon first editions of Faulkner, Hemingway, Cather, and Fitzgerald; then Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad; Saul Bellow, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, James Thurber, J.D. Salinger, Reynolds Price, William Styron, and more, I kept noticing the same bookplate. All first editions, several of them signed by the author. Who was Dayton Kohler?

Select first editions from the collection of Dayton Kohler

Kohler was Professor of English at Virginia Tech. He retired in 1970 after arriving at this institution as an Instructor in 1929. Born in 1906 and a graduate of Gettysburg College, he received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia the same year he came to Blacksburg. In 1931, Karl Belser, a colleague in the Department of Architectural Engineering drew a sketch of Kohler (shown above) that is housed, along with several other prints and drawings, in the Karl Jacob Belser Illustrations, 1931-1932, 1938, n.d., also at Special Collections. Kohler’s own collection of papers is also on hand. It includes an extensive correspondence with authors and other critics of the time, much of which relates to various literary essays and reviews.

Dayton Kohler died in 1972, but not before arranging for a collection of his booksincluding many 20th-century first editionsto become part of Special Collections. In fact, former director of Special Collections Glenn McMullen said in a June 1990 Roanoke Times and World News article that acquisition of Kohler’s book collection was “the first major acquisition” for the new department that had only formed in 1970. A May 21, 1971 memo to then-library director Gerald Rudolph reports that 1095 books were received from Professor Kohler some ten days earlier. The list that accompanies the memo shows only authors and quantity, with no detail regarding title and/or edition. But, in addition to the names referenced above, the list includes William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, Truman Capote, Henry James, Ezra Pound, James Joyce (a trip to the shelves indicates the 1930 edition of Ulysses, not the 1922 first edition, was Kohler’s), and a total of 27 Hemingways and 38 Faulkners(!), plus much, much more. What a tremendous legacy for the Library and its patrons to use and enjoy. I’m sure there are still more terrific editions in the collection that I haven’t yet seen. To close (almost) this post, I’ll leave you with one more that I did find:

Jacket of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, 1925.
Jacket of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, 1925.

Inside front cover of The Great Gatsby (1925) with F. Scott Fitzgerald's inscription to Dayton Kohler, dated 1934.
Inside front cover of The Great Gatsby (1925) with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inscription to Dayton Kohler, dated 1934.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lastly, if any alumni who may remember Professor Kohler read this post and wish to tell us more about him, please consider leaving a comment below. We’d be pleased to add them to this post. Thanks!

A Rare Bit of Whitman: Leaves of Grass, 1882, The Author’s Edition

1855 engraving of Whitman from the Author's Edition, 1882
1855 engraving of Whitman from the Author’s Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882
Engraving of Whitman as an older man, from the Author's Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882
Engraving of Whitman as an older man, from the Author’s Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882

If you’ve never delved into the publishing history of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (I had not, until recently), it can be quite an interesting and involved pursuit. One small, but very fine part of the story is represented by one of the several editions of the book that may be found in Special Collections.

In 1881, some twenty-six years after the first edition of Leaves of Grass appeared, the prestigious Boston publisher James R. Osgood & Co. approached Whitman with an offer to publish a new sixth edition. Whitman accepted and, ever the printer and bookmaker, set out to oversee the production details of the new volume. He had reacquired the John C. McRae/Samuel Hollyer 1855 steel plate engraving of himself that had been used, first, in the original edition and, again, in the 1876 printing of the fifth edition. He would include it in the new edition, where it would be placed not as a frontispiece, as before, but within the text, opposite the opening of “Song of Myself.” Whitman also planned to have all of his finished poemsreordered, rearranged, and regroupedincluded in the volume under the title, Leaves of Grass. All seemed to be going well, and in October 1881 the book was released. The first thousand copies sold and a second printing was ordered. Special Collections does not have a copy of the 1881 Osgood sixth edition . . . but the story only gets more interesting.

On 1 March 1882, in part at the urging of the The New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, Oliver Stevens, District Attorney for Boston, wrote to Osgood & Co. to advise them that Leaves of Grass was obscene literature and that they would do well to suspend publication and to withdraw and suppress the book. After an unsuccessful negotiation between Osgood, the authorities, and Whitman, Osgood, under threat of prosecution, wrote to Whitman on 10 April of their decision to cease circulation of the book. In May, Whitman received from Osgood all of the plates, unbound sheets, and dies of Leaves of Grass, along with a $100 payment.

Reports vary as to whether Whitman was left with 100 or about 225 complete sets of unbound sheets, but there is no doubt about his next move. While seeking a new publisher for his work, Whitman had a new title page printed and bound together with these sheets. The new title page identified the volume as “Author’s Edition” and added the notation, “Camden / New Jersey / 1882.” The book was bound in green cloth rather than the yellow of the Osgood edition. Several accounts of the editions of Leaves of Grass fail to mention this short run edition.

