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To There and Back Again: The Many Moves of John Brown’s Fort

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 19th, 2020

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

October 16, 2020, was the 161st anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.  Over 160 years after the event, John Brown, and the people and events surrounding him, remain a powerful topic for depiction such as the new program currently airing on Showtime, “The Good Lord Bird” starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown. 

The last couple of years have seen several books published on figures that were involved in the raid including the story of an escaped enslaved person, The Untold Story of Shields Green by Louis A. Decaro, Jr., Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army by Eugene L. Meyer, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom by H.W. Brands, and of course, the book that inspired the Showtime series, James McBride’s novel, The Good Lord Bird

Portrait of John Brown

While Brown remains the subject of much interpretation, little has been said about the multiple moves of the Harpers Ferry building Brown and his men occupied on that fateful raid, the Arsenal Engine House, later to called John Brown’s Fort. 

At the time, the engine house served as the government arsenal where guns and ammunition were stored.  Brown’s plan was to capture the armory and the engine house, using the ammunition inside to supply a hoped for uprising of enslaved people he believed would join him to fight for freedom following his initial strike.  This did not happen.  Brown and his small band of men were left to fend for themselves. The following day, U.S. Marines arrived to storm the engine house, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and his aide, J.E.B. Stuart.  Brown and his surviving men were captured, tried and executed.

Sketch of the Harpers Ferry engine house, with soldiers in line in front of it

This drawing was made on the scene by David Hunter Strother, a journalist, artist and illustrator, from Martinsburg. Strother, pictured below, who used the pen name, Porte Crayon, often wrote articles and provided illustrations that frequently appeared in the pages of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

Portrait of David Hunter Strother

During the Civil War, the engine house was the only part of the armory to survive.  This stereograph card shows the tents of Union troops stationed in front.   

Stereograph card showing tents in front of the Harpers Ferry engine house

By 1885, still in its original location in downtown Harpers Ferry, the engine house was used as a tourist attraction.  The words “John Brown’s Fort”, seen here, were painted over the arches where windows were formerly. 

Harpers Ferry Engine House with the words "John Brown's Fort" painted on

First Move:

In 1891, the engine house was purchased by a group, headed by Iowan, A. J. Holmes, a former confederate soldier and congressman, with plans to make it an exhibition at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893.  The fair was planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. 

This was to be the first move for John Brown’s fort.  Since Chicago is a long way from Harpers Ferry, the engine house was dismantled and shipped via railroad. Once it arrived in Chicago, it was reconstructed inside one of the fair buildings.  Unfortunately, it drew little attention.  Reports state that only 11 people came to view John Brown’s Fort in 10 days. 

Second Move:

Unhappy with the turnout, the second move for the building occurred when the fort was dismantled once again and moved to an empty lot where it was abandoned.

The following year, a Washington D.C. journalist, Kate Field, publisher of Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly magazine, began a fund-raising effort to save John Brown’s Fort and move it back to Harpers Ferry. 

Although, no photographs could be found documenting John Brown’s Fort as an exhibition at the Columbian World’s Fair, or dismantled and abandoned on the vacant lot, the newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer, reported on June 21, 1893, an article entitled “OUR STATE BUILDING,” referring to the West Virginia building constructed on fair grounds.  Each state was responsible for building a site to exhibit their state’s products and industries.  The article touted the 30th anniversary of the state and reported memorabilia on display, “There are a number of interesting relics to be found in the building, among which are the chair and safe used by Lee in writing his terms of surrender to Grant, and several John Brown relics.”  Fair goers visiting the West Virginia building could have picked up this John Brown Souvenir ticket, pictured below.   

John Brown Souvenir ticket, with portrait of John Brown

Third Move:

Things began to look up for John Brown’s Fort when a local farmer, Alexander Murphy, encouraged by Kate Fields fundraising efforts, donated five acres of his property for the site.  The Baltimore and Ohio railroad stepped in and agreed to ship the building at no charge.  In move number three, a mere two years after it was shipped to Chicago, John Brown’s Fort was successfully returned to Harpers Ferry, and reconstructed on the Murphy Farm. 

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
John Brown’s Fort on Murphy’s Farm, Bolivar Heights, W. Va.
Photograph approximately 1900

Although it remained on the Murphy Farm for a number of years, the building had no purpose.  Positioned out of town, it failed to serve as a tourist destination.  Things took a turn for the worse when it was used as just another farm building to store fertilizer.

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
Used to store fertilizer, 1909. 

Move Four:

1909 was to be an important year for yet another rescue and rehabilitation of John Brown’s Fort.  That year was the fiftieth anniversary of John Brown’s raid.  In move number four, the building was once again removed, reconstructed and renovated, this time on the campus of Storer College, also located in Harpers Ferry.  Storer College, with its roots in the Civil War, had a strong connection to the fort.  Founded by Freewill Baptists immediately following the Civil War, and dedicated to the education of African Americans, Storer College was housed in Harpers Ferry buildings that served military purposes during the war. 

