Humor at Marlboro


One example of Marlboro’s silliness is the “Marlboro Variety Award Letters” in which humorous honors were awarded to participants. Here, Serkin’s napkin-throwing skills are praised: “The Marksmanship Award goes to Rudolf Serkin for his unerring aim, his superlative pitching style, and his superior formation of paper napkin wads for use in Dining Hall recreational activities.”

Pianist Rudolf Serkin, co-founder and longtime artistic director of the Marlboro Music School and Festival, was known for his love of practical jokes, crude humor, and other forms of childish fun, as Marissa has pointed out in her blog post on the Marlboro Music School and Festival records. According to some, he initiated the now famous Marlboro tradition of napkin-throwing wars in the dining hall, and whether or not he did in fact throw the very first napkin ball, he certainly participated with enthusiasm (as proven by his winning the “Marksmanship Award” in Marlboro’s Variety Award Letters – see image). Serkin’s antics went well beyond this, however, including long-lasting runs of back-and-forth practical jokes with certain Marlboro participants, some of which are documented in Rudolf Serkin: a life by Stephen Lehmann and Marion Faber. But while Serkin is the most famous Marlboro jokester, and no doubt deserves credit for promoting a light-hearted atmosphere at the festival, the true comic maestro of Marlboro was their music librarian, Shirley Ann Weekley (who is responsible for the “Baacarole” in Marissa’s post).

The Rudolf Serkin papers, 1908-2003 contains folder after folder of Shirley’s hilarious puns, parodies, and inside jokes, which sneak their way into Marlboro’s official documents. In my opinion, the extensive run of Welcome To Marlboro packets are in themselves worth a trip to see the collection. For many years before Shirley came to Marlboro, these documents were exactly what you would expect given the title: a necessary but uninteresting collection of all the relevant information that a Marlboro participant might need–telephone numbers, hours of the dining hall, etc. Shirley, however, kicked it up quite a few notches and brought these once unremarkable packets to a level that one might dare say rivals the artistry of the Marlboro participants themselves. (OK, maybe not quite, but her commitment to the humor is definitely impressive.) Here is the cover page for the 1977 edition of the Welcome To Marlboro packet, with Shirley’s hilarious description of the packet, including intentionally terrible line breaks:


The cover page of the 1977 edition of Welcome To Marlboro

a compilation of concise factual info/rmation, titillating gossip, scandalo/us lies, trivia, and sheer fabricatio/n, with absolutely no indication as t/o what falls into which category, thu/s leaving this distinction solely to the judgment of the reader. edited b/y shirley weekley, mimeographed by d/avid white, map by david o. decker, /vertical alignment by the marlboro m/onster, musical examples drawn by a /team of presser building mice. conde/mned by the daughters of the america n revolution, approved by idi amin, /indexed by a chimpanzee, and collate/d by the peoples’ marlboro festival /chorus of the green mountain-white r/iver sanitation district.

The “Marlboro Monster” was one of many fictional characters created by Shirley to appear year after year in the Welcome To Marlboro packets. In the same 1977 edition, The Monster is introduced via footnotes running along the bottom of every page of the packet. The complete story (which is too much fun not to post) runs as follows:


The first of a series of footnotes introducing the “Marlboro Monster” in the 1977 edition of the Welcome To Marlboro packet

It would be very surprising indeed if you have not read or heard at least something about the possible existence of such half-mythological monsters as the abominable snowman. Serious scientists are even now looking for the Loch Ness monster. They have even given the monster a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopteryx. In the midst of all this hullabaloo about such famous beasts as Nessie and Big Foot, the sightings of a mysterious creature in the vicinity of Potash Hill, Vermont have been all but ignored. Each night, as the mists rise behind the Presser Building, a hulking form emerges from the Music Library. It is the Marlboro Monster! Part human, part vaporous emanation of the combined thoughts of all past Marlboro participants, it materializes at the stroke of midnight from the seepage in the Presser basement hallway. Though it has never been photographed or even observed in action, ample evidence of its existence can be extrapolated from signs of its activities. Even in this issue of WTM you can see that the Monster has tampered with the vertical spacing on our IBM Selectric. There have been many unexplained instances of cards being removed from the schedule board, entire buildings being shrouded in sheets, cars being lifted bodily and replaced in a distant location, missing stands and parts. Since no human hand could have done these things, you may be sure that whenever such mysterious happenings take place, it is the work of…THE MARLBORO MONSTER.

