Sincerely Yours: The Origin Story of Folklore at IUB

For a vast majority of the world, 1942 was a year to remember.  However, history wasn’t just being made overseas fighting in World War II; it was also being made right here at Indiana University Bloomington.  During the summer of 1942, Indiana University was host to what would be the first of many Folklore Institutes. The Institute was created by Professor Stith Thompson, who had long-held the dream of bringing together like-minds from all over, both faculty and student, to meet and discuss the field of folklore; both folklore itself and the future of the field.  This eight-week gathering was so successful that they continued to meet every summer.

This edition of ‘Sincerely Yours’ showcases correspondence with Herman B Wells  following the conclusion of the first Institute in 1942.  The first piece of correspondence comes from Jacob A. Evanson, Special Supervisor of Vocal Music for Pittsburgh Public Schools.  His letter describes the success of the first Institute as “historic” and notes it as a cultural progression.  This letter provides a perspective of the importance and impact of the Folklore Institute outside of Indiana University.

Stith Thompson, May 1955, Archives Image no.
P0021913

The main correspondence is from Stith Thompson to Herman B Wells.  The correspondence opens with a list of resolutions from the members of the first Institute.  These resolutions include the declaration of a “permanent” Folklore Institute of America, and that the Journal of American Folklore be declared the official channel of news distribution.  Also included is the Institute’s purpose statement: to  bring together faculty, students, and fellow workers to create a “professionally-minded group” for study and consult not included in ordinary curricula.

This letter also contains an impassioned speech by Thompson in which he reflects on the experience of the Institute.  Additionally, Thompson briefly discusses the issues at present within the field of folklore, and plans for the future of folklore in terms of professional organization, public relations, and academic development .   He talks about the need for researchers to cease their reclusive ways and come together in circles like the Institute to help the field prosper through internal collaborative efforts and understanding, and by forming relations with the public.  Also discussed is the implementation of proper techniques surrounding the  collection and classification of folklore, from the individual collector to the establishment of a fully functional national archive.

Thompson’s description of the impact of folklore from a local to a national stage, and even a global one is captivating.  He states that the support of local folklore organizations can help to further the development of larger, national folklore directives by organizations.Also addressed is the presence of folklore in the academic field.  Thompson states that the presentation of folklore by universities should be done in such a way that will “infect” students and whether they be teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc., they should show interest in the traditions of their community.

Thompson closes his letter by reaffirming the purpose of the Institute by saying that research rather than teaching is the main goal, and that its value lies in its existence as the only place (at the time) to foster collaborative and individual research,and the overall growth of the folklore field.

The best part of this correspondence lies in its last few pages in the form of a poem.  Nearing the closure of their time together, this group of scholars pooled their creativity to construct a retelling of events of events that they could carry with them in memory.  The result of their collaborative efforts was a poem reminiscent of famous epics of the past such as the Odyssey and Aeneid.  This goes to show that even heavy scholars have a humorous side, even if it may be a little high-brow.

From C213 President’s Office records – Herman B Wells, Folklore Institute 1941-42 folder. 

The Folklore Institute would go on to meet yearly until the early 1960’s. It was at this time, and through the endeavors of professors Richard Dorson and Stith Thompson, that the Folklore Institute became an established department at Indiana University under the same name of the Folklore Institute.  Though not in the same manner as its origin, the Folklore Institute is still present at IU Bloomington and is known by scholars throughout the world.  To learn more about the Folklore Institute from its beginnings to today, visit the IU Archives in Wells Library to see the current exhibit, ‘Collecting Folklore: The History of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University.‘  This exhibit will be up until January 26th, 2018.

 

 

Sincerely Yours: a day in the life of a new student

Harry V. Craig with his Phi Kappa Psi brothers from the 1896 Arbutus yearbook. Archives image no. P0028059

In this Sincerely Yours post, we will explore IU through the eyes of Harry V. Craig, an Indiana native of Noblesville who came to IU in 1890 to study history. The IU Archives first acquired a portion of the Harry V. Craig papers back in 2000, but later received additional materials in 2003 from a man named Mark Brattain.  Mr. Brattain had seen the Harry V. Craig papers finding aid on the Archive’s website and provided letters he found with his father, Hal Brattain, in a wooden box in the hayloft of a neighbor’s barn back in the 1970s. The barn belonged to the late Ray Forrer, who was probably some relation to Harry’s mother Elizabeth (whose maiden name was Forrer).

