How to Train a Dragon in Indiana

From “Nine Dragons” (jiǔlóngtú; 九龙图) by Chen Rong, 1244, located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Dragons are my favorite supernatural creatures. Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that I found a way to research them as part of my new job working for the University Archives. As part of IU’s 2018 Themester, which focused on the relationship between human and non-human animals, I started researching animal folklore in the IU Folklore Institute student papers, and quickly ran into Henry Gaidoz’s massive collection (GR55.G35 H46) in the related IU Libraries’ Folklore Collection. This French folklorist and mythologist collected texts about everything from Zoroastrianism to cannibalism, including an entire box of writings on dragons. At the bottom of that box, I found Marinus Willem de Visser’s 1913 missive The Dragon in China and Japan (Box 24, Item 568). This book contains hundreds of pages of descriptions of Chinese and Japanese dragon beliefs and traditions, including instructions on how to summon a dragon to make it rain.

M.W. de Visser, like Gaidoz, had a range of interests. He was a Dutch scholar who studied Chinese and Japanese folklore, but his works have become particularly well known in the field of cryptozoology, the study of supernatural creatures. In The Dragon in China and Japan, he chronicles the ways that dragon beliefs and rituals moved between India, China, and Japan, drawing along the way from Taoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. His book begins by describing beliefs that came from India, then moves into the way those ideas were absorbed into existing traditions in China and Japan. As I read, I realized what a vital role dragons play in eastern Asian traditions, particularly as water gods capable of starting and stopping rain.

Much of the western literature I had previously encountered depicted dragons as embodied metaphors for the human qualities of greed, violence, and wisdom. In China, however, dragons have been worshiped as deities, used as symbols of national identity and political authority, and are still seen today as figures with the potential to bless a community with rain or stop a flood. I was interested in these practices because of my love for all things dragon-related, but also because my home state of Utah was at the time suffering from drought and a series of terrible fires. I decided to combine some of the things I learned from Visser’s text with my own traditions and ask a dragon to bring rain to my home town.

Title page for M.W. De Visser’s The Dragon in China and Japan, Henry Gaidoz Collection, Box 24, Item 568

Chinese and Japanese beliefs in dragons are complicated and emergent, and they are not my area of study. However, based on Visser’s work as well as other texts, I identified what seemed to be some key aspects of these traditions. Ancient Chinese beliefs about dragons describe them as “enormous light-giving mountain gods” who helped create life and have power over the weather as well as other aspects of the environment (62). These long-standing beliefs combined with Buddhist and Hindu influences to form contemporary dragon worship practices, including the widespread belief in Dragon Kings. Dragon or Serpent Kings are local gods that live in specific lakes or rivers and can be petitioned to create or stop rain. Many are depicted as having bodies that are part serpent and part human.

“The Dragon King of the Four Seas” 1801-1850, located in the British Museum.

It is difficult to delineate how and where specific parts of dragon worship in China originated, but Visser outlines several examples of asking dragons for rain that come from Taoist and Buddhist traditions. In general, there are two types of strategies for communicating with dragons, both of which rely on knowing what the dragon either likes or dislikes. The first is performing a ritual to ask the dragon for help, which involves praying, providing offerings, and reciting sutras or sacred texts. These rituals often include images of specific dragons and items that are the color blue (the color of one of the most important dragons), and are done while facing the direction of the particular dragon you are trying to summon (often east) (30-32). The second strategy is to agitate the dragon to cause it to move, which can involve pulling small statues of the dragon in and out of the water, making loud noises near the shoreline, or throwing items the dragon dislikes (often iron and the Wang plant) into the river or lake (69).

My version of summoning the dragon was based on the two types of rituals described in Visser. First, I read about the Great Cloud Circle (or Wheel) rite. This Buddhist petition must be performed in an open space, under a blue canopy and a blue banner and on a blue seat facing east. There are additional instructions for who can perform the ritual and what they must be wearing, as well as the offerings that should accompany the performance. In this ritual a religious official or influential lay person recites the sutra or dharani of the Great Cloud Circle for one to two days while others play music and sing for the dragon. Then they burn offerings, including a paper figure with a message in his hand asking for rain. The act of burning this figure is supposed to allow him to take his message to heaven (32).

