Letters and Loose Teeth: the Notes of John W. Houck

Although I endeavor to be the type of student who maintains tidy lecture notes with one chronologically organized folder for each class, there will always be the days when I find myself jotting down information on the back of a receipt, the margins of the Daily Pennsylvanian or a flattened cardboard coffee sleeve, having forgotten my notebook at home. I am not, however, the first absentminded student to find myself in this position. John W. Houck, a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine from 1900 to 1901, had the habit of taking notes on loose scraps of paper, especially letters. To be fair, most of Houck’s notes are pretty well organized. He filled three composition books with information on everything from mixing dental plaster to treating gingivitis. But stuffed into these books are letters and scraps of paper which carry information about the lectures Houck attended as well as his life outside of the classroom.

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Never one to waste a loose scrap of paper, John W. Houck filled the margins and backs of letters with lecture notes.

One unfinished letter, dated and addressed in immaculate cursive to a “Kind Friend” continues (now hastily and in pencil) “What is chemical action of AgNO3 on tooth structure Read.” Another letter, the back of which details the merits of celluloid strips, expresses the hope of one of Houck’s patients that he will “finish with my dental work as soon as possible.” The most  intriguing of these little palimpsests are two letters sent to Houck from a woman named Grace. In one, she writes:

Dear John,

You haven’t gone to Canada with my pocket book have you, John? I haven’t needed it ‘specially because I have nothing to put inside it but I was afraid that it might have been sent and gone away.

Goodbye

                Grace

The back of this letter bears Houck’s notes on tooth implantation. Another letter from Grace (which also contains notes on the chemical treatment of tooth discoloration) reads:

Meet me at Broad St. Station- the small waiting room on Thursday unless it should rain terrifically. I do not know what to do to get even with you for writing “Respectfully” to me.

Trusting that I will see you soon

Goodbye

                Grace

 

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A letter from the mysterious Grace is complemented by Houck’s own notes on dental treatments.

Who was Grace? Why did Houck have her pocketbook? Was it terrifically rainy after all? This tiny glimpse into Houck’s personal life makes me want to know more about him, and somehow the fact that these clues are embedded in pages and pages describing dental necrosis and infantile scurvy makes them even more alluring. Unfortunately, there’s not much information available about John Houck besides the fact that he moved back to his native Scranton after graduation and married a woman named Hazel. The letters from Grace only ended up in this collection because of the lecture material written over them– Houck probably forgot to bring his notebooks to class one day and instead used what pieces of paper he had. Still, these pages add a personal dimension to the collection that is otherwise absent from Houck’s notes.

Harry Mathews: man of mystery and lover of words and language

Self portrait

Self portrait

When I started working on his papers, I was not terribly familiar with Harry Mathews. What I knew was that Mathews was an author and the only American member of the French literary society, Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Oulipo) which roughly translates to “workshop of potential literature.”  Having finished the papers, I know more, although not so much as I normally do at the end of a collection.  Harry Mathews is a bit of a mystery and I think, possibly, he wants to be a mystery.

Manuscript notebook for My Life in CIA

Manuscript notebook for My Life in CIA

However, I now know that Harry Mathews (who was born in in 1930 and is best know for his books Conversions, Tlooth, Sinking of Odradek Stadium, the Journalist and My Life in CIA) loves language, words, and puzzles.  The first few boxes of materials I worked with were filled with corrected typescripts:  illuminating, I am sure, for a literary scholar, but not great for showing an author’s personality or soul.

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From Anti-Hero to Soubrette: Actresses in Nineteenth Century America

Opera, drama, comedy, burlesque… Decades before contemporary forms of media entertainment, theater was as essential part of American culture. A collection of nearly sixty actors’ role books (Ms. Coll. 1143) from the 1870s hints at the “backstage” aspects of this world including rehearsals, costumes, negotiations with celebrity performers and the balancing of tight budgets. Role books, which provide the relevant cues, lines and stage directions for one character in a play are interesting in their own right but what makes this collection come alive are the abundant annotations, marginalia, lists and even drawings sprinkled throughout the pages. These notes give mention to a number of nineteenth century actresses who had not only star power but also considerable authority within their industry.

The role book for King Creon in "Medea" includes phonetic pronunciations of some Greek words.

