By Allie Hitchcock, recent Indiana University graduate
Indiana University undergraduate students Allie Hitchcock and Sara Miller began their research on Samuel McClure and McClure’s Magazine after a class visit to the Lilly Library with J450: History of Journalism. They went on to present their work at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication/American Journalism Historians Association joint conference in March 2018. In this post, Allie Hitchcock recounts their research experience.
McClure’s Magazine is remembered in journalism history for being one of the most influential publications to lead the muckraking movement, now more commonly known as investigative reporting. My classmate Sara Miller and I first got interested in McClure’s as students in Media School professor Mike Conway’s Journalism History class and were thrilled to learn that we could learn more about the magazine right here on campus at the Lilly Library.
For such an influential magazine, it was interesting to learn that McClure’s struggled through a slow death: Samuel McClure tried to revive it, rename it and rebrand it to no avail over a more than two-decade span.
Spending the bulk of our research right in the Lilly Library’s reading room, we read through hundreds of documents between Samuel McClure and the people closest to him to try to understand where this failure came from and how a publication so important to journalism history could struggle so hard.
By seeing McClure’s correspondences with the people around him, we were able to pull out three key conclusions regarding the magazine’s failure, tying back to three key layers of stakeholders in the magazine’s success: grassroots writers on McClure’s staff, editors including McClure himself, and the magazine’s publisher Moody B. Gates.
These three layers of constituents had three distinctly different images for the magazine’s needs, priorities and future. Trying to appease all groups brought on instability and challenges to keep the publication’s high level of quality and output in investigative reporting.
It was really interesting to see how candid the people surrounding McClure, in both his personal life and professional life, were. These letters were written more than a century ago, but the frustrations and concerns McClure’s family and coworkers had with him and with the future of the publication spoke volumes.
Both financial and editorial concerns came into play. In one letter, McClure’s publisher Gates wrote about keeping the lights off in the office building at night. In another, Rudyard Kipling encouraged McClure to try to keep his visions more narrow, as spreading himself too thin could hurt the magazine as a whole. In one, McClure’s son Robert urged his father not to trust his gut with editorial decisions but to listen more to his staff.
It became clear in reading these correspondences that Samuel McClure had a range of concerns at hand, and failing to respond to them all is unsurprising – the demand was massive.
Our research came to fruition in March 2018 when I got to travel to New York City and present these findings at the Joint Journalism and Communications HIstory Conference, co-hosted by journalism associations AEJMC and AJHA. It was an amazing opportunity to get feedback on this work and to meet with other journalism historians, and I’m looking forward to continuing our research.
Years ago, when the IU Bloomington Libraries first started using Encoded Archival Description (EAD) to describe archival and manuscript collections, staff at the Lilly Library began to encode newly acquired collections in EAD. Other collections got EAD finding aids as time allowed. There were still descriptions of all the collections on the Lilly Library web site, even if they weren’t encoded in the modern standard.
When the Lilly Library debuted its new request system in January 2016, the fact that more than 1,200 collections were not encoded in EAD became much more inconvenient. Library users can make requests directly from EAD finding aids; other requests had to be input manually.
So, with the help of colleagues in the IUB Libraries Digital Collections Services (DCS) unit, we devised a plan of attack. Nick Homenda of DCS wrangled our web site data into a basic EAD template. Then a small team of graduate students and Lilly Library staff worked to expand those finding aids.
We started with collections containing fewer than 100 items, in which an item could be a photograph, scrapbook, letter, or even a lock of hair. Drawing from both the web site’s (sometimes brief) descriptions and any relevant documentation in the library files – which might contain a preliminary inventory, or documents related to the acquisition, provenance, and organization of the collection itself – we described and encoded more than 700 finding aids over the past year, more than doubling the number of collections that are retrievable through the Lilly Library Request System. Explore the new collections in Archives Online at IU.
While these are not new collections and, as with all Lilly Library manuscripts, have been open for research since their acquisition, the process of researching, examining, describing, and inventorying these collections has led us to rediscover several unique and intriguing collections.
This project is far from over, but it seems like a good time to celebrate our progress and to thank everyone who has helped with the project so far: Madison Chartier, Haley Suby, Ava Dickerson, Nick Homenda, Mahaley Evans, John Henry Adams, Julie Hardesty, Craig Simpson, Erica Hayes, and Elizabeth Peters. Thank you!!