The second strategy I drew from is a practice associated with the dragon boat festival (such as this one in Washington D.C.), an annual celebration in which people race dragon boats and place dumplings wrapped in leaves and tied with five-colored thread in the water. There are many different versions of the story behind this festival –one of the most common is that it commemorates the poet K’uh Yen, a loyal man accused of treason who committed suicide, and the race of the villagers to save his body from being eaten by placing other food in the water. However, Visser and other scholars suggest that this celebration comes in part from an earlier festival which may have been intended to worship dragons. Visser suggests the act of racing symbolic representations of dragons and placing food wrapped in leaves of a plant that dragons would not like in the water were intended to make the dragons race or fight each other, causing a rainstorm (68).

After reading about these and other ways to communicate I wanted to respect these traditions but also perform my own ritual in a way that was personally meaningful, so I combined these ideas with what I had on hand. Part of the problem was that I was not asking for rain where I currently was–Indiana had plenty of water–so I spoke to Tam Iverson, a graduate student at the University of Tartu, Estonia, who is familiar with beliefs about rain summoning in many cultures. He suggested that I use a fulcrum, or something that emotionally connected me to the place where I was asking for it to rain. I knew my Dad was coming into town that weekend, so I waited for him to arrive and planned that we would figure out the materials and fulcrum together. Coincidentally, the day we planned was also the day of the fall equinox, which according to Visser begins the period in which dragons begin a period of hibernation (66).

Photo by Jessie Riddle

That weekend, we picked a stream near my house and I found a blue scarf given to me by my grandmother to act as a “blue banner.” My Dad and I wrote messages on pieces of paper and brought matches to burn them. I didn’t have dumplings or the specific leaves mentioned by Visser, so I wrapped a cookie in the leaves I found near the stream and tied it together with five colors of thread. We brought a blue umbrella as the blue canopy, and as the fulcrum and a text to read, I brought a childhood story book with a blue cover. I read the book out loud, we placed the cookie wrapped in leaves and thread in the water, and then burned our messages. It was raining while we did this in Indiana, but the forecast for Utah was no rain for the next week.

The next day my Dad flew home to Utah, and sent me this video, which includes the sounds of light rainfall in Provo, Utah:

I have no idea if we summoned a dragon, and if that was possible whether that dragon would listen to anything we had to say. But I learned about beliefs I would never have otherwise, and I felt strongly the importance of having personal rituals that allow you to communicate with the world around you. Also, I don’t know that it didn’t work. So thanks, dragon.

Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks

New at the Archives: Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005

Professional headshot of Esther Thelen
Professional headshot of Esther Thelen, IU Archives P0078703

We are happy to announce that the papers of Esther Thelen (1941-2004), former professor of psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and a prominent figure in the field of developmental psychology, are now available for access at the University Archives.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin in 1963, Thelen took a break from academia to begin her family before beginning graduate studies in zoology at the University of Missouri. It was there that she took a graduate course in animal behavior, which set off a chain of connections that would eventually lead to her impressive tenure as a professor and scholar in the field of developmental psychology.

Thelen and a tiny research subject during a study on infant coordination
Thelen and a tiny test subject during a study on infant coordination, IU Archives P0078729

While Thelen was conducting a study on the grooming behavior of wasps, the repetitive movements of the wasps reminded her of psychologist J. Piaget’s observation of circular reactions in the movement of human infants. Inspired by this connection, Thelen conducted a descriptive study of 49 different types of repetitive movements in infants, for which she earned her PhD in biological sciences in 1977.

After spending a few years as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, Thelen came to Indiana University Bloomington as a full professor of psychology in 1985. While at IU, she founded and directed the Infant Motor Development Laboratory, where she and her colleagues studied infant movement, perception, and cognition. With a research output that included three books and over 120 scientific articles and chapters, Thelen made many revelations about infant motor development that influenced scholarship in fields as diverse as pediatric physical therapy, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, and kinesiology.

The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology
The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology, IU Archives P0078735

Thelen gave talks at universities, conferences, and workshops all over the world, and her influential work was often featured in national media sources. In this 1993 clip from the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, the cameras follow along as Thelen and her colleagues take a ride in their “Mobile Research Laboratory,” a bus containing portable equipment essential to their studies of infant movement. This Mobile Laboratory enabled Thelen and her colleagues to travel to the homes of their infant research subjects in order to perform their studies remotely. The clip also shows Thelen working with her subjects in the Infant Motor Development Laboratory on campus.