Before the end of June 1882, Whitman had reached an agreement with Rees Welsh, a Philadelphia company, to receive the plates and publish the book. The Rees Welsh edition of 1882 (a copy of which is also available in Special Collections) sold extremely well, perhaps due to the publicity generated by the unpleasantness of being “banned in Boston.” One source reports that it went through several printings and had sold almost 5,000 copies by December of that year. Another report says the first limited printing of a thousand copies sold in two days; another claims between two and three thousand sold on a single day!! The Osgood plates would pass quickly from Rees Welsh to publisher David McKay, and would provide the basis for all further editions of Leaves of Grass published in Whitman’s lifetime.

But the Author’s Edition of 1882 is the subject of this post. Again, it is one of many editions of Leaves of Grass in Special Collections. Our copy is signed by Whitman on the title page that was printed specifically for this edition. At between 100 and 225 copies produced, it is among the rarest of editions of Leaves of Grass. (Of the more significant 1855 first edition, 795 were printed and 158 copies are known to exist, according to a 2006 study by Ed Folsom. Others set the number at closer to 200.) The spine reads “Author’s / Edition / Leaves / of / Grass / complete / Autograph / & Portraits / 1882.” The endpapers, front and back, are a bright, glossy yellow. The title page presents the poem that begins, “Come, said my Soul, / Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)” printed just above Whitman’s signature. It carries the date, 1882, as that is the year it was printed, and the verso of the title page has an 1881 copyright notice. Two portraits of Whitman grace the book, the 1855 engraving of poet as a younger man (shown above) and, towards the back of the book, an image of an older Whitman (also shown above).

Our copy also is inscribed. On the front endpaper, in Whitman’s hand is written: John H. Johnston / from his friend / the author / Jan. 5 1885. Along with the donation of the book, we received a copy of the following obituary notice: “Johnston–On Monday, March 17, John Henry Johnston, in the 82nd year of his age. Funeral services at his late residence 389 Clinton St., Brooklyn. Wednesday March 19, at 2PM. Interment private.”

John Henry Johnston was born in 1837, died in 1919, and was Whitman’s friend and benefactor. Born in Sidney, NY, he came to New York in 1853, found employment in a Manhattan jewelry store and five years later became a partner and owner of the company. In 1873, Johnston purchased from his friend the 1860 portrait of Whitman painted by Charles Hine so that the poet would have enough money to move to Camden, NJ following the death of his mother. In following years, Whitman would often stay at the Johnston home on East Tenth Street when in New York. (The 1860 portrait, by the way, said to be Whitman’s favorite, was the source for the engraving of Whitman that is featured in the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass, also available in Special Collections.) In 1877, Johnston commissioned Elmira artist, George W. Waters to paint another portrait of Whitman.

Engraving of Whitman as frontispiece of the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass.
Engraving of Whitman as frontispiece of the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass.
Charles Hine's portrait of Walt Whitman, purchased by John H. Johnston from Whitman in 1873.
Charles Hine’s portrait of Walt Whitman, purchased by John H. Johnston from Whitman in 1873.

In this 1882 Author’s edition, we have a fine, signed, presentation copy of a rare edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Come see it along with several other nineteenth and twentieth century editions at Special Collections.

Open House at Special Collections: Tuesday, September 3rd!!

The first of four open house events at Special Collections will be held on Tuesday September 3rd from 5:00PM to 7:00PM. Other open houses will be held on the first Tuesday of each month this fall, through December.

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If you’ve never taken the opportunity to explore the holdings of Special Collections—but perhaps you’ve never seen a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, or always wondered about the relationship between cocktails and prohibition, or couldn’t believe that a 56 year old fellow from Wisconsin really did enlist in the Union Army in October 1861 . . . alongside his 12 year-old son—well, now would be a good time to start. We’ll have a representative sample of our holdings on display and staff members on hand who will be happy to answer your questions.

Selection of Civil War Diaries
Selection of Civil War Diaries
Two works by Langston Hughes: A New Song (1938; signed) and Scottsboro Limited (1931)
Two works by Langston Hughes: A New Song (1938; signed) and Scottsboro Limited (1931)

 

 

 

 

 

This is just a sample of what you’ll find when you visit Special Collections. Please do drop in this Tuesday, September 3rd or, if you can’t make it then, visit us for one of our First Tuesday Open House events this fall. Whether to support an interest or provide assistance for a research project Special Collections is here to offer a wealth of assistance and materials. Come see us!

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Subject of Langston Hughess Scottsboro Limited is back in the news.