NOTE: WTM is not responsible for, or necessarily in agreement with, the above irresponsible assertion or any of the opinions expressed herein.

Other recurring characters include “Euphemistica Glossovia” and “Casper Fenwick” a fictional musicologist and composer, respectively. The 1984 edition of WTM provides some biographical details on them, as well as the Marlboro Monster, who was still going strong 7 years later. Apparently all three characters knew each other. Here the Monster is affectionately referred to as “Em-Em” and I’ll omit its portion in the transcription below since we have already heard so much about it in the 1977 edition.


Biographical introduction of “Euphemistica Glossovia,” the “Marlboro Monster,” and “Casper Fenwick” from the 1984 edition of the Welcome To Marlboro packet

Ms. Glossovia is a frequent contributor to WTM. A musicologist who has covered rock festivals on the moon and discovered little known facts about the sex life of Fidelio Friedrich Finke (which were subsequently deleted from the biographical material in Volume 6, p. 584 of NEW GROVE by some timid editors), she is best known for her definitive biography of Casper Fenwick, of whom we shall hear more later. Her interests are not limited to music, however, and she has toured the country offering lecture-demonstrations on such topics as “The Many Uses of Dental Floss,” “Training Your African Violets To Do Useful Household Tasks,” and “The Nose-Flute: Musical Instrument of the Future.”


Both Euphemistica and Em-Em were close friends of the late Casper Fenwick, creator of monotonal music and composer of such classic masterworks as the NBC chimes, “Avon Calling,” for chime and sprechstimme (these were composed before he realized that music could reach its most expressive heights only when the composer limited himself to a single pitch), and the work [that] is perhaps best known to us, the “Marlboro Fire Alarm,” a dramatic work which is the only Fenwick composition ever to be performed at the Marlboro Festival.

The above humor comes in the form of marginalia and appendices to the main body of the text, but Shirley could be quite funny even in the informational sections. When warning participants to keep quiet in the dorms after 10pm, for example, she concedes that if “in a moment of intellectual excitement you may continue to recite Shakespear’s sonnets in an exceedingly loud voice until 10:01 P. M.,” that such persons will be pardoned.

The Welcome To Marlboro packets may have been Shirley’s masterpieces, but her entire oeuvre includes all manner of one-off documents, such as a Marlboro-themed parody of the Declaration of Independence, in which participants declare their independence from music conservatories and proclaim their unalienable right to the “Pursuit of Happy Hours.” Her work is so numerous and well represented in the Serkin papers that selecting examples is quite a task, and though I wish I could post all of it, I’ll keep this post to a reasonable length and stop here. Those interested in the full Shirley Weekley experience should look under the “Marlboro Music School and Festival” series heading in the Rudolf Serkin papers’ finding aid. The Welcome To Marlboro packets, which date from B.S.W. (Before Shirley Weekley) in 1967 to 1987, where her jokes were surely more than weekly (I think she would appreciate the pun) can be found in Folders 34-47 of Box 141. Additional material can also be found in the Marlboro Music School and Festival records. But beware the Marlboro Monster!

