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Discovering World War I at the History Center, Part 4: The Elsie Janis Memorabilia Collection

Jane Metters LaBarbara
November 9, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

On the 11th of this month of November, at 11:00 AM Paris time, will occur the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  America suffered casualties of over 115,000 in this conflict, making it the third costliest war in American history, following World War II (over 400,000) and the Civil War (750,000).  This sacrifice inspired President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to ask Americans to recognize “those who had died in the country’s service.”  In time, his moral injunction led to Congressional actions that ultimately established in 1957 Veterans Day as we know it today.

 

In times of relative peace, we of course recognize the service of those in the armed forces.  In times of war we aspire to more.  These aspirations often take the form of serving in hospitals, working in the arms industry, etc.  In addition to these activities of material support, however, are ones of moral support to the troops.  In the Second World War the United Service Organizations (USO), a nonprofit organization established by request of President Roosevelt in 1941, provided such support.  Although many entertainers answered the call, the comedian Bob Hope has become most identified with the USO, so much so that the organization is currently known as the “Bob Hope USO.”  He not only entertained during World War II, but also during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.  Lesser known and even forgotten, however, is Elsie Janis, a vaudeville star who also entertained troops, albeit during World War I.  Her rapport and connection to audiences of soldiers was so great that she was immortalized as “the sweetheart of the AEF” (American Expeditionary Force).  The History Center has recently acquired memorabilia regarding Elsie Janis, including photographs, clippings, and other material documenting both her vaudeville years and World War I service. 

 

Elsie Bierbower was born 16 March 1889 in Marion, Ohio, a small town 50 miles north of Columbus.  By age 2 she was already performing on stage, and by 11 she attained success on the vaudeville circuit as a headliner under the stage name of “Elsie Janis.”  Critical success led to engagements on Broadway and in London, including a number of hit Broadway shows, such as “The Vanderbilt Cup” (1906), “The Hoyden” (1907), “The Slim Princess” (1911), and “The Century Girl” (1916).

 

Our collection of memorabilia includes a number of items from this era:

 

Booklet "marketing" Elsie Janis as a child star, next to a photo of Elsie Janis

On left:  Booklet “marketing” Elsie Janis as a child star; 1900
On right:  A photograph of Janis as a character in “The Slim Princess”; ca. 1911
 (From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

Newspaper clipping about Elsie Janis, note card in her handwriting, and a portrait photo of her

Top left:  Newspaper article regarding her career,
indicating how she’s “smashing many box office records;” ca. 1912
Bottom left:  Note card with original manuscript by Janis from the
 “Davis Theatre” [in Pittsburgh]; March 1916
On Right:  Portrait photograph; undated
(From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

It was during a 1915 engagement in London that she stumbled into her vocation as an entertainer and morale booster of troops.  In the introduction to her 1919 autobiographical account of her war years titled “The Big Show:  My Six Months with the American Expeditionary Forces,” a compelling read of over 220 pages, she explains how this started.  “I played again at the Palace [in London], and now began my first real taste of war.  The wounded were coming home in thousands; the camps were full; and I spent every spare moment I had, and some I did not have, singing in hospitals and camps.  It was then I learned what a little amusing story or a song can mean to a man before he goes into a fight or after he has ‘got his.'”

 

When the United States declared war on 6 April 1917 she had a new resolution:  “From that time on I had but one idea, and that was to get to France and do for our boys what I had done for the others — for I thought, if the Tommies liked me in their own land and surrounded by their own families, what would our boys feel, three thousand miles away from home?”

 

Photo of Elsie Janis on the deck of an ocean liner

Elsie Janis on the deck of an ocean liner, likely sailing between the United States and England.
She tells us in “The Big Show” that she sailed to England on the Lusitania in January 1915.
Later that year, in May 1915, the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine,
a precipitating factor leading to America’s entry into World War I.
(From Library of Congress website.)

 

After she “started in at home” with “recruiting, playing benefits, and doing a ‘war-mad’ act in vaudeville, singing patriotic songs, etcetera” she set out for France in 1918.  Once in France she performed at military bases, hospitals, and even near the front lines, all the while meeting soldiers, officers, generals, and French people of all kinds.

