Finding Old Friends in Less-Old Places

I love MSG. I love monosodium glutamate, and I am not ashamed! Thus, naturally, I was quite pleased when I was handed the Melvin Benarde papers. This collection contains manuscripts for the title The Chemicals in our Food by Melvin A. Benarde, an author and professor of Environmental Studies at Temple, Drexel, and Hahnemann Medical School, all right here in Philadelphia. “Oh yes,” I thought. This was going to be lots of fun. “Bring on the doomsday warnings! Tell us about how food additives are going to make us grow extra limbs and hideously disfigured faces!”

However, I did not find any such warnings. Instead I found a surprisingly sympathetic attitude toward chemicals in food, and the Classicist in me found a few old friends. Herodotus, Benarde says, described an Egyptian practice of preserving fish by salting. This, in my book, is a huge point in favor of salted fish. If it’s good enough for Herodotus, it’s good enough for me!

Benarde also uses a Classical example to point out the fact that “natural” chemicals can be just as harmful as artificial ones: “When…the ‘elders’ decided that Socrates was too disturbing an influence on the Athenian community, he was handed an extract of Conium maculatum—the hemlock plant—with which to dispatch himself to a more propitious environment.” Ah, yes, that little incident. Let’s just call that strike one against natural chemical “comestibles” and say it cancels out with the one above…

Oddly humorous references to the death of Socrates aside, this collection was a lot of fun to work with. Seeing Benarde’s ideas on chemical food additives from a time before some of them had a chance to be normalized or vilified, as they are now, provided unique insights into how our own ideas, and doomsday fears, about chemical additives developed.

Philadelphia connections in the Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos

Dimitri Mitropoulos in Philadelphia (c. 1945). Photo by Adrian Siegel. Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Dimitri Mitropoulos in Philadelphia (c. 1945). Photo by Adrian Siegel. Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

The Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos is now processed and open for research. Oliver Daniel was a composer, music producer, and musicologist, who wrote a biography of conductor Leopold Stokowski in 1982 and was working on a biography of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos at the time of Daniel’s death in 1990. Daniel had conducted more than 180 interviews with over 120 individuals from 1982 to 1989 while researching the biography. Daniel’s longtime partner and executor of his estate Donald Ott sought an author to complete the biography and made Daniel’s oral history transcripts and notes available to author William R. Trotter, who completed the book, Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos, published by Amadeus Press in 1995. Ott donated the collection to Penn in 2006.

The oral history interviews and research materials cover all aspects of Mitropoulos’s life and career, including his early life in Greece and his conducting positions in America as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, music director of the New York Philharmonic, and principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Daniel interviewed musicians who played and sang for Mitropoulos, conductors who were mentored by him, and composers whose works Mitropoulos premiered and championed domestically and abroad.

Jeanette MacDonald with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell (July 20, 1945). Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Jeanette MacDonald with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell (July 20, 1945). Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Additionally, from 1944-1948, Mitropoulos served as principal conductor of the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra, which was the name applied to the Philadelphia Orchestra during its summer months performing at the outdoor amphitheater in Fairmount Park. For a time, Mitropoulos’s Dell concerts were wildly popular. Trotter indicates that crowds reached up to 7,000 per concert in Mitropoulos’s first season there and up to 14,000 in the 1947 season. In 1948, however, the Republican convention was held in Philadelphia, and attendance took a significant hit. Philadelphians were either at the convention or watching it at home—it was the first political convention to be broadcast on television. In the middle of that season the Dell concerts were abandoned altogether. Continue reading

William Nickerson Bates manuscripts on Euripides and Sophocles, or “where I fall in love with academia all over again”

I put aside my last collection, a former Penn professor’s manuscripts for books on Euripides and Sophocles, about two hours ago to head to some meetings with two of my most trusted professors. Our conversations centered upon my decision to go for a PhD in Ancient History, the process of applying to do so (for the second time around, but that’s another story), and my anxieties about the whole mess. A particularly long and winding portion of one conversation about my academic history ended with the question: “Are you saying all of this because you want to figure out how to put it in your personal statement, or is this you telling me that you’re having anxieties about whether or not you want to do this?”

My answer was so sudden and succinct that I could have sworn it jumped straight out of my heart or my gut, or whatever idiom suits it best in English (but I’m going to go with my φρήν, because, as per usual, the Greeks did it better). “No.” I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to do this because it is hard, because it is the only thing that has ever challenged me so much and so satisfyingly, and because it is the only thing in the world where I feel I could wake up every morning for a very, very long time still wanting to do it.”