Harpers Ferry engine house surrounded by trees
On the campus of Storer College
Group of African-American students in front of a tree
Storer College student group.  John Brown’s Fort is in the background.  Approximately 1940s. 
Harpers Ferry engine house in front of another building
John Brown’s Fort as it was positioned on the campus of Storer College in relation to Anthony Hall, the main building.

John Brown’s Fort was to remain on the campus of Storer College, serving as museum housing John Brown and Harpers Ferry memorabilia.   Though Storer College closed its doors as an educational institution following the passage of the landmark case, Brown vs Board of Education, in 1954, John Brown’s Fort remained on its campus.  But not for long.

Move Five:

In its fifth and final move, John Brown’s Fort was once again purchased and relocated, this time by the National Park Service, who became the owners of the Storer College campus in 1960. 

Harpers Ferry engine house being transported on the bed of a truck
John Brown’s Fort being transported back to Lower Town in 1968.
Harpers Ferry NHP Historic Photo Collection, Catalog #NHF-3155

While positioning the fort on the original site would have been ideal, it was impossible due to a railroad embankment constructed on that site 1894, when John Brown’s Fort was sitting lonely and abandoned in a field outside Chicago.  The Park Service re-sited it as close to the original site as possible, a mere 150 feet away from its first home.   

Harpers Ferry engine house
John Brown’s fort today.

And that is where John Brown’s Fort remains today, restored and open to visitors as an important historical site in one of the most important moments in West Virginia history. 

All of the books mentioned in this post and many of the photographs are available at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, open by appointment to West Virginia University affiliates only during the pandemic.

Resources:

Libraries to host digital Women of Appalachia spoken word event

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 14th, 2020

In commemoration of the Suffrage Centennial, the WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries Virtual Program will host “Women Speak”, a juried performance of poetry, songs, short stories and essays, in a virtual format on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 1-3 p.m.

The annual event is a creation of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) who issues a call to residents throughout Appalachia. This year’s participants hail from West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

“Many people have an image of an Appalachian woman, and they look down on her. The mission of WOAP is to showcase the way in which female artists respond to the Appalachian region as a source of inspiration, bringing together women from diverse backgrounds, ages and experiences to embrace the stereotype – to show the whole woman; beyond the superficial factors that people use to judge her,” said Kari Gunter-Seymour, WOAP founder and executive director.

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Health Sciences Library will be closed Saturday

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 13th, 2020

The Health Sciences Library will be closed Saturday, Oct. 17, as parking lots around and bus service to the Health Sciences Center will be unavailable due to game day. The library will be open Sunday from 2 p.m.-midnight. For a complete list of WVU Libraries hours visit the Libraries’ website, wvu.libcal.com/hours

Bridge Day and New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 12th, 2020

By Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Railroad bridge across a river
Chesapeake and Ohio Bridge across the New River, Thurmond, W. Va., 1906

Fayette County reserves the third Saturday in October for an exciting and unique celebration of outdoor recreation, civil engineering, and local pride. This celebration is known around the country as Bridge Day. The New River Gorge attracts thousands of visitors annually for both outdoor recreation and its scenic views. Historically the gorge was a source of coal mining in the now abandoned town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Crossing the gorge prior to the completion of the famous New River Gorge Bridge took 45 minutes. After the completion of the bridge on October 22, 1976, crossing the New River Gorge took mere seconds. The bridge is over 800 feet tall and over 3,000 feet long. The bridge was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 thirteen years prior to the standard 50 year mark for eligibility. 

Part of a bridge construction of metal beams
New River Gorge Bridge, under construction

The bridge has become a symbol for the state, marking the back of the West Virginia state quarter from the U.S. Mint, and as a wonder of modern engineering. At the time of its construction it was the largest project the West Virginia Department of Highways had ever completed and today draws crowds from around the country to revel at not only the bridge’s amazing structural presence but also the beautiful nature surrounding the established New River Gorge National River which has been managed by the National Park Service since 1978. From the development of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and coal mining to natural preservation and civil engineering the New River Gorge is a testament to West Virginia’s natural beauty, industrial past, and civic achievements. 

Landscape view of New River Canyon
New River Canyon Near the Gauley Bridge, Fayette County, WV

October is American Archives Month!

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 6th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

The West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) is the archives and special collections library at West Virginia University. We acquire, preserve, and provide access to materials that document the history and culture of West Virginia and central Appalachia. Each year in October, we take time to emphasize the importance of the records we collect, highlight the services we provide, and recognize the people who maintain the historical records of our state and region.  October is American Archives Month! 

Image of various types of material with the text "October is American Archives Month"

Archives are records created by people or an organization that are collected because they have continuing value.  Archives can include letters, photographs, reports, sound and video recordings, maps, newspapers and other primary sources that provide firsthand evidence and data. They can be in physical or digital form. Archives are critical resources for historical research and study.  They can be inspirational for writers and artists.  They are also important tools for teaching history and literature and many other subjects.  To learn about the archival materials at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, visit the Center’s website, particularly the Guide to Archives and Manuscripts as well as the Collections page

Rows of shelving filled with document cases
Archival boxes on storage shelves on the tenth floor of the Wise Library, the original location of the West Virginia Collection (now the WVRHC) in 1961. Image from the Center’s online photographs database, West Virginia History OnView.  