 

Her narrative of these experiences appeared in her book “The Big Show,” a story enlivened by descriptive details and humor.  It also appeared in 1919 as installments in Hearst’s Magazine, along with many photographs that were not published in the related book; many of these installments were included in the collection of Janis memorabilia that was gifted to the History Center, and are sampled in this blog.

 

Outdoor photo of Elsie Janis meeting officers and generals of the AEF

Elsie Janis meeting officers and generals of the AEF.
This picture appeared in Part III, “Such Rain — Such Mud!” in Hearst’s Magazine; 1919.
(From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

 

In Part VI, “Exit Queen Nurse,” she tells many stories of her experiences in military hospitals, from which we will excerpt here.

 

Clipping of "Exit Queen Nurse!" by Elsie Janis

Beginning of Part VI as it appeared in Hearst’s Magazine; 1919.
(From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

“They were so crowded at the hospital that our poor boys were lying in the halls and in fact all over the place.  I did not think to put on a hospital face — which is that sort of ‘My poor boy, where were you wounded’ expression, and I’m afraid I was perhaps a bit dressy.  I remember thinking I was looking quite well, so when I bounded up to some very busy nurses and said I wanted to work in the wards I don’t think they quite understood my idea of ‘working’ in a ward.  Luckily the first person who listened to my plea stuck her head in the door of a ward which was filled with boys who had sung with me and laughed with me a month before ‘Somewhere up Front,’ and when she said, ‘Boys, would you like to see Miss Elsie Janis?’ she was answered by a mixture of yells that I am sure never were heard before in a hospital.”

 

Photo of Elsie Janis standing in front of a group of soldiers

Elsie Janis “Somewhere up Front.”
This picture appeared in Part VII, “I Meet General Pershing” in Hearst’s Magazine; 1919.
(From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

“I used to start by saying when I entered a ward, ‘Is there anyone in great pain here? because if there is, I won’t sing, as I don’t want them to blame it on my voice.’  And in the three weeks that I worked there every day, I never had one of them admit that he was in “great pain” three hours and four a day.  I shall try to write briefly some of the little sayings of the boys, but before I do, I want to say that I thought I had seen badly wounded men during my hospital work before, but I have never seen boys ‘shot to pieces’ like those boys were.  They had been really almost too brave.  I said to one boy who was so swathed in bandages that all I could see was one very nice blue eye, and the corner of one very strong American mouth, ‘Well, old dear, you certainly got yours, didn’t you?’  He said, ‘Yes, I did, but the last time I seen the Germans they was running up a hill.'”

“There was a very fussy and serious-minded nurse in one ward, who rather resented my existence.  I didn’t know of her until one day when I went in and over in a corner was one boy who was in great pain, I started leaping about as usual — and she came up to me saying, ‘Do be a little careful, poor John (pointing to the sufferer) is in great pain, and you might jar him.’  Whereupon said John lifted his aching head and spoke as follows:  ‘Aw!  Leave her alone.  She is the first real live thing I’ve seen since I hit this joint.  Go to it, Elsie,’ and I went to it.  Exit Queen Nurse, peevishly.”

“Those three weeks were about the happiest of my life.  I got to know the boys so well, made many real friends, and lost a few.  It got so the boys would promise the nurses not to make a fuss when they had their wounds dressed if she would promise to bring Elsie in.”

 

“I sang sometimes in as many as fifteen wards in a day.  I usually had a good cry when I got home, but my reward was in the fact that the boys wanted me, and it was with rather a heavy heart that I left them to go back to the Front, for it was rather up-hill work spurring our boys on after I had seen the results of a victorious battle.”

 

 

In addition to her hospital visits, she performed at the front under fire.  In Chapter II of her book we learn how she was able to acclimate herself to conditions of war.  It was during a dinner party with Anglo-French friends in Paris while German Gotha Bombers were raiding, a nightly event at that time:

 

“I think it was in the midst of the salade that the butler came and stood between the hostess and the gentleman on her left, and addressing them both, said: “The Gothas have arrived, my lady …. Will you have port, sir?”