Most of the letters contained in the Harry V. Craig Papers are correspondence he received from friends, family members (his father, brother, cousin, and mother), and fraternity brothers from Phi Kappa Psi. There are, however, a handful of letters by Craig himself detailing his experience at IU.  In letters to his mother, Mr. Craig’s most frequent correspondent, Craig details his daily life and expenses as well as happenings around town and the campus.

In this first letter, we get a glimpse of Mr. Craig as a freshly minted college student finding his way across campus, making new friends, learning more about the world outside of Noblesville, and settling into his new boarding house likely located on East 6th Street (according to the August 30, 1895 Bloomington Courier).  IU-affiliated readers will most likely recognize the names of some of Mr. Craig’s professors, Professor Atwater and Professor Swain:

September 21, 1890

Dear Mother:

I arrived at Bloomington between 4 and 5 o’clock Thursday evening and was met there by Mr. Chas Shoemaker, who took me around to his room where I staid [sic] for supper slept all night and ate breakfast. It was a surprise to all the boys from Noblesville, for they did not know I was coming.  I was introduced to a large number of college boys and find them as a general rule fine fellows. I have been treated very nicely by all the boys since I came. I have seen many strange things since I came. There is nothing but rock everywhere about Bloom. you can not [sic] dig down anywhere without striking solid rock which extends for many feet downward. (we get no more water to drink, we have to drink rainwater altogether) On my way down here on the train I passed through deep cuts of solid rock, which had been cut out just enough to let a train pass through. It was very strange to me indeed.

Bloom. is a town of about 41,000 inhabitants and is considerably larger than Noblesville but is not so nicely arranged, it is the most hilly town I have ever seen, you can get up on a hill in one part of town and look down on the houses in another part, the streets are mostly rock which have been broken up very fine so as to make  road-bed while the side walks [sic] are of blocks of stone which have been hewn out and placed down, they are very rough and irregular and very hard to walk on, they have no gravel within miles of Bloom.

The College and its surroundings have considerably exceeded my expectations, the buildings and campus are located east of the city on a high elevation and in a beautiful grove of trees, there are 3 very fine brick buildings in use, costing perhaps $60,000 apiece and a large building almost completed, which is composed entirely of stone and will be used for a library building and will be occupied by Christmas.

I presented my Scholarship and have rec’d my card admitting me as a student of the Univ. I was introduced to a number of the professors and was rec’d very cordially, they are a fine class of men.

My classes are all arranged, I will take Latin under Prof. Atwater, Geometry under Prof. Swain and Eng. Lit. under Prof. Griggs who by the way is one of the finest men I have ever seen for his age. He graduated in the University in 2 yrs and is now [a] professor in Eng., he is not more than 21 or 22 yrs of age, he is almost a genius.

