Sincerely Yours: How Cecil Got His Gun

Cecil K. Byrd (1913-1997) was a longtime librarian and faculty member at Indiana University. He served as Curator of Special Collections (1942-1946), Assistant Director of Libraries (1946-1949), Associate Director of Libraries (1949-1964), University Librarian (1964-1972), and finally professor and librarian emeritus at the Lilly Library (1980-1997).

Air mail envelope addressed to Dr. Robert A. Miller from C. K. Byrd
Air mail envelope from Cecil K. Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller, June 1944.

Cecil K. Byrd (M.A. 1938, Ph.D. 1942, History, Indiana University) landed a plum job at IU as Curator of Special Collections upon his graduation, but his career was soon interrupted by the entrance of the United States into World War II. Byrd left the university for service in the U.S. Navy in April 1943, not long after an important IU special collections milestone– the donation of the Oakleaf collection on Abraham Lincoln, which Byrd cataloged, and the opening of the library’s Lincoln room (then located in Franklin Hall).

Photograph of Cecil K. Byrd and three scholars in the Lincoln Room at its dedication on February 13, 1943.
Lincoln Scholars at Lincoln Room Dedication, February 13, 1943. Cecil K. Byrd is the second from the right.

During his wartime service as a ship’s navigator, Byrd corresponded with IU Libraries Director Robert Miller, who kept him up to date with campus affairs. In return, Byrd shared some of his experiences as well as his eagerness to get back to his beloved job (“I would give my share of paradise to be sitting on my thin bottom in that red chair in Rare books and attending an auction now and again!”). One of Byrd’s more entertaining anecdotes appears in a June 23, 1944 letter, written while Byrd’s ship was stationed in France on transport duty. It concerns the requisitioning of a machine gun that he just had to have, not for himself, of course, but for Lincoln:

“Visited a German ammunition dump that had been evacuated a few hours before. Mindful of the Rare Book section, I selected a machine gun that in some mystical way had been connected with Lincoln for a souvenir. Pulled and groaned with the thing many miles and had nearly reached the ship when I was hailed by a British M.P. who wanted to know what I was doing with one of his Majesty’s guns. I gave him my little song and dance and “for Lincoln” he let me take it aboard. But I was so disappointed that it wasn’t German that I gave it to the mess boy with the story that I captured it alone and unarmed.”

Byrd’s mock-curatorial escapade was not the end of his exploits abroad in the name of the IU Libraries. During a stopover in England, he used coupons to procure “enough Harris tweed…to make myself a suit and topcoat” (stereotypical mid-century librarian wear?) and offered to buy additional cloth for Miller:

“Don’t know whether you like tweed or not. I’ve bought enough Harris tweed in Eng. to make myself a suit and topcoat. It takes coupons but I have a contact out to get more. If you are interested I think I could get you enough for a suit or topcoat. The last I got cost me $27 for 7 yards. You’ll have to trust me for the general color, etc. I’ll not make you look either like a librarian or race track tout — something in between. Let me know about this.”

After the war, Byrd returned to his beloved library, complete with a brand-new title: Assistant Director of the Libraries. And the rest is history- the expansion of library collections and branch libraries, the establishment of the Lilly Library as IU’s rare books and special collections repository, etc. etc. Except for Abraham Lincoln’s machine gun. Byrd totally made that up.

Read the entirety of Byrd’s June 23, 1944 letter to Miller here, including original handwriting and transcript.

Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller is located in the Indiana University Libraries Director’s records, 1932-1977, Collection C540, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Behind the Curtain: Brad Cook, Curator of Photographs

Role: Curator of Photographs

Educational Background: B.A. in History from IU; MLS with a specialization in rare books and manuscripts from IU

How he got here: Brad was working on his history degree and decided to visit the Archives to see if they had any materials on is grandfather who graduated from IU in 1939.  He had not previously thought of archives as a potential career, but he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in the field after this visit.  He filled out an application and started working part-time as a student assistant.

 Favorite item in the collection: His favorite photograph is the one shown here of the IU football team in the locker room after winning IU’s only undisputed Big Ten football title in 1945.

1945 football team in locker room after beating Purdue
1945 football team in locker room after beating Purdue, IU Archives Imave no. P0023419

Current projects: Brad is helping the Athletic Dept. finish their branding of the newly-renovated Assembly Hall by locating and providing photographs.  He is also working with a producer who is putting together a documentary about IU’s 1975-1976 basketball team, the last team in college basketball history to go undefeated and win the national championship.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Acquiring the photograph collections of Will Counts and Dave Repp

What he’s learned from working here: Brad says everything he’s learned about IU’s history he’s learned from 24 years of working in the Archives.

