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Lilly Library

Journey to the Center of the Mertz (Part 3 of 3)

A continuation from Part 2 of the journey through each series within the Barbara Mertz collection.

Subject Files I spent probably several hours total oscillating between “subject files” and “research files” as a series title for these materials. I finally settled on the former, as it was unclear if some of the materials were intended for research purposes versus personal or professional interest. For example, was the collection of Mystery Scene magazines’ purpose to keep abreast of the field, or did Mertz need them to research a particular topic? Because some of the subjects she researched for novels became personal interests (her interest in gardening stemmed in part from her research for Vanish with the Rose), the line was very blurred. Were the materials on clothing and textiles collected as reference sources for descriptions of historical clothing in her novels, or were they educational tools to help Mertz build her vintage clothing collection? Or both? It was fascinating to see her research process for her writings and try to connect materials to the books that they may have influenced, especially the paper dolls that spanned hundreds of years and a myriad of geographical locations.

It was hard to pick a favorite item or folder in this series, as each subseries was so disparate, but Mertz’s Egyptology coursework was especially exciting, as I had no idea what went into the study in practice until I flipped through some of her textbooks and notes.

Ink-drawn hieroglyphs in columns on small tan three-holed paper alongside their phonetic translation in latin script. Header at the top reads “Barbara Gross // Hieroglyphs // Lesson I – p. 30”.
This early notebook of hieroglyph practice (note the use of her maiden name in the top right hand corner) provides a practical example of what Mertz’s doctoral coursework looked like.
Ink-drawn hieroglyph sentences underneath their English translations with corrections in red ink. Header at the top reads “Barbara Gross // Lesson IX – p. 90”.
Line-drawn illustration of a Maine Coon cat with the words “The Scratch Sheet” as a torso serves as header, followed by the text “Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association // Winter 1972 // Newsletter // for the promotion and protection of the Maine Coon Cat.” Then there is a typed list of the MCBFA Officers 1972-1973 and the following text: “Before the March issue of the Scratch Sheet comes out, the nominating committee will be looking for Breeder Members who are willing and able to carry on the work of the association. It will help to know who wants to work actively for the organization, and who would accept positions if nominated.” This is followed by a typed table of contents with the name “Connie Condit” circled in pen and the following annotations handwritten: “Barbara’s childhood friend // Barbara started gorwing her cat family to more than 1 cat at a time (Pash was the 1 cat) when she got Tibby and Jed from Connie’s cattery”. A line-drawn illustration of a cat in a stocking sits next to the table of contents.
A long-time Maine Coon enthusiast, Mertz subscribed to “the Scratch Sheet,” a newsletter for Maine Coon breeders and fanciers that featured tips on raising Maine Coons, updates on cats within the community, and Maine Coon-related poems and advertisements.

This is also the series in which the Corn Incident took place. In short, I opened a very full accordion file labeled “Germany” and removed a number of 1960’s travel guides and maps of Germany, after which a not insubstantial amount of dried corn poured out into my lap. I’m guessing this was an unintentional addition to the folder, as there was also some birdseed in the original box which seemed to indicate that it had been stored near foodstores for outdoor animals. I haven’t touched on the conservation aspect of archival processing much, as for the most part it consists of sending folded galleys and oversize posters to the conservation department for flattening and special enclosures, but sometimes strange and/or gross things do crop up. I once found a rat’s nest inside a box of papers; the rat had luckily vacated the premises before I got there. I’ve seen typescripts held together with ethernet cables, papers with circled and annotated stains of unknown source, and a “Lifetime Acheesement” award that may or may not have once had real cheese glued to it (only that last one is a Mertz collection item).

Hand pulling open a brown accordion folder to reveal a layer of dried corn within
For the record, the corn was deaccessioned due to the conservation concerns of having edible materials in an archive.