 

“I looked at Mother, whose black eyes looked like shoe buttons in milk — and alive with expectancy, I let my gaze wander around the table, rather hoping to see one worried look.  But No! they were all toying with an unsuspecting peach Melba.  So I took a long breath and leapt onto mine as if it had been a German.  Remarks about other raids and how many were killed floated on cigarette smoke … Coffee was served.  I think I put salt in mine instead of sugar.”

 

“Someone went to the window and opened it.  The noise was deafening.  ‘They are here,’ said the window-opener.  ‘Listen, you can hear the planes.’  I swallowed my salted coffee and ran to the window.  Sure enough — ‘Brrr, brrr, brrr,’ sang the engines.  I forgot everything in my anxiety to see.”

 

“‘Pit pat, pit pat,’ something was falling like rain.  ‘Shrapnel,’ said the hostess.  ‘Boom! brrr– gush!’  ‘Une bombe,’ said a lady with no back in her dress.  I found myself wondering if she was not cold.”

 

Une bombe! and perhaps twenty souls hurled into eternity without a warning.  I came back to earth with a thud.  Mother’s hand was in mine and the guests had gone into the drawing-room, already bored by the monotony of the guns.  I squeezed Mother’s hand and said, ‘Well, dear, if our numbers are up, we will exit together.'”

 

“From that night I have never felt the slightest tremor even under fire at the Front.  I have always felt that so many nice people have left this earth lately that one would have as many if not more friends on the other side.  We went back into the drawing-room, where to the tune of the ‘Livery Stable Blues’ we danced through the rest of the raid, which lasted an hour and a quarter.”  [In passing, we can mention here that “Livery Stable Blues” is generally considered to be the first commercially released jazz recording.  It went on sale in March 1917, making jazz about one year old at that time, and about 100 years old in this time.]

 

Notes by Elsie Janis and portrait photo of her

Additional memorabilia in our collection:
Top left:  Note card with original manuscript by Janis; March 1916
Bottom left:  Note with original manuscript by Janis; 1941
On Right:  Portrait photograph; undated
(From collection A&M 4355, Clyde Cale, Collector, Memorabilia of Entertainer Elsie Janis.)

 

 

In this blog we have learned why Elsie Janis became an entertainer of American troops, how she was able to cope with conditions of war, and something about what she did for American soldiers in France during WWI.  It also provided a sampling of material from the Elsie Janis memorabilia collection at the History Center.

 

This blog is part of a continuing series commemorating the First World War.  See also:

 

Discovering WWI at the History Center, Part 1: The John A. Thorn Collection

Discovering WWI at the History Center, Part 2: The Elmer A. Walton Collection

Discovering WWI at the History Center, Part 3: The World War I Poster Collection

 

 

Sources consulted:

 

Wikipedia:
American Expeditionary Force
Bob Hope
Elsie Janis
Gotha Bombers
RMS Lusitania
United Service Organizations
Veterans Day

 

Internet Archive:
Book by Elsie Janie, “The Big Show”

 

 

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An Afternoon with Isaac Asimov: Talk and Exhibit

Jane Metters LaBarbara
November 7, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Wednesday, October 31, the Rare Book Room, part of the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the WVU Libraries, hosted an event to highlight one of our extraordinary collections: the works of Isaac Asimov.  This event was designed to recognize our extensive Asimov collection and to celebrate our donors.

The event included an exhibit, shown below, that was on display in the Downtown Campus Library Atrium, and a talk by Nebula award winning author Andy Duncan, Professor of Writing at Frostburg State University.