During her tenure at Indiana University Bloomington, Thelen set a new standard for studying motor control and coordination in infants. Her collection at the University Archives includes materials such as personal files and correspondence; documents related to public speaking appearances, publications, and leadership roles in professional organizations and committees; educational materials from psychology courses taught by Thelen; and materials related to Thelen’s research, including handwritten notes, drafts of studies, and original U-Matic videotapes of research subjects.

To learn more about the Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005 or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

Family Life in 19th Century Autograph Books

Autograph books provide a fascinating way to understand social interactions and genealogy. These objects contain signatures and messages from one’s friends and family, handwriting practice, drawings, and memorabilia. While going through the Indiana University Archives small collections, I found four of these books dating from the nineteenth century. I was immediately charmed by their Victorian aesthetic and the sincere sentiments written within. I also discovered how they provide intriguing paths into family histories of the Midwest—and of Indiana University students.

Two of the autographs books were created by a certain Jacob A. Zoll from 1881-1886, and the other from 1885-1897. The first book captured my attention because even though it dates back to the 1880s, it is full of colorful paper stickers in the form of spring flowers, cherubs, and wildlife. It reminded me of my own adolescent obsession with Lisa Frank stickers.

From Jacob A. Zoll’s autograph book (February 26, 1883), 2007/068, Indiana University Archives

It was not immediately clear to me who Zoll was, or what (if any) relationship he had with Indiana University. As an art historian-turned-training-archivist, I decided to beef up my genealogy research skills to find this out. I turned to the Ancestry Library Edition, a resource accessible through the IU Libraries, and discovered through U.S. census records that Zoll was born in Ohio in 1861. By 1880, he lived in Belle Flower, Illinois with his family. When he was older, Zoll moved to Urbana, Illinois, became a carpenter, and lived with his wife and two stepsons.

Learning about Jacob Zoll’s biography helped solve another mystery—the identity of Clara Burkett, the creator of another one of the autograph books at the IU Archives. Clara’s book was presented to her by her father on September 24, 1879. She collected her first signature four days later, in Marshall, Indiana. Her friend Mary English wrote simply, “Remember me Clara.” The book mostly contains poems and signatures from schoolmates and cousins, scattered across southern Indiana and Illinois counties. Based on my census research, I confirmed that Clara was, in fact, Jacob’s wife.

Naturally wanting to find more information about Clara, I soon discovered how difficult it can be to track genealogy for women. In order to trace her in Ancestry records, I had to search her various used names (and spellings) across her single and married life. She was born Clara Burkett in Adams County, Pennsylvania, in 1864. A minister’s daughter, her family moved around Indiana and Illinois in the late 1800s. In 1882, she married John Milton Wolfe. They had two children, Elmer and Wirskenn (known as “Winn”). According to the Danville Daily News, tragedy struck in August 1887, when John Wolfe died of typhoid fever at the age of 26. Clara raised her sons as a single mother until 1890, when she married Jacob in McLean County, Illinois.

This unveiled family history made me view Jacob’s and Clara’s autograph books in a more emotional light. Without these details, I would have overlooked the evidence of genuine affection this combined family had for one another. Elmer’s and Winn’s signatures appear all over the pages of Clara’s book. Winn wrote on December 30, 1895:

“My friend mother is a comforter and love to me.
That when you read this you remember me.
No one like a friend so clear to me,
Winnie Wolfe.”

Also touching, Elmer wrote in his stepfather’s autograph book on January 25, 1895: “When this you see/Think of me/Your boy, Elmer.” For me, this experience was a powerful example of how archival research can bring to the surface individual voices and family stories that may otherwise be lost in historical narratives.

After all of this research, I still had one mystery to solve—how these autograph books ended up in the IU Archives in the first place. The fourth autograph book was owned by “Rosa,” although her last name was not immediately evident. Her autograph book, kept 1881 through 1886, is full of the same charming paper stickers that appear in Jacob A. Zoll’s books. Rosa’s friend Charley Frankenberger attached a sticker of mallard ducks to his humorous message on February 3, 1884: “May all your days/Be spent in piece [sic] /And your old/Man dies in Greace [sic].”