The role book for King Creon in “Medea” includes phonetic pronunciations of some Greek words.

Although women in the United States had limited legal rights throughout the nineteenth century and were expected to remain away from the public sphere, some actresses managed to work around the social constraints of their day and maintain a profile in business, politics and current events. While most of the women who did work (in textile mills, for example) were earning small fractions of the salaries of their male counterparts, successful female performers became enormously rich which allowed them to invest their money or take up philanthropic causes. Moreover, by the mid nineteenth century the profession of acting had lost it’s association with sin and lasciviousness and was rapidly gaining social respectability.

Miss Lotta Crabtree starred as a "mischievous" young girl in this musical comedy.

Miss Lotta Crabtree starred as a “mischievous” young girl in this musical comedy.

Charlotte Crabtree (1847-1924), a starlet who used many of the role books in this collection, charmed audiences over the course of a nearly four-decade career. Although “Miss Lotta” presented herself onstage as the incarnation of girlish naiveté, “as gentle and sweet and innocent as the bounding pink-eyed bunny in the fragrant caress of a clover bed” as one commentator put it, she managed her career, finances and public persona with great acuity. After being abandoned by her father, Miss Lotta began performing at age six in front of audiences of California gold miners to support herself and her mother. Quickly, she sprang to national and international fame, carefully investing in real estate along the way. Partly because of her petite size, Miss Lotta often played young men or boys, and in one instance, a boy dressing as a woman for disguise. But Lotta’s convolution of Victorian gender expectations extended beyond the stage as well. Known for smoking black cigars, she never married but kept herself busy after her retirement at age forty-five through philanthropy and the management of her investments, which had grown to four million dollars by the time of her death in 1924.

This role book was the property of theater manager Laura Keene.

This role book was the property of theater manager Laura Keene.

A role book for the part of John Leigh in Hunted Down was copied by Laura Keene, a British actress who began performing after her husband was convicted of a crime and sent to Australia on a prison ship. Though greatly appreciated for her skill as an actress, Keene was also a successful businesswoman and by the mid 1850s was running her own theater in New York City. Keene was performing with her company at Ford’s Theater on the night of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After the president was shot, Keene rushed to his box where she attended Lincoln until further help arrived (the blood-stained sleeve of her costume is on display at the National Museum of American History.) Keene’s bravery during this national event served to further propel her reputation and presence in the media. A penciled note on the front page of her role book which reads, “Laura Keene’s own handwriting to be preserved,” alludes to the respect she enjoyed within the theater world as well as the broad scope of her celebrity.

It’s hard to say what exactly it was about a career in theater that allowed these women to shake off the gender-based restrictions of the 19th century United States. Perhaps it was the sheer amount of money available in the industry or the fact that acting is centrally about assuming an identity different from one’s own. This collection of role books doesn’t fully answer that question, but it does show us some of the influence, intelligence and skill of the actresses of the 1870s.

The Lowell Edmunds “Tales of Incest and Parricide” Collection

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When I was first assigned the Lowell Edmunds collection of folk tales relating to incest and parricide, I was certainly underwhelmed. A large stack of typed papers from the 1970s seemed to cower in the face of the beautiful manuscripts and photo albums from centuries past that I have had the pleasure of working on. It really had the makings of a bland collection – a professor’s collection of folktales stemming from his 1975 Classics 121 class did not sound like my idea of pleasure reading.

creole  hebrew

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However, as I started looking through the stack of yellowing paper, I was immediately hooked. This seemingly stale collection proved to be an absolute treasure hidden in our overstuffed office space. My attention was first caught by the number of languages I was able to identify in this collection; twenty-two in total: English, French, the French dialect of Creole, Gaelic, Lithuanian, Romanian, Finnish, German, Czech, Norwegian, Latin, Dutch, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish, Latvian, Javanese, Sudanese, a Pohnpeian dialect called Kiti, Yoruba, Italian and Hebrew. Identifying these languages became an incredibly satisfying challenge and I now proudly possess the knowledge that “pojasta joka tappo isäsä ja nai äitisä” means “the boy who killed his father and married his mother” in Finnish.

german  greek

Hidden behind the mask of languages foreign to me were traditional tales of incest and parricide from cultures all over the world. Fortunately, one hundred forty-four of these stories were translated into English and bound as a course book which was used for Edmunds’ 1975 Harvard course. It was shocking to me how similar these tales from entirely different cultures were. Many even had the same name when translated, such as the Finnish, Creole, French and Irish tales all called, “The Boy Who Killed His Father and Married His Mother.”