Here’s one of the collections we have had since the 1990s. Now it is easier than ever to search and request! Look for more of our “rediscovered” collections on Instagram this summer!
In April 1928, Professor Max Jessner embarked with eight German and eight Soviet medical researchers on a three-month expedition, officially dubbed the Soviet-German Syphilis Expedition, to Kul’skoe in the Buriat-Mongolian Autonomous Republic of the USSR. There, they hoped to study the syphilis epidemic ravaging the area, test the effectiveness of Salvarsan (an anti-syphilitic drug), and bolster political relations. The Jessner mss. includes six albums of photographs depicting members of the expedition and Mongolian culture, most captioned in German.
By Ava Dickerson, Lilly Library Manuscripts Archivist
Known for his 1981 film Excalibur–a retelling of the legend of King Arthur starring Helen Mirren, Nigel Terry, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart among others – John Boorman continued to explore his interest in Arthurian legend in Knight’s Castle, an unrealized project based on the children’s novel of the same name by Edward Eager. Despite the film’s abandonment in the early 2000s, the project’s documentation offers a glimpse into Boorman’s interpretation of the subject for a younger audience. According to the synopsis Boorman wrote to send to prospective child actors, when Roger and Ann’s father is diagnosed with a mysterious illness, the two children are sent to live with their uncle John in a “creepy Victorian Gothic house.” There, they discover an exact replica of the home in the form of a dollhouse and a set of metal Arthurian figurines. Once asleep, Roger–and, later, Ann and their cousin Eliza–travel to the land of Robin Hood and Merlin, where only the discovery of Excalibur can save King Richard, who also happens to be the children’s father.
Because the film’s production had progressed so far before its abandonment, it offers a well-developed look into the numerous stages of planning–and costs–that constitute the creation of a feature-length film. Every aspect of filming, from developing the film itself to renting cars for cast members, adds to the project’s expenses, and the collection meticulously documents the cast and crew’s financial and contractual negotiations. The correspondence and documentation relating to casting is particularly revealing when trying to capture Boorman’s unrealized vision for the project. Early in the casting process, Boorman wrote to Colin Firth and Kenneth Brannagh regarding their interest in playing King Richard and King John respectively; though the papers do not include their responses, the later potential cast list marks them as “uninterested” and Tim Roth becomes lead candidate for King John’s role. The casting correspondence includes a handwritten letter from a young girl asking Boorman for a role in the film. Accompanied by a glowing testimonial from her tutor at the Young Gaiety School of Acting and a Third Place certificate for a 1998 debate competition to demonstrate her merits, these papers offer a reminder of the intended audience of the project. Five thick folders of CVs sent to Boorman illustrate the interest the project had generated before its cancellation, including a letter from an actor who felt entitled to a role in the film due to his involvement in the Society of Creative Anachronism, a reenactment group that focuses on medieval Europe.
The thick file of costume research materials offers a more visual representation of Boorman’s intentions for Knight’s Castle and falls mainly into two thematic categories: illustrations of Robin Hood and chess sets/miniatures. The costume sketches clearly draw upon these resources while also adding in the more modern features dictated by the story’s development. In the latter half of the plot, the medieval dreamscape becomes interspersed with 20th century elements, leading to a need for eclectic costumes that blend plate mail and 1980’s streetwear. The contrast between these two costume styles parallels the contrast between this section of Boorman’s manuscripts and the other projects represented in his papers. In addition to its unfinished status (despite nearly completing pre-production, according to its documentation) amidst Boorman’s dozens of realized films, Knight’s Castle presents Boorman’s interpretation of Arthurian legend from a child’s perspective, diverging from Excalibur’s mature tone while retaining the subject matter.
The Boorman archive contains several iconic pieces of costumes, including the shoes worn by Lee Marvin in Point Blank and the breastplate worn by Helen Mirren in Excalibur. Although Knight’s Castle was never filmed, the archive contains a child-sized pair of glow-in-the-dark pajamas, purchased from The Gap and intended for use in (or perhaps inspiration for a yet-to-be-made costume) for the film’s protagonist.
Learn more about the Boorman archive and request materials for research through our online finding aid.
By Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator, IU Libraries Preservation
The Paper Conservation unit of the IU Libraries E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab recently treated a series of paintings from the Allen Mss. Collection at the Lilly Library. These 28 paintings arrived in a loose stack, water damaged, tattered and sooty and in need of repair. Accompanying the paintings was the front board and endsheet of a portfolio that likely held them in the past. On it were the words “Chinese Punishments. – on rice paper” tooled in gold.
