Paw through enough manuscript collections, and you’ll eventually run across some advertisements printed on a thick, porous paper, usually with a pink or blue backing. For those not in the know, it’d be easy to dismiss these little items, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes–and often in bright colors– as simple promotional cards, but in fact, they had an ulterior and important function in 19th-century household and business environments.
Through the 18th century, the best countermeasure that correspondents, clerks, and other writers had against the inconvenience of slow-drying ink was to sprinkle sand (or sometimes its more costly alternative, salt) over their handwriting to set the ink, then shake the page to remove the temporary coating. The early 19th century saw the invention of the blotter, a handheld device with felt attached to a curved base that could be rocked over the written page to absorb excess ink. About fifty years later, a soft, thick, porous paper was developed as an effective means to absorb excess ink and speed the drying process. Pressed against the written page, the blotting paper soaked up the surplus ink and allowed the writer to complete a task more quickly and with fewer smears and smudges. The paper was also used in used in removing the excess ink from the pen’s nib, making for fewer drips and stains.
Following its introduction, blotting paper quickly replaced sand as the method of choice in drying ink. As noted in an opinion piece within the July 6, 1883, edition of the Maryland Independent, lamenting the end of an era:
It is not so many years since blotting sand was an article of foreign export and domestic use. … Some of the merchants of to-day remember when, as clerks in stationery stores, they occupied leisure hours and rainy days in putting into convenient packages blotting sand that came from Block Island by the barrel … The use of blotting sand led to the manufacture of sand-sifters, which in itself was an industry of some magnitude. A piece of paper has displaced them, sand and all.
It was only a matter of time before some enterprising individual determined that desktop blotting paper would provide an excellent medium for commercial advertising, and in that same Maryland Independent piece, the writer notes that the sale of ink blotters would be even larger if the marketplace weren’t flooded with free blotters distributed by companies peddling their goods and services.
In a November 10, 1895 article about the role of job printers in a recent political campaign, the Omaha Daily Bee related the opinion of a printer who claimed that ink blotters were a much more effective form of advertising than traditional campaign cards: “Cards were thrown away, he argued, while blotters were kept for use on the desk and thus held attention of the voter to the name of the candidate. The blotters, good ones, could be furnished at $3.50 per 1,000, printed with the name of the candidates …”
As a free and useful item for household or business consumers, the blotters proved very popular. The Topeka State Journal of April 20, 1900 reported: “A man went through the court house a few days ago distributing advertising blotters. When he started he ahd two large bags full. When he escaped he had a few left, but very few.” At the turn of the 20th century, competition from blotter advertising led newspaper publishers nationwide–at least those not connect to job printers who benefited from printing the blotters–to denounce the medium as an effective form of advertising.
These blotters, all from businesses in southwestern Virginia, performed double duty by including a calendar, a ruler, a football schedule, and a list of early aviation records to insure that consumers would be less likely to discard them (click for full-sized images) (from the O’Shaughnessy Family Papers, Ms1987-052).
The development of quick-drying ink and improvements in fountain pen design were harbingers of doom for the advertising blotter. In the 1940s, Parker Pens promoted a new design by claiming that it made the use of blotting paper unnecessary. Though blotters continued to retain their place among other promotional giveaways in the advertising world for several more years, the mass manufacture and ready availability of the ballpoint pen sounded the medium’s death knell. Blotting paper can of course still be purchased for many other uses, and I suppose it’s possible that there’s a manufacturer out there somewhere who’s churning out desktop advertising blotters for some niche retro market, but the day of the advertising blotter–like that of blotting sand before it–has long passed.
By the time this 1942 blotter employed patriotism and Mickey Mouse to sell Sunoco Oil, the advertising blotter was nearing the end of its popularity (from the O’Shaughnessy Family Papers, Ms1987-052).
