The Folklore Paper Collection: A Cabinet of Curiosities

“Musei Wormiani Historia”, the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities. From:

You never know what you will find when you dive into a box of Folklore papers. Much like a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Renaissance and Victorian periods (see left) these boxes are stuffed full of papers and items that will spark one’s curiosity, wet one’s intellectual appetite, and engage the mind in cultural history.

The University Archives recently processed a collection of papers written by students taking material culture courses in the Folklore Institute between 1960 and the early 1980s. These papers are written on a wide variety of subjects within material culture including architecture, crafts, tombstones & epitaphs, quilting, furniture, instrument making, family traditions and recipes, fashion, and food ways.

Many of these papers consist of interviews with artisans and craftsmen, family members, or owners of the locations being researched. One such paper includes an account by the owner of a house near Elizabethtown, Indiana which was part of the Underground Railroad used by runaway slaves fleeing north to Canada during the Civil War. A number of the locations and craftsmen discussed in these papers are local or in close proximity to Bloomington, including a paper on the Rose Well House which is a popular fixture of legend in IU campus lore.

Postcard Set Postcard Duo

For those more interested in religious studies there are also papers centered around religion. One such paper describes the folkways surrounding food, feasting, and religious practices of the Russian Orthodox Church during the week of Easter and recounts how the low number of parishioners at Bloomington’s Russian Orthodox Church affected the Bloomington orthodox community in the 60s and 70s. The paper even includes a set of colorful feast-themed Eastern Orthodox postcards for the reader to examine (see here). I would be curious to see if the church survived or not but I couldn’t find it through any direct means…perhaps that is an answer in it of itself.

Sometimes going through papers from various years allows the researcher to see trends.  Apple doll making and water witching seem to have been popular subjects in the 60s and 70s. There are also a fair number of papers written on local tombstones and instrument makers in this collection.

Most of these papers will include samples, HeroI012photographs, or other items related to the paper’s subject. One such paper written on the Kennedy family, who built covered bridges in Indiana, has a beautiful set of covered bridge illustrations and diagrams as well as old advertisements for tools used to construct these bridges.

Other papers involving quilt making either have quilting pattern diagrams,
Quilt Samples
magazine pictures, samples, or hand drawn patterns to help explain the types of patterns being  discussed (see here).

Slightly more odd items are included with these papers too. One paper on soap-making had a bag of lye stapled to one of the pages (you definitely don’t want to touch that with your bare hands. It’s highly caustic and can burn your skin!).  Another had a seemingly random top of a wood spool of sowing thread with no explanation as to its significance within the greater context of the paper other than the fact that the paper was on quilt-making.  As I continued to go through the collection I briefly wondered if I would encounter a paper on Thanksgiving that included a wishbone taped to the backside of one of the papers…but alas the wishbone did not reveal itself…

For more on these papers and other Folklore-related items contact the IU Archives.


Well House traditions

Rose Well House
Rose Well House

The Rose Well House is one of the oldest structures on campus, and one of Indiana University’s most enduring symbols.  In 1907 the University appointed a committee of trustees to assess the viability of moving the fronts and ornamental stone fixtures from the “Old College Building” and integrating them into a well house on the site of the cistern pump, located behind the current Memorial Union.  Plans for the project were drawn up by Professor A.L. Foley of the physics department.  The committee, led by chairman Theodore F. Rose (class of 1875), was successful in this effort, in part because Rose funded the operation out of his own pocket.  The project was completed in 1908.  It is said that Rose modeled the shape of the eight-sided well house on his Beta Theta Pi fraternity pin.

Water Pump before the Rose Well House. This image scanned from page 388 of the 1906 Arbutus yearbook. Note the one tin cup atop the pump for one and all to use.
Water pump before the Rose Well House. This image scanned from page 388 of the 1906 Arbutus yearbook. Note the one tin cup atop the pump for one and all to use.

Rose dedicated the structure to his graduating class.  At the time of its construction the well pump was a major source of water for the faculty and students of the University.  When the roof of Wylie Hall caught fire in 1900, water from this pump was used to save the building.

In addition to its practical purposes, the Well House has come to be a romantic campus location.  After its construction it quickly became a popular student meeting place, and often the site of romantic encounters.  Prior to its presentation to the University, the Well House was a frequented place of courtship. Originally couples were known to get engaged and “pinned” at the Well House.  Eventually, kissing at the Well House at midnight became a rite of passage for Indiana University students.  The kiss had to last the duration of the full twelve strokes of midnight (and noon doesn’t count, notes the 1967 Arbutus).  A woman was said to be a “true coed” only after this requirement was met.  When the women’s curfew was 11pm, this could be a risky endeavor.

A couple meets at the Well House, September 22, 1958
A couple meets at the Well House, September 22, 1958

The Well House kiss was an important part of Indiana University student culture.  It is perhaps the most long-lasting student tradition, remaining popular for decades.  The 1950 Arbutus declares: “Spring: the season when quarry attendance is greater than class attendance and when love hits campus so hard that couples need appointments to get in the Well House.”  The student-produced annual musical, the Jordan River Revue, had scenes set at the Well House in its 1938 production.  The University band would sometimes march in “well house formation” at sporting events, and for many years students eagerly awaited the “Wellhouse Waltz.”  The first “Wellhouse Waltz” was held in 1944 at Alumni Hall.  The midnight kiss was pushed back to 11 PM, when the band would strike up a waltz and couples would pause in their dancing to engage with tradition.

But as times changed and students were no longer subjected to a curfew, the Well House was not the fashionable courtship setting it had been during the early part of the century.  By the 1960s students were still aware of the tradition, but took part with less regularity as social mores changed.  As the authors of the 1967 Arbutus maintained:  “Although an I.U. student today may appreciate the old traditions, he is rarely motivated to perpetuate them in the hustle and bustle of modern campus life.  Couples still observe the Well House custom, but the majority go to the weathered, gray shelter only on a lark to break the monotony of party-going and studying or as a final resort after watching a movie with a dull date.”