The paintings depict various tortures and punishments of criminals, often graphic in nature, done in water-based opaque paints on a paper of Chinese origin (though likely not made of rice). Broadly speaking, these works are termed Export Art, which although sometimes used pejoratively, nevertheless reflects an interesting period in time.
Though they vary in size, each painting is roughly 10 x 13 inches. It is difficult to date them based on stylistic traits or media- these sorts of works were created by workshops in coastal cities of China in often production-line settings, with designs changing very little over time. My best guess is the end of the 18th century, but maybe well into the 19th.
After each painting was photographed and given an arbitrary working number and title, we began the treatment by surface cleaning as much as practically possible, given the fragile nature of the paper with its numerous tears and creases prior to an initial round of humidification and pressing. Humidification (ie. very careful introduction of moisture) allows us to open up fragile creases and then press them to restore the paper to a more planar state. If cleaning is not done beforehand, one runs the risk of water turning fine soot deposits into an ersatz ink and working it into the paper support.
After pressing and cleaning, we could take a closer look at the condition of the items. It was observed that the paper itself did not suffer much from discoloration or heavy staining. That, combined with the water-soluble nature of some of the colors used, led this conservator to decide not to wash the paintings further, but instead move on to repairing the tears to allow for safer access and handling. Because of the translucent nature of the thin paper, conventional mends with wheat starch and light-to-medium weight Japanese repair tissues would have shown through to the front when viewing. Instead, we used a very light tissue pre-coated in the lab with an adhesive called sodium carboxymethyl cellulose. It was reactivated with water and applied to the backs of the works, for an almost invisible mend. After mending, we were able to follow with another course of surface cleaning now that the paper had been strengthened, as well as another round of humidification and flattening. Application of hinges and storage within window mats and custom constructed clamshell boxes completed the treatment.
Interestingly, one side treatment that was performed on several paintings involved the chemical ‘reversal’ of darkened lead white paint as these before and after photos show.
While working with these paintings we began to wonder about their creation and the audience for which they were painted. After all, torture scenes are not something one generally wants to frame and hang over the mantel, and most export art of this time featured quaint scenes of peasants involved in industry, people sipping tea extolling Confucian virtues, or lovely bird and flower pairings. Some time spent online revealed that these very images (well, probably not our set, but identical ones from the same workshop) were used to generate English engravings of the same scenes published in 1801 as “The Punishments of China” by George Henry Mason.
The pieces began to assemble to reveal a very interesting exchange between East and West occurring around this time in the port cities of China. Western merchants and military personnel would dock in these ports and buy artwork to take back home. The Chinese artists found that certain images would sell better than others, particularly those that reflected what Westerners felt China should look like as well as their tastes and styles. Combine this with a growing movement seeking prison reform and changes to criminal justice systems in England and France at the time, and we can see how torture imagery could become a popular seller. A fascinating delve into this period can be found within the book “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” by Brook, et al., which examines Western views and interpretations of the Chinese legal system during the late Qing Dynasty. In it, the authors state that Mason “advised the reader that he had been careful not to include pictures that could be thought of as ‘committing an indecorous violence on the feelings.’” Indeed, the 1801 edition lacks the content of several illustrations that our precursor contains- notably bare buttocks and female frontal nudity. Mason’s volume was produced from images that weren’t purely Chinese to begin with, and then manipulated in such a way through a team of engravers and additional text commentary to produce a product suited to Western audiences of the time. Research reveals such imagery continued to have use well into the 20th century to justify goals of American, European and Japanese foreign policy.
It is not often that we delve into the background of a collection item so thoroughly, as library conservators, but when we do, fascinating stories reveal themselves.
Miranda Wojciechowski is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English at Indiana University. She recently curated an online exhibition on Isabel de Giberne Sieveking, a project which began as part of Professor Christoph Irmscher’s course on “The Modern Archive,” taught at the Lilly Library in the Spring of 2017.