Dr. Ben Bova passed away on Sunday, November 29, 2020 from COVID-19 related pneumonia and a stroke. Bova did a great many things in his life—he was a journalist, a technical writer, an editor, a teacher, and more—but likely will be remembered by the general public most often and most fondly for his hard science fiction stories and for his editorial stewardship of flagship magazines Analog (1972-1978) and Omni (1978-1982).
I won’t spend much time eulogizing the man, because I did not know him and those who did already performed the task powerfully and articulately. Instead, I want to explore a few examples of Bova’s work from our collections and his belief in hard science fiction (referred to by Bova as “real science fiction”) as a serious means of grappling with societal issues. Bova once explained “real science fiction” in a column he wrote for the Naples Daily News:
When I say “real science fiction,” I mean stories based solidly on known scientific facts. The writer is free to extrapolate from the known and project into the future, of course. The writer is free to invent anything he or she wants to – as long as nobody can prove that it’s wrong.
Thus science-fiction stories can deal with flights to the stars, or human immortality, a world government, settlements on other worlds. All of these things are possibilities of the future.
Things like mobile phones, earbud headphones, and the internet on which you’re reading this once existed only in the fantastic worlds of the pulp magazines but now are not only real but commonplace. Bova’s own work predicted solar-powered satellites, the space race of the 1960s, human cloning, virtual reality, and even the Strategic Defense Initiative, among other trends and events.
Because hard science fiction hews closely to contemporary scientific knowledge while building alternative worlds and surrogate solutions to modern problems and extrapolated concerns, and because Bova was born into the Great Depression, grew up during World War II, and became an adult during the Cold War, many of his stories explore various scenarios in which, and the methods by which, societal power is concentrated and dispersed. Below are a few examples of such stories from Bova’s substantial ouvre.
The Dueling Machine(1969) In this book, Bova predicts both virtual reality and the internet. The titular Dueling Machine around which the plot is centered allows aggrieved individuals to enter an artificial arena through networked virtual reality setups, combat one another according to an agreed upon set of rules, and leave the experience unscathed in the end, win or lose. The machine has ushered in a new era of peace – one that allows mankind to indulge in its baser instincts without true injury. That is, until someone discovers a way to use this means of peace to kill.
What better way than this machine to avoid the horrors of war experienced in the 1930s and 40s and under the threat of which many lived during the Cold War years thereafter? And how terrifying might it have been in that context to consider the very mechanism of that tenuous peace being seized by those who seek war?
Millennium (1976) Millennium is set in 1999 on the moon base Selene. Both the American and Russian inhabitants of Selene call themselves “Luniks” and the two communities have a good working relationship. On Earth, however, the Americans and Russians are careening toward nuclear war and both sides try to pull Selene into the conflict. Instead, the American and Russian leaders on the moon proclaim the independent nation of Selene and seize control of the orbiting stations that control the American and Soviet defense satellites.
Years before the Strategic Defense Initiative (nicknamed by many “Star Wars”) of the Reagan administration, Bova predicted the use of satellites as a safeguard against ballistic missiles and arguably, how that technology would affect the nuclear stalemate between the USSR and America.
Test of Fire (1982) This re-write of Bova’s 1973 When the Sky Burned grapples very explicitly with the most feared result of the Cold War tensions of the time. The story takes place after a giant solar flare wipes out the populations of Europe, Asia, and Africa and the USSR destroys much of North America in what it mistakenly believes to be retaliation. The last bastion of civilization as we know it exists on the Moon in a lunar base that needs fuel from the now savage Earth.
To explore the possible politics and societal constructs of post-annihilation humanity, Bova anchors the story around the family at the center of the lunar base’s leadership, a group whose motives are often in conflict and whose moral failings are many, as they seek what they need on Earth.