Professional Files This series may have taken the most up-front research to sort in a logical way, as it is riddled with acronyms and references to field-specific concepts, events, and people. The overlap in timelines and participants between Malice Domestic, Grouchercon, Sisters of Crime, and other mystery genre organizations and conventions that Mertz helped found made it difficult to tease out which documents related mainly to which organization/convention; this was compounded by Grouchercon having a (loosely followed) rule that members not speak of or acknowledge its existence. However, a very helpful series of posts on the “Remembering Barbara Mertz” blog helped straighten out some of these timelines, as well as provided an explanation for the photos of a stuffed muskrat in a dress that I kept seeing:

“Then there was the time when Hess, Sharyn McCrumb, Dorothy Cannell, and Margaret Maron decided to give out the W(h)imsey Award for comedy in mystery. (Lord Peter Wimsey is the hero of a series of mystery novels by Dorothy L. Sayers.) The award was a stuffed muskrat in a skirt and hat.” – “Memories of Malice (Part IV)”, author unknown

Calendar cover that reads “The Whimsey Foundation // Dedicated to honoring significant achievement in comedic mystery fiction” next to a black-and-white photo of a woman holding a glass in front of a taxidermied muskrat in a hat and dress. A yellow post-it note obscures the top half of the photo and has the following handwritten text: “Barbara - Thank you for being gentle with Sara – she loved your house and rose garden but mostly I think she wishes she could steal Kristin. (Hi, Kristin – Are you”. An orange post-it note labeled “Plan B” in the top left corner has the following handwritten text: “This is the personal calendar of BARBARA MERTZ, not to be mixed up with other calendars. I need effusive compliments from MacLeod, A. Craig and D. Cannell. Thank you.” Written in red pen in the spaces between printed text on the cover is the following text: “With all our fault we love you still! (Also when you’re talking) // For Her Highness *Aztrem Arabrab *the asterisk is only for you, dear Hatshepsut – I just put it in for the hell of it // With glowing assertions of significance for the most significant of us all! Yours truly, Doelcam Eltolrahc”.
In 1995, the Whimsey Foundation (a subset of Malice Domestic that awarded the taxidermied muskrat in a dress seen here to recognize comedy in mystery) published a calendar with each month dedicated to a different mystery writer.
June 1995 calendar page with a black and white photo of Sharyn McCrumb in saloon girl attire sitting in front of a similarly styled Lia Matera and the following printed text: “Sharyn McCrumb (who has indoor plumbing, okay?) lives in the Virginia Blue Ridge. Her maiden name was neither Hatfield nor McCoy, but her family tree does contain Civil War draft dodgers, circuit preachers, fiddle-makers, quilters, and a father who cut his teeth on the red rubber pistol grip of a nickel-plated .38. Some of these folks may turn up in She Walks These Hills (Scribner’s, October ‘94). And you wondered who the Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter was. It is sheer coincidence that the next Elizabeth MacPherson novel will be entitled If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him, I’d Be Out of Prison Now. Lia Matera went to law school but she also lives in the California home of serial killer Edmund Kemper, and sometimes subpoenas just don’t do the job, as her heroines Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma are apt to find out. This photo represents a Radical Departure from her Prior Convictions, but take it at Face Value. (N.B. Appalachian people and Italian-Americans have to contend with a lot of fanciful notions about the violence of their respective cultures. Sharyn McCrumb and Lia Matera have decided to shoot anybody who makes such stereotypical and invalid assumptions.)” Handwritten at the top of the page along with a line illustration of a bird is the following text: “To Barbara – from a Honky Tonk Angel to the Great Speckled Bird – love, Foggington-Smythe".
August 1995 calendar page with a black and white photo of Margaret Maron and superimposed illustrations of spiders next to the following printed text: “Thinking of getting a pet? Ready for something more exotic than the usual cat, dog, or flamingo? Three mystery writers out of ten prefer arachnids. They are quieter than flamingoes, do not have to be walked like dogs, and are more self-sufficient than cats. Indeed, they even find their own food and will effectively rid the house of stray flies, crickets, mosquitoes and small children. Arachnid activity peaks during the dog days of August, offering prospective owners the widest selection. “But,” I can hear you wail, “with so many different breeds, how can I choose?” Herewith, some perennial favorites: Suspense writers are happiest with free-roaming Tarantulas. (Having a large, hairy Tarantula loose in the room provides an extra fillip of suspense for most readers, too.) For devotees of hardboiled noir, the flashy Black Widow is a reliable – if predictable – breed. For a cozy traditionalist, what better than the shy (yet deadly) Brown Recluse? For a general, all-purpose pet, I prefer the Black-and-Yellow Argiope, better known as the Common Writing Spider. I have had several over the years and can personally recommend them for qualities dear to every editor’s heart: they do not wander from the task at hand; their writing zigs and zags like a well-fashioned plot; and, in the end, they always wrap up all the loose ends. Let’s see a cat or dog or flamingo do that!” Line drawings of a spiderweb and a cartouche featuring a spider, a gavel, and a beetle in the top left corner along with the following handwritten text: “May Amon smile on you, dear Barbara, and inspire your tombs and cartouches – Margaret".