Isabel de Giberne Sieveking shines out as a fascinating figure buried beneath the remaining manuscript materials of her son, Lancelot Sieveking, a BBC radio announcer during WWII. Isabel emerges as a patchwork of compelling, and at times paradoxical, identities: a militant suffragette in a rural English village, a fervent public speaker and columnist for women’s rights and education, a historical biographer, an author and critic of literary fiction, an extensive traveler of English countryside and European continent alike, a rebellious but sweet Victorian child, an active correspondent devoted to female friendships, a Catholic wife, mother, and, at the very least, an object of passionate lesbian desire.
Like many archival recoveries, Isabel’s simultaneously vibrant presence amongst her rich collection of writings and her gaping absence in histories recorded elsewhere defies true recovery. Her obituary, and the occasional interview, in her local newspaper, The Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer, gives us the brief outline of what comprises a historically lost life. She was born in 1857 to George and Maria Giberne and died in May 1936 after an apparently long and painful illness. As for the nearly seventy decades in between, she was to be remembered at once as a paradigm of devoutly religious motherhood and as an anti-marriage suffragette with a “casual attitude towards fire.”
These paradoxical accounts of Isabel’s intertwined personal and political selves present a history of major social transformation beyond the coherently declared ideologies of their representative leaders and organizers. The archival reader, piecing together a lifetime of private and public writings, begins to construct a portrait of the political as an amalgam of ordinary lives of questions and contradictions lived out in their criticism and activism.
Isabel’s privately affectionate marriage and her strident anti-marriage crusading provide one such generative ambivalence. In 1891, a 33-year-old Isabel married the 25-year-old merchant, Edward Sieveking. While very little record of their relationship or even of Edward himself exists, the one letter in the collection penned by Isabel herself (and addressed to “dear Ted”) reveals a tender, albeit restrained, affection between the two.
Many more letters document her passionate friendships and relationships with women, including a series of romantic declarations from the nanny of her children, Gwendoline Edwards. Several such letters offer anecdotes about other women’s marital problems and raise broader questions about these issues through which it’s easy to hear early echoes of suffragette solutions. On July 3, 1902, for example, Gwendoline writes of a mutual acquaintances’ blunders:
[Miss Mole] told me a lot about Mrs. Goodwin- how the marriage had wrecked her happiness- and how she was fighting to get back to Miss Mole. . .Why do people rush into these things and regret it afterwards- I suppose Mrs. G thought like so many more, that it would be so much more than it is- Miss Mole told me too that she had refused several men because she had nothing like the love she had for Miss Bevis to offer to any of them.
From this bit of gossip regarding Mrs. Goodwin’s failed relationship with her new husband and her interrupted fulfilling one with Miss Mole, Gwendoline forms a simple questioning of a conventional given. Why sacrifice an intimate and fulfilling connection to an expected institution? This question comes up repeatedly in her other letters, as her family, unknowingly, urges her to give up her love for Isabel (and the freedom of her single state) for the financial and social security of a passionless marriage.
Connecting these personal questions to the lives of others, Gwendoline here performs the initial work of the suffragette movement on the ground in her private letters. She ruminates on the havoc wrecked by carefully cultivated female ignorance of martial realities and the equally carefully cultivated lack of companionship between the sexes nearly a decade before her correspondent and confidant, Isabel, attempts to resolve these issues in her political writings. In her article “The Celibate Englishwoman,” published in the July 12, 1913 issue of the suffragette magazine The Awakener, Isabel argues that marriage cannot satisfy women’s needs for close companionship. Converting commonplace issues in women’s lives to critical examination and proposed solutions, Isabel asserts that proper education was beginning to substitute women’s retrospective regrets with their informed and self-fulfilling choices, an “ignorance taken advantage of…innocence abused” with an “illimitable power” and the “practically boundless. . . horizons” of a “life [that]. . .can fulfill all [their] aspirations.”
Through the mingling of journals, letters exchanged between friends and lovers, and suffragette tracts, the Sieveking collection intricately illustrates how ideas about gender played out in the everyday Victorian and Edwardian life and how the mundane routines and relationships of these daily lives impacted the platforms of early feminist movements. At the same time, reflections on Isabel’s “Life of Service” (The Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer) within the collections illuminate the individual life as a site on which seamless narratives of socio-political movements break down. Isabel’s correspondence, from which her own voice remains largely absent, radically builds an archive of communal experiences from personal exchanges. Similarly, Isabel Sieveking’s activist writings challenge narratives of progressive movements as centralized in urban London. The work of Emmeline Pankhurst in Royal Albert’s Hall multiplies into that of participants of public meetings in Hollington, Ore Village, Mount Pleasant, and St. Leonard’s, a sprawling network rather than a single point of origin. Indeed, the work of this unknown individual illuminates the widespread existence of rural radicals, as well as national and international communities held together by a complex web of yearning questions, grievances, desires, and political investments.