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Despite the horrifying nature of these stories, it was fascinating to see the common themes among such a diverse range of cultures. This collection presents the underlying truths of mankind. Whether the truths are pleasant, such as laughter, happiness, and love; or shocking and horrifying to the western perspective, such as incest, parricide, and murder, there are consistencies among all cultures. This collection proved to be a small scale example of the elements of humanity, both good and bad, that bind us as inhabitants of this earth and defy culture and custom alike.

Pictured: tales in French, Creole, Hebrew, Gaelic, German, Greek and Finnish.

Not Pictured: the incredible English translations of all these tales that are found in the collection.

Razmak Brigade in India (1936 to 1939 OR 1939 to 1945)

P1100612 I was just looking through a photograph album documenting the Razmak Brigade in current day Pakistan that Clémence Scouten recently processed and my interest was sparked.  We have loads of photograph albums of the British Army in India before Indian independence in 1947, but very few of them actually document army life in that region.  For the most part, from their photograph albums, the soldiers APPEAR to be on vacation, traveling about an exotic land.  I am sure that that was not the case, but you sure would not know it from what they chose to document!  However, this photograph album of an unknown unit in the British Army is definitely military based.  What I cannot figure out, though, is if it is from the Waziristan campaign from 1936 to 1939 or from World War II.  My questions arose when I saw that there are no photographs of Indian army soldiers–only British, and there are a few photographs of local Waziri armed men not in uniform.

The creator of this album did not help us much … not one photograph in the album is captioned.  Moreover, I cannot find any insignia on uniforms that helps (although I would certainly not claim to be an expert on any kind of uniform or other military identification system).  There are a few photographs of vehicles and tanks and I am really hoping someone can take one look at them and let me know if we are talking WWII or pre WWII!

During the Waziristan campaign, the British Army fought against the Fakir of Ipi from 1936 to 1939.  According to an article in the Telegraph, “Fakir, born Mirza Ali Khan in the village of Ipi in 1898, was a mullah who managed, after centuries of internecine conflict, to unite the warring tribes of the mountainous province of Waziristan.”  In late 1936, the British moved troops through the Khaisora Valley, from the garrison at Razmak to the east, but the troops were attacked and forced to retreat, which increased support for the Fakir of Ipi.  As a result the British increased the number of troops (both British and Indian) in the area to reinforce the garrisons at Razmak, Bannu, and Wana.  The British Army faced guerrilla warfare and the Fakir of Ipi was never captured.

During World War II, many newly formed brigades were sent to the North West Frontier before they were sent to Africa, Burma or Italy.  It is possible that the soldiers depicted in this album are from any of the following units: the 1st Leicestershire Regiment, the 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 2nd Suffolk Regiment, the 1st Queen’s Royal Regiment, the 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the 7th York and Lancaster Regiment, or the 1st Wiltshire Regiment.

It seems that the photographers of these photos were Kalia and Sharma and that they may have made copies and sold them to the soldiers.  I found exact copies of some of the photographs here.

P1100610One more question:  does anyone have any sense of why there would be young YOUNG men in uniform in the British Army … these boys look like they could be about 12 to me! Your help will be greatly appreciated!

 

 

NOTE:  Thanks to information from Peter Morwood, we now know that this is the Waziristan campaign from 1936 to 1938.  (his information is in a comment!) Thanks for making our description better!

A Commercial Traveler’s Journals

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“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” –Winston Churchill

Tact might not be the best description of Henry Wansey’s writing, but despite lacking both adroitness and sensitivity, I would certainly look forward to the trip to hell so long as he was narrating it. In “A Commercial Traveler’s Journals,” Wansey narrates his trip through  several cities and towns in England. This narration is characterized by a quintessentially English distaste for nearly everything he encounters. However, his constant displeasure and complaints are what create his unique and engaging charm.