Ben Bova’s work demonstrates how deeply he cared about the global community, and how carefully he marked its failings and successes. He married these observations with his belief in “real science fiction” as a predictive and at its best prescriptive force in society, to create stories both intriguing and instructive. Here, I will leave you with Bova’s own simple description of “what could be”:
If our political leaders had been reading science fiction, we might have been spared the Cold War, the energy crises, the failures of public education and many of the other problems that now seem intractable because we were not prepared to deal with them when they arose.
We could be living in a world that is powered by solar and nuclear energy, drawing our raw materials from the moon and asteroids, moving much of our industrial base into orbit and allowing our home world to become a clean, green residential area.
But very few of us read enough science fiction to learn how to look into the future and see the possibilities of tomorrow, both the good and the bad. Certainly our political leaders are constantly surprised by each new crisis. They don’t look into the future any farther than the next election day.
Science fiction, at its best, is an experimental laboratory where you can test new ideas to see how they might affect people and whole societies. To my mind, it should be required reading for everyone.
Virginia Tech’s Special Collections and University Archives owns as part of the William J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection thousands of novels and roughly 4,500 issues from over 200 titles of British, Australian, and primarily American pulp magazines, dating from the 1910s through the 1980s.
Not quite a year ago, I took a call at the Special Collections and University Archives reference desk from Dr. Henry H. Bauer, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Science Studies and Emeritus Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences here at Virginia Tech. Dr. Bauer had been contacted not long before by a researcher exploring the life of British author Digby George Gerahty, better known by pseudonyms Stephen Lister and Robert Standish. Hoping to pass them along to his new acquaintance, Dr. Bauer wished to retrieve from the papers he donated to SCUA in the 1990s any copies of his brief correspondence with Gerahty in the summer and fall of 1980.
I was intrigued as to the exact contents of the correspondence, but thought I had a good sense of how the exchange would read. Maybe Gerahty wrote to pick Dr. Bauer’s brain about the particulars of some chemical reaction he wished to feature in a story. Maybe he wrote to run some dialogue by Dr. Bauer to ensure a scientist character sounded authentic. Surely, Gerahty was the one seeking information and surely the answer would be based in some cold, hard truth tested a thousand times in a sterile lab.
You must realize from the title of this post that I had set myself up for a bit of a shock.
Virginia Tech’s Special Collections and University Archives owns as part of the William J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection roughly 4,500 issues from over 200 titles of British, Australian, and primarily American pulp magazines, dating from the 1910s through the 1980s.
In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, let’s take a look at a lucky thirteen spooky, suspenseful, or otherwise spine-tingling covers to be found in the collection.
Make an animation. Make a gif. Make a collage. Write some microfiction. Write a poem. Get out your digital black-out marker to create some redacted poetry. Make something entirely unique that was inspired by an image or string of text. Remix and stretch your creativity. Archives are here to inspire!
Archives matter. They preserve records of human history and offer glimpses into the past. Historians mine them for the sources that make up their books and artists, musicians, and writers pull inspiration for their creative works. Genealogists seek out threads of family history and alumni find scholastic treasures.
October is American Archives Month and to celebrate special collections departments everywhere we’re holding an Archives Remix event all month long. Take some inspiration from the Virginia Tech Library archives and stretch your creative muscles by producing a visual or written work that uses one or more of the VT Special Collections images that are posted above.
Share your work on social media (Twitter or Instagram), tag #VTArchivesRemix and @VT_SCUA, and let us know which image(s) inspired your work. We’ll be sharing your artwork and written pieces all month long!
Send us your creations:
Crumbling under the weight of words:
Send us a piece of microfiction inspired by one or more of the images. Economy is key, so make sure to exercise efficiency of language. Submissions should be 200 words or less.
Use one or more of the images to create a new visual work. Think beyond boundaries and remix the images with your own work or repeat elements of the same picture to create something entirely new. Stills or animations, collages, videos, photographs, memeswe want to see it all.
Brief and bold:
Poetry is the ultimate in brevity and elegance of prose–no room for stray words or useless turns of phrase. Take inspiration from a fleeting image or line of text. Redact words on an existing page to unveil something entirely new. We can’t wait to read your poems, written or redacted.