The materials in this series highlight both Mertz’s insistence on finding fun in everything she did as well as her constant professionalism and dedication to helping others in her fields. From creating a convention to highlight the cozy mysteries genre – an underrepresented subgenre in Mystery Writers of America, which she suspected was due to the majority of its authors being women – to serving as president of American Crime Writers League (ACWL) and helping writers fight for clearer royalties and better convention experiences, Mertz consistently gave back to her communities and attempted to use her own experiences to lift up fellow writers and Egyptologists.

Line drawing of a person covering their face while being shot with arrows and threatened with spears and hammers by angry flying cherubs next to the following typed text: “When Fan=Fanatic: A Chapter from the Beleaguered Writer’s Self-Defense Manual // Barbara Mertz // When I was younger and more innocent and nicer and dumber, I thought writers who complained about annoying fans were arrogant bastards (of both sexes) who had allowed a modicum of fame to swell to their heads, or else weirdos whose weird books attracted weird readers. I am older and wiser now, and a good deal more cynical; and the publishing business has changed since I began writing. There is much more weight given to publicity and promotion. Writers spend more time on the road making public appearances and pushing their books. As a consequence—an inevitable consequence, one supposes—we are seeing the rise of the semi-professional “fan.” Other genres such as romance and science-fantasy have already encountered this phenomenon. It is beginning to be felt in the mystery field as well. Before I begin this tirade let me make an important distinction between “loyal readers” and “fans.” I’ve always considered the second term insulting, conjuring up as it does images of screaming idiots trying to tear the clothes off rock stars. My loyal readers—and thank God, they constitute ninety-nine and forty-four hundredths percent of my readership—aren't like that. All they want from me are readable books, and the same courtesy I would extend any stranger. When they meet me, they want me to sign their book and smile and thank them for their brief and complimentary remarks. When they write to me, they tell me how much hey like the books. Perhaps they tell me something about themselves but they don’t demand a reply. (They usually get one.) Then there are the others. Some of them are harmless and rather sweet. They are naïve enough to suppose that because they feel they know me, through my books, I have a corresponding affection for them. I don’t mind that. I do not flinch, like the Queen of England, when some total stranger throws her arms around me and hugs me. I am touched when they knock on the door of my hotel room at midnight in order to present me with a little gift. I’m an amiable soul, actually—at least I used to be—and I don’t think I have ever failed to respond to these ingenuous tributes with grace and good will. Then there are the OTHERS. The hardcore fan wants more than a hug and a gracious thank you. Some want professional assistance. They would like you—nay, sir and madam—they expect you—to: 1. Blurb their book. 2. Sell their book. 3. Read their book (to be followed by 1. and 2.). 4. Write their book. 5. Find them an agent. 6. Find them a publisher. Most of these demands are easily dealt with because they have the virtue of being forthright. A courteous refusal (I am always courteous, unless provoked) usually gets them off your back. Don’t flatter yourself; they won’t waste too much time hassling you because they have others on their list. Worst of all are the fans who want to move into your personal life. Again, the operative word here is “expect” and not “want.” Because they have done you the honor to read and enjoy your books they want you to: 1. Be their pen pal. 2. Be their personal friend. 3. Be their BEST friend. 4. Be”.
Mertz wrote a number of columns in the American Crime Writers League (ACWL) publication BULLETin, offering advice and sharing experiences with fellow writers. Considering the sheer amount of fanmail in the collection, Mertz certainly had enough experience with fans and parasocial relationships to develop this “self-defense manual.”
Second page of “When Fan-Fanatic" column with the following typed text: “their mother. 5. Invite them to your home. 6. Baby-sit and/or entertain their children. 7. Entertain their friends. 