I am board[ing] at Mrs. Lawrence’s at $2.50 per week. She is a nice lady and everything is nice and clean, I get the very best of board plenty of everything and cooked nicely. There are some of the things we have on our table – coffee or tea, plenty of cream and sugar, biscuits or light-bread, chicken and beef, sweet and Irish potatoes, nice butter and molasses, corn, sliced tomatoes, celery, pie, cookies, and iced cake and a great many other things, but this is enough to let you know that it is good. I could have boarded at $2.35 in a regular club but you do not get as good a grub, and if you are not there on time you miss your meal, so I concluded to take the $2.50 board, for a person can not [sic] live well unless he has something to live on. I am staying with a Mr. Davis at present, but got a room this morning where I shall stay for good. I will room with a Mr. Robinson from Illinois who is a sophomore or 2nd yr student. I will have to pay $1 per week for my room but it is well worth it. I could have got a room for 75₵ but it was not near so nice or convenient and I think it would be unhealthy. My room is up stairs [sic] in a large brick building and faces the street, it has a brussels carpet, a nice dresser, wardrobe, wash stand and utensils, stove, table, bed, chairs, and lamp and everything convenient and is a large room. I joined a fraternity last night called the “Phi Kappa Psi” named from the greek letter of the alphabet. It is a secret organization, but unlike a lodge, I was initiated last night, it is the 1st organization I even joined and was something new. Our chapter now is on the south-side of the square and is very nice it is [served] by a Mr. Buskirk who is a banker and is also a member of our fraternity, hence we do not pay much rent. I have spent about $10 in paying my Ry. [Railway] fare, and buying my books and paying my library fee and getting other things required, I deposited $25 in the bank. I expect I can get my washing done for 25₵ per week, she is a fine washer for a fellar told me so that has his washing done there. So you can see about what my expenses will be about $4 per week besides books and clothes. Well I must close. I have many more thigs I would like to say but space will not permit. I am well as usual except my throat which is bothering me this morning.

                                I remain as ever your son,

                                                Harry

 

Harry’s mother replies soon after, giving him updates about friends and family and imparting motherly advice about the company he should keep, especially the ladies…:

 

 

October 1st, 1890

Dear Harry: I received your letter yesterday evening[.] [W]as glad to hear you was [sic] geting [sic] along all right. [W]e are all well at this time[.] Pa and Fred went over to the tent to meeting[.] [I]t will be two weeks to morrow [sic] since they commenced their meeting. It is real nice to be there at night[.] [W]e were there monday night and Lida and Maggie Fred and Abner went last night. I thought I would stay at home and write you a fiew [sic] lines as I did not like to take Little Court out at night. Saturday 27th he was 4 month [sic] old and weight [sic] 15 lbs. [H]e is growing so nicely. Mother was hear [sic] yesterday they are all well. Nan and Clara was hear [sic] Sunday evening. Nan says he has such a nice school it just suits him. [H]as no little ones to contend with. When you rite [sic] again tell us something about your school and how you are geting [sic] Along. [O]f cours [sic] you have not gone long enough yet to tell much about it but do as well as you can. Don[‘]t think to [sic] much of other things such as going with the girls. Be very care full [sic] who you go with as you don[‘]t know them yet so you go with nice respectful Ladies. [I]t is going to cost A great deal more than you thought it would. You said you thought $30 would take you through the first term. It will take more than twice 30[.] [T]here is going to be A liturary [sic] societ [sic] at fairview friday night. Maggie Trit as Mollie calls her is hear [sic][.] [Y]ou bet she is A fast worker[.] I like her very much. [S]o far well [sic] as all are in bed that is hear I will close for this time[.] Lida joins in Love write soon from your Ma[.]

                Lizzie

Craig graduated from Bloomington in 1896 with an AB in history.  After graduating, he returned to Noblesville for a while to teach history and then went on to work a wide array of jobs including a salesman, hotel clerk, and a position with the National Engraving Company in New York.  He was also the coordinator for the Denver Training Center of the Veteran’s Bureau at one point in his career. In 1962 the Alumni Association reached out to update their information on him, but found at that time that he was already deceased.  He apparently passed away on November 2, 1955 in California.

Sincerely Yours: Linen dresses and infernal machines

Helen Hopkins, Class of 1918. Archives image no. P0066988

Last spring, the IU Archives was contacted by a kind couple in Lafayette, Indiana who just by happenstance discovered a small but wonderful collection of WWI-era correspondence and other ephemera in a dumpster. At some point lovingly bound into 2 volumes, the nearly 300 letters between Helen Dale Hopkins and her family dating from 1915-1918 were thus thankfully saved from a fate in a landfill.

Born in 1897, Helen Dale Hopkins entered Indiana University as a freshman in the fall of 1915. She was an active member of the Classical Club, Browning Society, Pi Beta Phi, and was elected to the student honorary Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated with an A.B. in Latin with Distinction in 1918. During this period, Helen wrote home multiple times a week, predominately to her mother Clara, but occasionally also her brother Bob (Robert O. Hopkins).

