Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck….and Captive Wildlife in Indiana

Inventorying educational program titles from Indiana University’s former Audio Visual Center’s holdings has revealed a number of humorous, odd, and niche-interest titles. But while combing through programs like “A Nickel for the Movies,” “Guess Who’s Pregnant?” and “Using a Spectrophotometer,” I found the bizarre little 16mm film “Chucky Lou.”

“Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck” is a short, black and white film running just over ten minutes long which was marketed towards kindergarten and elementary aged children. The 1948 film, one of the best-selling programs produced by the IUAVC, follows the story of a plump little woodchuck from her natural habitat to her relocation and “taming” at a pet house in McCormick’s Creek State Park, just 15 miles northwest of Bloomington.

Black and white photograph of a groundhog sitting in a pan
Chucky Lou with Pan

With cheerful, jangly music accompanying, the film opens on the six-month-old woodchuck in her natural habitat – a meadow- and provides educational background on her diet of grass and clover, and her dwelling in a burrow underground . Chucky Lou is found by a woman on her stroll near the meadow. Deeming the woodchuck sick because she is lying on her back in the sun, the woman catches Chucky Lou and picks her up with her bare hands “carefully” because, as the narrator stresses, Chucky Lou is “wild and had sharp claws and teeth.” The woman’s husband then takes Chucky Lou to the animal caretaker at McCormick’s Creek to be placed in the Park’s Pet House. It is stated in the film that the caretaker was actively seeking a woodchuck for his park, presumably to round out the animals present and attract visitors. This is perhaps due to the emphasis on public engagement in the parks at this time. In the 1930s, McCormick’s Creek had became the first park in the state to conduct school programs. The 1940s saw the creation and adoption of a guide manual for naturalists across all of Indiana’s parks, and the implementation of nature guides at the parks. In 1950, just two years after the production of “Chucky Lou,” McCormick’s Creek would hold the first naturalist training institute.

From a modern perspective, the film appears to be a manual for how NOT to handle wildlife, emphasizing the woodchuck’s transition from wild to tame and celebrating moments where she is dressed up in doll clothes and fed peanut brittle in exchange for tricks to lackluster responses from her child audience. The teacher’s manual which accompanied the film even frames Chucky Lou as “an unusual pet” and encourages teachers to use the film to spark discussion among students about topics like “tricks they have seen animals perform” and “how to train pets.”

 

This is a Teacher's Guide transcripts including the following text: The young woodchuck becomes ill and is found by a lady walking along a country road near the meadow. Since the lady does not know how to care for a woodchuck her husband takes it to a pet house in a nearby park. At the park, Chucky Lou is given to a caretaker who furnishes her with a cage of her own in the pet house. The caretaker feeds her lettuce and animal biscuits. Her water pan is set in a concrete block, so she will not spill the water. She sleeps in a Lox up in a tree branch. Shots are shown of her nearest neighbors, the red foxes and raccoons. Chucky Lou becomes very tame and learns several tricks. She will sit on a little red chair if she is fed peanut brittle. She will allow the caretaker and sometimes the children to dress her in doll clothes. In the fall of the year, Chucky Lou becomes very fat as a preparation for hibernation during the winter. As cold weather approaches, she begins to gather grass and leaves in her mouth and take them to her nest, where she makes a bed. She has learned to push open the gate of the pet house so that she can get to her nest. In the closing sequence Chucky Lou curls up and falls asleep. Her caretaker tucks her in for her winter nap. UTILIZATION SUGGESTIONS I.To provide teaching-learning opportunities involving the use of language arts. a. Oral communication and sharing i. Discussion - Sharing of experiences on such topics as: 1. Tricks they have seen animals perform 2. Their own pets 3. How to train pets 4. Care of pets 5. Why some animals make good pets 6. Unusual pets 7. Drawing inferences ii. Encourage through use of such questions as: 1. Why are woodchucks sometimes called ground hogs? 2. Is it safe to handle all woodchucks?
Teacher’s Guide for “Chucky Lou,” circa 1948

The teacher’s manuals also reveal the actual circumstances behind her capture, stating:

“The story is true, with the exception of the sequence about the young woodchuck’s being sick when she was found in the woods. Actually the woodchuck had been orphaned by hunters”

It is curious that this change was made, with the outcome of potentially spreading misinformation to young viewers about the appropriate identification of and response to sick animals.