And I came back to my collection with a wholly different mindset. The box I opened when I returned to my desk was not, as it had been previously, a box filled with my aspirations, the things I one day hoped to do in the optative; it was a box filled with my future indicative, despite the fact that its contents most certainly reflect something closer to the imperfect. It was no longer a pile of outdated theories that I could refute if, for one reason or another, my work led me to Classical reception from the late 1920s to the early 1940s; it was, however antiquated or disproven, a physical manifestation of the discourse that I pursue. This professor woke up every morning and did this thing that I am doing, and he did it from at least 1886 to 1940.

This, I realize, is an awful lot of depth for a collection that takes up 0.4 linear feet and fits neatly into one box, with not a single sheet protruding out of line. I think a lot of people probably find this kind of collection rather boring, page upon typewritten page of what would eventually become a book you can now purchase on the internet for three dollars, but I found it totally engrossing. Now, of course, this wasn’t totally unrelated to the fact that I’m a Classicist or that I happened to write my senior thesis on Euripides, but that certainly wasn’t everything. Earlier this year I worked on the Melvin Benarde papers, which dealt with health and the environment, neither of which falls anywhere near my area of expertise, and I loved the experience every bit as much as I did this one, so I figured there must be something more. It was the conversation with my professor that made me realize what it was: I am utterly fascinated by the history and process of academia.

Before the fortuitous confluence of all these ideas, I wasn’t totally sure how much of a purpose it really served to process collections like this one; I mean, if the published version of the book is out there, and if the author isn’t a famous historical figure, why would anyone schlep all the way to Philadelphia to come look at a typewritten copy with the occasional correction or note? The thing is: there’s really not much value if you’re only interested in reading the text, but if you’re interested in the process, these manuscripts are fascinating. The published books don’t show you where the author got tired and his handwritten notes began to look like squiggles, where he literally cut up his work and pasted it back together, or where he would have had to switch typewriters to change languages (which makes me feel awfully silly about whining over the two clicks it takes to switch back and forth from polytonic Greek). I’m sure I’m not the only nerd/scholar who feels this way, so here are some highlights from the collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

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Civil War in the Robert Milton Speer papers

My first collection here at the Special Collections Processing Center was letters to and from a man named Robert Milton Speer. Before bonding with Mr. Speer through his collection of around three hundred letters, I knew absolutely nothing of this United States Senator from the mid 1800s, nor that he even existed at all. Now, finished with boxing up his little slice of history, it’s hard to let him go. The youngest of six children, Speer had (according to his biography in the Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century)  excelled through school and had become a successful and prominent lawyer before embarking on his journey towards becoming a U.S. Senator in the Forty-Second and Forty-Third Congresses. Along the way he met some incredibly quirky characters who wrote to him in handwriting that had me feeling like I was translating for my Ancient Greek course, and who asked him, sometimes, for the strangest of favors. A man advocating for a murder sentence to be lessened because the convicted man wasn’t usually horrible is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Celebrating World Day for Audio Visual Heritage with Hollywood Songs

monday-mourning-on-saturday-night_coverMonday, October 27 is World Day for Audio Visual Heritage, a day promoted by UNESCO and the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA), for raising awareness of the preservation issues of the vast and valuable audio-visual materials in our archives. For several reasons, audio-visual information is especially vulnerable to loss: much of it is rare or unique, irreplaceable if lost; it is kept on a dizzying array of media types, many of which have become obsolete; many of these media types are extremely fragile and are prone to degradation over time; and to even know what is on a given recording may require that it be played — an act that could easily spell the end of that particular recording’s life.

The collections of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at Penn contain some wonderful audio-visual material. Some of it has been expertly preserved, reformatted in high quality digital form, with originals receiving appropriate housing and an environment that will sustain them as long as possible. But the cost of this treatment is high and the amount of material needing attention is ever growing.

a-square-in-the-social-circle-from-the-paramount-picture-the-stork-club_cover Continue reading

Save the date for “Cataloging Conflict” on October 16

archives_monthPlease join the rare book and manuscript catalogers of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts for “Cataloging Conflict,” one of a series of Archives Month Philly events celebrating archives and special collections in Philadelphia cultural institutions. “Cataloging Conflict” will be held on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm in the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion of the Kislak Center.


Inspired by the centenary of the start of World War I, Penn’s archivists and rare book catalogers have combed the Kislak Center special collections for a wide variety of materials documenting war and conflict through the ages. Their favorite finds, which will be on display for this special event, include war propaganda printed on toilet paper, engravings of the Trojan War sold by subscription to fund the 1660 printing of Homer’s Iliad, a spectacular manuscript roll depicting major figures in England’s Wars of the Roses, indulgences sold to raise money for papal armies, 16th-century woodcuts of bizarre inventions for siege-craft and underwater warfare, escape maps and blood chits, soldiers’ songs performed by Marian Anderson, hand-colored illustrations of war elephants, letters to and from soldiers in World Wars I and II, the diary of an American Civil War draft dodger and … Penn’s famous Rocket Cats!


The Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion is located in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the 6th floor of the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library (3420 Walnut St, Philadelphia Pa. 19104). The event is free and open to the public. Please bring a photo ID to enter the building. Registration for this talk is appreciated but not required. Please RSVP here or contact us at or 215.898.7088.

Nice to meet you. Let’s talk about hats.

Hello, Academic Blogosphere! It’s lovely to meet you. Today I’ll be sharing with you the third collection I’ve worked on since I started here in Special Collections Processing, but first, let me introduce myself. I’m a second-year Post-Baccalaureate student in Classical Studies at Penn. I also did my undergrad at Penn, so I’ve been around for quite some time. My background is in ancient history and civilization, and most of my work focuses on social history in Classical Greece. When I’m not studying dead languages and dead people, I spend most of my time thinking about food. I also write a blog for a local purveyor of cured meats (i.e., BACON! and other stuff), so if I slip in a porcine pun here or there, please forgive me.

Anyhow, on to the collection! Yesterday, Holly handed me a pair of boxes filled with the Bartholomew family’s theatrical scrapbooks. Unfortunately, a large portion of the collection was unlabeled, so it’s hard to say exactly who’s who. A rather thorough combing of the internet turned up virtually no information on the Bartholomew family and not a single picture, so it is impossible to verify the identities of some of the depicted. This leads me to believe that the Bartholomew family acting careers weren’t particularly illustrious.

Despite this letdown, the collection makes up for its labeling deficiencies with a thoroughly satisfying quantity of rather “theatrical” hats. While the scrapbooks are loaded with all sorts of fodder for research, it is the silly headgear that intrigues me most.

I think every Classicist can tell you that hats are one of the most exciting things about history. My personal favorite is the Phrygian cap, generally worn by non-Greeks as far back, allegedly, as the Trojan War. It looks like this:

See? How could Classicists not love hats! So just imagine my excitement when I stumbled across these babies in the Bartholomew family collection:

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As I’m sure you can tell, this collection was a ton of fun to work with. I found it especially interesting to see that the Bartholomew family, since they lived in Philadelphia, left tangible records of their interactions with city landmarks that still exist today. The family scrapbooks include funeral bills from the Olive H. Bair Funeral Home on Chestnut Street near Rittenhouse Square, which I pass on my way to the pharmacy, and playbills from the Walnut Street Theater, where Philadelphians and tourists alike still go to see shows. As a social historian, I’m fascinated by what quotidian things these not-so-prominent actors thought necessary to immortalize in their scrapbooks, and I’m totally blown-away by the fact that those things are still a part of my daily life.

On that note, I think it’s time for me to get started on my next collection, but before I go, let me leave you with this last little bonus image from the collection: a rather seriously-mustachioed gentleman who, much to my dismay, remains unidentified.

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The papers of Hollywood lyricist Ray Evans

Rehearsing songs from the movie “Fancy Pants.” From left to right: Jay Livingston (at the piano), Ray Evans, Annette Warren, Lucille Ball and Bob Welch. From the Ray Evans papers, Ms. Coll. 860.

The Ray Evans papers document the life and career of Hollywood lyricist and Penn alum Ray Evans. Graduating from Penn in 1936, Evans went on to form the song-writing team of Livingston & Evans, with fellow Penn alum, Jay Livingston. The duo is remembered today for hits such as “Buttons and bows,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Que sera, sera,” the three songs for which they won Oscars. While the collection here at Penn does not include the famous gold statuettes, there is much more in the collection than just a few famous tunes. The substantial collection contains correspondence, sheet music, lyrics, scripts, press clippings, sound recordings, photographs, programs, awards, memorabilia, and art work.

Among the Livingston & Evans anecdotes which have been repeated numerous times is the fact that another hit tune of theirs, “Silver bells,” was originally titled “Tinkle bells.” That is, until Jay’s wife Lynne told them that the word “tinkle” had another meaning besides “a light, clear ringing sound.” But digging a little deeper into the collection we find that those were not the only words to be changed. Indeed, the song, which the duo came to call “the annuity” for all the royalties it brought in, started its life with very different lyrics. Compare: Continue reading

William R. Mathews/John Foster Dulles correspondence

Finishing up my internship here in the Special Collections Processing Center before moving on to digital humanities, I was given yet another little gem of a collection, the William R. Mathews papers. Even though this collection consists of no more than one skinny box of correspondence, I was so fascinated that it took me two days to finish just because I had to read them all. There are two very notable things about this box. The first is that the correspondence is largely complete: that is, I have both sides of the conversations, organized by year, many of them direct replies to each other. The second is who wrote them.