Student viewing Isaac Asimov materials in glass cases in the library atrium

Some of Asimov’s most important works were on display. A first edition of I, Robot as well as the first paperback edition, were displayed alongside a juvenile series.  Asimov’s first sci fi novels were published in the 1950s: Pebble in the Sky, 1950, and I, Robot, 1951.  These books remain two of his most popular and enduring works.  At the same time, Asimov was writing the Lucky Starr series for children.  The same year that saw the publication of I, Robot, Asimov’s agent, Frederik Pohl, and Walter I. Bradbury, the science fiction editor at Doubleday & Co., asked him to write juvenile science fiction that could serve as the basis for a television series. Asimov had a strong distaste for the “uniformly awful” programming he saw for children on TV, so he camouflaged his identity under the pseudonym, Paul French.

Part of an Isaac Asimov exhibit case, showing off books including Lucky Starr and I, Robot

Asimov’s short story, Nightfall, has been widely recognized as the greatest science fiction story of all time, Originally published in 1941, this story revolves around the frightening descent of darkness upon a people whose planet had been constantly illuminated by sunlight.  Asimov adapted his original story into a novel with Robert Silverberg in 1990.  The variety of formats shown below, from a vinyl recording, to VHS, and DVD, are testament to its enduring popularity.

Part of an Isaac Asimov exhibit case, showing off media including a Nightfall recording and videos

Professor Andy Duncan standing at a podium

The guest speaker for the event, Prof. Andy Duncan, is well known to the science fiction community of writers. Prof. Duncan’s short fiction has won a Nebula Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and three World Fantasy Awards. His third collection has just been released this month by Small Beer Press.  Duncan’s recent stories have appeared in the science fiction magazines, Analog, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as the Tor anthology, and the Bantam anthology, The Book of Magic. Duncan is on the board of directors of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and he will be on the faculty of Clarion at UC-San Diego for a fourth time, teaching the famed speculative-fiction workshop.

Duncan’s talk began with his recollection of reading Asimov’s books as a child, followed by a discussion of classic writers like Heinlein and Clarke, and ended with the growth of today’s diverse writers with new perspectives on science fiction, such as the Afrofuturism works by Octavia E. Butler.

Group photo of Andy Duncan, Stewart Plein, and Dr. Jay Cole in front of the Isaac Asimov exhibit.

Andy Duncan, guest speaker for the Afternoon with Asimov event, Stewart Plein, Rare Books Curator, and Dr. Jay Cole, in the Asimov Exhibit in the WVU Charles C. Wise Library Atrium.

If you’d like to see the Asimov Collection, please contact Stewart Plein, Stewart.Plein@mail.wvu.edu.  In addition, books from the exhibit are now on display in the West Virginia and Regional History Center in the Downtown Campus Library.

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Soup Beans and Archives Month

Jane Metters LaBarbara
October 23, 2018

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Beans mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Growing up outside Appalachia, I remember seven-bean soups being prepared, glass jars full of artfully layered dry ingredients, and sold by church ladies for charity purposes, frequently around the holidays. When my family bought a jar, it always felt like a treat. The other bean-treat of my youth was our neighbor’s chili. I’m fairly certain that it contained multiple kinds of beans, plus a few green veggie bits, and such a good flavor. (I invite you to imagine my dismay when we moved to Texas and I was told that “real” chili contained no beans at all.)

For people across the country and across the globe, beans are a staple food. You can have baked beans, beans on toast, falafel, hummus, refried beans, red bean paste, red beans and rice, succotash, lentil soup, shiro, etc. As I grew up, I learned about and tried a variety of bean-related dishes. Then I moved to West Virginia and I heard about soup beans. Not bean soup—soup beans. Like many modern-day armchair researchers, I started my research into soup beans on the internet, but I was not satisfied. My next step was to take a look at what library resources we had on soup beans.

Two women in a kitchen demonstrating bean canning

Two Women Demonstrate How to Can Beans at State 4-H Camp in Jackson’s Mill, Lewis County, W. Va.

QUICK HISTORY

A few books and articles later, I know a little more about soup beans and their place in Appalachian foodways. The most common bean used to make soup beans was historically the pinto bean (brown bean), and in some contexts “soup beans” can mean dry pinto beans rather than the soup itself. Apparently, it is usually a pork-flavored dish which can be made with as little as three ingredients: pork, beans, and water. I am told by a colleague, and books have confirmed, that soup beans ought to be eaten with cornbread, which can be crumbled into the soup beans to thicken them. A variety of other foods have been suggested as traditional sides, from wilted (“killed”) lettuce to chow chow to fried potatoes.