Coach Billy Thom and His Boys: The Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1929-1932

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1932

The art of scrapbooking is a pastime that many partake in to highlight an important event or period within their life.  It serves a special function, as when one is feeling reminiscent, one can simply take out the scrapbook and reflect on their past events.  Thus, when becoming a member of the Indiana University wrestling team, Delmas E. Aldridge decided to keep a scrapbook documenting the process of the team and its members through collecting newspaper clippings and photographs.

Delmas Eilar Aldridge was born on January 5, 1911 in Atlanta, Indiana.  He graduated from Kokomo High School in 1928 and then attended Indiana University from 1928-1932.  While attending school, Aldridge decided to become involved in extracurricular activities, as many students do. When he joined the Indiana University wrestling team, he stated “I was one of the few that had no wrestling experience, as Kokomo High School had no team.  What success I had I owe to Coach Billy Thom.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1930-1931 First row, second from the right: Delmas E. Aldridge

Aldridge was a member of the Indiana University wrestling team from 1929-1932.  He was the first person to wrestle in the newly built Fieldhouse, now known as the Wildermuth Intramural Center as part of the IU Recreational Sports Facility.  During the 1929 opening season match against Cornell, the wrestling match was held immediately after the Indiana-Pittsburgh basketball game.  Thus, the largest crowd in the history of the mat game attended the opening season match in the Fieldhouse; luckily, Aldridge won the match for his weight class.  In addition, Aldridge won his first conference match against Purdue University in February of 1930, winning his first letter for a five-point fall.

Delmas E. Aldridge and George Belshaw at Aldridge’s Home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 1964

In 1931, Aldridge was declared Big Ten champion in his weight class (one hundred and eighteen pounds) and was elected co-captain of the team by George Belshaw after the team elected Belshaw as captain in 1932.  Still appreciative of Belshaw’s kindness almost fifty years later, Aldridge wrote “Thanks again George,” by the newspaper clipping in the scrapbook that announced their captainship. (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Instead of letting his memories become forgotten overtime, Aldridge decided to hand over the scrapbook depicting his time as a member of the Indiana University wrestling team.  Aldridge simply asked that the scrapbook be put “in the appropriate location where they may be read by everyone for years to come.  Please do not mutilate but leave for others.  The last portion of this book shows the mutual respect, admiration, and love that existed between ‘His Boys’ and ‘Their Coach’ ‘Billy’ Thom.”  (Letter to ‘I’ Men’s Association, 20 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1929

Delmas E. Aldridge passed away on March 22, 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  However, the scrapbook has now found its way back to his alma mater, Indiana University, where it will be preserved for many years to come.  In regards to the scrapbook, Aldridge wrote, “It is not as bright & shiny as it was.  Now faded & moth eaten.  But after almost 50 years we are worn down a little also.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

The entire Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook has been digitized and is now accessible through Archives Online at Indiana University, or you can request an appointment to view the scrapbook in person by contacting the IU Archives.

Chill before slicing: A Recipe for “Herman B Wells Cake”

Tomorrow (June 7th) would be former IU President and Chancellor Herman B Wells’ 115th birthday! To celebrate, visit the Wells Library tomorrow between 12-2pm for a piece of cake on the big day. Also if you’d like to make Hermie’s favorite dessert in the comfort of your own home, see the recipe below!

An older Herman B Wells blows out candles on his birthday cake in front of friends and staff
76th Birthday Party for Herman B Wells, June 8, 1978.

This culinary masterpiece involves a LOT of fruit and whipped cream and makes a pretty generously-sized cake, so scaling down the recipe is definitely recommended!

“Herman B Wells Cake”

Ingredients:
3 lb. white cake mix
6 oz. oil
2 lb. water
5 lb. green tip bananas
3 pints strawberries
16 cups whipped cream


Instructions:
Mix cake mix and 2/3 lb. water on low speed. 2 mins. Scrape down and mix with 2/3 cups more water on medium speed. 2 mins. Add last 2/3 cups water, oil, mix medium speed 2 mins. Bake 375 for about 30 mins. Cool and chill. Split cake in half. Spread top of split layer with whipped cream. Cut bananas and place on top of whipped cream. Spread more whipped cream on top of bananas. Layer strawberries over that layer. Spread more whipped cream on top of berries. Place other half of cake on top and spread more whipped cream on top of that. Chill before slicing.