8. Love them. All these demands have been made upon me, and I’m sure other writers could add to the list. Thanks to my extreme age I have been spared some equally outrageous advances (or maybe I was just too dumb to notice.) They are seldom explicitly expressed, except for no. 1. “Let’s keep in touch,” one innocent reader ended her letter. (We haven’t. But I was nice, dammit.). Usually, however, the approach is more insidious. Not all gifts and favors from readers are made with an ulterior motive in mind, but they can be the opening wedge. I wish I could formulate a few simple rules for distinguishing, at first glance, between the nice friendly reader and the one that’s going to turn into a succubus (or incubus, as the case may be). It isn’t easy. One is naturally inclined to respond graciously to a gracious gesture. The incipient succubus knows this, and plays deliberately on the good manners of the victim. The really skillful players at the game have the moves worked out so well that it is hard to pinpoint the precise moment when friendliness turns into vampirism and the hapless writer is expected to reciprocate with numbers one through eight above. I would like to offer some advice, gained by painful experience, that may help other writers learn to spot this sort of “fan” and nip the bud before it blossoms into a Venus fly-trap. The basic rules of self-defense are simple. 1. Don’t give out your phone number. If a lot of people know it already, change it—to an unlisted number. 2. Don’t put your return address on envelopes or stationery used to answer fanmail. A post office box may be a good investment. 3. Don’t invite people to your home. If you meet a reader whom you feel you would like to know better, meet him or her or neutral ground—a restaurant, perhaps. 4. If people want to know how to get in touch with you, and you don’t have a P.O. box, give them your agent’s or publisher’s address—EVEN IF THEY SEEM TO HAVE A LEGITIMATE PROFESSIONAL REASON FOR COMMUNICATING WITH YOU. 5. Don’t get drunk with readers and tell them intimate personal details of your life. (Don’t do it even when you aren’t drunk.) 6. Don’t accept any invitations, personal or professional, on the spot. Tell the individual to write. That gives you time to think things over. 7. Don’t answer insulting or threatening “fanmail,” no matter how angry it makes you. That’s the reaction these people hope to induce. By replying you feed their sick needs and will undoubtedly induce further correspondence. 8. If you answer nice kind letters from readers (and you should) keep it short and simple and final. If a reply ensues, don’t answer it. (This applies particularly to letters from state or federal prisons. I hope to heaven you didn’t give them your address?) 9. Don’t answer any letters over three pages long. No, but seriously; some of the people who write long chatty letters are genuine innocents from small towns who think everybody out there is as nice as they are. HOWEVER—the tendency to write long personal letters to strangers is one sign of a disturbed personality. Why don’t these people talk to their friends? Can it be that they have none? A few more suggestions, which I offer not as rules but as principles I have established for myself. 1. I don’t hire anyone, no matter how well qualified, who wants to work for me because she adores my books. She would probably be great—but I’d rather not take the chance of acquiring an acolyte. 2. Naturally, I have never asked readers to perform major services that require hours of work without pay. Now I no longer allow them to do so, even when they insist. It is only human nature to expect a return for favors, even when they are unsolicited, and you may not care to pay the price that is expected. Cold cash is less costly than love, or even the strained simulacra of friendship. 3. I am not as polite as I used to be. (Ah, you noticed, did you?) This isn’t because I am getting old and crotchety but because I have learned that courtesy can be misinterpreted by the hardcore fan. One doesn’t want to make a big deal of trivial misdemeanors, of speech or conduct; one is inclined to overlook them or reply with a tactful hint rather than a hit on the head. Unfortunately, insensitivity is one of the hallmarks of the hardcore fan. Tactful hints make little”.
Third page of “When Fan-Fanatic" column with the following typed text: “impression on people like this. It is necessary to be blunt. If I were as soured and cynical as some people think I am, I would advise you not to become friends with readers, or accept even small, token presents from them, or let them buy you drinks, not to mention lunch. But I’m damned if I am going to let a few—a very few—outrageous individuals spoil my relationship with the great majority of readers who are courteous, kind, and undemanding, and who add immeasurably to my enjoyment of this job. It is dangerous to allow hardcore fans to enter your life, but it is equally dangerous to become paranoid and suspicious, and to generalize unfairly on the basis of a few unpleasant experiences. I can’t speak for all of you, but I suspect most of you would agree wholeheartedly with me when I say I don’t want adoration. I don’t want acolytes. I don’t want fawning, uncritical love, or adolescent schwarmerei. What I want from a reader is intelligent appreciation of my books and respect for my privacy. Privacy is not a selfish whim on my part, it is an absolute necessity if I am to perform the task by which I earn my living and for which—presumably—my readers appreciate ME. And most of them do, bless their hearts.” Following this is a 1991 Treasurer’s Report and an Editor’s Note commending Jim MacHery for both his services to ACWL and his Anthony Award nominations.