The Unpublished Creative Works of Walter Hart Blumenthal

There is something melancholy about an unpublished typescript.
Walter Hart Blumenthal (1883-1969), a writer and editor, compiled two. Although Blumenthal had a successful career and published dozens of scholarly articles, his creative writing never attracted much attention. Flipping through Exit Laughing, and Perspectives: Stories of This Brief Tenement Wherein the Spirit Dwells, Blumenthal’s collections of poetry and short stories, one can begin to understand why.
Perspectives is not without humor (Blumenthal describes one character as having the “brain of an earwig and the soul of a parched pea”) yet its stories tend to digress into aimless musings or lengthy chains of rhetorical questions. A sample, from Satan’s Red Shadow: A Grim (Not Grimm) Fairy Tale:

Was it fantasy? Who can say? It was so long ago. What is fantasy? How long is long ago? Is Heaven real and Hell a torment of the spirit? Is nightmare a blind alley of the macabre mind?
…two more paragraphs of questions removed…
Are all legends lies? What is fantasy and what is fact? Can one realize only reality? Were Tristan and Iseult flesh or figment? Were Karen’s kisses as unreal as the caresses of Cinderella for her Prince Charming?

Some of Blumenthal’s poetry has a certain charm to it, however most of the pieces in Exit Laughing oscillate oddly between moralistic maxims and poems expressing certain dubious sentiments and outdated attitudes towards women.
An example of the former category is A Birchbark Motto:

Be taught, O Life, to love Tranquility,
And seek the Beauty that is in the bough;
These two, bestowed upon the slender tree,
Can likewise, Friend, thine own Content endow.

The latter of Blumenthal’s genres is exhibited in Threes:

All earthly blessings come in threes
The ancient sages said;
What good a maiden, if you please,
Without a man and bed?

Or in A New Leaf for Eve:

Maid or mistress, be submissive
To the ardor of the swain,
For unless you are permissive
Nature says you live in vain

However, and to his credit, Blumenthal remained undaunted by the limited interest his creative writing received (although a few of his stories and poems appeared individually in various magazines). In an impressive display of his energy and ambition even late in life, Blumenthal sent both Exit Laughing and Perspectives to publishers in 1965, when he was eighty five years old. Moreover, this submission of the collections to publishers came after decades of accomplished scholarship, attesting to the strong creative impulse that must have motivated Blumenthal. Painstakingly arranged and lightly annotated in his characteristic green ink, Exit Laughing and Perspectives were never available to the public but are accessible today in his collection at the Kislak Center.

Processing August Mencken

Written by Zach Fruit, a student in “Behind the Reference Desk: Archival Methods, Forms, Theory.”

2015-11-11 10-44_Page_4As part of a graduate English course I am taking with Jean-Christophe Cloutier entitled “Behind the Reference Desk: Archival Methods, Forms, Theory” I recently had the opportunity to process a collection of papers belonging to August Mencken. This class has given us the opportunity to read foundational texts of the archival profession, literary criticism engaging the concept of the archive, and literature that problematizes or incorporates the archive as a symbolic and formal structure. In the class we have worked with specialist John Pollack from special collections, including a tour into the very belly of Van Pelt, as well as archivist Holly Mengel, including a tour amongst the many desks of archivists working at Penn. As an aside, the staff at the Kislak Center is incredibly helpful, and if you haven’t used this facility you are wasting your resources, although I encourage you to set up an Aeon account before anything else.

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Archives Month Philly 2015: The Paper Menagerie

Rare Sightings!

‘“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly …’

Saddle up for a wild evening and join the staff of the Special Collections Processing Center for a bibliographic safari in the Kislak Center. Feathered friends, ferocious beasts, and even a cute cat or two will leap, slither, and fly off the pages of our favorite books, manuscripts, and archival materials on Thursday October 15.

cocodrilloImages of animals discovered in some of our newest acquisitions will be on display in this Abecedarium bestiary, including items from the collection of Dial Books art director Atha Tehon, and the Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness as well as materials from the Kislak Center’s archives, medieval manuscripts and incunabula. You will see St. Jerome’s lion, Agnes Repplier’s cat, and vultures from Penn’s sophomore class cremation ceremony in 1878. You’ll discover the winged Cocodrillo and even see a 16th-century horse wearing galoshes! All these and more will be corralled into the Class of 78 Orrery Pavillion at 5:30 pm on October 15. So grab your binoculars, put on a panama hat and make a bee-line for The Paper Menagerie: Animals on the Page in the Kislak Center’s Special Collections to see the magnificent, beautiful and sometimes bizarre beasts inhabiting Penn’s special collections.