Scottsboro Limited by Langston Hughes with illustrations by Prentiss Taylor. The Golden Stair Press, 1932
Scottsboro Limited by Langston Hughes with illustrations by Prentiss Taylor. The Golden Stair Press, 1932

Langston Hughess Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse was published in 1932 by The Golden Stair Press of New York. It was written in response to a legal case, a miscarriage of justice, a notorious and infamous example of injustice in the Jim Crow South. . . that appeared again in the news this week.

On 25 March 1931, nine young black men, aged 12 to 19 were removed from a freight train by police and arrested at Paint Rock, Alabama. The authorities had been alerted by a group of young white men who, after a confrontation with the black teenagers aboard the train, had been forced off near Stevenson, Alabama. Two young white women, mill workers from Huntsville, were also taken from the train at Paint Rock. When in the custody of the police, the two women reported that they had been raped aboard the train by the young black men. A mob gathered that first evening in Scottsboro, but Alabamas governor, Benjamin Miller, ordered the National Guard to prevent the mob from lynching the young men.

Twelve days later, what became known as the trials of the Scottsboro Boys began. The defendantsOlen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozzie Powell, Willie Roberson, Charlie Weems, Eugene Williams, and brothers Andy and Roy Wrightwere divided into four groups and four separate trials were held. Five days later, eight of the nine had been convicted and sentenced to death by all-white juries. Roy Wright, the youngest of the nine, had been found guilty, but only eleven of the twelve jurors voted for the death penalty, even though the prosecution had requested a sentence of life-in-prison. Executions were scheduled for 10 July, the earliest possible date, according to law.

Justice

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise.
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Langston Hughes, from Scottsboro Limited

Over the next seven years a series of trials occurred that involved state and federal courts. Twice, cases were appealed before the U.S. Supreme Court. In November 1932 the Court ordered new trials for all the defendants, ruling that the right of the defendants to retain competent legal counsel under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause had been denied by Alabama. In Haywood Pattersons second trial, which took place in April 1933, Ruby Bates testified that she and Victoria Price had made up the accusations of rape to deflect attention from their own violations of the law. Physical evidence was also introduced that lent credence to the testimony that no rape had taken place. Patterson was again found guilty and sentenced to death.

In April 1935, the Court, hearing arguments in the Patterson and Norris cases, held that the system of jury selection in Alabama that excluded African-Americans was unconstitutional. Convictions were again reversed. The state chose again to prosecute, and by January 1936, Haywood Pattersons fourth trial had begun. He was again convicted and given a 75-year sentence. After testifying at the trial, Ozie Powell was shot in the head by a sheriffs deputy while riding in the backseat of a car following an argument between the two men and an attack by Powell with a penknife that seriously injured the deputy. Powell was handcuffed to Clarence Norris and Roy Wright at the time. Though he survived, Powell was seriously disabled. The sheriff said that Powell was trying to escape.

The poem, Scottsboro was first published in the December 1931 issue of Opportunity:

"Scottsboro," a poem by Langston Hughes from Scottsboro Limited.
“Scottsboro,” a poem by Langston Hughes from Scottsboro Limited.

Scottsboro

8 Black Boys in a Southern Jail.
World, turn pale!

8 Black Boys and one white lie.
Is it much to die? . . .

 
 
 
 
Hughes spent much of the fall of 1931 writing about the Scottsboro case and visited Kilby Prison in Montgomery where eight of the nine young men were held in early 1932. His short verse drama, Scottsboro, Limited, had first been published in the October 1931 issue of New Masses and then republished in 1932, along with his four Scottsboro poems and illustrations by Prentiss Taylor in the Golden Stair Press edition (a copy of which is displayed here and is among the holdings at Special Collections). The play opened in Los Angeles in 1932 and was later performed in Paris and Moscow. Writing in The Cambridge History of African American Literature, Nicole Walingora-Davis describes the play in the following terms:

Hughes offers a caustic description of the collusion of the court with mob violence in Scottsboro, Limited. His compactly staged trial sequence captures the lethal efficiency of the Jim Crow court. By eliminating the prosecutor, defense attorney, and any evidence, and by interpolating the audience into the jury, Hughes stresses the cumulative effect of the procedural irregularites that marred the Jim Crow court: here the Judge presupposed the defendants guiltthe female plaintiffs testimony only confirms his presumption. Hughess concluding call to interracial solidarity and a revolutionary labor movement among black and white laborers functioned like an anthem in his writings, and sought to promote social and economic justice.

