You Never Know When The President Will Show Up

In the last few weeks of my internship, I have been working hard to finish W.T.K. Nugent’s collection. Though I end each day with piles of xeroxed articles to toss in the recycling bin, the number of boxes never seems to get any smaller. The academic life series of papers has been finished and I am now working through the many speeches given by Dr. Nugent over the course of 40 years in academia. The content is quite interesting – Dr. Nugent traveled all over this hemisphere to talk, to places that include Germany, Israel, Ireland, and England. He mainly spoke on his areas of expertise, which are the West and demographic history, but he also branched out a bit occasionally. One speech given was titled “What Would You Do If You Were 20 and Living in Indianapolis in 1849?” (The answer: Farm.)

Continuing the streak of finding random objects hidden in the folders of this collection, today I stumbled on a piece of blue agate rock, hand-picked by Nebraska’s governor in the 1960s. It’s a pretty little rock. I wish I had a reason to archive it along with the academic appointment letters I found with it, but sadly I do not, so back to Dr. Nugent it goes. A few pages later in this folder I ran across a program for a birthday celebration in 1966 for President Harry S. Truman, which is not something one sees every day so I flipped it open and found this:

If it looks like a program with a bunch of scribbles in the corner, well, that’s what it is. However, when you take a closer look:

"Harry S Truman"
"Harry S Truman"

Amid the other signatures, you can make out “Harry S. Truman” – conveniently, next to Truman’s name on the program. This is definitely not something you see every day, so I got a little excited. Then I remembered that there is no proof that this is really a signature from Truman himself, nor are the other signatures written out to Dr. Nugent. I’m not sure why this is in the collection, and it will take some detective work to prove that this is the real deal, but in the meantime it’s still pretty interesting.

Satisfied with my find, I continued processing the folder, but a few pages after I found a browned invitation:

“To honor the President of the United States and Mrs. Kennedy and the Vice President of the United States and Mrs. Johnson, it is proposed to give a Ball, to which you are cordially invited, in the National Guard Armory, City of Washington, on Friday evening, the twentieth of January, at nine o’clock.” [Dated 1961]

This appears to be an invitation to President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. Fresh off of the Truman find, my excitement also had to be quashed as there is no explanation for this being in Dr. Nugent’s folder nor is there evidence that it’s authentic. Still… it’s a pretty exciting thing to see. These kind of papers would usually be on display at a presidential library or history museum, yet here they are scattered into the papers of a former IU professor. It is not absurd to assume that Dr. Nugent attended both these events, but that is as yet to be determined.

Little 500: Entertainers of the Past

There’s a little event going on in town this week.

Victorious Little 500 riders, 1964

Yep, it’s time for Little 500 at Indiana University, for many years called the World’s Greatest College Weekend.

The race was the brainchild of Howard “Howdy” Wilcox. Wilcox, Director of the IU Foundation (IUF), established the IU Student Foundation Committee in 1950 in order to raise awareness of the Foundation and its purpose. He saw the race as an opportunity to publicize the IU Student Foundation and raise scholarship money for students working their way through school. The bike race, modeled after the Indianapolis 500, was first run in 1951. The first years featured only the race but before long a Variety Show was added and in subsequent years additional entertainment and events were developed, including the Golf Jamboree (1958), the Cream and Crimson intra-squad football game (1963), and the Style Show (1969).

This year there has been a tremendous amount of excitement over the headliner Lil Wayne and I thought there might be some interest in learning a bit about the past acts that have come for Little 500. In 1953, IUF Director Bill Armstrong decided to add a little celebrity luster and brought in the first Little 500 Sweetheart, actress and singer Lu Ann Simms. Simms was given every photo op possible throughout the weekend.

Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.
Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.

With the crowds the race began to draw, Armstrong harbored concerns about what folks could do in town post-race, so two years later he added a Variety Show. The headliner that year was Horace Heidt and his 50-person “Swift Show Wagon.” The group performed at the Auditorium and a new tradition was born. Feeling there could still be more, in 1960 Armstrong launched the Friday night concert, the Little 500 Extravaganza. The first performers were The Four Lads, who entertained crowds from the Woodlawn tennis courts.