It is easy to pick apart the flaws in the treatment of Chucky Lou, and I was dismayed that “Chucky Lou’s” documented wide-spread popularity no doubt led to the spread of unethical practices to a lot of children. The application of modern knowledge and standards to actions seventy years in the past, however, is ultimately not productive. While the film may not age well from the perspective of wildlife conservation, “Chucky Lou’s” popularity nevertheless speaks to the human fascination with our animal neighbors, a fascination which, if used responsibly, can have amazing outcomes. This film perhaps can be re-framed as a means to explore ethical practices in wildlife interactions. These explorations can serve to highlight places in Indiana which work to provide safe, ethical care for wild animals and responsible public education, led by trained professionals such as naturalists whose profession began with McCormick’s Creek.

Black and white photograph of a child seated with a groundhog dressed in an apron and hat.

Today, organizations such as the local non-profit Wildcare Inc. provide care to sick, orphaned, or injured wildlife with the foremost goal of rehabilitating the animals back to the wild whenever possible. Guidelines for the appropriate handling of injured or sick animals today are vastly different – providing precautionary measures for both the safety of the intervening human and the animal in question. While Wildcare Inc. stresses that, in the vast majority of cases, animals should in fact be left alone, it provides detailed instructions for the identification and assessment of the condition of animals on their site. In the event an animal is determined to require rescue it is important to remember three guidelines until the animal can be picked up:

  • Never handle an animal with your bare hands
  • Keep the animal in a warm, quiet, confined space
  • Do not feed or water the animal – leave that to the professionals!

While wildlife like Chucky Lou could have been rehabilitated, some animals cannot be candidates for a return to the wild. Some who have been bred in captivity or have been rescued from private ownership may have been maltreated or may lack basic survival instincts and may be taken in by rescue sanctuaries like the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point  or the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion. Other rescued wildlife from nature may have sustained permanent injuries which makes it impossible for them to survive if returned. Frequently these animals become what is known as “ambassadors” for interpretive and educational programming done by organizations which house them. Wildcare utilizes this practice of employing animal ambassadors for public education as does Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis in their programming.

Color photograph of Will Schaust with a bald eagle perched on his arm.
Will Schaust, Ornithology Center Manager, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

I asked Will Schaust, an old friend, former naturalist at McCormick’s Creek State Park, and the Ornithology Center Manager at Eagle Creek, to answer a few questions about the role of wildlife in education and ethical practices surrounding captive wildlife.

How long have you worked as a naturalist/what is your background/work experience?
I have spent the last 10 years working at different parks throughout Indiana. First, I was a camp counselor for an environmental education camp at Holliday Park, then spent 4 years as a seasonal at McCormick’s Creek SP, and finally ended up at Eagle Creek as Manager of the Ornithology Center. Each of these jobs had direct involvement with working alongside education animals including reptiles, amphibians, and birds of prey.

As someone who works on interpretive programs involving wild animals today, what were your first impressions of “Chucky Lou”?
There’s quite a bit to unpack here for sure. We’ve definitely come a long way in the methods that we care for education animals but also in how we deal with wild animals. It’s incredibly interesting to me that a woman was so compelled to pick up a “sick” animal without knowing much about it. Granted, the golden age of environmentalism didn’t come until the late 60’s/early 70’s so before that the ecologic practices of mankind were well intended but often fell short of their desired goal. We didn’t really consider our environmental footprint until the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969. Additionally, the idea of keeping all of those animals that close together without any visual barriers seems like a poor choice. And peanut brittle should never be given to wild animals.

As someone who has worked at McCormick’s Creek as a naturalist, do you have any information on the pet house where Chucky Lou was housed? I have tried to find any information on it and have been unsuccessful.
From the look of it, that could be the camp store near the Canyon Inn, but it could also be the CCC Rec Hall (I believe that used to be an old nature museum. Wyatt Williams at MCCSP would have more details). Beyond that I don’t have much info.