By the time Clarence Norriss third trial began on 12 July 1937, seven of the Scottsboro nine had been in prison for six years. By Wednesday of that week, Norris was again sentenced to death. Next to be tried was Andy Wright, who received a sentence of ninety-nine years. Charles Weems, whose sentence was delivered on 24 July, was given seventy-five years. Also that summer, all charges against Willie Robertson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright, the youngest of the group, were dropped. The five others remained in Alabama prisons. Weems was paroled in 1943. Powell and Norris in 1946. After a parole violation, Andy Wright received parole in 1950. Patterson escaped from prison in 1948, and, after publishing a book while still a fugitive, was arrested by the FBI in 1950. The governor of Michigan refused Alabamas request for extradition. Clarence Norris published his own book, The Last of the Scottbsoro Boys, in 1979. He died ten years later, truly the last of the group of nine, on 23 January 1989.

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But this post started by saying that the Scottsboro Boys were back in the news. Indeed. On 19 April 2013, the Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, signed House Joint Resolution 20, passed by the Alabama legislature on 4 April. The resolution formally exonerates all nine of the Scottsboro Boys. The signing ceremony was held at the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

Its important to clear the names of the Scottsboro Boys, Governor Bentley said in a statement. This is the result of a bipartisan, cooperative effort, and I appreciate everyone who worked together to make this legislation a reality.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard added, The Legislatures unanimous passage of this important legislation and Governor Bentleys signature show that todays Alabama is far removed from the one that caused such pain for so many so long ago.

From Scottsboro Limited, the first pages of the play by Langston Hughes
From Scottsboro Limited, the first pages of the play by Langston Hughes in the 1932 edition

Have You Ever Seen A Pancake Fly? How Does It Do It?

Among the materials in the Robert R. Gilruth Papers (Ms1990-053) is his 1936 Master’s thesis from the University of Minnesota, “The Effect of Wing-Tip Propellers on the Aerodynamic Characteristics of a Low Aspect Ratio Wing.” Gilruth, who would move on to work, first, as a flight research engineer at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and then for NASA, became the first director of that agency’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston in 1961. The Master’s paper, however, was what interested the folks at the Vought Aircraft Historical Foundation, who contacted Special Collections as they were preparing a history of the company’s V-173 and XF5U-1 “Pancake” series of aircraft.

A look at the model used in this early work of Gilruth’s and the prototypes built by Vought in the 1940s suggests the significance of his work for the company’s engineers at the time. So, how does a pancake fly? For those of you who want to know, check out Gilruth’s Thesis for all the theory, specs, charts, and diagrams.

Aviation and Aerospace define an important collecting area for Special Collections. The Gilruth Papers, for example, contain research articles, speeches, photographs, agency and professional papers, and more that span a fifty year career in aerospace.

For more information, read about our Archives of American Aerospace Exploration or visit us at Special Collections!

Battlefield Diary 1862: Lieutenant William W. Barnett . . . or is it? “Who?” is only the beginning!

Barnett Diary Spine and PagesThe diary arrived in a handsome case that clearly identifies the contents as the work of Lieutenant William W. Barnett. A legible note in the front of the diary tells us that Barnett served in the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves. Records indicate, however, that Barnett mustered in with the 8th as a private in Company A on 15 May 1861 and was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 20 March 1863, also as a private! Who is our lieutenant?

The records do show a William H. Barnett of the 8th PRVC, Company A, whose name was sometime recorded as William W. Barnett. There is another William W. Barnett, also serving in the same regiment and company, but with a different enlistment record than man discharged in March 1863, a record that is also contradicted by events recorded in the diary. A history of the 8th reports that this regiment consisted of men from Armstrong Co. in western Pennsylvania. The 1860 census for that county lists at least three William or W. H. Barnetts ranging in age from 19 to 21. Who is William Barnett?

Once you know what you might be looking for, the clues in the diary itself are easier to spot. On 15 September, Barnett writes, “This day is my birthday and I am twenty one years old and in the hospital.” This suggests our Barnett would be 19 in June 1860, the time of the census. He writes often in the diary that Henry has come to visit, and mentions an uncle Hezekiah Wood. William Barnett of Armstrong Co., son of Alexander and Hannah Barnett, is 19 in 1860, has a 21 year-old brother named Henry B., and a youngest brother named Hezekiah. Henry B. Barnett served in the 9th PRVC, a regiment that moved throughout 1862 in tandem with the 8th. William’s post office, as listed on the census, is Freeport. In faint writing on one of the last pages of the diary is written, “My mother Mrs Hannah Barnett resides in Freeport Armstrong County Penna.” We have a winner.

But what of Lieutenant Barnett? It turns out that our Barnett re-enlisted in August 1864 in the newly formed 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. Though entering as a private, he was promoted at least twice, finally to the rank of lieutenant on 19 January 1865. At war’s end, he returned to Pittsburgh and mustered out with his battery on 30 June 1865.

The task of identifying the diary’s writer is only the beginning. The diary itself is the treasure beyond! More about this in an upcoming post!!