Writings by Others This series was born out of the number of writings people sent to Mertz as gifts or for her review, despite the fact that Mertz stopped giving blurbs due to her demanding schedule. Many of these typescripts and monographs were removed from the materials that ended up becoming the Correspondence series; my stipulations for doing so were that I kept the related correspondence with the writing, and that the writing must be a complete work rather than a single poem or extract. My favorite material in this series by far was the Amelia Peabody fanfiction sent to Mertz, both because I admired the bold move to send an author fanfiction of their own work and because it illustrated the deep impact her works had on its readers. On the advice of her publishers and agent, Mertz was unable to read fanfiction of her work for fear of subconsciously plagiarizing it in her own writing, but the fact that she kept it nonetheless seems to indicate that it was not entirely (hopefully) unwanted. One teen even wrote to get Mertz’s blessing for her Yuugioh!/Amelia Peabody crossover fanfiction, explaining the anime’s plot and offering her penname in the process.

: Letter from Shawna McAllister to Elizabeth Peters dated 2 August 2004 on pink-bordered stationery with the following handwritten text: “Dear Mrs. Peters, Please excuse the ugly pink stationery, I’m too lazy at the moment to write on unlined paper. I’m just writing to thank you again (and again, and again...) for writing (or organizing, at any rate) Amelia Peabody. My friends and I love Egypt, and your books give so much wonderful information without being textbook-y. [smiley face] Would I be bragging to say I’ve managed to get a lot of my friends as hooked on the books as I am? Whoops, yeah, probably. [smiley face] Your books are an addiction, I swear! But a good one. [smiley face] Fer instance, when I read the little article-let in Archaeology magazine a few months ago about Guardian getting released, my first thought was “Ahhh! New Peters-sama! Must get!” [smiley face] I sprinted for the library, and when I [arrow pointing right]”.
It’s endearing that this young fan took the time to ask Mertz for her permission to publish her Yuugioh!/Amelia Peabody crossover fanfiction on, even explaining the premise of the anime and sharing her URL. Her tone and language choice really capture early 2000’s fandom-speak.
Second page of letter from Shawna McAllister to Elizabeth Peters dated 2 August 2004 with the following handwritten text: “found it on the new release shelves I squealed and just about managed to get myself kicked out. [smiley face] Of course, once I started reading it, I had to dig a bout on my bookshelves at home until I found my dad’s old falling-apart-but-still-good paperback edition of Last Camel. That was in May, and I’m debating going back and reading them again, because that was right around the time I found out my beloved grandfather died, so my memories around that time are a tad smudged. But on to the point of this letter (besides rambling on like a fool). I’m real big into anime (that is, Japanese animation), especially a show called Yuugioh! (yeah, a teenager who loves a “kids” show. Please don’t get me started on that.) The main premise of the show is about the spirits of an Egyptian pharaoh (fictional) and a tomb robber who are reawakened in the modern day. My friend Katia and I came up with the idea of writing a story about what would happen if the tomb robber and the human boy who acts as “host” for his spirit got sent back in time and met up with the Emersons. [smiley face] No real plot yet, but we’ve [arrow pointing right]”.
Third page of letter from Shawna McAllister to Elizabeth Peters dated 2 August 2004 on pink-bordered stationery with the following handwritten text: “got the vague idea that Sethos will pop up and steal some important artifact and Bakura (the tomb robber spirit) will “help” get it back, only to attempt to steal it for himself when they catch up with Sethos. Meh, not much yet, but we’re working on it. Anyway, sorry to bore you with a half-baked idea, but I just wanted to give you some idea of what we’d be doing with (or to?) your characters. Usually when we write fanfictions (stories of our own using copyrighted characters) we post them online at a website called Which is perfectly legal, I promise, since we don’t may any money off of it. But still, I wanted to make sure it was okay with you for Katia and [arrow pointing right]”.