Do approaches to the use of wild animals in interpretive programs differ today? If so, how?
Without question. Most of the state parks have a rule that during the recreation season (typically May-October) you can keep a wild caught reptile or amphibian on display for 90 days then you must return it back to the wild, for mammals and birds there are stricter regulations. I also think the addition of permits and tighter regulations also lends well to better care and use of education animals. Professional organizations and government agencies are continually coming up with better policies to ensure a higher quality of life for these animals while they are in our care. I will add, nature centers/ambassador animals are among the last group of folks to get on board with these approaches. For years zoos have had a standard evaluation for their exhibit animals but only within the last 3 or so years have applied this to their ambassador animals.

What factors do you think have contributed to the way we view the ethics of wildlife in interpretive programming?
I think the overall quality of life is considered more these days. More specifically, avian trainers are moving strictly to a choice based, positive reinforcement training model in the hopes that we can reduce the overall stress of our education birds as opposed to forcing the animal to participate in programming. There’s a fine line between treating these animals as pets and making them comfortable and stress free during their stay.

Is there a uniform set of regulations or standards that are employed today when housing wild animals for educational purposes?
It depends on the organization. For folks with avian ambassadors like us, we refer to IAATE (International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators) but there’s also the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Ultimately, government agencies like U.S. Fish & Wildlife will set the standards for housing and permitting.

What are the goals of the Eagle Creek Ornithology Center when it comes to the management and utilization of captive wildlife?
Eagle Creek Ornithology Center Raptor Program Mission Statement: By providing exemplary care, husbandry, training, and enrichment for our Raptor Ambassadors, we hope to foster a sense of wonder, enthusiasm, and stewardship for the natural world, and to inspire action towards conserving the species that visitors encounter at the Ornithology Center and during our programs.

At the end of the day, our goal is to provide as much of a stress-free environment for our birds as we can. We are working each and every day to ensure that our birds are participating in training and programming because they choose to. We are using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement to build up our trust account with each bird so that when we need to do something stressful (medical treatments, trimming beaks and talons, changing their equipment) they will be quick to recover from that. We understand that a live animal is the best prop you can have in a program, but we also want to convey a message of conservation, responsibility, and provocation our audiences towards helping these species in whatever way they can.

The film seems to reinforce the idea of Chucky Lou as a “pet”. What do you think about the ownership of wild animals as pets?
WILD ANIMALS MAKE TERRIBLE PETS. Thanks to movies about a certain wizard boy people love the idea of having owls as pets. Truth is, owls are not great pets at all. They’re awake when you’re sleeping and vice-versa, you constantly have to clean up after them, and very few vets will treat wild animals if something goes wrong. Aside from that, trying to find resources about the care of that animal like diet, healthy weight range, and behaviors might be really hard to come by. There’s no guarantee that they would get along with other domestic pets. Above all else, it’s also ILLEGAL to have these species without the proper paperwork and permitting.

I know that the DNR lost control of the regulation of privately-owned captive wildlife in 2015, with jurisdiction instead falling to more vague federal guidelines. Do you think this has led to an upswing in the ownership of wild animals as “unusual pets”?
You hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. I personally haven’t seen too many examples of this, but I think that if the opportunity presented itself someone would take that chance.

Lastly, what is your opinion of animal sanctuaries such as Black Pine Animal Sanctuary or the Exotic Feline Rescue Center which serve as potential refuges for animals which have been rescued from private ownership?
I think that they are a Band-Aid on a much bigger issue. The folks are these centers are doing the best job they can to provide these animals a place where they feel safe, well fed, and cared for and this is not to discredit their work. If people let wildlife remain wild then I think many of these issues wouldn’t be as prevalent. It may start out innocent enough, feeding the ducks at a park is a great example. But if you try and interfere with the natural order of things, expect that there will be consequences. We as a population need to understand that we do not need to be a part of every natural function out there. I know the idea of keeping an unusual pet might sound appealing, but without the proper training it usually ends up doing more harm than good. Look at the python epidemic in the Everglades, it began with exotic pet trade operations nearby and once those snakes got too big they were released into the Everglades and now they are completely changing the ecosystem and decimating fauna populations.