This extravaganza is just one of many amazing Archives Month Philly events–but we do think that our event is the bee’s knees!

When: Thursday, October 15, 5:30-7:30 PM

Where: Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, 6th Floor;
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts;
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center;
3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA

What you need to know: Free and open to the public (please show photo ID at entrance)

Questions? Contact us at or 215.898.7088

“I Do Not Propose To Sit Idly Down And Be Made To Suffer”: The Curious Case of the Two Mrs. Pigotts

AmonPigottDakotaGirlCoverg the volumes presented to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of her Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is an inscribed copy of That Dakota Girl by Stella Gilman, a Western romance published in 1892 to tepid reviews: “The pony that always figures in stories of Western life is introduced in the initial chapter, and has its share to do with the love-making and various subordinate incidents. But the reader looks in vain for the genuine local coloring that is to be expected from the title” (Public Opinion 13 (1892): 487).  Gilman, a resident of Hudson, South Dakota, is a shadowy figure; in the biographical note to her only other book, A Gumbo Lily and Other Tales, she writes that she was born in Philadelphia and emigrated with her family to the West as a child in 1878. The Schimmel Fiction Collection copy of The Dakota Girl has a 19th-century gift inscription (“To Uncle Herbert, with The love of The Author. July 15. 1892.”) on the front free endpaper and a partially effaced autograph in a childish hand (“Mabel Lucy Pegott [sic]. 329 Chestnut, Philadelphia, Penna.”) in pencil on the verso of the back free endpaper.

PigottAutographsStella Gilman’s inscription to “Uncle Herbert” (above)
and Mabel Lucy Pigott’s autograph (below)

A little investigation discovers that Mabel Lucy Pigott, born in 1881, was the daughter of H. Herbert Pigott of 329 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Perhaps, I thought, an inquiry into Mr. Pigott’s family might shed some light on Stella Gilman’s antecedents. Sadly, it did not¹ — but it did uncover a tale of betrayal and bigamy in the Pigott family that culminated in a dog-sled chase through the lumber camps of British Columbia, a true-life romance as fascinating as any early twentieth-century fiction. Continue reading

Photographs of Faith: A Souvenir of the 1937 Eucharistic Congress

2015-09-23 14-17This week, as Philadelphia prepares for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, I have been researching another significant Catholic gathering: the National Eucharistic Congress of India held in Chennai (then Madras) in 1937. A beautiful scrapbook in the Kislak Center’s collection documents this event, and illuminates the magnitude of the Congress, as well as some of the history of Catholicism in India.

Pius XI, whose papacy stretched from 1922 to 1939 was invested in creating a sense of united identity and dedication in Catholics all over this world. He worked towards this end partly through the Vatican Radio, which allowed his speeches to be broadcast globally, but also through promoting National and International Eucharistic Congresses. These events, which drew large numbers of attendees and typically lasted for a few days, featured legates from the Vatican and centered around a mass adoration of the Eucharist.

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Learning Mathematics in North America

Photo Jul 09, 3 15 13 PMThe Arnold and Deanne Kaplan collection of Americana is now available for research. Besides their fine work building the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan collection of Early American Judaica, available to researchers at Penn’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Kaplans built a small collection of American non-Jewish material as well. It includes a collection of printed books and an eclectic assortment of manuscripts and photographic material. Among the manuscripts are account books, ciphering books, diaries, letter books, penmanship notebooks, and recipe books. Each of these categories is quite interesting and can be explored further on the collection’s finding aid.

The largest grouping in the manuscript series is a collection of 22 ciphering notebooks dating from 1764 to 1870. These exemplars provide a superb view into the ways mathematics was taught in North America through the mid-nineteenth century. As outlined by Nerida Ellerton and M.A. (Ken) Clements in their book Rewriting the History of School Mathematics in North America, 1607-1861: The Central Role of Cyphering Books, the “cyphering tradition” allowed students of various ages and abilities to prepare their own ciphering books by employing formulaic presentations of mathematical rules followed by the computation of particular practical exercises. Continue reading

Catalogs, Colophons, and Curses from the Rāmamālā Library in Bangladesh


Rucistava (RLMS 1523, 1883-1892 A.D) with post-colophon curse.