“Simple, traditional, and mountain through and through, soup beans are a silky smooth, pork-flavored dish of pinto beans usually free of bean soup ingredients such as peas, potatoes, parsnips, tomatoes, carrots, and celery.” (Sohn 70)

Ten black boys in a large field, harvesting or tending bean plants

Several boys working in the bean patch at the West Virginia Colored Orphan’s Home in Huntington, West Virginia, June 1914. I do not know enough about bean plants to speculate on what kind of beans these boys are working with.

FOOD IN THE ARCHIVES

October is American Archives Month, where we celebrate the value of archives and remind people what archives have and how they can be used. From archives, we can learn what and how people ate, how they cooked, how they harvested, and how they valued and sold various foodstuffs. Materials in archives that tell us about food can include recipes, advertisements, cookbooks, oral histories, ledgers, photographs, and more. It is worth noting that, as far as images go, our descriptions are only as good as our knowledge. A researcher pointed out that some of our photos of plowing may not have accurate/specific names of farm equipment used—if anyone wants to volunteer to help us evaluate the accuracy of our farm-related photo descriptions, let us know!

Three adults standing with farm equipment that is hitched to two teams of two horses.

This photo is titled “Horse Plough Team Harvesting Crops,” but I am not sure if that’s really what is happening here.

I quickly searched for mentions of beans or soup beans in our archives, and I haven’t found anything yet. I have several theories about this, which relate to important truths about archives. First, people donate what they think is worth donating—people aren’t likely to donate things they want to pass on to the next generation (this can include recipe cards about soup beans) or things they don’t think are important enough. Second, the things that are solicited by archivists and described in archives tend to reflect what archivists think will be important and useful to tell our history to researchers of the future—basic recipes of staple foodstuff may exist in our collections but may not be called out in the finding aids.

As you can see, I didn’t have much luck with my research on soup beans in the archives. If you find yourself hitting a wall in your research, too, do not despair. Ask an archivist! Sometimes we can help people understand why their research isn’t yielding results, and how to get answers to their questions in new and different ways.

RECIPES

Even once I moved my search from the History Center’s archival collections to our collection of professional and community-compiled cookbooks, it was harder than I thought to find recipes for soup beans. While I didn’t check every cookbook, a review of more than ten likely contenders brought up very few results. I assume that this is because a lot of people living in West Virginia in the past half-century already knew all about soup beans. Why submit a recipe for something almost as simple and common as buttered toast when you could share your special recipe for deer bologna or shattered glass salad? Alternatively, it could be that soup beans are found in more cookbooks than I thought, just not in the soup section—in one book, it was listed in the ”Vegetables and Side Dishes” section, in another it was in with “Starchy Vegetables.” A request from me to all future cookbook creators: put a recipe index in the back! Below I have copied three recipes, two for soup beans and one for soupy beans.

Soup Beans (from Appalachian Home Cooking, 2005, p. 222-223)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Start to finish: 20 to 24 hours
Yield: 10 to 12 servings

1 pound dried pinto beans, washed and picked over for pebbles
7 cups water
8 ounces salt pork or 2 smoked ham hocks to equal about 1 pound

Step 1. Soak the beans in the 7 cups of water overnight. Use a glass or china container and do not drain.
Step 2. Place the beans and all the water in a saucepan and add the pork. Simmer covered for 6 to 8 hours. Add water as needed to keep the beans covered. When cooked, the beans hold their shape but are soft throughout. Remove the pork and serve it as a side dish.
Step 3. If desired, thicken the broth by boiling it down and mashing in some cooked beans, or puree a cup of the beans in a food processor and return the puree to the soup.

Soup Beans (from Victuals, 2016, p. 154)

“The smell of the first winter pot of soup beans simmering on the back of the stove filled our house with warmth and a sense of great comfort.”