From Rosa Wolfe’s autograph book (1886), 2007/068, Indiana University Archives

To identify the mysterious “Rosa,” I turned to the rosters of Indiana University graduates held in the Archives reading room, and noted relevant surnames from these autograph books. After cross-referencing the names with Ancestry records, I found one exact match: Ralph Verlon Wolfe, who graduated between 1936 and 1939. His mother’s name? Rosa Wolfe. Coincidences aside, I found it highly probable that Ralph’s mother was Rosa Wolfe, the autograph book’s original owner. Genealogy records provided evidence that Rosa lived in southern Illinois and Indiana, and had some of the same relatives as Elmer and Winn Wolfe. Thus, I made an educated connection that Ralph Wolfe (or one of his own descendants) donated this entire set of autograph books as a family collection.

Combing through genealogy and I.U.-specific records to map these autograph books was a real archival journey for me. The autograph books provide an intimate, and even touching glimpse into historical family dynamics. To view these special objects yourself, contact the Indiana University Archives.

2007/068, Indiana University Archives

James Robert “Bob” Leffler: The Discovery in Archival Research

While recently perusing the reference files in the IU Archives reading room, I happened upon an unusual object: a vinyl record. Thinking this was a strange item to be in a reference file, I spoke with one of the archivists and decided to do some further investigation. As it turns out, the record belonged to James Robert Leffler, known as Bob Leffler. After some searching, I discovered that the IU Archives does not hold much about him. This proved to be a potential case study on how to do archival research, so I began my work.

img_1286
175th Anniversary of Monroe County & Bloomington: Robert Leffler – Speaker. Courtesy of Monroe County History Center Research Library.

I was able to determine that a Leffler archival collection exists at the Monroe County History Center Research Library. This is an instance where the archival research process can be more complicated than originally thought. Instead of simply looking at the IU Archives resources as I normally do for blog posts, I was going to have to piece together the story from outside sources—including making a trip off-campus. In the meantime, I worked on locating any information I could from the resources in the IU Archives.

One resource I turned to was Archives Online at Indiana University, our portal for searching archives collections across campus. I determined that Leffler was not in any collections held by the University Archives, but that he did appear in a collection from the Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory, now the Center for Documentary Research and Practice. This particular archive contained an oral history interview on movie theaters in which Leffler had participated, but I was more concerned with his biography as it pertained to IU.

I also utilized online resources provided by the IU Libraries, such as the NewspaperARCHIVE and Ancestry Library Edition , to find more information about Leffler. I found very little beyond immediate family member names and public records through Ancestry; however, the reference file where I had originally found the vinyl record did contain some information. This file was not labeled for Leffler, but for Leffler’s family; it contained mostly genealogical information. Although it did not provide information about Bob Leffler, I did discover that he had relatives, Shepherd and Isaac Leffler, who had attended Indiana University in its early years. Both are mentioned in the First Catalogue as students in the early 1830s. Apparently, Shepherd moved to Iowa and became a Congressman.

img_1283
Four Walking Tour Pamphlets from the James Robert “Bob” Leffler Collection. Courtesy of Monroe County History Center Research Library.
img_1284
“Historical Bloomington, A Guide” from the James Robert “Bob” Leffler Collection. Courtesy of Monroe County History Center Research Library.

Since I discovered that the Monroe County History Center Research Library had a collection on Leffler,  I contacted Emily Noffke, who very kindly scheduled a research visit. When I arrived, I was required to wash my hands before I viewed the archival collection. This is a small example of how different institutions have different rules for interacting with archival collections. While the Leffler collection was small, I did get pictures of Leffler and his files. Thanks to his obituary, I learned that he did indeed have a closer connection to IU than I originally thought. Leffler received his bachelor’s degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, but he came back home to Bloomington and attended the Indiana University School of Music for his master’s degree. He went on to teach music at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. Leffler also became known for his local history (Bloomington) expertise. He was a member of the Monroe County Historical Society, who named him Historian/Laureate of Monroe County. Most of his collection at the MCHC Research Library appears to be his notes and work on Monroe County history.

leffler_001
Leffler listed in the upper left-hand corner of the Indiana University Catalog, 1936

So what about the vinyl record? It is labeled “The Power of Love” and is accompanied by sheet music and correspondence. It appears that, as a musician, Leffler was asked about the recording of the song “The Power of Love” on this record. Apparently, the song was written by Jim Boothe, one of the writers of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

img_1289
“The Power of Love”

While this is only a small example, my quest to discover more about Bob Leffler and his record exemplify the exciting journey of archival research. Thank you to the Monroe County History Center Research Library and Emily Noffke for the research help.