Green and white flyer with the following text: Teacher's Guide - Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck for Kindergarten and Elementary Grades"

Interested in getting involved in the care of wildlife in Indiana? Volunteer opportunities are available at both Eagle Creek Park , Wildcare Inc., and McCormick’s Creek State Park (link).

For those looking to make a dedicated commitment to our natural resources, the state offers the Indiana Master Naturalist program , an in-demand initiative to educate and accredit volunteers for natural resource management.

Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive is currently working to remaster the University’s copy of “Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck.” For further information on the archival materials accompanying “Chucky Lou” and other educational programs in the former IU Audio Visual Center’s collection, contact one of our archivists.

Behind the Curtain: Michelle Ann Crowe

Color headshot of Michelle Crowe, IU libraries Director of Communications
Michelle Crowe, IU libraries Director of Communications

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible.

Title and Role: Michelle Crowe is the IU Libraries Director of Communications. She helps IU Libraries tell our story to students, staff, and faculty as well as coordinates with members of the media who seek to access our expertise and resources.

Educational background: Michelle was a nerdy 7th grader when she was selected for a summer camp at Ball State University focused on the very first forms of desktop publishing.  She came back to Owen Valley Middle School (go Patriots) and began working on the student newspaper. It felt natural for her to attend Ball State and major in Journalism, but an internship exposed Michelle to Public Relations and she added that focus.  She is currently taking classes at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs for her certificate in Nonprofit Management.

Previous experience: Michelle thinks you are probably less interested in her experience spilling drinks on campers at the Canyon Inn, but during her professional career she has worked almost exclusively for nonprofit organizations.  She started in healthcare at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, but then found her dream job – Community Relations Manager at Anderson Public Library.  When she moved to Bloomington, she went back into healthcare communications at Bloomington Hospital (now IU Health) before eventually joining the IU Libraries.

Partnership with the IU Archives: According to Michelle, the IU Archives is a dream client for any communicator. Storytelling is the most effective form of communication, and that means the Archives is a golden treasure box – it feels nearly magical to her.  When an archivist or other professional comes to her to request help with promoting a pop-up library or because a journalist is seeking to write about one of the collections, she is always certain the experience will be both interesting and efficient.  Sharing knowledge comes naturally to everyone at IU Libraries, but according to Michelle it feels like the Archives is even more invested in making sure she has everything she needs and in partnering with her to tell a really engaging story.

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: Michelle is the IU Archives photography database’s biggest fan and talks about it all time! She loves the keyword search functionality and the ease with which she can download images to use them in a huge variety of projects, or request large file size versions when needed.  She also knows that she’s not the only communicator on campus that feels this way.

Black and white photograph of 2 students standing beside a large 5-tier cake with tapered candles.
IU Birthday Cake at Founder’s Day, April 1952. IU Archives image no. P0043286

Project she’s currently working on: Just this week the Communications Department received a stack of custom bicentennial birthday cards Michelle was able to put together with lots of help from the Archives and the photo database.  Imagine her surprise when she searched for “cake” and got back a black-and-white image of a multi-tiered four-foot tall cake with taper candles?  She had to know more.  And a few search-result pages later she found more photos of cakes.  Michelle was able to learn a bit about the history of this brief IU tradition through other Archives resources and ended up with a card that is a stand-alone bicentennial history lesson.  It is one of her favorite projects so far this year.

Favorite experience with the IU Archives: In 2016 Michelle was brand new to IU and brand new to higher ed. She says she was confused about what she was doing and where she was going nearly 100% of the time.  Carrie Schwier  (Outreach and Public Services Archivist) pretended not to notice and gently led Michelle through what she needed for one of the first projects Michelle did here.