Written in 1816, the journals in this collection give an interesting and colorful view of early 19th century England. This collection is not physically attributed to Henry Wansey, but given details and evidence found within the text, it can be concluded that he likely authored these delightful pieces. He described towns known for their charm and character in such an engaging yet miserable manner that the reader can find him or herself oddly wanting to have the same experiences.

IMG_3513In his description of the road between Risborough and Oxford, Wansey could not be more negative or evidently displeased, yet his writing and accompanying sketches leave the reader with a desire to experience this same delightfully unpleasant journey.

“I was preparing to leave the palace in great disgust, and to my great alarm, was informed that the road I had to go was considerably worse than the one from Wycombe. To attempt a description of this is quite impossible, therefore I must beg a reference to the sketches opposite.” – Volume 1

The illustrations on the left show Wansey’s travel experience in a horse drawn carriage on the poorly maintained roads between Risborough and Oxford. This is one of the many examples of how these journals help give a view of how different the world was in his time. It is easy to find pleasure in his discomfort as it is nothing more than a novelty and unlike like the modern reality.

Because Wansey was a real man having real experiences in places that still exist today, the reader is given an incredible trip back in time. Several of the travelers’ inns that he mentions having stayed in are in operation today, and the towns, churches, and details that he notes and describes still stand as well. Reading these journals is an experience similar to reading historical fiction in that they have the ability to transport the reader to another world. The truly incredible part of the transportation is that the other world actually exists, and can be experienced today.

In conclusion, I now intend to take a tour of England using Henry Wansey as my guide.

Not your Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather’s Powerball Ticket

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United States Lottery Ticket. Philadelphia : John Dunlap, 1776. RBC HG6126 .U55 1776

Government sponsored lotteries are not a new phenomenon. The profits generated were used to meet debt obligations, to raise money for military expenditures or to finance the costs of civic infrastructure projects.   In colonial America the earliest public lottery was held in 1745 in Boston Massachusetts.  In 1747, the city of Philadelphia authorized the Scheme of the First Philadelphia Lottery soon followed in 1748 by the Scheme of the Second Philadelphia Lottery, both enacted to raise funds for the defense of the city against French privateers roving the Delaware Bay.

The United States Lottery was established in Philadelphia on November 18, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress as a national lottery to raise funds for the Continental Army fighting in the Revolutionary War. It also served to generate an interest-free loan to the early American government in need of cash. Tickets from the Continental Congress lotteries were issued in four classes with 100,000 tickets printed in each class.

lotteryticket17764The lottery ticket held at Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts is an example of an unnumbered remaindered (unsold) third class ticket. The left side stub portion of the ticket is still attached. When a ticket was sold the purchaser’s portion was detached from the stub and the official ticket number was written on the stub as well as filled into the bearer’s box.

This ticket was signed by G. [George] Campbell, one of a number of directors serving on the United States Lottery board. The Kislak copy was trimmed along the bottom edge resulting in the loss of the control letter (in this case “S”) corresponding to the control letter on the still-attached stub side.

The national lottery ultimately proved to be less lucrative than anticipated for the fledgling American government, earning considerably less than the $1.5 million dollars in estimated revenue.

Works consulted

Millikan, Neal E. Lotteries in Colonial America. New York : Routledge, 2011.

Swain, Steve. “Colonial America Lotteries.” Ephemera Society of America. Web 15 Jan. 2016. http://www.ephemerasociety.org/blog/?p=1698

Wilmarding, Lucius. “The United States Lottery.” The New York Historical Society Quarterly 47 (1963) 5-39

Treasures of the Sea

What do you collect from the sea?  Days at the beach let us wander along the coast and discover the bleached bones that once housed mollusks or crustaceans.  We bring home remnants of our journeys to the coast: seashells, stones, rocks, driftwood, feathers, and sea-glass small tokens reminding us of ocean sights, sounds, and smells.  These objects lived in a realm of another place and time other than our day-to-day lives. The objects serve as a remembrance of a past event or journey and end up displayed at home on a table, a shelf, or in a glass jar becoming small mementos of time spent with the vast ocean.

Sometimes we stumble upon living objects like starfish, sand dollars, or coral left stranded on the sand.  Seaweed also drifts its way on shore in tangled clumps of various colors.  These flora from the sea can be pressed and dried like wildflowers or plants transforming them into vibrant keepsakes.