Fourth page of letter from Shawna McAllister to Elizabeth Peters dated 2 August 2004 with the following handwritten text: “I to do a fanfic using the Emersons. If not, we’ll probably still write it anyway, but it’ll just be for our own amusement, and we wouldn’t post it. [smiley face] Thanks for listening, and if I seem a tad incoherent, it may be because I have Celtic music blasting out of my stereo. [smiley face] Yeah, I’m a geek. Good luck with your next novel! Yours, Shawna McAllister // P.S. If for some remote reason you’re interested in what writing I’ve done, my penname on Fanfiction.Net is Wingleader Sora Jade [hyperlink to user page]. One of my stories, “Hot Sands, Warm Arms” was inspired by the Amelia Peabody books, and one of the characters, Malik by name, acts kinda like a young Ramses [smiley face]. Be afraid...”
Photocopy of postcard from Elizabeth Peters to Shawna McAllister with the following handwritten text: “As you say, fan fiction isn’t illegal, so long as you try to stay true to the original characters. It’s nice that you and your friend are writing stories. Someday you will be experienced enough to invent your own characters. Elizabeth Peters”.
A typed sheet in screenplay-style formatting with the following text: “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... CAT WARS (fanfare starts to play) The galaxy of cats in in great peril. The evil Darth Mosreme is trying to take over the galaxy, for no reason at all. I mean, come on, he doesn’t even have a REASON to take over the galaxy! He should have at least one reason! And I’ll bet he doesn’t even have a permit for that! The galaxy is doomed! For no reason! There’s no permit! Fortunately, some people realized that he doesn’t have a permit for destorying the galaxy. These cats are fighting against Nosreme, and to tell you the truth, they’re not doing very well. They don’t even have any Jedi on their side! Oops, you’re not supposed to know about that yet. I mean, they don’t have any Force-using light-saber teeth and claw-wielding cats. ...Oops. Anyway, that’s not all that’s bad in the galaxy. Not at all. There’s a group of evil villain cats, and they’re robbers! They’ve been stealing everything in the galaxy. They even stole a black hole last week! Uh-oh, NOW THEY’RE GOING TO STEAL THE- … (fanfare fades out) On board a rebel ship, Princess Neferet snuck into a room. Oops, let’s back up a bit. On board a rebel ship, Darth Nosreme has sent fifty Storm Troopercat Attacker Squad Insane Cats, but for the sake of saving room, we’ll just call them Storm Troopers, on board to attack all of the rebels and find out where their base is. Princess Neferet snuck into a hidden room on the side of the ship so she wouldn’t get killed. Smart, isn’t she? Anyway, she gave a message asking for help from Obi-Wan Cattobi while all the other rebels were getting their butts kicked. She gave the message to a cute little droid called R2-Catwo and got back into the hallway to help her comrades. “R2, get in the escape pod,” she yelled as the door to the ship was opened. Darth Nosreme got into the ship with his head guard that’s not a Storm Trooper, D. Guard. R2 started heading towards the escape pod. “R2-Catwo, where do you think you’re going?” C3Po (the “C” stands for cat) asked. R2 made several strange beeping noises, which translated to “The escape pod, so I can save my butt. Where are you going, to get fried by Nosreme?” “This is no time for humor, we must be here to support the rebels!” 3po said angrily. Suddenly, a laser beam shot right by his head and he gladly followed R2 to the escape pod. “Where is the base data?” Nosreme asked D. Guard. “We must find that data and then blow up their base.” “Do you have a permit for that, sir?” D. Guard asked Nosreme. “No.” D. Guard shrugged. “Search the area.” R2 started to unlock the escape pod door. A group of Storm Troopers entered the room as R2 unlocked the escape pod. Just as R2 and 3PO got into the escape pod, one of the Storm Troopers saw them. “There are the droids! They must have the data!” the Storm Trooper cried. “Get them!” Another yelled. “Yeah!” they all shouted. Just as the first one fired a shot aimed right at R2, the door closed and the shot just hit the door. “Quick!” One of them shouted. “Let’s shoot the door down!” “Yeah!” the rest agreed. Just as they fired another shot in the same place that would have made it and destroyed the door, the escape pod blasted off.”
An unknown author wrote this short Star Wars/Amelia Peabody crossover and sent it to Mertz, known to be a fan of both cats and Star Wars (and ostensibly, her own fictional characters).