Black and white photograph of 5 cast members from the Showboat Majestic including Pat Pell, Alice Rosengard, Kevin Kline, Lolly Harris, and Candy Tolles.
Kevin Kline on the Showboat Majestic, circa 1967. IU Archives image no. P0028506

Something she’s  learned about IU by working in the Archives: Michelle might be native to this area – growing up in Spencer she always told everyone who asked she lived in Bloomington – but she didn’t know much at all about IU.  Open-shelf access to the Arbutus year books and back issues of the Alumni magazine have helped her really understand the character of this special place. But, she has to say her biggest surprise was learning IU used to have some kind of river boat show (known as the Showboat Majestic). The Archives has a sign from the vessel in its reading room – you should check it out yourself! 

A Co-ed, a Convict, and the Prom That Brought Them Together

This is a black and white newspaper clippings which includes the following text and includes a picture of a college woman with short curls. GARRETT GIRL IS ELECTED QUEEN OF INDIANA U. PROM: Barbara VanFleit Honored by Junior Class Miss Barbara VanFleit of East King street and a junior at Indiana University, Thursday night was elected junior prom queen in the closest contest ever held for the honor on the campus. Miss VanFleit, an independent coed, defeated Miss Virginia Austin of Zionsville, president of Delta Delta Delta sorority and the “coalition” candidate of the Greek letter social organizations by a vote of 256 to 245. Miss VanFleit represented the Independent Students’ Association. Only men of the junior class were eligible to ballot. The prom, which is the annual spring dance of the junior class, will be held Friday night in Alumni Hall in the Union building on campus with 400 couples in attendance. The decorative scheme in the hall will depict scenes from the motion picture “Gone with the Wind.” The interior of the room will resemble an old southern mansion. Ticket sales for this dance are restricted to juniors for the first week and then are offered for general sale. Miss VanFleit will wear a formal gown worn by Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” and will be escorted by Donald Painter, son of Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Painter of South Walsh street, a member of the Delta Chi fraternity. Mr. and Mrs. VanFleit have been invited to attend the ball as chaperones. Miss VanFleit is 5 feet 2 and a brunette. She is a member of the YWCA, secretary of the Home Economics club, a member of the Women’s Athletic Association and of the Association of Independents Students, which sponsored her candidacy.
Article on VanFleit in the Garrett Clipper,
Monday, March 4, 1940

In 1940, Barbara VanFleit’s face appeared in newspapers across the state of Indiana. Headlines read “Garrett Girl is Elected Queen of Indiana Prom,” celebrating her win as an “unorganized” co-ed over Delta Delta Delta sorority president Virginia Austin by just five votes. She was the second consecutive independent to be voted queen by the boys of the junior class in the twenty-two year history of the event at IU. A junior studying home economics at IU, Barbara was no stranger to the Garrett Clipper’s pages. The daughter of an apparently well-respected electrical engineer, Barbara’s activities along with those of her siblings and step siblings were often recorded in the publication’s social pages. Donald Painter, a member of Delta Chi and a chemistry student – the king to Barbara’s prom queen- also frequently appears in these social pages, often in connection with Barbara.

The prom that year was to be themed after the film “Gone With the Wind.” According to that year’s Arbutus:

“The theme was carried out in the decorations by a replica of a Southern mansion, which formed the background for the band. The walls were artistically draped in Spanish moss, and the entrance to the hall was decorated in keeping with the Southern theme.”

This is a black and white page spread from the Arbutus yearbook. Photographs show college couples dining over formal dinner, dancing, and 2 images show Barbara VanFleit and her date Donald Painter dancing.
Page from the 1940 Arbutus showing the year’s Junior Prom activities
Black and white photograph shows Barbara VanFleit wearing a lace, tiered ballgown and holding a bouquet of flowers.
Barbara VanFleit wears dress from Gone With The Wind, March 8, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0024613

A unique opportunity came with the theme of 1940s prom – Barbara VanFleit appears in both the Arbutus and the Collegiate Digest, a national publication which featured the lives of university students in pictures, wearing a tiered, ruffled dress claimed to be an original costume from Gone with the Wind worn by Vivien Leigh during production. Although records have proved difficult to find, the dress was apparently part of an exhibition of items from the film that was held in Chicago that same year and shipped to Bloomington for the occasion. A brief article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Gone With the Wind Elegance” written in January of 1940 does feature sketches of dresses described as “copies of ‘Gone With the Wind’ gowns now in Chicago,” but no details on the exhibition are given. The dress which most closely resembles the one which Barbara VanFleit would wear to her prom in March of that year is identified as a dress worn by Suellen O’Hara, played by Evelyn Keyes, as opposed to an outfit worn by Vivian Leigh in her role as Scarlett O’Hara. The topic of Gone With the Wind fashion was indeed popular in the spring of 1940, with advertisements for “Gone With the Wind Dresses” selling for between $1.98 and $3.98 appearing in the Chicago papers.