Choose from the following images to inspire your own works:
Need a little extra inspiration?
Read this incredibly moving microfiction piece, Sticks,by George Saunders.
We recently received an Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer as a donation from Virginia Tech alumnus, Bob Sweeney. We asked him some questions about his background and this computer. Here are his answers:
Q: Tell us a little about your background as it relates to computing in the 1970s-1980s.
A:At the time, I was a technical writer for a software house that developed products for the HP-3000. We were a small company and I could not always get access to a terminal to access theLARC-3000 word processor I used (Los Altos Research Center – chosen because it spelled Larc, as in “Going out on a larc.”). I was an experienced TW, but this job was the first that allowed me to us a WP. Well, allowed is the wrong word. My buddy – Steve White, VT Class of 1962 – was our head of sales. I mentioned to him that I was ready for my manuscript to go to the typing pool. He replied, “Bob, we’re a computer company. You use the computer.” (I never wanted to do it any other way again. I’d spent 2/3rd of my time proofreading!)
Q: What initially attracted you to the Osborne 1?
A:The Osborne 1 ads showed people carrying the machine in elevators, buses, through an airport. At $1600 with a printer and a bundle of software, this was an affordable machine. When I bought the O1, for instance, a business man was buying a comparable machine (same printer, same processor, same drive, same memory) and he paid twice as much for his IBM. By the by, you probably can find one of those ads online.
Osborne 1 ad c.1981
Q: What was your experience with the computer? Did it work as advertised?
A:It was great! I used its WordStar WP to do my stuff at home and prepare files for the HP. (LARC-3000 was an embedded-command WP. For example, like HTML, <b>….</b> for bold, <p>…</p> for paragraphs.) I could encode the files for HP. With a simple application (included) I could conduct work as though the Osborne was a terminal to the HP. Best of all, I could save my files on a floppy, allowing me to work at home, offline!
I loved the Epson printer, too. In fact, I had trouble reloading the paper one day. I got out the manual and was surprised to find no loading instructions! In frustration, I tried again. The path was so simple, if you just stuck the paper in, it would load properly! I’d thought too hard about it!
Q: The computer was advertised as portable, did you transport it from place to place like one would with a modern laptop?
A:Yes, I carried it from home to work and back. But best of all, we were working on a proposal with a customer in Boston. We took the Osborne up with us on the plane and that night updated the propsal!
Q:What was your favorite thing about this computer?
A:That flexibility. WordStar was easy to use. There was also Basic and VisiCal, although I used neither much. We did do several proposals and business plans using the Visicalc and its links to WordStar (A mail merge function). (If I remember, VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet for microcomputers. We could probably dump it into LARC-3000, too.)
Q:What was your least favorite thing?
A:As you’ve seen, the screen is small! I got a magnifier for the screen, but my nephew – with good eyes – threw it away!
Q:Why did you decide to find a home for the computer rather than recycling it as many would do?
A:It has no value, so I just couldn’t send it off to some beach in India. It was my first and started me out on a career of the future. I still marvel at how any writer did it in the old days! You spent twice as much – possibly three times as much – of your days proofing than writing. (Of course, we also had to learn a new skill – usually from several hard experiences – backing up.
Q:Is there anything more you would like to share about the Osborne 1 Computer?
A:Not as famous as the Apple, but the Osborne 1 was an important step for businesses in the computer revolution. They would be better known if they’d developed an IBM clone. They did have a machine with a larger screen, but it was still CP/M.
Some Computer History
When looking at history, we often ascribe specific importance to that which is first. For example, in 1911 Roald Amundsen from Norway was the first person to reach the South Pole and in 1926 he was recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. Regardless of the objective truth of these claims (whether indigenous people reached the North Pole before him) he is granted a certain cachet by being recognized as the first. You can find an entire list of similar firsts on Biography Online‘s site.