Serves 8

1 pound dried pinto beans
½ pound salt pork
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons salt

The night before, sort the beans to make sure there are no small rocks, twigs, or clumps of dirt. Rinse them well in a colander, then put them to soak in a big bowl with cold water at a level a couple of inches higher than the beans. Leave them at room temperature overnight.

When you are ready to cook, skim off and discard any skins or funky beans that have floated to the top. Put the beans and any soaking water into a heavy pot with a lid, and add more water to reach about an inch above the beans. Nestle the salt pork into the beans.

Peel the onion and garlic clove, and nestle them into the beans as well. Bring the water to a boil on high heat, then turn it to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook the beans at a simmer until they are very soft and tender. Depending on the age, and therefore the dryness, of the beans, this can take from 1 to 2 hours.

Remove the seasoning meat, the onion, and (if you can find it) the garlic from the pot and stir in the salt. Allow the beans to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes or so to let the salt soak in. Taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve hot. I like to crumble my cornbread in the bowl and pour the beans over it.

[Both of the above recipes were shared along with variations for those who don’t want to use pork in their food, which amounts to adding oil and spices—vegetarians rejoice!]

Soupy Beans, by Mary Hicks (from Farm Women’s Cookbook, 2003, p. 33)

1 lb. dried white beans, such as northern, navy or cannellini
1 ham hock, split or about ½ lb. smoked pork necks, ham bone or ham
1 med. onion, halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Water

Place the beans in a medium saucepan and cover with 3 inches of cold water. Soak overnight (or as a shortcut, simply cover beans with cold water and cook over high heat just to the boiling point; remove from heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour). Drain the beans and return to the pan. Cover with 2 inches of cold water. Add ham hock and onion and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are very tender. (Some of the beans will fall apart and form a thick sauce.) This will take anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 hours, depending on the age of the beans. (If desired, remove ham hock from beans. Pull off meat, cut it into bits and return meat to beans. Discard bone and gristle.) Taste beans and adjust seasonings with salt and plenty of pepper. Soupy beans are best served hot with Leroy’s pickled cabbage. The beans will keep, and even improve, for several days in the refrigerator.

…AND MORE

My research into soup beans my be done for now, but Archives Month is not over yet. Archives are living things, made up of the ever-increasing history that we put into them. In celebration of Archives Month, I encourage you to think about the histories that you have to pass on, whether that includes oral history, photos, old business papers, or a box of Appalachian recipe cards. How to you want these things to be remembered? Who do you want to have access to those stories? This could be your month to teach your nephews how to make memaw’s soup beans, to donate your grandpa’s business records to an archive, to label all your family photos, or even to shred those tax returns you’ve saved since the 1980s.  Happy Archives Month!

Two boys carrying bushel of beans outside

Scott’s Run Boys Carrying Beans

Side Note:

During my research, I found an article that might be of interest to those who are more food-science oriented:

Bonorden, William R, and Barry G Swanson. “Thermal Stability of Black Turtle Soup Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris) Lectins.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 59, no. 2, 1992, pp. 245–250., doi:10.1002/jsfa.2740590216.

Sources Used:

Helvetia Farm Women (Helvetia, W. Va.). Farm Women’s Cookbook: Helvetia Family Favorites. Morris Press Cookbooks, 2003.

Lundy, Ronni. Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Clarkson Potter, 2016.

Sohn, Mark. Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. University Press of Kentucky, 2005.

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Why Did the Building Cross the Road?

Jane Metters LaBarbara
October 18, 2018

Blog Post by Jessica Eichlin, Photographs Manager and Preservationist

 

[Editor’s note: October is American Archives Month, and I am grateful to Jessica for writing out her work process to show us how research in the archives can take you on an adventure! She also proves that archives aren’t just for big scholarly projects–they can be useful for local history research, genealogy, and more.]

 

We do our best to include all relevant information, and to identify the people and places in every photo we put onto West Virginia History OnView.  Sometimes, we just do not know who the people are, or where they are.  Recently, I came across this photo, which shows a group of men working to move a small building across the road.  The town is unidentified, and there is no additional information other than what is in the image.

