“Getting Fat and Lazy” in World War I France

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Stationed overseas in small towns surrounding Dijon, France, David Rosenblum was far from the front line during World War I. Rosenblum described his time in the United States military from 1918 to 1919 as being “just like a vacation and a little hard work.” In his letters home, he talks about girls and ‘grub,’ about missing home, his odd jobs, and stories of his military experience.

The David Rosenblum World War I letters offer an alternative perspective of overseas service during WWI, far from the frequently recounted horrors of the front line. Rosenblum was stationed outside of Dijon, France which was inland of the southernmost portion of the front line between France and the German Reich by 1918, when he began his service. Working for the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop around 200 kilometers behind enemy lines, Rosenblum assembled Fords and lead pipes.

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He went on to work as a stenographer, joking, “Our hero, undaunted braves the storm and fights on for liberty. Yes, verily he fights on pounding this cute little typewriter…It seemeth strange that the government can’t find more use for our hero other than the delicate task of typing.” Rosenblum frequently poked fun at his role in the war, with a full understanding that his conditions were quite pleasant (and un-heroic) compared to his fellow soldiers fighting on the front lines. Finally, in these letters, he discusses his time as an official military entertainer, playing piano for soldiers, nurses, and officers in various Red Cross locations in France, and of course, “getting fat and lazy.”

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Rosenblum’s humor is evident throughout the letters. He takes every opportunity to gently poke fun at the French and their pace of life. On October 11, 1918, he informed his family of the attitudes towards the French among the soldiers, “Oh: yes, we call the French frogs and France is called Frog country and the boys are not one bit keen about the frogs. Golly, but they are slow. How they ever stopped Germany is a mystery. We do more in a minute than the frogs in a month…they are slow and way behind the times; the engines and railroads and conveniences are medieval.” He continues the use of the term frog until his departure from France. Despite his joking, Rosenblum had clear affinity for certain aspects of French culture. He frequently notes the charm of the towns and expresses a liking for the children who were enamored with the American soldiers.

r1But, above all else, in his letters Rosenblum expresses a love for the ‘grub’ and girls of France. Of the 26 letters in this collection, every single one mentions food. Be it the underwhelming food of the station, or his wonderful culinary experiences in town, Rosenblum was focused on the grub. He frequently talked about the bread, cheese, wine and jam that he would purchase or be gifted in the towns, and about the restaurants he would visit with his military buddies. He also mentions the French women several times, most fondly, the one who made him an omelet and the several that offered him bread, cheese, wine, jam and sweets. He also recounts the French love of American cigarettes, and how this love helped him initiate conversation with French women, “I saw a beautiful looking young lady looking out the window. She smiled friendly, everyone does – perhaps it’s the U.S. uniform or the thought of a cigarette – I guess the latter.”

Rosenblum’s experience was far from the heroic and glorified stories of boys being sent overseas and returning as weathered men. Rosenblum retains a sense of innocence. During the war, he is well fed, works in a protected and comfortable environment, and has plenty of opportunity for enjoyment. That being said, this collection offers vibrant description of small-town France and its people in the early 20th century, first-hand reports of the morale of soldiers at the end of World War I, and a look into the charming and humorous attitude of a young man, like many others, who was thrust into a less-frequently recounted military experience.

Why is Mary Navis not famous?

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Why is Mary Navis not famous?

She was the “duchess of swing,” the only female leader of a male ensemble who played an instrument, and was once the leading trumpeter in Ina Ray Hutton’s all-female group, the Melodears. She was hugely successful in the big band era of jazz, yet she doesn’t produce a single result in a google search. She played the drums, violin, guitar and several other instruments in addition to the trumpet. She was revered as the “world’s hottest girl trumpeter.” She mingled with the greatest of the greats and did publicity shoots for instrument manufacturing companies such as Selmer instruments and she had regular gigs at some of the most popular night clubs in Philadelphia, but today she is almost entirely forgotten.navis2