What does all of this have to do with the Osborne 1 portable microcomputer? Well, it is one of those special things that is special because of its status as first. The Osborne 1 was the first portable microcomputer. For those not familiar with computing history, this was the first (type of) computer (the woman, not the machine):
After human computers came large room-sized machines such as the Harvard Mark 1 in 1944.
As the world of computer technology progressed through the later half of the 1940s and through the 1950s and 1960s, improvements to computer technology were developed and introduced. Punch card input gave way to keyboard input. Components got smaller, leading to “microcomputers” which are just computers that are small. The term generally refers to computers smaller than room sized. Screens were added. Networking via phone lines was added. New and exciting programming languages were created.
As the 1970s progressed, we saw the introduction of the first personal computers (meaning small machines that were within the grasp of an individual to own/operate) from companies such as IBM, with the IBM 5150 Personal Computer being released in 1981. The 5150 followed a great deal of work by IBM in developing a commercial personal computer. Their main competitor was Xerox who introduced the Xerox PARC Alto (a computer that we would recognize today – with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard) in 1974.
In 1976, Apple released the Apple I and then followed with the Apple II in 1977. That year, Tandy Radio Shack (TRS) released their TRS-80, Atari released their computer gaming console, and Commodore entered the market with the PET. Computers were entering the public consciousness and it wasn’t unheard of for people to have a computer at home. It was also becoming much more commonplace to have one at work. During this time, the subject of portable computers was a hot topic and there were entrants to the space as early as 1973 (HP-9830A). Still, an affordable, easily portable personal computer was something that remained mostly a dream until the Osborne 1 was announced in 1981.
The Osborne 1 was billed as revolutionary, hence the ad featuring the Mujahadeen. It was the first really portable computer. It weighed 24 pounds and came in a case designed to absorb the inevitable knocks it would receive being transported from place to place. It was the first product of the Osborne Computer Corporation, named for its founder Adam Osborne, and known for lending its name to the Osborne Effect – a company going out of business by announcing a new product too soon and killing sales of their current product. Despite its demise in 1985, the Osborne Computer Corporation succeeded in producing a viable portable computer
The corporation had effective marketing and certainly grabbed the attention of the computer-savvy business professional of the early 1980s.
And, Interface Age magazine whose tag line was “published for the home computerist” named it an “outstanding buy” in November of 1981.
Our Osborne 1 is the first of what we hope will be many classic computers housed in Special Collections and available for the public to interact with. If you want to see this piece of computing history, stop by Special Collections in Newman Library anytime Monday-Friday 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.
R. Buckminster Fuller. This name is probably familiar to most people in the United States. It conjures images of futuristic domed cities of the type typical to a mid-20th century vision of the future.
Richard Buckminster Fuller, also called Bucky, was a celebrity. He was an engineer, an architect, a veteran, an environmentalist, a philosopher, and a poet. He was a celebrity because of these things rather than in spite of them. He was born July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts. He went to Harvard University for two years but did not finish. He later went to the United States Naval Academy (1917). He was an officer in the United States Navy during World War I.
For me, Fuller is a legendary figure. I grew up with cultural references to “bucky” balls, images of domed cities in speculative fiction, and knowing conceptually about the structure of fullerenes. So, when I was wandering through the archives looking for something to post about this week, I was excited to see a box labeled “R. Buckminster Fuller Collection 1949-1978” (Ms1975-007). Opening it up was like opening a present.
Our collection includes one folder of correspondence from and to Fuller, three folders containing copies of things Fuller wrote, six folders of things written about Fuller, and two oversized folders containing some rather large items within those categories. Looking through the materials, they aren’t like what most people expect to find in an archives. They aren’t handwritten. They aren’t really old. They aren’t deteriorating. They’re just extremely fascinating.