Personal It was difficult to separate out Mertz’s “personal” materials from what could also be considered professional, legal, correspondence, or research, all of which already had their own series. As with every choice in this and every archival collection, it was a subjective if justified decision that came down to what the material’s primary research value was in my opinion. For example, I put Grace Tragellas’ (Mertz’s mother’s) deeds in the Personal series despite the fact that they are legal documents and would fit within the scope of the Financial and Legal series because I anticipated their most significant research value being to provide biographical and personal background on Mertz, rather than providing financial or legal insight. I decided that Mertz’s high school yearbook belonged in the Personal series rather than with her other writings even though it features Mertz’s poetry because I felt it told more about her personal life than about her career, the latter of which was the main focus for the writings-based series in the collection.

A diorama of an office in a wooden box with miniatures of Mertz’s works on a shelf above. Three ceramic miniature cats sit on the green carpeted floor next to a wooden basket of periodicals and a fourth cat climbs onto a desk with a teacup and a loose book. A sign at the bottom reads “Quiet Barbara Mertz Genius At Work!!!!”
This miniature diorama of Mertz’s office was created and sent to Mertz by an unknown artist. The bookshelves feature miniature copies of Mertz’s many works as well as those of her friends. The four miniature cats wreaking havoc, the wooden basket containing reference materials and a Peters novel, the knitting project on the chair and the liquor bottle on the desk are all a delightful (and I assume accurate) touch.

This series more than any other felt like a snapshot of a life, from the “Items from Barbara Happy Board in kitchen” folder that held photographs of friends and other ephemera presumably hung in Mertz’s kitchen to the two physical card catalogs of her personal library. These physical items represent a complex, well-lived life just as much as the birth certificate and memorials, offering insight into Mertz’s daily experience and interests. It can be difficult to remember the person behind the papers when processing a collection, either because of the creator’s immense success and impact or simply because the majority of daily archival work deals with papers as objects to sort rather than as representations of humanity, so the Personal series is often a very grounding reminder of the creator’s presence in the collection for me.