Here at the Kislak Center is an example of beautifully preserved ocean life from a seaside journey; a scrapbook containing carefully collected seaweed.  Who created the album is unknown to us, but clearly much care was taken to save and keep these treasures of the sea. The specimens contained in this book are in fact entitled Album of Beautiful Seaweeds, Souvenir de Torquay and dates from between 1860 to 1870 (for more information on this scrapbook see the finding aid).

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Dried seaweed on title page.

Below the hand written title is a specimen that at first glance appears to be a pressed hydrangea bloom with a pinkish hue.  The color was so vivid I wondered if it had been dyed, but on further inspection it appears the original color has been preserved!

These seaweeds were carefully pressed and preserved and their scientific names recorded.  This collection of botanical specimens from the sea gives us a glimpse of what the creator held dear from his or her journey.  The variety of seaweeds (see below) have retained their colors ranging from pale to dark green, shades of burgundy, and almost black.  There is also an array of leaf type from singular wide strands, fine short wisps grouped like a bouquet, and sparse evergreen-like strands.

There are other souvenirs in the album, botanical postcards and pressed ferns and leaves. One curious memento laid into the scrapbook is a flying fish wing mounted on a small slip of paper with the note “captured in Oct. 1861.”  Was this vacationer on a boat?  Did he or she catch the fish stranded on the sand as the tide was going out?

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In addition this keepsake album of seaweeds are Ships’ logs, sailors’ diaries, and travelers’ scrapbooks are all mementos of treasures preserved from the sea you can find at Kislak Center.

 

 

 

 

Emma Josephine Brazier Collection: The Significance of a Scrapbook

image2   image5In making a scrapbook it seems that one rarely considers the historical significance of what he or she is creating. All evidence says that Emma Josephine Brazier was nothing more than a normal girl and, because of that, it is interesting to consider the historical significance that her scrapbooks harbor. By collecting images of contemporary actors, playbills and newspaper clippings, it is safe to assume that Emma had no intention of documenting an event in American history from the unusual perspective that she did.

Among these many clippings that showed Emma’s own interests are some interesting connections between the theater world of the 19th century and John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. In the first book of the Emma Josephine Brazier theater and opera scrapbooks are several theaters and actors that closely relate to John Wilkes Booth and the assassination itself.

While flipping through the first scrapbook, it is evident that Emma had an affinity for particular actors, such as Laura Keene, Emma Taylor, John Drew, John Sleeper Clark, William Wheatley and Edwin Booth. While each of these actors has a connection to Booth, Laura Keene and John “Sleeper” Clarke have truly interesting tales tying them to the actual Lincoln assassination.

Laura Keene, an actress who also owned and managed Laura Keene’s Theater, was the lead actress in the showing of Our American Cousin in Ford Theater on April 14, 1865, the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. After hearing the fatal gunshot, Keene rushed to the presidential box to attempt to help Lincoln. Her costume was stained with his blood as she was cradling his head and today the stained cuff of her dress can be found in the National Museum of American History.

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While Keene’s connection to the assassination is remembered as a heroic one, John “Sleeper” Clarke did not have such a fortunate legacy. An actor by profession, Clarke was also a schoolmate of both Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. He went on to marry their sister, Asia Booth. Following the assassination, Clarke came into possession of several letters from John Wilkes Booth and sent them to the Philadelphia Inquirer to be printed. As a result, he was forced to spend time in the Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. After his release, he asked his wife for a divorce in attempts to separate himself from the “Booth” name and family. After she refused, he moved himself and his family to London in order to continue his acting career in peace.

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These connections are striking as it becomes clear that documentation of any type has the potential to mean much more than its original intention. A young woman making a memory book of the plays and operas that interested her now has the ability to show scholars a very unique and unexpected side of one of the most notable events in American history, the Lincoln assassination.

If he could have kept it, he would have …

mauchly_4The first three series of the John W. Mauchly papers are now available for research!  It feels like ages since I first surveyed the MANY boxes of Mauchly material that were filling my office space on my first day of work here in the SCPC.  I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I have truly enjoyed Dr. Mauchly’s company.

Construction on our processing room and surrounding areas has precipitated the need to temporarily move collection material to safer locations and so the first installment of the finding aid comes a bit earlier than anticipated.

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