The letters fly back and forth between the editor of the Arizona Daily Star, William R. Mathews, and John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. They chart the friendship between the two men over nearly seventeen years, from Dulles’ first formal letter to the editor in 1941 to the last in 1957, followed by a few more letters over the years to and from Dulles’ widow. The letters reference visits and calls between the two and their families as well.

From the first “Dear sir” on January 31, 1941, to the last “Dear Foster” on July 19, 1957, the letters show the meeting of two powerful minds, bent towards the same subjects and with many of the same ideas. Dulles and Mathews discussed everything from the role of Christianity and the church in American politics to the Allies’ policies around Germany, the Berlin blockade, and the later Bikini bomb experiments, which Mathews witnessed.

Mathews often advises Dulles on what he thinks Dulles ought to do, up to and including advising him about what he thought Thomas E. Dewey should do as Presidential candidate. He comments on and critiques Dulles’ and Dewey’s speeches, and the two also exchange and discuss each others’ publications and pamphlets, some of which are included in the collection.

The final jewel in this crown is Mathews’ diary of the beginning of the Korean War. He was in South Korea and Japan at the outbreak of the war as a journalist, and kept a fascinating record of what he saw and heard there, as the Americans went from “this will be no problem, we know exactly what’s happening,” to “what on earth just happened?!”

The moral of the story, folks, is “don’t hesitate to write a letter to the editor, you might end up with a lifelong friend.”

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John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization

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An invitation card to John Bartram’s 200th Anniversary, 1899

For those interested in the John Bartram Association, the organization responsible for the preservation of John Bartam’s former home and garden known today as Bartram’s Garden, the national historic landmark house and garden and treasure to the Philadelphia community and botanical enthusiasts across the globe, the John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization is now available for use!

This collection, dating from 1779 to 1937 (bulk 1893 to 1911), documents the association’s foundation and early administrative activities predominately through correspondence with individuals and organizations including John M. Macfarlane, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, the Bartram Memorial Library Committee, Philadelphia Allied Organizations, and the Fairmount Park Commissioners. The collection is accented by newspaper clippings, advertising fliers, and invitation cards that relate to Bartram’s legacy, his former home and garden, his library, and the study of botany.

John Bartram (1699-1777) was born a third-generation Quaker in Darby, Pennsylvania, who followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a farmer. However, his inquiry into the natural world went well beyond farming, into botany and horticulture. These curiosities earned him an important place in the scientific world for his discoveries and generosity in sharing knowledge of the fledgling scientific discipline of botany. Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist and originator of the system of taxonomic classification, regarded Bartram as the “greatest natural botanist in this world,” an achievement yet unheard of from his European counterparts at the time considering his American colonial roots. In 1928, Bartram purchased a 102-acre plot of land from Swedish settlers with the intention of examining its ecology. This plot of land, now known as Bartram’s Garden, was the source of much inquiry for Bartram, in addition to his explorations of the east-coast, from New England to Florida, until the end of his life in 1777.

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Correspondence from the Philadelphia Allied Organizations requesting that the John Bartram Association join the park systems alliance, 1906

The site of Bartram’s Garden was maintained by Bartram’s descendants and other enthusiasts of the natural world, beginning with his daughter, Ann Bartram Carr and her husband Colonel Robert Carr in 1777 to the formation of the John Bartram Association in 1893. By the time the John Bartram Association was formed, it was evident that the grounds were in need of care that reached beyond the ability and resources of those in charge. The John Bartram Association and the allied park system of Philadelphia negotiated the terms to transfer the care and maintenance of Bartram’s former home and garden to the city of Philadelphia. Thanks to those negotiations, the home and garden are now under the care of the Fairmount Garden System.


A history of the “John Bartram Memorial Library” written by John M. Macfarlane, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, 1926

In addition to the records pertaining to Bartram’s Garden, this collection documents the development of the John Bartram Memorial Library, a collaborative effort between organizations including the John Bartram Association, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Botanical Society of Philadelphia to accumulate and house the definitive collection of American botanical literature from Bartram’s time to the early 1900s. The library found a home in the University of Pennsylvania in June 1900, only four short years after the formation of the John Bartram Memorial Library Committee.

Needless to say, this collection is a fine compliment to the John Bartram Memorial Library and should also be a welcome reminder to go visit the glorious Bartram’s Garden!

The John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization finding aid can be found here.