Later that March, Barbara’s name would again appear in the Garret Clipper, however this time next to that of Elmer Louis Houston, a convict at Indiana State Prison. Born the son of a laborer in Wisconsin, Houston is described on his World War I Draft registration card as having dark hair and dark eyes.  This card from 1918 lists Houston as being 18 years of age, although information found in the Federal Census suggests that Houston may have actually been as young as 16 at the time of his enlistment. Later census information suggests that Houston only received at most an 8th Grade education. Throughout what can be found of his life, his occupations were listed as farm laborer, roofer, and “motorman”.

This is a black and white newspaper clipping including the following text: Mercy Bandit Given Parole by Commission: Staged Holdup on Day Baby was Born Elmer Houston, who held up an Indianapolis bus driver in December to get money so he could by coal to keep his family warm, was granted a parole by the State Clemency Commission Tuesday. He was sentenced Dec. 19 in Criminal court to serve one to five years in the state prison. The record of his case shoed that a baby was born to his wife on the day of the holdup. There was no coal in the house. He attempted to sell a gun which he owned, but he could find no purchased, so he used the gun in the holdup. Persons in the store, where he tried to sell the weapon, knowing it was not loaded, ran after Houston, caught him and held him for the police.
Article in The Jeffersonville Evening News, August 28, 1935, detailing Houston’s parole

By March of 1940, Houston was serving his second sentence at the prison, the state’s Northern facility located in Michigan City. His first crime was one of desperation, carried out in December of 1934. According to an article in the Jeffersonville Evening News, records show that on that cold day in December, Houston’s wife, Velma had given birth to one of their five children. On that day, Houston had tried to sell a gun to buy coal to provide for his family in Indianapolis where they were living. Finding no buyer, Houston attempted to use the gun to hold up a local bus driver in a store. Unsuccessful with the unloaded gun, Houston was apprehended by onlookers until the police arrived. He was paroled in August of the following year by the State Clemency Commission, serving less than a year. Following his parole, however, Houston was again sentenced – this time for between 5 and 21 years in February of 1938, for an undetermined crime.

It was this second sentence that Elmer Houston was serving when he encountered IU Professor of Fine Arts, Harry Engel, who taught fine art to the inmates at Indiana State Prison in the late summer of 1939. Engel had initially been invited by Hans Riemer, the educational supervisor of the prison, to meet artistically inclined inmates, and, excited by the talent he saw, began conducting in person classes in the infirmary of the prison for two weeks. After he had returned to Bloomington for the fall semester, Engel continued to provide feedback and instruction via correspondence. John Grogan, then deputy instructor of the arts program at Indiana State Prison, enthusiastically hoped that the class would serve as a model for arts programs at other prisons throughout the United States as it provided immense therapeutic and rehabilitative value to the inmates, as well as practical training in anticipation of release.

The works of art created by these prisoners would come to be shown at the Mezzanine Gallery (another of Engels efforts) of the Indiana University Bookstore. The show, “Prisoner Art,” featured the work of several inmates, many of whom were considered “lifers” or experiencing psychiatric issues. “Prisoner Art” was heralded as the first of its kind, and the sale of the inmate’s work – for prices ranging between $5 and $25 – went on to fund supplies for the continuation of the educational program.