In his book, The Little 500: The Story of the World’s Greatest College Weekend, author John Schwarb relays the story of Armstrong’s greatest celebrity coup, Bob Hope. Schwarb writes, “Making a personal crusade out of landing the big act of the day, he traveled to Hope’s North Hollywood, California, home in early 1963 to personally ask for the star’s attendance. Initially Hope rebuffed Armstrong’s request, saying that IU couldn’t be anywhere near as great as advertised, and that the school up the road in West Lafayette was better.” [this archivist’s response: *gasp*] Armstrong continued to pursue Hope and he agreed to come in 1964. That year, Little 500 set an attendance record of 23,790 and Hope delivered with four shows to accommodate the deluge of ticket sales. But when Armstrong in turn delivered his $30,000 check, Hope tore it up. Turned out he had such a great time that he asked to return the next year and did so again in 1967, 1971, and 1975, donating his fees to a scholarship fund in his name. (Interested in applying? Check out http://iufoundation.iu.edu/students/scholarships.html.)

The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.
The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.

So, there have been a lot of celebrities connected to Little 500. Some other names of the past:

  • 1955: Horace Heidt’s Swift Show Wagon
  • 1958: headliners Don Cherry & Tina Robin; Popoff Teddy Family, and Al Cobine
  • 1965: The Kingsmen
  • 1969: Tony Bennett, George Kirby, and the Sandpipers
  • 1970: Chicago
  • 1978: Lou Rawls
  • 1983: Barbara Mandrell & the Do-Rites
  • 1988: Innuendo, the Cones, & Voyage
  • 1992: Larry Crane, Henry Lee Summer, and John Mellencamp
  • 1993: The BoDeans (openers were Material Issue & The Why Store)
  • 2001: Nelly
  • 2005: The Roots
IU alums, what were some of your favorite Little 500 shows?

Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete

Jim Thorpe with punters
Jim Thorpe with Indiana punters

I recently caught the documentary “Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete” on WFIU. I love documentaries and this one is worth a watch. But unless I missed it, they never mentioned the time this legend spent at Indiana University!

If you do not know the story, Thorpe, a Native American, began his athletic career at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1907 where he played baseball, football, and was a member of the track team. He excelled in football and under the tutelage of Glen Scobey “Pop” Warner, Thorpe became a star on the Carlisle team. Before long the small school was winning against the likes of Harvard and Yale.

In 1912, Thorpe went to Stockholm as a member of the American Olympic track team. There he smashed previously held records, winning gold medals for the pentathlon and decathlon. He came home with $50,000 in trophies, including a chalice in the shape of a Viking ship presented to him by the Czar of Russia. Sadly, within a month, the Olympic Committee stripped him of his hard won medals, as it was learned that he had been paid a small sum for playing summer baseball – Jim Thorpe, they decided, was no amateur athlete.

This hardly meant an end to his sports career – quite the opposite, in fact. In 1913, he signed a contract to play baseball with the New York Giants, and went on to also play for the Chicago Cardinals and Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs. In 1920, he was elected president of the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner of today’s NFL.

Clearly, this guy was a big deal.

So where’s the IU connection?

Well, in 1914 IU hired C.C. Childs as its head football coach. In seeking out additional coaching staff, Childs considered — and passed over — job-seeker Knute Rockne (some of you may have heard of him) and remembered his fellow Olympic team member Thorpe. Thorpe was wrapping up a season with the Giants and he looked with interest at the opportunity to return to football. To assist with IU’s 1915 football season, he asked for $1000 plus a room for his family at a Bloomington hotel. A deal was struck and the students were thrilled to learn that the World’s Greatest Athlete would be joining the coaching staff. Sadly, his addition to the staff did not help lead the Hoosiers to glory that season. They finished with one victory, over Northwestern, and tied with Washington and Lee. Despite the poor record, Thorpe was welcomed as a hero on the campus and in the Bloomington community.

Thorpe left Bloomington to continue his professional athletic career in baseball and football. Throughout his life, Thorpe struggled with alcoholism and after retiring as a player, he found himself moving from job to job. When he died of a heart attack in 1953, he was penniless. Thorpe, however, would be long remembered for his athletic prowess. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals and in 1999, Senator Rick Santorum sponsored a U.S. Senate resolution to name him Athlete of the Century.

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Usonian House

For those of you on or near campus later this morning, architectural historian Kathryn Smith – one of the foremost experts on Frank Lloyd Wright and modern architecture – is giving a lecture on “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Usonian House” as part of the Horizon of Knowledge Lecture Series. For more specific information about the event see here.