 

Image showing town buildings and men moving a small building across a street

This image is ID number 050711 on West Virginia History OnView.

 

Pretty great, right? The buildings have interesting signs, and the group of men appear to be moving a small building with ropes.  Intriguing!  So I settled down and got to work.  First, I ran an online search for “The People’s Clothier,” “Verzi’s Saloon,” “Davis Hardware & Furniture Co,” and “Theo Stumpp Tailor.”  Businesses register with the state, and typically show up in the state “Report of the Treasurer.”  Not having any luck with this type of searches, I turned to Ancestry.com.

Signs on buildings, including "verzi's saloon" and "the people's clothier"

A closer look at some of the signs and advertisements visible in the photo.

 

Anyone visiting the WVRHC can utilize Ancestry’s Library Edition for free when working at one of our computers. (Ask a staff member to show you how next time you visit!).  I plugged in “Theo Stumpp” and West Virginia.  Multiple hits showed up, so I added the keyword “tailor.”  Bingo!  There was Theodore Stumpf, who briefly lived in Davis, WV.  The last step was to see if I could locate the particular street it was on, to confirm if it was really Davis, WV.  Not having any luck with Google searches– “”Theodore Stumpf Tailor” Davis WV” was not returning any hits–I turned to one of my favorite tools.

 

Close-p of census entry for Theodore Stumpf

Theodore, his wife Mary, and his children, Elizabeth and Bruno, appear in the 1900 Davis, WV census.

 

Google Street View is so much fun to use when trying to track down a particular building or street.  I love seeing how buildings and towns have evolved over time (you may have seen my then-and-now series over on the WVU Libraries Instagram page).  I have found that early photographs tend to have been taken on or near the main street of any given town.  This theory did not disappoint.  William Avenue seems to be the main road through present-day Davis, so I started there.  A few minutes after “walking” down the street, I located a potential match.

 

Google Street View Image of William Avenue buildings in Davis, WV

William Avenue in Davis, WV on Google Street View.

 

The building on the left looks like a very close match for the building with “The People’s Clothier” and “Pennsylvania House” signs in the original image.

Image of old street and buildings next to modern image of same street and buildings

Note the similarities between the door on the left, the painted trim, and the general shape of the building.

 

There are a few details that stand out.  The door at left is set at the same angle on both buildings.  The light-colored trim above that door in the original is now the green trim on the present-day building.  The roof line, second story windows, and paneling beneath the window all confirm that it is the same building.  Clearly, additional windows were added at a later date, and the advertisements on the second story were painted over.

 

But one mystery remains… why were the men moving a building?? Theodore and his family appear on the 1900 census, but by the 1910 census, they are living in Missoula, Montana.  Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Davis show this particular configuration of stores only in 1899, not on the previous map of 1894, or the following one of 1904.

 

Close-up view of a Sanborn map, showing yellow shaded buildings with shorthand labels regarding their function

Clothing (The People’s Clothiers), Office (Pennsylvania House?), Saloon (Verzi’s Saloon), Tailor (Theo. Stumpf Tailor), and Hardware (Davis Hardware & Furniture Co).

 

Taking all of this information into account, we can conclude that the photo was taken between 1894 and 1904.  So, sometime within that ten-year span, a group of men moved a building across William Avenue.  The collection the photo came from is A&M 4151, the Thompson Family of Canaan Valley, Business and Family Papers.  There might be additional information in some of the family papers regarding the move, but with almost six feet of materials, we cannot easily find the answer.  If anyone from Davis knows when or why this building was moved, please let me know! I would love to solve the mystery.

 

 

References:

Census image from Ancestry.com

Modern photos from Google Street View

Sanborn map images from A&M 1307

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Zines! Celebrating Maker Culture at the WVU Downtown Campus Library

Jane Metters LaBarbara
October 10, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

On Friday, October 5th, zine lovers and makers came to the Downtown Campus Library to create pages for a collaborative zine as part of the 2018 Morgantown Zine Festival.  The word “zine,” according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is short for magazine, specifically “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.”