When I was writing my biography of the writer, ex-socialist, and poet Max Eastman, one character kept pushing herself into the foreground—his second wife Eliena Krylenko. There was a reason. Eastman, one of the most flamboyant figures among the Greenwich Village radicals, had plenty of charisma. But everyone who met Eliena agreed that she outshone him. Her papers and artwork at the Lilly Library allow us to piece together a life worth remembering. Eliena was small but athletic, even muscular, exuding an aura of easy confidence wherever she went. Born in Lublin, Poland, on May 4, 1895, to exiled Russian parents, she spoke English fluently, well enough at any rate to crack jokes, often at her own expense. Her family background was spectacular: she was the sister of Stalin’s Prosecutor General, Nikolai Krylenko, whose blood-soaked career left a permanent imprint on the twentieth century. One of the things for which Nikolai is justly famous is his observation that it was important to execute not just the guilty but also the innocent. Eventually, what Nikolai had started caught up with him, too, as it did with all other members of Eliena’s family: in 1938, after a trial lasting only 20 minutes, he was unceremoniously shot. Eliena’s grief for her brother was limited: “You died in silence, bruised and defamed, / By your own error, not by their deceit,” she wrote in a sonnet she dedicated to his memory (“They,” of course, were the Stalinists).
Max had met Eliena in 1922, when she was attending the Genoa conference as a member of the staff of Maxim Litvinov, the First Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet regime. As Max remembered later, Eliena, intrigued by the handsome American, made the first move. Their on-again, off-again affair continued in Moscow, where they finally lived together. In the summer of 1924, getting ready to return home, Max somewhat diffidently agreed to marry Eliena, who had found herself under increasing political pressure. Being able to leave the Soviet Union likely saved her life. If the naturally promiscuous Max thought their vows were a formality, he was in for a surprise: Eliena was and remained fiercely committed to their marriage. She moved to Croton-on-Hudson with Max, and although her primary source of information about American culture had been Huckleberry Finn, which her father used to read to her, she settled easily into her new life. A lawyer by training, she took painting lessons, learned to drive, taught language classes in New York, and made herself available as a translator, later helping her husband with the massive task of rendering Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution into English.
Helped by funds from Reader’s Digest, the Eastmans acquired property on Martha’s Vineyard. Eliena managed their rental income, keeping a watchful eye over all expenses. No tenant got away with anything; a letter survives in which she instructs their local agent to make sure that the tenants paid cash even for the light bulbs they ordered. She also offered free instruction in interpretive dance to the Vineyard children. As a painter, Eliena was cautious and conservative, combining an interest in finely observed detail with a good sense for atmosphere and mood. A lovely charcoal drawing from a pad she carried with her on a trip to Cuba reveals her quick eye for scenery: a hazy beach scene, with a freighter looming in the background, dominated by the sheer endless ocean that renders everything else indistinct, including the faceless adults and children pursuing their different activities—playing in the water, sitting in the sand, picking something up, or just standing there, staring. One cannot really tell where the beach ends and the water begins.
To his credit, Max did what he could to further Eliena’s artistic career, including helping pay for a trip to France in the summer of 1953, when Eliena exhibited her work in a gallery in Paris. Eliena, in turn, defended him when his former friends criticized him for his apparent defection to the right side of the political spectrum. But she reserved special condemnation for those of Max’s lovers who, disappointed that his main loyalty was to Eliena, publicly maligned him. In the letters the couple exchanged, the code word for Max’s affairs was “seizures”—nothing bad, episodes that would pass, a blip on the all-encompassing horizon of their love.
It seems difficult now to understand Eliena’s devotion to a man who, in many ways, didn’t seem to deserve it. An extraordinarily tender, unpublished poem by Eliena from the early 1950s that has survived among Max’s papers perhaps sheds some light on the situation. In “To Max,” Eliena evokes a walk she took with Max across the shimmering moors. They ended up next to a spring:
Wild roses grew there, pink and innocent, although full
Of nasty thorns, and dark green spearmint, cool
And fragrant, and a tall leafy weed, the like of which, I think,
I never saw before. It had bell-shaped small
Gold blossoms and pale-green suede-like leaves.