This is a brochure for the exhibit "Prisoner Art" which ran from March 1-30. The artwork shows 6 hands holding paintbrush and easel, yet bound by chains.
Cover of the 1940 exhibition pamphlet for “Prisoner Art”

Several of the pieces sold before the opening had even begun, but one piece, “Heart of a Rose,” was not for sale. Created by Elmer Houston, “Heart of a Rose” was instead to be given to its muse – the 1940 IU junior prom queen, Barbara VanFleit. While no record of the portrait exists, on March 25th of 1940, the Garret Clipper describes it as being made with “rug dyes and paints on a man’s handkerchief”. Houston had taken inspiration for the piece from an article he had seen describing VanFleit’s coronation. One wonders if “Heart of a Rose” featured its subject wearing the enigmatic “Gone With the Wind” dress we now associate that year’s prom.

Like any good tale, the story of Barbara VanFleit, Elmer Houston, and the prom that brought them together ends with a lot of questions.  What did “Heart of a Rose” look like?  While VanFleit was quoted saying she would take the piece after its exhibition, did she follow through on this? Was VanFleit’s prom dress actually worn by Vivian Leigh? Was it worn by her co-star Evelyn Keyes? Was it even an original movie prop or the subject of creative embellishment?

In the case of Houston, our story also ends with tragedy. Records indicate that Houston may have been drafted while still serving time in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His name would again appear in the paper in 1957, following his death. Several newspapers reported that Houston and his wife Velma had been found by police in their bed with a gallon jug labeled “cider” next to them. Inside the jug was a “green fluid.” This fluid was sent to the IU Medical School for analysis and was later determined to be antifreeze. Houston was dead on discovery, while Velma would later die at the General Hospital.

Barbara went on to marry Donald Scott Painter, her former prom king in 1942, and their son was born 6 years later. She passed away in 1968 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Behind the Curtain: Hannah Osborn

Photograph of graduate student Hannah Obsorn standing on a ladder in from of an exhibit case. Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. 

Role at the IU Archives: Hannah works as a graduate student processor at the IU Archives. Her work includes the arrangement and description of new collections and supporting departmental outreach efforts such as exhibits and social media. Soon Hannah will begin a new full-time position at IU as the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design Administrative Assistant.

Educational background: Hannah graduated with her BFA from IU in 2014, majoring in studio photography with a minor in art history. After taking a few years off, she decided to return to IU to pursue a graduate education. In May she received her Master’s in Art History.

Previous archival experience: Hannah had very little archival experience before joining the IU Archives, but going through a research-heavy graduate program was invaluable when organizing collections and anticipating the ways in which researchers will need to access and utilize the materials that are being processed. The experiences she had while working for the Grunwald Gallery of Art between undergraduate and graduate programs also provided helpful insights when approaching the curatorial aspects of archival work.

What attracted her to work in the IU Archives: One of her graduate cohort brought the opening to her attention. Hannah was looking for a job opportunity that she would be able to balance with finishing her thesis. The ability to work with peoples’ personal ephemera, their material legacy, really drew her. She has always been someone who is incredibly sentimental when it comes to the objects and words people leave behind.  She is also hoping to enter the curatorial field and the ability to widen her skill set here at the Archives – learning things like archival management basics, digital preservation, and encoding- was very appealing when trying to diversify her experience for the job hunt.

Black and white photograph of Alma Eikerman and a student seated side-by-side at a work table. Eikerman is demonstrating a technique for the student.
Alma Eikerman with student, IU Archives image no. P0025305

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: Hannah loves the  newsletters of former IU professor and metalsmith, Alma Eikerman in the Alma Eikerman Papers. They are written much like a “family Christmas newsletter,” with Eikerman proudly filling her readers in on what her students and alumni are up to – solo shows, fellowships, marriages, the births of children. The newsletters reveal how much Eikerman treasured her students and found joy in their success. For her, teaching was not something that ended when summer came. It was a lifelong relationship with those who came to pursue metalsmithing and jewelry design at IU.

Black and white photograph of film brochures for the program "Frog Anatomy"
Audiovisual Program Materials on Anatomy, 1964. IU Archives image no. P0080381

Project she’s currently working on:  Hannah currently has two projects going. She has been working on processing a large collection of printed materials, correspondence, and documentation which accompanied educational films housed in the former IU Audio Visual Center. The films are now a part of IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, and the goal is to make the accompanying documentation of these programs accessible as well. She is also assisting Outreach and Public Services Archivist, Carrie Schwier, in curating an exhibition centering on Alma Eikerman’s pedagogical legacy. The exhibit which is part of the three-part “Lineage Ladders: A Legacy of Faculty Excellence” opened today in the Herman B Wells Library Scholars’ Commons and is open through October 25, 2019.