In general the term Usonian – first coined in 1936 with the design of the Herbert Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin  – refers to Wright’s rethinking of the small affordable house in his effort to shape the period of prosperity and development that he envisioned for post-Depression America. In many ways quite similar to Wright’s earlier Prairie style homes which featured low roofs, open living areas, and an apparent relationship to nature, the Usonian style homes however were smaller, one-story structures. The traditional plan consisted of an L-shaped footprint for the house, with the back of the house facing the street and the front organized around a courtyard. On the interior, he eliminated the concept of the separate dining room, reorienting the kitchen and the dining area into one space. The traditional garage was replaced by the carport, while the need for a basement was eliminated by the use of lightweight floor slabs resting on a grad of packed sand containing a radiant heating system.

The announcement for this lecture, reminded us of related correspondence in the recently re-processed Henry Radford Hope papers. Hope – who served as the Chair of the School of Fine Arts for 27 years and as the first director of the Indiana University Art Museum – gave a talk in June of 1943 before a faculty group on Wright’s domestic architecture. In preparation for that talk, Hope surveyed several current owners of Wright designed homes, asking them to provide “information such as the cost of your house, difficulties you had with priorities, differences of opinion between architect and contractor”, and “details with which you were satisfied or dissatisfied.” While carbon copies of these inquiries are included in the collection, of particular note are the responses from the owners of two Wright designed Usonian homes – each with a rather differing opinion on the success of the final product.

Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House (Florence, AL)

Flikr Creative Commons, by Gino

Added to the National Register of Historic Place in 1978, the Rosenbaum House was built for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred in 1939 and exists as the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed structure  in the state of Alabama.

On May 25, 1943, Hope sent Stanley Rosenbaum a letter outlining the above questions, and the following day Rosenbaum responded in a rather critical way – to put it mildly. The second page from that letter is shown here, with  “Jack” serving as a pseudonym to refer to the Wright-recommended contractor who worked on the project. You can view the letter in its entirely here.

Today the site serves as a museum open to the public, so for more information you about the history of the site visit their website.

Gregor S. and Elizabeth B. Affleck House, Bloomfield Hills, MI

A childhood friend of Wright, in 1940 Gregor Affleck and his wife Elizabeth chose to commission the design of their new home from the renowned architect – despite the fact that Elizabeth  had originally desired a “‘Colonial’  with white pillars to the roof.” Wright directed the couple to locate a site for their new home that “‘no body else can do anything with,” and the resulting product brought on a rush of local and national attention. In October 1940, Progressive Architecture published a 4 page spread on the house, while the model for the design was included in a Wright retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940-1941. Upon inquiry, the resulting – and much more positive – correspondence between Gregor Affleck and Henry Hope elaborates upon the merits of the design (see here) as well as an stylistic comparison between Wright’s style as compared to those of his contemporaries Le Corbusier and Walter Groupius (see here).

In 1980, the home was donated to Lawrence Technological University to ensure that it would continue to be available to the public and to inspire students of architecture. More information about the history of the site can be found through their website.

Looking for an Interesting Summer Vacation Spot?

In the process of writing this entry, I happened to find that you can actually rent this little Usonian gem in northern Wisconsin – originally designed for business man Bernard Schwartz in 1938.

American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records (version 2.0)

The finding aid for the American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records has been updated with new materials!  Founded on February 12, 1913, the AAUW, Bloomington Branch (then called the Association of Collegiate Alumnae) worked to fight prejudices against women in higher education and in the workplace.  It also helped fund scholarships and fellowships for women to conduct research and pursue advanced degrees.

Today, the A.A.U.W. has around 150,000 members and 1,500 branches around the country.  The organization remains very active, frequently endorsing legislation promoting women’s rights in higher education and beyond.

New additions include meeting minutes between 1927 and 1954, as well as numerous newspaper articles which highlight the many issues with which the A.A.U.W., Bloomington Branch was involved, including women’s rights, education, and politics.

The branch was active in raising money for the national A.A.U.W. Fellowship fund.  They also frequently formed committees and hosted guest speakers to address a wide range of important issues such as women in public office (1948) and the “denazification” of Germany after World War II (1946).  Notable speakers include Dr. Kathryn McHale, national general director of the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C. (ca. 1936), and Dr. Margaret E. Morgan, Mental Health Commissioner of Indiana (1956).

The AAUW, Bloomington Branch was also host to many students who came to study in the United States through AAUW fellowships, including Laura De Arce of Uruguay in 1939.  She was the first woman from Uruguay to receive the American Association of University Women Latin-American fellowship and studied at Indiana Univesity in 1939.

For further information on the collection, contact the Archives!