Given her unique success as a female instrumentalist who also led an entire band, it is necessary to ask why she has been so forgotten by the public, by general history, and by the historians and fanatics of jazz and Philadelphia in particular. Could it be because her uniqueness wasn’t completely accepted in the era? Or did the fact that she was a woman overshadow her career rather than highlight it?

navis-3In the big band era of jazz, the only tolerated roles for women were singer and pianist. Female composers, band leaders, and musicians that did not play the piano were far less respected despite their personal success, and therefore far less remembered today. The instrumentalists remembered today were almost exclusively career-long members of all-female big bands and more than likely active after the 1950s. Navis, while once being a member of an all-female big band, decided to create a career leading a band of men and was active in the years before 1950. In addition to this, female musicians at the time were almost entirely judged on their looks instead of their talent and there was widespread belief that female musicians were simply not capable of being as talented as male ones.

The notion of the highly limited role of women in jazz is highlighted in a photograph called A Great Day in Harlem. This photograph, taken in 1958, featured the era’s greatest jazz musicians collected in Harlem. Of the 57 people featured in the photo, only three were women and all three were either pianists or singers – Marian McPartland and Mary Lou Williams, and Maxine Sullivan.

This lack of female inclusion transcends to downright sexism in a 1938 edition of Downbeat magazine, the most popular jazz publication of the era. This issue featured the headline “Why Women Musicians Are Inferior” and commenced with the quote, “Why is it that outside of a few sepia females, the woman musician was never born capable of ‘sending’ anyone farther that the nearest exit? It would seem that even though women are the weaker sex, they would still be able to bring more out of a defenseless horn than something that sounds like a cry for help.”

That attitude was unfortunately not uncommon at the time. It was the widespread understanding of the female musician. Mary Navis maintained a career in an era where everything was working against her. She was believed by the vast majority of people to not have the capability of being great solely because of her gender. Despite her success in her era and among the people who watched her play, she was never taken into account when it came time to write the history books, very few women were, and that is why Mary Navis is not famous.

Injustice in the Justice System: Women in Prison in the Mid to Late 19th Century

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Reading through the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons records is not unlike reading nineteenth century crime novels. Many of the crimes presented in the case reports are akin to Jean Valjean’s crime of stealing a loaf of bread that eventually earned him nineteen years in prison in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. That is to say, they are nothing short of unbelievable. From the man arrested for “stealing” a small piece of cloth (who actually bought it and had a receipt) to the grandfather arrested for hugging his own granddaughter, it is unbelievable from the 21st century perspective that these cases resulted in arrests and trials. These case reports provide a view into Philadelphia’s past that helps the modern citizen understand just how arbitrary the system was, and just how easy it was to end up in one of these horrible prisons that this society set out to reform.

This collection highlights the fact that, in public prisons, all prisoners were held together. Men, women and children were all combined regardless of crime. The murderers and rapists were assembled with the women who were victims of abuse and the children accused of stealing petty change. This fact, in combination with the unsanitary conditions of the prisons, explains the need for reform of the prison system.

These manuscripts come from the papers of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, a prison reform group created in 1787 based off of the work of prominent Philadelphians, such as Benjamin Franklin, to reform the harsh penal code of 1718. The society continued the work of these men by investigating existing prisons and seeking to reform the prison structure that caused all people, regardless of crime and guilt, to be held together in overcrowded unsanitary holding cells for as much as several months as they awaited trial. This society was engaged in the construction and establishment of the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829, which was modeled off of their ideas for a humane prison environment. The group still exists today as the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

Upon reading the “case reports” section of this collection, it became evident that women were often the ones arrested for crimes in which they were the victims. These stories also show just how warped the disciplinary system was at this time, the man accused of molesting two young girls was in prison for the same amount of time as the woman accused of keeping a “disorderly household,” a crime that, much to my surprise, does not imply a lack of cleanliness but rather the operation of a brothel or a house “kept in such a way as to disturb or scandalize the public.” The stories below are directly quoted from the case reports in the collection and show the imbalance of the prison system in America prior to the reform that began in this era.