Open snap case with green felt lining, containing five metal tools used for drafting
Mertz used this set of drafting tools in her Egyptology work, including some of her coursework.

Photographs If there is a significant portion of photographs in a collection (for me, this constitutes more than one or two folders’ worth), I will often separate them and create a Photographs series because of the handling and use differences of this type of material. Photographs are some of the only types of items in an archival collection that require gloves to handle due to the ease of fingerprint and oil transference, so grouping them together physically can help accommodate the handling differences from other parts of the collection. In addition, negatives, slides, and other visual formats require special equipment to view, so keeping them together can (hopefully) save patrons and users time and labor.

Three unknown men and Barbara Mertz in black and white, sitting under an overexposed lamp and smoking
This photo, ca. 1948, comes from a series of candids that highlights the male-dominated field of Egyptology, as she is often the only woman (or one of two) in the photo.

It can be difficult to describe photographs given the lack of labels or captions for the most part, and it’s much harder to make assumptions on what an item is and how to describe it with photographs than, say, with typescripts or other materials that have set formats and context clues (titles, character names, etc.) as to their contents. Luckily, Mertz and Kristen Whitbread’s labeling and organization once again saved me a great deal of time and effort (thank you to everyone who labels and dates their photos on the back!). On the other end of the spectrum, I once processed a collection with several boxes’ worth of loose photographs, none of which had labels or any kind of organization; I ended up separating them by content (“creator and friends,” “friends and family,” “creator and wife,” etc.), which was effective but also required me to learn and recognize the face of the creator across 80-plus years of life (along with the faces of his many wives) in order to identify and properly sort each photograph. The main creator and subject of this collection also happened to be a nudist, which was both beneficial in giving me more features to compare and attempt to assign the photo a date range and disconcerting because of how many cumulative hours I probably spent looking at their genitals as part of my job.

Mertz, dressed in a white lace dress with a bonnet, looks off into the distance while standing outside. A spotted cat walks behind her
I greatly respect and admire Mertz’s devotion to cats and their frequent inclusion in her promotional photos, as seen in these fantastically dramatic Barbara Michaels publicity shots.
Mertz, wearing a straw hat with a large flower adornment, looks at the camera while holding a fluffy cat in both hands

While it’s difficult to pick a favorite photo or album, the pet photos were definitely some of my favorites. This was another very humanizing set of materials – regardless of how talented and successful Mertz was, her cats still knocked things off ledges and got into mischief. These photos also helped to put faces to the names (and tufts of hair) I’d discovered throughout the collection.

Mertz, dressed in a red Victorian suit and pith helmet, stands on a small bridge in front of a gazebo with one foot up on the wooden railing and her hand against her forehead in a surveying fashion, looking off into the distance
Mertz wears a historically accurate outfit similar to what Amelia Peabody-Emerson, the heroine of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, might wear, complete with pith helmet and bloomers.
Mertz sits at a writing desk with her foot up on the table while smoking and looking away, a glass of gin in her hand. Two cats stand in front of a computer in the background
This photo of Mertz smoking at her writing desk with a glass of Tangueray and several cats encapsulates the persona I came to know during my processing of the collection.
Page from a photo album labeled “Scotland Yard – Winnetka, Ill. May ‘87” in red ink in the middle of the page. Above photo is black and white view into a bookstore window where signs advertising a visit from Elizabeth Peters are prominently featured along with a pith helmet and many copies of Peters’s books. Below photo is black and white shot of Mertz smiling and pretending to swoon while looking at a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes
The numerous signs announcing an Elizabeth Peters visit at Scotland Yard Books, Ltd., complete with pith helmet and a selection of her extensive published works, illustrates the widespread popularity and appeal of Mertz’s writings.

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