Early letters report on joining Pi Beta Phi (the Pi Phi’s as she calls the sorority) and being in the library during freshman-sophomore scraps when the men were called outside and their hair forcibly cut. What we would describe as a modern-day foodie, in nearly every letter Helen reports on her meals (she seemed to have a particular fondness for potatoes and desserts), and vehemently thanks her mother for her weekly care packages of candies, cookies, bread, and wieners from home. In others she describes the contents of her friend’s packages from home, including one which included “a whole fried chicken and a fruit cake.” Other letters mention campus serenades, attending athletics events and dances, joining the Women’s League and YWCA, late night visits to the Book Nook for wieners and burgers to hear Hoagy Carmichael play, hiking to Arbutus hill, going to the Gentry Brothers Circus, student pranks such as the night she came home to a bed filled with salt, as well as campus issues such as coal shortages and the bad taste of the drinking water.

On a national level she discusses the 1916 presidential election and in the lead up to World War I she discusses military training on campus. On March 7, 1917, she describes a campus-wide meeting of all the students and faculty where “it was voted to send a telegram to [President] Wilson expressing the faith of the Indiana students in him and the promise of loyalty to the country…. President Bryan gave most wonderful talk, and several others of the faculty spoke.” Following the official declaration of war, she reports on her volunteer work with the Red Cross knitting sweaters for soldiers overseas, female students hastily marrying before their boyfriends enlisted, the dwindling numbers of male students on campus, and the back to the farm movement, which allowed students from farming families to return home to help with the crops while still earning course credit. She also alludes to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt would be their wartime commencement speaker.

One letter from April 1917 stands out in particular. While Helen mostly details daily thoughts and updates on life for her mother, she also shares the details of an incident involving a student of Russian descent (Mr. Edler). A transcript of the letter in its entirely follows.  

Saturday April 22, 1917

My darling sweetheart,

Thanks ever so much for the dresses, the skirt is just the thing. Could you cut a pattern from the straight dress pattern and send it to me for Velura? She wants to make her one like it. And she wondered how much goods it takes. I guess the straight dresses are as much in style as ever. One of the girls has a green linen with pockets and belt embroidered. Anna and Doris got three straight ones in town – $6.75 apiece. Mildred paid $15 for a linen one. They’re all made exactly like mine. My blue one is just in style, – my, I just love it better all the time. I hope it never wears out.

Louise says that if the weather is nice you and her folks are sure going to come down some Sunday. I wish you all could come some day. The campus is getting green and is full of violets and spring beauties. We were walking through it the other day and a red bird was on a limb above us and a blue bird on another branch. They were both singing and it seemed like a dream. I think the campus is the most beautiful spot there ever was.

Dr. Stout says Latin is growing more popular all the time. You know they are talking of taking German out of the schools. There are twelve in the senior class and there have been sixteen calls already for teachers. Velura is so discouraged that she broke down and cried the other day – she wants to come back so badly and everyone she talks to says that they can’t consider undergraduates for positions until all the seniors have places. Dr. Stout says that only one senior that he has known of has gotten less than $80; but he says they usually have to be satisfied with this the first year. I got all this information from being in the senior class. He put in a recommendation for each one of them.

He even wanted to know in what part of the state they wanted to teach and what sort of a school they would prefer to teach in. He said he would be glad to read the letter of application they wrote before they sent it. He seemed so interested in every one of them.

I spent the morning embroidering “Charlie” in mahogany silk on a pair of pajamas. One of the Phi Psi boy’s washing was left here and of course we thought we ought to embroider it. We embroidered hearts on all his handkerchiefs and his name on his pajamas and then cross-stitched the bottom in green and purple. Oh they were some class. I know he’ll like them. I hope so at any rate after all the work we put on them.

I’m going down a little in math. I only got 90 on the test I had Thursday. I hope we don’t have many more or he’ll find me out sure.