The letters are from November 1953 – December 1962. Most are from Fuller’s time working on his business Geodesics, Inc. They are typed. They are unsigned. Yet, for a fan of his work, they are exhilarating to read. The first one I laid eyes on was written while Fuller was with the Department of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. As if these being Fuller’s own words wasn’t enough, a connection to Minnesota biases me in favor of something from the start.
In the letter, Fuller is telling Tyler Rogers of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Co. about the challenges and modifications of his designs that have been necessary because of a lack of the necessary facilities to safely employ fiberglas in their construction. The letter is a finely crafted plea for assistance from this fiberglas manufacturer, and, according to a note added at the end, the plea was successful leading Owens-Corning to supply all the fiberglas used in the project to construct Fuller’s dome.
Take a look. Maybe you’ll find it as fascinating as I do:
Digging further into the materials, even just glancing, I learned much more about this mythic figure from my childhood. Had he been alive today, I am confident Fuller would have been viewed as an activist. His engineering ideas were rooted in his conception of the need for humanity to work together to support itself. He felt that domes could solve world housing problems. He also felt that industrialization had led the world to war and that as long as income inequality was creating “energy slaves” we would inevitably progress into further wars. Dipping into our small collection yields evidence of these views quite quickly.
The above illustration hints at Fuller’s environmentalism and highlights his concern for housing the population of the Earth. It reads:
26% of Earth’s surface is dry land 85% of all Earth’s dry land is here shown
86% of all dry land shown is above equator
The whole of the human family could stand on Bermuda
All crowded into England they would have 750 sq feet each “United we stand, divided we fall” is correct mentaly and spiritualy but falacious physicaly or materialy
2,000,000,000 new homes will be required in next 80 years
An example of his analysis of the world’s energy economy and its effect on the incidence of world conflict appears on the same folded sheet:
This graphic is from 1952 and is titled “The Twentieth Century.” His analysis reads:
World Industrialization: Its rate of attainment as an industrially objective advantage to individuals. i.e. When 100 inanimate energy slaves* are in continual active service per each and every family existing in governing economy and those energy slaves are primarily focused upon regeneratively advancing standards of living and in articulating amplifying degrees of intellectual and physical freedoms until critical point is reached majority of world men are “have nots” and are incitable to socialism by revolution against the seemingly ever more unduly privileged minority after 1972 majority are “haves”.
* One energy slave equals each unit of “one trillion foot pound equivalents per annum” consumed annually by respective economies from both import and domestic sources, computed at 100% of potential content
Overall, it’s an interesting plot. His analysis, while raising the specter of Communism as villain (typical of the early 1950s), shows global instability and a trend toward possible conflict through 1972. That tipping point is supposedly when most people in the world will go from being “have nots” to being “haves”. His predictions may or may not have been accurate (I’ll leave the correlative analysis up to you) but they certainly are interesting.
The last thing I’ll share is a portion of something I found somewhat interesting from among Fuller’s writings. Most of his writings in our collection are reprints of articles he had published. From a publishing standpoint, I find them interesting because of how they are printed. They are self-contained. In the case of the one I will share, an entire page describing articles in the publication is present but the only one that is printed with full clarity is the one by Fuller – the others have been “blurred” via the addition of slight pixilation of the ink in the printing process. I have yet to actually read this article, so I won’t go into depth. I also won’t share the entire thing here because I really don’t want to make the publication if came from mad at me. Also, just to be clear, I’m reading it for the article (I mean, really, that’s all that’s even here!).
This is just a hint of what’s in our R. Buckminster Fuller Collection (Ms1975-007). I plan to delve into it more myself to satisfy my curiosity about this fascinating man. Please stop by and do the same! And, if you want even more Buckminster Fuller content, Fuller donated his full archive to Standord University in 1999 where it is available as the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection.
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!