Last year I began a project to create an inventory and digital sample of manuscripts from the Rāmamālā Library in Comilla, Bangladesh, sponsored by the British Library’s Endangered Archive Programme and co-sponsored by Penn Libraries’ Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS). My team and I created an inventory of close to 9,000 manuscript titles, assessed the condition of the manuscripts, and took a small digital sample (about 1%) that will all find their way into open access websites at the Endangered Archive Programme, the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, OPenn, and Penn in Hand. The initial stage of data collection was completed between January and May, 2014, and currently I have returned to Bangladesh to work with local scholars to complete the catalog record and initiate the final stages of data absorption into the British Library and Penn systems. Continue reading

Baby, It’s Hot Outside

Scene:  Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Summer, 1934.  The windows are wide open, but there is little relief from the steamy Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity.  A brilliant young physicist sits down at the dinner table and his lovely wife places his meal before him.  He smiles and thanks her, picks up the salt shaker and upends it over his plate. Nothing happens. He shakes, and still nothing.

“Jeepers!” he cries, “There must be a way to fix this! I need a pencil!”

Okay, I made that up in my mind … there is absolutely no evidence in the collection that John Mauchly said “Jeepers” (although that is a nice authentic 1930s exclamation!) or that he was driven to say it by his salt solidifying due to the humidity.

However, there is evidence that Dr. Mauchly thought that a solution to this problem was necessary.  Residential air conditioning was not common in American homes until the latter half of the 20th century, so it is possible that Dr. Mauchly may have experienced a scene similar to the one I have depicted.  And if I know anything about Dr. Mauchly, it is that he was a problem solver and a creative thinker.  Below is his suggestion for a way to keep  salt and sugar dry in a pre-air conditioned home!

Mauchly_sugar_and_saltThere is no indication whether the General Electric Company ever implemented such a creation, but I am always amazed by the way that Mauchly thought and how diverse his interests were!

Rudolf Serkin papers, 1908-2003

serkin-faceRudolf Serkin (1903-1991) was a classical pianist who is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians. His personal papers, with a few minor additions from his wife and biographers, have now joined the Kislak Center’s archives, preserving the life and work of this incredible musical force, as well as the many musicians he knew and worked with. Represented in 182 boxes are his personal correspondence, performance records, papers relating to the Curtis Institute of Music, the Marlboro Music School and Festival, and the Institute for Young Performing Musicians, as well as a range of personal items, photographs, and a few videos and recordings. A complete listing of the collection and a fuller biography of Serkin can be found in the finding aid.

Despite his high stature, Serkin is remembered for his humble nature, both as a person and as a performer. Though he performed frequently as a solo artist, he was not above more egalitarian collaboration in the form of chamber music, and in fact actively promoted a democratic spirit of music making as the artistic director for the Marlboro Music School and Festival. (For more information about Marlboro, please see Marissa’s blog post on the Marlboro Music School and Festival records, also housed at Penn.) The origins of this can be traced to the very beginning of Serkin’s career. Serkin was born in Eger, Bohemia (today Cheb, Czech Republic) to a Russian-Jewish family, and began playing piano at the age of four under the tutelage of Camilla Taussig. When he was nine years old his family sent him to Vienna to get a more rigorous musical training with Richard Robert, Joseph Marx, and Arnold Schoenberg. Serkin become an exceptionally accomplished pianist as a child, but (thanks to his father) avoided the typical trajectory of the “child prodigy” who endlessly tours the most impressive showpieces of the solo repertoire. Instead, he travelled to Berlin, where he formed a close relationship with the violinist Adolf Busch, launching his career as Busch’s accompanist and playing as a member of the Busch Chamber players. Continue reading