Readers recently got to experience the joys of Indiana University’s former Audio Visual Center (IUAVC) in Hannah Osborn’s post “Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck…and Captive Wildlife in Indiana.” I’m happy to report that as we process this collection at the archives, we continue to find plentiful moments of joy in the documents and materials that represent the IUAVC’s history. Not too long ago, Director Dina Kellams was perusing the collection to pull some material for an undergraduate class when she stumbled across a folder with the handwritten label: “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” To celebrate a joyful new year and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which starred Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and premiered November 22, let’s take a look at the relationship between the AVC and this beloved touchstone of educational television.
At first glance it might not be obvious why this folder exists in the IUAVC collection. It is comprised of news releases issued by National Educational Television (NET) from 1967-1969. The releases detail specific Mister Rogers’ programs as they were aired, including initial broadcast dates, program lengths, medium information, indications if the program was in color or black and white, and synopses. These synopses are admittedly pretty adorable and endearing in and of themselves:
“Program #41: What to do if you’re frightened? Misterogers explains that people can express their feelings in all sorts of ways. X the Owl spends the day making a rainbow from cardboard and doing scientific experiments. Henrietta Pussycat is upset by the thunder and lightning. Lady Aberlin suggests it is because the noise is unexpected. A game of “peek-a-boo” helps Henrietta; so does the explanation that lightning helps light up dark places. Misterogers turns the lights off and on to show that everything in the room is the same, even when it’s dark.”
These descriptions give us a picture of the major themes, characters, and lessons we came to know and love in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The associated information, such as broadcast dates and other administrative data, give us some historical understanding of the show’s trajectory in the late 1960s. But why are these releases in a folder used by the AVC? A document nestled about halfway through the folder, titled “INDIVIDUAL PROGRAM DATA” from June 1, 1967, gives us some clues. The document includes a general description of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, biographies of Fred Rogers and other featured talent, and descriptions for the first 100 Mister Rogers’ programs. The document is created by “ETS Program Service, Bloomington, Indiana.” I wasn’t sure what ETS stood for (I ventured to guess “educational television service”), so I did a quick Google search for “ETS Program Service Bloomington Indiana 1967.” This isn’t always the case, but sometimes a well-phrased Google search can be an archivist’s friend. I immediately found the answer in a digitized copy of The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. A section of the act included facts about educational television stations—or ETS. It detailed:
“The ETS Program Service was established in 1965 at Bloomington, Indiana. It is operated by Indiana University Foundation under contract to Educational Television Stations, NAEB. This service provides an exchange of a variety of programs selected from the best productions originating at local stations. There is a small per-program use charge to offset distribution costs. This nation-wide program distribution facility was made possible through grants for the National Home Library Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.”
ETS members such as IU’s ETS Program Service were responsible for preparing regional and national conferences on education and media, communicating educational television issues to national government and private agencies, compiling reports that documented educational television progress, and disseminating information to other educational television stations. This last point helps clarify the purpose of this June 1967 document: The ETS Program Service in Bloomington likely distributed this informational sheet to area television stations and other entities (such as schools and libraries) who would be interested in showing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
It is pretty cool to see IU’s educational television services represented in the congressional act that established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and set the path for establishing the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). The Public Broadcasting Act also had a strong connection to Fred Rogers himself. Rogers was a key supporter of the act and, two years later in 1969, testified before the Senate to defend the CPB and public broadcasting as a whole. The footage of the testimony has become iconic, in part because it played a central role in the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Rogers’ testimony is celebrated as a meaningful moment in American public rhetoric, and featured goose bump-inducing quotes such as:
“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
You can view the video of his testimony and read a transcript of it here!
Now that we know why the ETS Program Service would have a folder on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, we can better understand the multifarious functions of the IUAVC. IUAVC was originally called the Film Archives’ Educational Film Collection and was launched in the 1940’s through IU’s Extension Division. The center amassed tens of thousands of 16mm films, which it would rent out to schools, libraries, and educational groups for low fees. IUAVC became a leader in the field of instructional technology and media in the mid-twentieth century. It worked in tandem with the National Instructional Television Library (NIT), which was located and operated by the IU Foundation (NIT became an independent entity in 1968 and renamed itself the Agency for Instructional Technology—AIT—in 1984. Learn more about AIT at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive!). The IUAVC was also the exclusive distributor of films produced by National Educational Television (NET), the predecessor to PBS. Going back to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the first nationally broadcast season of the show was aired on NET in 1967. This means the IUAVC played a central role in the rise of Mister Rogers’ popularity in the late 1960s.
As we continue to process this exciting and important collection we’ll be sure to share more gems with you. In the meantime, you can get in touch with our friends at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive to access IUAVC films and videos! And remember: You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.