Ever the naturalist, Max readily identifies the plant, a beautiful orange-blossomed annual species native to North America, which is indeed common in bottomland soils, ditches, and along creeks. Also known as “touch-me-not,” since its seedpods explode when lightly touched, the plant derives its name from the fact that the leaves will assume a silvery shine when held under water. Max had known it since he was a child.
“It’s Jewel-weed,” you said and bending over,
The round crystal pool, the clearest mirror,
In which your face so dear appeared reflected,
You dipped a slender branch of it in water …
What follows is an epiphany Eliena applies to her relationship with Max, in a fashion that will perhaps seem unappealing to the sophisticated reader of poetry. But this poem was not intended to be a literary artifact. Instead, it is an intimate declaration of love, as fragile and as powerful and complex as the moment it commemorates:
Gay with a happy wonder, laughingly I watched
Enchanting miracle—that dull simple reed
Transformed in shining, sparkling work of jade and silver,
Aquiver with a million multicolored gems;
And then I watched your lovely lips and eyes,
Over which ripples moved, gentle and timid,
And thought—“You are the pool, and I that Jewel-weed.”
At first, the poem’s conclusion might seem too meek and mild, with Eliena, the jewel-weed, admitting that she needs Max, her crystal pool, to shine. But such a reading forgets that, in the context of the analogy she has created, Eliena is the multicolored miracle, the hidden, explosive source of wonder, light, and power, while Max is merely the mirror in which she finds herself reflected.
Eliena died on October 9, 1956, at their shared Vineyard home, in view of her beloved ocean and in Max’s arms, after a painful bout with ovarian cancer. “I love you so very much,” were Max’s final words to her. “I am so very glad you do,” Eliena responded. Max was left behind, in the shadows.
Note: This essay uses material from Eastman Mss. II and Eliena Eastman Mss., both held by the Lilly Library. It appears here by permission of the executor of the Eastman estate, Breon Mitchell. Eliena’s story is told more fully in my biography of Max Eastman, Max Eastman: A Life, just out from Yale University Press.
By Katherine Reed, PhD candidate, University of Manchester
August 23, 2017 is the 90th anniversary of the executions of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Accused of a crime they probably did not commit, in the midst of the Red Scare, their case became a liberal cause célèbre in the 1920s. Having Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, H.G. Wells and Albert Einstein on their side turned out not to be enough to save them from the electric chair. However, the fact remains that they inspired remarkable support. It helped their cause that Vanzetti was a charismatic wordsmith. Perfecting his English in prison, he wrote hundreds of letters and impressed visitors with his eloquence. His most famous statement, made in 1927, ended: “Our words – our lives – our pains – nothing! The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler – all! That last moment belongs to us – that agony is our triumph!”
At first, the words were erroneously and emotively attributed to a speech Vanzetti had made in court. Publicity materials produced by the Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee, and the first edition of the prison letters, claimed he had said it to the Judge on the day the death sentence was pronounced. Its origins were in fact in an interview by the reporter Philip Stong who met with Sacco and Vanzetti at Dedham Jail in the spring of 1927. At the time, Stong claimed he had added nothing except exclamation marks. Despite this, scholars have taken the famous spiel with a pinch of salt (Russell, 1962: 388). Although Vanzetti was indubitably eloquent, there has been a general inkling that the statement must have been polished up for print. Tucked away in the Lilly Library archive is a fascinating letter by Philip Stong which breaks down, sentence by sentence, which words came verbatim from Vanzetti (or at least, were scribbled down fairly accurately in a hotel room later) and which had benefitted from journalistic fairy dust. Perhaps predictably, the most famous phrase of all – “a good shoemaker and a poor fishpeddler” – was a fiction. The letter, dated July 16, 1928, was written to the author Upton Sinclair who was researching a novel about the case.