We decided to wait two weeks for our play, and so I don’t know what we’ll have Monday night – a good time anyway. Leah Stock, our province president, is coming Tuesday night. We’re going to move all the best furniture in our room. We’re going to have a dinner Tuesday night, a reception Wednesday afternoon, and a cooky-shine Wednesday night.

Did you see the story about Mr. Edler, a Russian in school here? He lived in a barn on two cents a day. When he was four years old, the Russian government killed his father and mother, and ever since then he has been against the government. The authorities here found his room which he had always kept locked, and found there all sorts of different mechanisms that they think he was trying to make infernal machines of. He says he was only experimenting on watches. He went around all winter without a hat and coat. He was in my Latin class, but it never occurred to me to be afraid of him. I don’t know where they’ve sent him but he’s left here.

Well sweet, I’m writing this in the midst of a stirring argument on woman suffrage; and I’m trying to argue and write at the same time.

Marie’s going to stay all night with me. Her roommate has a terrible cough, and she keeps Marie awake all night. I thought that since Louise was gone, she might sleep with me.

I went downtown with Mrs. Roberts this evening and she bought me a sack of candy. Some sport, eh?

Well sweet, I owe so many letters I guess I’d better start writing some.

With heaps and heaps of kisses,

Helen

Mr. John Edler was a Russian student at IU who earned the nickname “Hatless John” because he spent the cold Indiana winter walking around without the typical hat or coat worn by most people to protect him from the cold. According to the news coverage from April 1917, he was not a harmful individual but fellow students often heard him voicing anti-government and anarchist opinions, which raised some concerns. Finally, Registrar John Cravens and local authorities found cause and searched his room, where they discovered all kinds of mechanical parts that they assumed were being used to create “infernal machines” and bombs. Being that this was wartime, their discovery raised concerns and Edler was brought before a local Sanity Commission to judge whether or not he was a threat to the IU community and American citizens. The commission however deemed Edler completely sane and the mechanical parts harmless – in reality Edler was not in fact building bombs. He was a watch maker and his mechanisms could do no more than tell time.

After the ordeal, Edler returned to his former home in South Bend, Indiana. Tobias Dantzig, a mathematics professor at IU took responsibility for the young man, promising to assist him in finding work, which further appeased the sanity council and the whole situation was resolved.

To schedule an appointment to view the rest of the Helen Hopkins Wampler papers, contact the IU Archives.

Sincerely Yours: The End of the Civil War

Andrea has since graduated and moved on, but she left us with some of her amazing blog posts ready to go! Congratulations to Andrea and we think we convinced her that archives is where she wants to be!  

You may recall this post by Katie Martin from summer of last year about John D. Alexander, an 1861 alumnus of IU and later Union Captain during the Civil War. Over the past week or so, I’ve been transcribing all of the Civil War letters in Alexander’s collection, including the one that Katie included in her post. It’s been a real treat to read these as the letters definitely provide some unique insight into war strategies, the day-to-day life and sentiments of soldiers, and the means of communication during the mid-19th century. As an American History major, the Civil War has been a topic of particular interest to me for some time. So getting to read a primary source not already heavily picked over by historians is exciting, to say the least.

You can read some of Alexander’s biographical information in Katie’s post. By the end of the war, he was serving as an Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade under William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. His brigade marched into Raleigh, North Carolina in April of 1865. On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia, a significant marker that indicated the war was almost over. By the time John Alexander was writing a letter to his parents on April 18th, Sherman had been in Raleigh having an ongoing negotiation with General Joseph Johnston about the terms of another Confederate surrender. Johnston’s surrender turned out to be the largest surrender of men during the entire war with 89,270 soldiers in all.