The Girl Who was Arrested for Making Ten Pairs of Drawers

January 14, 1862: “[The case] of a young girl, about sixteen years of age, that was charged of having stolen 10 pairs of drawers. In the investigation of the case it was shown by her book, which was given to her by the contractor, from whom she received the drawers to make, that she had not stolen them, but the prosecutor who charged the prisoner with stealing them, stole them from the prisoner and took them into the contractor and took the pay for the making, which rightfully belonged to the prisoner; whom she had imprisoned out of a mere pretext to save herself from a prosecution for the taking of them.”

The Woman Who was Arrested for Being Beaten Bloody by her Husband

February 16, 1869:“Number 2 was the case of a woman who had been imprisoned at the insistence of her husband, upon the charge of assault and battery. Obtained her discharge from the court with consent of Judge Brewster who took the agent for bail. This arrangement afforded her an opportunity to leave the prison at once and to institute legal proceedings against her husband who was the prosecutor, for cruelly beating and whipping her in such a shocking manner, so much so, as to require medical aid of the prison physician. It seems that she got into the difficulty by taking down a portion of her clothes line and attaching it to a sled for the amusement of her children who desired to draw it over the ice. Her drunken husband not being pleased with this arrangement, took the rope and twisted it together, and cruelly whipped his wife in the presence of her five children until the blood ran down her back; and in order to prevent her from suing him, he sued and imprisoned her upon the above named charge; an offense which he alone was guilty. The agent procured her immediate release without costs, and sent her to her home to inform her husband, that if he dared to strike her again, or misuse her in any way, the agent would interfere and have him arrested and imprisoned.”

The Woman Imprisoned for Being Chased with a Poker

April 13, 1869: “Number 5 was that of a poor colored woman who was unjustly committed to prison upon the charge of misdemeanor. Her prosecutor chased her through the street with a poker for the purpose of beating her, at a time when he was drunk. He then went to the magistrate and sued and imprisoned her for an offense of which he alone was guilty. The agent went to the magistrate, explained the case, and obtained her discharge by becoming bail for her appearance at court, when she will be supplied with counsel who will speak of the drunken condition of the prosecutor, who should be punished for his improper conduct to the prisoner.

The Young Girl Who was Seduced by an Older Man Who was Arrested for Asking Him for Help

August 16, 1870: “Number 1 was the case of a young girl who was imprisoned upon the charge of breach of the peace. Her offense consisted in her asking for some assistance from a man who seduced her when she was but sixteen years of age, and took her from the home of her respectable parents, and kept, and lived with her for a period of five years. He then deserted her and married another. As he was in good circumstances, and wealthy, the prisoner thought the least that he could do would be to give her some assistance to enable her to live. This he refused to do, and caused her to be arrested and imprisoned upon the above named charge. The agent procured her discharge from the alderman by explaining her case, and by becoming bail for her to keep the peace for the future.”

The Old Woman Who was Arrested for Being Beaten by a Young Man

August 16, 1870: “Number 2 was that of a poor woman whose daughter had married the son of a wealthy citizen. The young man’s brother and mother were displeased with the match, and sought to get revenge and satisfaction by beating the prisoner, who was the mother of the young girl. She was knocked down in the street on a Sabbath day, and badly beaten by the prosecutor’s son. Her cries for help caused a mob of four or five hundred persons to collect in the street who came to her rescue, and interfered in her behalf. The mother of the man who inflicted these injuries upon the prisoner in the presence of so many witnesses immediately sued the prisoner upon the false charge of assault and battery with intent to kill. This was done to prevent this poor woman from prosecuting her son for an assault and battery with intent to kill her. She was scarcely imprisoned before neighbors came to your agent and informed him of all the facts in the case, which they themselves had witnessed. These persons contributed sufficient funds to pay the cost to procure the prisoners immediate release…[she was then] left free to prosecute the young man who had so badly beaten her.”