Did you hear? (Of course, you did.) Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature a few weeks ago. As the Nobel committee wrote, it awarded the prize to Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” That is a mighty step up for an already valued and valuable tradition that is even more varied than are Dylan’s songs themselves. Political, personal, complicated, narrowly topical, broad and metaphorical, silly, stupid, catchy, maddening, romantic, lyrical, sentimental, commercial: Whatever human emotion, quality, or experience you may think of, there are songs to go along. And when it comes to reflecting, initiating, or participating in social trends, songs are certainly there, too. So, although the occasion of Dylan’s winning the Prize didn’t, by itself, make me think about the sheet music collections we have here at Special Collections, specifically, collections of “popular” music, it did provide some of the impetus that leads me to write just a bit about some of them.
Sheet music has a long history. Printed sheet music goes back almost to Gutenberg, at least in the West, to about twenty years after his printing press. The variety of printed music is nearly endless–church music, orchestral music, opera, dance music, tunes, lieder–so much so that the best definition of sheet music has to do with its description as a physical object. The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University offers the following:
On this basis then, sheet music is best described as single sheets printed on one or both sides, folios (one sheet folded in half to form four pages), folios with a loose half-sheet inserted to yield six pages, double-folios (an inner folio inserted within the fold of an outer folio to make eight pages) and double-folios with a loose half-sheet inserted within the fold of an inner folio to produce ten pages.
Some of the earliest popular sheet music we have in our collection dates from around the American Civil War. On the left is a tune published in 1860 for Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign, Honest Old Abe’s Quick Step. On the right, from just a couple of years later is Take Your Gun and Go, John, a song of resignation and sorrow, sung by a wife as her husband leaves for war.
Don’t stop a moment to think John, your country calls then go; Don’t think of me or the children John, I’ll care for them you know. But take your gun and go John, take your gun and go, for Ruth can drive the oxen John and I can use the hoe. . . . And now goodbye to you John I cannot say farewell; we’ll hope and pray for the best John; god’s goodness none can tell. Be his great arm around you John to guard you night and day; Be our beloved country’s shield till the war has passed away. Then take your gun and go John take your gun and go, for Ruth can drive the oxen John and I can use the hoe. . . .
This song may be from the Civil War, but just about 150 years after its publication, it still is timely. In 2013, it was recorded and released by Loretta Lynn, and although it is on an album of Civil War-era songs, it does continue to speak. Give it a listen.
Moving into the 20th century, the music publishing business increased dramatically as the theater, music, and entertainment industries grew. With the availability of inexpensive color printing, sheet music for popular songs began to feature colorful covers, illustrations that, along with the music and lyrics, offer an additional window into the contemporary currents of the time. Societal norms with regard to gender and race may be represented, as well as less weighty subjects, such as the sudden fashionability of bicycle riding, or the more significant increase in automobile travel, along with all its attendant themes of freedom, mobility, and romance, among others. World events, also, made their way into the popular song of the day. Consider “America, Here’s My Boy.”
Before listening to the song, what do we see? I don’t know about you, but the sight of “Every American Mother” offering up her son to face what was, by May 1917, well-known carnage, is remarkable. Also, let’s just take a moment to reflect on how the image of American motherhood–even idealized American motherhood–has changed in a hundred years. But America needed men (and boys) to fight, so here was the message, as proclaimed in the chorus of the song:
America, I raised a boy for you. America, You’ll find him staunch and true, Place a gun upon his shoulder, He is ready to die or do. America, he is my only one; My hope, my pride and joy, But if I had another, he would march beside his brother; America, here’s my boy.
If you’re curious, here’s a recording of the song from 1918 by The Peerless Quartet. I should also mention something about this cover that I hadn’t seen and was pointed out to me by a most perceptive student. Apparently, the United States shares a northern border with another country, but has no such neighbor to the south! Mexico, though officially neutral throughout the First World War, shared a difficult, and often openly hostile relationship with the U.S. at the time. On 28 February 1917, a few months before this song was published, the contents of the Zimmerman Telegram was made public by President Woodrow Wilson. The contents of this communication, intercepted and deciphered by the British in January of that year, was sent from the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmerman, to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, with instructions to propose a military alliance with Mexico, should the U.S. enter the war against Germany. (OK, it’s more complicated than that, but the deal was to involve return to Mexico of land lost to the U.S. in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.) Anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. was already high, and this incident only led to its increase. So, as far as the illustration on the sheet music was concerned, perhaps, geography was taking a back seat to politics.