Here’s John Alexander’s account of how it all unfolded:

And here’s a partial transcript, since that’s pretty difficult to read:

Once again I am permitted to write to you. God in his all-wise providence has so far spared my life for some purpose. I am well and am enjoying good health. My health was never better than at the present time. You see by this letter that we are near Raleigh N.C. We entered the city without any opposition. Our Division passed review as we entered the city. General Sherman was sitting on a noble black horse in the gateway leading into the Capitol Square. We came out 3 miles north of the City where we are now encamped. General Sherman and Genl. Joe Johnston have been in consultations several days in regard to [Johnston’s] surrendering his Army. How it will terminate I don’t know. He wants to surrender on the same terms that Lee did. But I don’t believe Sherman will let him off so easily. If [Johnston] surrenders the probability is we will not go any further out but will go into Camp some place near here. Every day there are droves of men coming by here going home that belonged to lee’s Army and deserters from [Johnston] heartily tired and sick of the war. Some of Lee’s men stopped at our Camp last night and the boys shared their rations with them and their tents and appeared as cheerful as larks in each others company. Was man ever so [illegible] before. They curse their leaders and long for the old flag and Union. God grant that I may see peace in our land again. But when I think of my comrades that have fallen by my side in the dark hour of battle, something says “how can you forgive these men that have made so many homes desolate in the land”. I hope I may be charitable enough to forgive them…

Wednesday April 19th 1865

Last night it rained so I had to go to bed. My tent mate, Lieut. Hopkins of the 46th Ohio and A.A.G.M. wished me to retire as he had been out foraging and was tired. When we were opening the mail the Colonel found one for me and said “this is from your father I know his handwriting.” It is rumored here this morning that Johnston has surrendered. Also that President was shot dead by an assassin in his private box at the Theatre in Washington. Also that they visited the residence of Seward, shot his son and stabbed him in his bed. I hope it is not true…

I have reliable information just received that Sherman returned from Hillsboro last night and Johnston has surrendered his whole Army. Hallelujah. The time is not far distant when we can all enjoy peace again.

I personally learned a lot from this letter alone about the ambiguity in those few days when no one was quite sure of whether or not the war was really over. The Union soldiers weren’t entirely sure how they should treat the members of the opposing army. For the most part, it seemed like they were just happy that the fighting was over and had no desire to perpetuate any more violence. Union soldiers even offered the Confederate deserters and discharged members of Lee’s army their food and shelter (which they may have had very little of in the first place). Alexander doesn’t mention any instances of contempt or violence on either of their parts, other than his own hesitation to offer forgiveness after all the damage that had been done by the Confederates.

When Lee surrendered his army, the terms of surrender were considered, by some, to be overly lenient. Soldiers and officers only had to turn over their weapons, but were given leave to return home immediately– thus the surplus of discharged Confederate soldiers that Alexander saw passing by or through their camp. Alexander was clearly among those who thought that Lee’s army should have been more severely punished for their rebellion. Johnston’s surrender was supposed to be even more merciful than Lee’s. By the time the second half of Alexander’s letter was written (April 19th) Sherman and Johnston had agreed upon the terms that would reinstate Confederate state governments. However, officials in Washington D.C. wholly rejected these terms, outraged by Lincoln’s assassination, and a few days later, the original terms were dissolved and changed to terms identical to that of Lee’s.

There’s a lot to be learned from primary sources such as this one. The delays in communication during the Civil War, for one– Lincoln’s assassination and Johnston’s surrender were mere rumors at the time. You can also get a feel for Alexander’s unabashed optimism and patriotism in most of his letters, which– from the sound of it– wasn’t a uniform state of mind among soldiers. Alexander prided himself on being relentless in his duty as a soldier to his country, and a few times chastised others in his letters for being lazy. In another (undated) letter, Alexander wrote:

“…no man shall ever say… that I shirked my duty. It is really diverting to see how some men do. They will lay in Camp and eat and drink and smoke merry and when the marching orders come– it’s ‘Oh my back or my leg’, ‘I know I can’t go and carry my knapsack, I could not go a mile. Orderly, will the doctor have a sick call this morning[?] Ah me, I know I’ll have to be left.’ Then they will let in to consoling themselves. ‘Well, I’ll just lie down and let the [Confederates] take me prisoner and parole me and I’ll go home and they will not get me in the army again.’ This is what they want.”

Check out the John D. Alexander collection in the Archives Online to see digitized versions of all of the letters.

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.