Black and white photograph of three men unpacking artwork of the Thai exhibition. They are surrounded by wooded crates, and two sculptures of the Buddha are visible.
Theodore Bowie at the delivery of “The Arts of Thailand” Exhibition, 1960. IU Archives image no. P0033170

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: One of the best experiences for Hannah involved a blog post she wrote about Theodore Bowie, an art historian specializing in Asian Art. She found Bowie very inspiring in his fearlessness and in the adventurous spirit with which he pursued his career, and wrote that a section of his memoir had brought her a lot of hope. One of his daughters commented on the blog, saying that she enjoyed reading the account of her father. That was an incredible reminder of the deeply personal nature of archival materials and the way they carry so much memory and history, especially for the families who choose to donate a beloved family members legacy in the form of their papers.

Something she’s learned about IU by working in the Archives:  Learning about the intricacies of the preservation of digital materials has been fascinating for Hannah. She is also intrigued by the issues /opportunities archivists are facing in preserving correspondence and interactions in the age of social media. These are issues which are also affecting the preservation and display strategies of new media in art museums and galleries.

Behind the Curtain: Casey Burgess

This is a color photograph of a student in a graduation cap and gown. She is seated in the front of the archway of the IU Sample Gates and is surrounded by red and white tulips. Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. 

Title and Role: Casey is a processor who focuses on ingesting, organizing, and describing the digitized media delivered by MDPI (the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative). Casey will leave us soon for a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Archives! Congratulations to both Casey and the LA Phil – she will be a terrific asset to their program!

Educational background: Casey got her undergraduate degree in Music focusing in vocal performance and music history from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and just recently graduated from IU with her Master’s in Library Science.

Previous archival experience: Before coming to IU, Casey did a summer internship at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. In her MLS program here, she did several classes in the Archives and Records Management track, did some archival work with MDPI, and put on an exhibit in collaboration with the Archive of Traditional Music.

What attracted her to work in the IU Archives:  Casey has always been interested in working in an archive since her experience in Ireland. She also realized she knew very little about IU’s history, even though she had been here for two years. Working in the IU Archives was the perfect opportunity to get practical experience doing archival work in an academic institution while also learning more about IU along the way.

This is a black and white photograph of a group of 5 individuals who are each holding their Oscar award. Three men wearing suits stand to the right, while 2 women one standing and the other seated on a stool are to the left.
Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, May 15, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0052037

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: She worked on the Indiana School of the Sky Collection as part of her role with MDPI. Casey really loved listening to these recordings of radio shows from the 1940’s which were intended to teach young students in Indiana about all sorts of things related to science, art, history, literature, and more. She thought it was fascinating to hear what they taught then and  how similar or dissimilar education is today.

Project she’s currently working on: Casey is working on ingesting recordings done by Herman B Wells in the 1970s related to his autobiography “Being Lucky”. At this point she has completed 69 recordings, but still has a few more to go. Watch for an upcoming blog post for more details on this project!

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Her favorite experience in the Archives has been working on the MDPI recordings. She’s seen almost every part of the process for MDPI, but thinks that access is still the most exciting part. Being able to organize these recordings, which often contain golden nuggets of information, and know that this will help someone down the road is really exciting for her. Plus, she gets to listen to them!

Black and white photograph of a seated football player.
Preston Eagleson, 1895. IU Archives image no. P0022468

Something she’s  learned about IU by working in the Archives:  She’s learned so much by working in the Archives that it’s really hard to choose just one thing. While working on a post for Instagram back in February, Casey learned about Preston Emmanuel Eagleson, who was the first Black person on an athletics team at IU in 1892. More importantly, he was the second Black person to receive an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and then the first to receive a graduate degree from IU. Several generations of his family returned to IU as well. To her, these stories about individuals are the most fascinating and shed a lot of light about the communities at IU.