Staying with 1917, the title, “Somewhere in France is Daddy,” is just sopping with sadness. As shown on the cover, a young mother, with a framed photo of her soldier-husband in the background, has to explain to her young son why Daddy isn’t home. Daddy, of course, is fighting for home and country, for liberty . . . “somewhere in France” and he “wont come back/ Til the stars and stripes theyll tack/ On Kaiser Williams flagstaff in Berlin.”
It’s not quite at the level of . . . “Please Mr. Conductor, Don’t put me off of your train, For the best friend I have in this whole wide world Is waiting for me in vain; Expected to die any moment, And may not live through the day: I want to bid mother goodbye, sir, Before God takes her away” . . . which I know as a Blue Sky Boys song, and which, deservedly, has won every “Saddest Song contest” I’m aware of. But, as the young boy poses the question, he puts this song right up there:
A little boy was sitting on his mothers knee one day
And as he nestled close to her these words she heard him say
Oh mother dear please tell me why our Daddy dont come home
I miss him so and you do too, why are we left alone
He tried hard not to cry, as she answered with a sigh
Here are five more sheet music covers from songs associated with World War I. The links below will take you to a recording of the song, if available.
“We’re Going Over” (Joe Morris Music Co., New York, 1917) Again, if this Library of Congress link doesn’t work, try this.
“Loyalty is the Word Today” (Great Aim Society, New York, 1917) No recording available
“Over There” (William Jerome Publishing Corp., New York, 1917). If this link from Library of Congress doesn’t work, you can try this.
“Hoe Your ‘Little Bit’ in Your Own Back Yard: Where the Boy Scouts Go, ‘Tis Hoe, Hoe, Hoe” (Great Aim Society, New York, 1917) No recording available
Sheet music may not be what you think of when your looking for a view on culture and society, but it can definitely provide an interesting, if unexpected, part of the picture. What were folks listening to? How was the music presented? How was it received? How did people react to it? When and where was it played? Who wrote it? What’s their story? Special Collections has three collections comprised entirely of sheet music, as well as individually cataloged pieces and occasional pieces in other collections. These links will take you to the finding aid for each collection, which, among other information, will list all the titles in the collection:
To end on a more hopeful note, is a song from World War II, written in 1942, in fact. The United States had been at war less than a year, though it had been a long war in Europe already. I didn’t recognize this one from the title, “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World),” but once I heard it, I knew I had heard it before. It hit #1 on the Pop charts by early ’43. It’s an interesting illustration on the cover. Of course, where is the source of the light located? And, there is the “Buy War Bonds” logo in the lower right. Here’s how the song starts:
When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world
And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above
A kiss won’t mean “goodbye” but “Hello” to love
No more hard rain.
Lastly, to the folks who, given the beginning of this post, thought it might be about some great Bob Dylan stuff we have in Special Collections, I offer my apologies.
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 thatthough not as celebrated as the above exampleshas had a significant influence on the course of events. Robert Elliott Burnss I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! is an account of the authors experiences inand escape fromthe Georgia penal system of the 1920s. Burnss vivid description of the systems 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 erratica 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 wed 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 homelanded the good jobsor 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 ringleaders 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 convicts striped uniform and shackled with heavy chains, Burns was transported to one of Georgias 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 tiringyet 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 hed 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 fugitivebetrayed, 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 Countys 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 hed 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 hed escaped. Its now my lifes 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 Burnss 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 Burnss 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 didnt 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.