Having achieved fame with the muck-raking The Jungle back in 1906, Upton Sinclair had won good reviews for Oil! in 1927 and intended to cement his literary reputation with an ambitious “contemporary historical novel” about Sacco and Vanzetti (Sinclair, 1929: 5). Sinclair pestered everyone involved in the case for facts and insights. Phil Stong was responding to such a plea. It is notable that when younger writers wrote to Sinclair they often tried to impress him with their prose. Their missives, strewn throughout the Lilly Library’s Upton Sinclair collection, are littered with gaudy sentences, flattery and the swagger of swear words. Phil Stong’s letter, although in the same genre (he praises Sinclair as “a fine artist”), transcends this. As a writer, he clearly had talent to burn. It is hard to dislike someone who describes themselves thus: “I was 28 at the time, blondish but not blonde, German face, rather horsey but well-fed, six feet and a trifle plus, 194 pounds, well-groomed that day owing to being on an expense account.” Sinclair nabbed whole sentences from the letter for use in his novel, including the jokes.
Phil Stong had visited Sacco and Vanzetti during a strange Indian summer of their imprisonment. Having been, after years of appeals, finally sentenced to death, they were allowed such luxuries as an hour a day playing bocce in the yard. During most of their imprisonment, the men had been in separate jails. For these few months, they were together in Dedham, a gaol made to sound rather picturesque by visiting writers. John Dos Passos described it as “airy, full of sunlight…a preposterous complicated canary cage” (Dos Passos, 1927: 69). Stong later reminisced that, “It is odd to speak of a prison as pleasant, but this one was” (Leighton, 1949: 185). During the interview, both the reporter and the two men were far too polite to mention the electric chair. The thought was ever-present nonetheless. Stong said that Vanzetti’s famous statement, or a version of it, was intended to comfort him.
In shaping the words for a newspaper audience, Stong admits that he might have “got that last bit a little more oratorical than Bart made it” but the gist was the same. A few liberties were necessary to “inject that humility and simplicity that was in his presence into my story.” He wrote to Sinclair, “I will confess to you, what you will not let anyone else learn, that Bart said it, somehow more simply, more powerfully and touchingly.” Here is the annotated version of Vanzetti’s statement, which Phil Stong gave Sinclair, based on his notes from the day:
“If it had not been for these thing,” says Vanzetti, “I might have live out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure.” (Note how he recalls himself from his personal determination and includes Sacco, now. I remember this distinctly.) “Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triomph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for joostice, for man’s onderstanding of man, as we do by an accident.
(This is approximate and you may take liberties with it.) “Our words – our lives – our pain – nothing! The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fishpeddler – all!”
(This is exact): “The moment you think of belong to us – that agony is our triomph.”
Then they shook hands and went back to their cells.
Katherine Reed is a History PhD student from the University of Manchester who took part in the John Rylands Research Institute/Lilly Library Doctoral Research and Training Program in 2017. Read more about the program here.
Avrich, Paul. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Dos Passos, John. Facing the Chair. Boston: Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee, 1927.
Leighton, Isabel, ed. The Aspirin Age 1919-1941. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949.
Russell, Francis. Tragedy in Dedham. London: Longmans, 1962.
Sacco, Nicola and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The Letters of Sacco & Vanzetti. London: Penguin Books, 1997.
Sinclair, Upton. Boston. London: T. Werner Laurie Ltd., 1929.
Tejada, Susan. In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012.
What would you say if you had the chance to write to Kurt Vonnegut? The Vonnegut Manuscript Collection at the Lilly Library includes many letters from fans who took the leap and reached out to Vonnegut during his lifetime. The collection contains four boxes of general correspondence (Boxes 1-3 and 26, described in the Finding Aid) with the bulk of the fan letters spanning from 1970s until the time of Kurt Vonnegut’s death in 2007. Interspersed among routine business and publication agreements are hundreds of fan letters. Many come from Vonnegut readers who surprised themselves with an almost overwhelming impulse to write to the author. Many of these fans admit that they never thought they would write a fan letter.
A fan from Virginia wrote on September 30, 1976, “In my copy of Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (Opinions) I found a letter from you. It looked very much like a personal letter, not because it was written to me alone; but because you shared personal facts and viewpoints with your readers. I usually like to answer my personal letters and so felt inclined to answer the one from you.”
On September 13, 1977, a fan in Ohio wrote, “I realize this is a very candid letter and from a total stranger, and such things can be embarrassing, but I wanted to write anyway.”
A reader from California wrote on March 28, 1981, “This is a fan letter. I am forty-six years old and this is the first fan letter I have ever written, so I might not be very good at it. Please bear with me.”