The Woman Who was Arrested for Trying to Keep her Husband from Drinking on the Sabbath

January 15, 1880: “No. 2 was the case of a worthy woman, who was also imprisoned, upon the charge of assault and battery. She had one of her children in prison with her, she got herself into the difficulty by resisting her prosecutor when he came to her house on the Sabbath day, and persuaded her husband from his home, to go with him to a tavern and partake of intoxicating liquors. She followed him and protested against the tavern keeper selling her husband intoxicating liquors, for the doing of this she was arrested upon the false charge of assault and battery…”

The Woman Sentenced to One Year in Prison for Keeping a Disorderly House that was not her Own while She was Ill and on Bed Rest  

October 1, 1880: “No. 1 was the case of a woman who was convicted and sentenced to one year upon the charge of keeping a disorderly house…She only occupied a room in the house with her father as she was sick and in a diseased condition, the agent procured a certificate from Dr. Smith the prison physician, that certified that she was not a proper subject for the prison and should be sent to the Almshouse…”

Who IS Francis Howard Williams?

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Much of the Francis Howard Williams papers consists of correspondence and manuscripts from a literary critic and writer in the late nineteenth century. There is extensive correspondence ranging from 1880 to 1909 between Williams and the “who’s who” of the nineteenth century literary world. These letters contain dialogue concerning poems and texts that Williams both sent and received. The members of the literary world offer endless and excessive praise for each one of these texts and the editors and publishers included in the correspondence often sent notes confirming the inclusion of Williams’s work in their publications.

In addition to this, the Francis Howard Williams correspondence and manuscripts include countless first draft manuscripts of Williams’s own work, both published and private. Among these works are A Field of Corn, A Midnight Phantasy, A Wild Lecture, And he Never Knew?, AVE AMERICA An Ode, Biographia Literaria Americana, The Clock that Struck Thirteen, The Sea, The Tragic Touch, Two Roses, and The Wanderers. This list is just a small selection of the titled and untitled works. Williams’s manuscripts are riddled with notes and sketches, adding a distinct personality to the works. The inter-workings of Williams’s mind are preserved on the sheets. His writing is preserved here, be it a great success or utter failure. His work ranges from the published masterpieces listed above to works such as the untitled poem that begins,

“There once was a girl with a bang

Who looked cross eyed whenever she sang…”

It is safe to say that that one was never meant to be published.

Despite the bulk of the collection being fairly predictable for a literary critic and aspiring writer, this collection contains several oddities that come together to shed some light on Francis Howard Williams the man. Researchers will find several pages of science notes, a typed copy of Williams’s AVE AMERICA An Ode, in invitation to the Informals Club and a newspaper clipping concerning the Informals Club, an envelope with “Yellow Wing Club” written on it, a Crawford Shoe miniature notebook containing the history of Johannes Kelpius and sketched of the Kelpius Cave, a photograph of a tennis match and a photograph of a man near a hedge sent to Mrs. F. H. Williams by a photographer named D. Hinkle, a photograph possibly of Louisa May Alcott, and a copy of “Two Friends and the Inn” by Edwin N. Benson addressed to Francis Howard Williams and Harrison S. Morris. Upon looking at the diverse elements of this collection I found myself thinking ‘Why save all of these things? What is the significance of this stuff? How do these items all relate and tell the story of Francis Howard Williams?’

crawford picThe Crawford Shoe miniature journal was made by a company called Bouvé, Crawford & Co., a Boston based company with a branch in Philadelphia that advertised “the Crawford handmade shoe, made on five different shaped lasts and sold by us at $4.00, has more value in it than any shoe made for that price.” The notebook came free with any purchase from Bouvé, Crawford and Co. Inside the notebook are details of the story of Johannes Kelpius, a mystic Pietist from Transylvania who led a group of men to Philadelphia seeking religious haven before his predicted end of the world in 1694. Williams wrote his story and the titles of several of Kelpius’s hymns in the notebook and also sketched the “Kelpius Cave” in modern day Fairmount Park, the location of Kelpius and his men’s meditation. This sketch is dated to May 7, 1893 at 5pm, evidence that Williams himself had hiked to see the place. In the manuscripts portion of the collection are several texts written by Williams about Kelpius, John Kelpius, pietist, Kelpius Hymns, and Hymn 1.