We were also celebrating one of our newest archival collections, zines by West Virginia zine makers.  Last fall the West Virginia and Regional History Center began collecting zines from around the state.  Donor Bryan Richards, of the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue, has been the major donor of this collection.  He is also one of the organizers of the Zine Fest and designer of this year’s poster, shown below, advertising a weekend’s worth of activities and music.

Advertisement for 2018 Morgantown Zine Festival

As the rare books curator, creating an archival collection for the West Virginia and Regional History Center is not usually within my job description.  However, after taking a course at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School that included a history of zines, I was eager to start a collection.  Luckily WVU Professor of Graphic Design, Joe Galbreath, connected me with Bryan Richards and now we have a growing collection of zines by West Virginia artists.

Prominent among these artists is Emily Prentice, of Elkins.  She is known as a zine artist throughout the West Virginia zine community.  I first met her at last year’s Appalachian Studies Association conference where she was hosting a zine workshop.  I loved the idea and worked closely with Professor Galbreath, Bryan Richards, and Emily to host a similar event at the WVU Downtown Campus Library.

Woman sitting at table working on a zine

Emily Prentice at work creating zines at the Downtown Campus Library’s Zine Party.

Not a sound could be heard as attendees at the Zine Party cut images from a variety of materials and decorated them with stickers, crayons, markers, string, and other assorted items.  A typewriter was also available to add that extra touch to a zine page in progress.

Woman and man sitting at table working on zines

Sally Deskins, Exhibits and Programs Coordinator for the WVU Libraries, and Bryan Richards, of the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue, are totally absorbed in their zine craft.

I had never tried making zine pages before and it was with some trepidation that I agreed to sit down and attempt my first page.  I must admit that I found the entire experience soothing and relaxing.  I’m not a crafter by nature, so this event took me out of my comfort zone!  I enjoyed the process so much I can’t wait to make more!  Here’s some of the pages I crafted Friday afternoon for the collaborative zine Emily put together from all the pages created that day.

You won’t be surprised that this rare book librarian used images of medieval manuscripts as the basis for her first pages!

Zine page showing birds, text in a fancy font, and text borders

Zine page showing bird, text in a fancy font, and leaves

Liking what I created I decided to go off into uncharted territory for me and try something more modern, more daring, more mixed media.  Here’s the results of that experiment.

Zine page showing heading "The Scissorman" with bird and water bowl and book

Zine page showing parts of a bird image

Zine page showing man on bicycle

A student from the Journalism School, the Reed College of Media, stopped by and filmed the zine party participants for a class project.  She promised to share the finished project with me and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Woman working on craft project while another woman takes video.

We all had a great time at the Zine Party and created a terrific collaborative zine that will be added to the West Virginia and Regional History Center West Virginia Zine collection.  We are also adding the individually crafted pages that created the zine so that patrons can see how the zine pages were made before they were put together into the zine format.  Emily created covers for the final product.

Zine page showing row boats

There is also an exhibit in the Downtown Campus Library Lobby displaying many zines from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Zine Collection.  This exhibit is on display for the entire month of October.  Bryan had a great Instagram post about the exhibit that he shared with us.  You can see it here:

View this post on Instagram

I’m not religious but I believe in making things that will maybe outlive your corpse. I don’t know why but @wvulibraries has allowed me to give them Appalachian zines and build an archive for their library. This archive and the community that contributes to this is the most important thing to me. Please stop in the downtown library and check out the display. Come to the workshop on Friday. I hope to see yah Saturday for the Zine Fest @123pleasant #westvirginia #bestvirginia #zine #zines #zinefest #wvu #wvulibraries #westvirginiauniversity

A post shared by Bryan Richards (@best.virginia) on

Please stop by the West Virginia and Regional History Center if you’d like to see the Zine Collection.  On your way you can stop by the Zine Exhibit in the lobby of the Downtown Campus Library.  We’re accepting donations if you’d like to contribute to the Zine Collection!

Resources:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zine

Travelin” Appalachians Revue:  https://travelinappalachiansrevue.org/

Emily Prentice:  https://www.patreon.com/emilyprentice

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