In the eyes of his fans, Kurt Vonnegut was a friend, a confidant, someone to ask for writing advice, someone to pitch ideas to, an insider in a club of like-minded individuals, a lifesaver, and a light in dark times. Fans often quoted Vonnegut’s own phrases back to him as though they were inside jokes between friends. They also opened up to him about personal matters such as near-death experiences, illness, loneliness, and writer’s block. It is clear that fans felt an intimate connection with Kurt Vonnegut through his novels and other writings.
On December 3, 1975, one fan wrote, “I find myself addicted to your writing; I find your stuff written just for me. How is it, then, that we could be on such intimate terms – you know the stuff I’ve hidden away between my ears and you write for that audience exclusively […]?”
Some children and teenagers also wrote to Vonnegut in an attempt to solicit help with English class assignments. In one particularly amusing example, on September 22, 1975 an enterprising student wrote, “I respectfully request an utterly profound statement in any one of your many areas of erudition, which will be both personally enlightening and also satisfy a requirement for my English class.”
People from diverse backgrounds wrote to Kurt Vonnegut. Fans include atheists and believers, teachers, students, people in the military, aspiring novelists and playwrights, and avid readers from outside the United States. The largest proportion of fan letters come from the 1970s, when Vonnegut’s popularity seems to have peaked. While we do not get to see photographs of most of the fans, one undated letter (almost certainly from the late 1970s or early 1980s) came with a photo of a high school book group who called themselves “Vonnegut Freaks.”
The collection does not include many examples of letters from Vonnegut back to his fans until the later years of his life, but some of these later letters demonstrate an engaging correspondence between Vonnegut and his fans. There are some touching moments. For example, Vonnegut’s own handwritten note in the upper margin of a letter dated June 10, 1997 indicates that he received this letter back from an ailing teacher to whom he had written a note of encouragement. In another example, we see evidence that Vonnegut corresponded with a prisoner at a correctional facility in Michigan. Kurt Vonnegut’s kindness to his fans is palpable in letters such as these.
Delving into the collection as part of my PhD research on immigration history, I came across an intriguing list of folk remedies recounted by a first-generation Italian immigrant named Angelina Flaccadori O’Berti. Born in Bergamo, in Northern Italy, Mrs. O’Berti came to the United States at age 27 in around 1908. Although not trained in medicine, she was “an indispensable friend to everyone in the neighborhood” because of her skills in midwifery and practical nursing. Moreover, the field notes, taken by researcher Aili Johnson, comment that Mrs. O’Berti was “a gifted teller of tales.” During the interview, Mrs. O’Berti went into her garden and collected some of the herbs needed for the cures – malva, bitter grass and tansy – which 70 years later are still taped to the page.
Here are some of Mrs. O’Berti’s suggested remedies (these are not endorsed by the Lilly Library!):
Removing warts requires patience. First, rub with salted pork. Second, tie a string around the wart. Third, bury the string. Once the string has rotted, the wart will go.
Painful boils should be smeared with honey.
Her teacher, back in the 1890s, used to trap scorpions he saw in the classroom (“very carefully with the coal tongs lest he get bitten”) and soak them in a jar of olive oil. After several years, the oil would thicken. This was used as a lotion for cuts.
Laundry soap rubbed on a sty “brings it to a head.”
Mrs O’Berti had a robust faith in garlic (“even the smell of garlic will kill pinworms”), while watered-down linseed could be used for both stomach complaints and hair setting lotion.
Katherine Reed is a History PhD student from the University of Manchester taking part in the John Rylands Research Institute/Lilly Library Doctoral Research and Training Programme. Read more about the exchange program here.
The Lilly Library’s French Literature Manuscript Collection is now entirely digitized and available to view online. You can search the collection and download images from our finding aid.
Unlike most of our manuscript collections, the material in this collection does not derive from a single collector but has been gathered over many years from many different sources. Digitized items in the collection range from ca. 1750 to 1977 and include over 1000 images from letters, drafts, and other literary material. A number of famous French authors are represented, including Charles Baudelaire, Jean Cocteau, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, George Sand, Jules Verne, Volaire, and many others.
Some of the most exciting items in the collection, however, are those which are not famous and which are rich with research potential. For example, an 18th-century unpublished feminist manuscript titled “Omelettes ou l’origine des Nouvelles Amazones” [Omelettes or the Origin of the New Amazons] recounts the tragic decline of amorous arts being foiled by the Goddess Discord by means of a treacherous omelette (served, as seen in the accompanying illustration, to some hapless men by a society of New Amazons).