HinklepicThese quirky bits obviously increase my interest in Williams and I find myself wondering if the photograph of a tennis match and one of a man near a hedge that were sent to Mrs. Francis Howard Williams might be Mr. Williams himself?

The Belle Époque Brought to Life

header pictureThe Belle Époque musical concert and opera programs and periodicals collection contains memorabilia from Belle Époque concerts that provide a glimpse into several of the most notable concert locations in Francophone Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Belle Époque was named in retrospect as it was considered to be the “golden age” that preceded World War I. This golden age was especially present in Paris where culture flourished in visual and performing arts. The relative wealth, optimism and peace of the French Third Republic permitted a population wide participation in the arts, with the upper class and bourgeoisie, or nouveau-riches, attending casinos and lavish music halls, and the less affluent frequenting cabarets, bistros, and music halls. The artists of the time were heavily influenced by this way of life and took to depicting it frequently. Artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Édouard Manet were known for frequently depicting scenes in several of the venues present in this collection.

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Edouard Manet, Bar at the Folies Bergere, 1882.

One of Manet’s most famous works, Bar at the Folies Bergère, gives a true sense of the scene behind the playbill. In the painting, Manet depicts a young female bartender who is seemingly on display with the rest of the items for sale. In the mirror behind her, the chaos and liveliness of this venue is evident. This collection contains a 1897 playbill from the Folies Bergère advertising a performance from the famous Loïe Fuller, a dancer who is known as a pioneer of modern dance. She performed burlesque and vaudeville shows which were both staples of the era.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895.

The painting depicts the visual aspects of the venue and the playbill is evidence of what was actually happening on a specific day in history. While the playbill in this collection comes years after the Manet painting, the two items work together to give the Folies Bergère a lasting sense of life. In addition to Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec was known companions with Loïe Fuller and frequently painted scenes of cabaret life with paintings such as his 1892 masterpiece, At the Moulin Rouge. 

 

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The most popular style of music during the Belle Époque was salon music, short pieces performed in salons that were not intended to be notably serious but rather display fleeting emotional expression. In this collection, there is an advertisement for the papers of one of the most famous composers of salon music, Franz List which includes a biography of another of the most notable composers of salon music, Frédéric Chopin. Their Debussymusic appears in several programs and is advertised as being performed by one of the most famous performers of salon music, Jacques Thibaud. In addition to this salon style, this era produced one of the most prominent composers of Impressionist music, Claude Debussy. Debussy, who appears several times in this collection.

The cultural trends at this time produced a Bohemian lifestyle, an unconventional lifestyle of adventurers involved primarily in musical, artistic and cultural pursuits. This lifestyle was reflected in many of the forms of entertainment of the era, particularly in performance dancing styles, such as burlesque and vaudeville. This free-spirited artistic lifestyle was concentrated in Montmartre. Home of the Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre was known for

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housing artists during the Belle Époque such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Salvador Dali, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh, among many others. It was also the home of many of the famous concert venues and cabarets of the era, most notably the Moulin Rouge. It was the birthplace of the cancan and the pure embodiment of the Bohemian Belle Époque lifestyle. Several of the programs in this collection come from the seemingly endless collection of cabarets and performance halls in Montmartre and help give a sense of the artistic pulse that permeated the neighborhood.

These primary source documents prevent this unique era of history from becoming just an allusive time period taught in school. The programs allow the Belle Époque to become a vivid memory, despite the fact that it is not the memory of the modern people.  In combination with the lasting cultural elements of the time, these programs bring the Belle Époque to life in the modern era.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.