Archivists have an important role. An archivist summarized it as, “Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.” Indeed, archivists acquire materials, organize them, make sure they are preserved for the future, and provide access to them.  Archivists also teach classes, curate exhibitions, and create digital collections. The staff at the West Virginia & Regional History Center do all these things and more. They are excellent stewards of the archival materials in their care.  As Assistant Director, I wish to thank them for all their hard work.  To the staff of the Center, your efforts are very much appreciated! 

Man studying document on table
Image of a researcher using archival collections in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the WVRHC in October 2019. Photograph by the author. 

Beyond the West Virginia & Regional History Center, many other archives exist across the state.  The West Virginia State Archives in Charleston, Special Collections at Marshall University in Huntington, the Richard J. Trefry Archives at the American Public University in Charles Town, and the Archives and Special Collections at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling are just a few.  Many of the schools in the West Virginia state college and university system have archival collections in their libraries.  Public libraries, museums, and historical societies also hold archival collections.  There is a good chance there is an archive near you. I hope you will support them by researching, donating, and advocating.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all institutions, many are still offering services.  The WVRHC is currently open by appointment to open faculty, staff, and students at WVU.  We continue to provide limited research and reference services remotely.   

A unique opportunity to interact with Center staff, #AskAnArchivist Day, takes places tomorrow, October 7, 2020.  Archivists from the Center will take over the WVU Libraries Twitter feed and answer any question you might have about archives. We hope you will participate! 

People dancing, with text "Ain't no party like and archivist party #AskAnArchivist Day, October 7th, 10am-3pm"

Libraries to host former National League of Women Voters president on Oct. 9

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 5th, 2020
Ceperly

In commemoration of the Suffrage Centennial, the WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries Virtual Program will host Becky Cain Ceperley, former National League of Women Voters president, for a talk on the impact of voter registration and turnout on Friday, Oct. 9, from noon-1 p.m.

Ceperley is an at-large member of the Charleston City Council and serves as its president. She’s a former member of the Public Policy Committee of the Council on Foundations; national Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; the Advisory Committee on Election Law to the American Bar Association; the national Campaign Finance Institute; and the West Virginia Election Commission. Ceperley is also a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from WVU’s Political Science Department and the Eberly College of Arts and Science.

This event is in conjunction with WVU Libraries’ exhibition Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage  and in partnership with the West Virginia Women Vote of Morgantown coalition. Register here: https://wvu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMtdOusqzkqHtVegUOoI4zelpa8qehOaOBN

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Submit your photos for juried Art of Masks exhibit

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 1st, 2020

The face mask has become a symbol of our times, an emblem to illustrate the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a signal of caring and a gesture of community amidst the upheaval of our daily life.

West Virginia University Libraries is accepting creative photos of masks from the WVU and local community – whether personally crafted, purchased, gifted, picked up at a free stand or imagined – for a juried online exhibit to launch in December.

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Downtown Campus Library returns to regular service hours Wednesday

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 29th, 2020

The Downtown Campus Library returns to regular service hours Wednesday after a week of temporarily adjusted hours because of a COVID-19 exposure in Access Services on Sept. 19.

The Downtown Campus Library will be open from 7:30 a.m.-midnight Wednesday and Thursday. Hours for all WVU Libraries buildings are available on the Libraries’ website, wvu.libcal.com/hours.

Make an Archivist and Your Family Happy: Label Your Photographs

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 28th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Recently, my cousin gave me a shoebox of family photos that belonged to his mother, my dad’s sister. I am curious about all my ancestors, but I don’t know as much about my father’s side of the family. So, these pictures are especially treasured.  The box contains images dating from ca. 1910-1994. I am grateful and very happy to have them.  There is just one problem – very few of the images are labeled.  While I recognize some people and places quickly, more than half of the images are unknown to me.  I am lucky that there are context clues and a couple family members that might help me, but there are some photos that I may never identify.  It is a simple endeavor that we often put off: labeling our photographs.  This post will give some quick tips for adding descriptive information to print photographs and digital images.  

A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn
This is one of my newly acquired images. A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn. This photograph was printed as a postcard. It was possibly taken at the Mayfield Farm in Wetzel County, West Virginia, ca. 1910. There is no descriptive information on the postcard, it was never mailed.  I can make the possible identification because of the existence of a similar photograph postcard of the Mayfield family making molasses. That image is available in West Virginia History OnView.

Labeling photographs will help your family members who inherit your pictures. It will also greatly assist archivists who might work with your family photos if they are donated to the archives.   

If you can record information about photographs separately and not write on the backs of the photographs, that is ideal.  But you must be able to keep the information connected to the image. If you are placing photographs in paper or plastic sleeve you can write descriptive information on the sleeve with a pencil or special pen as needed. Sleeves should be archival quality and care should be taken when placing or removing photographs from the sleeves.  The same goes for archival quality photograph albums. 

If you choose to write on photographs, you should always write on the back side. If the photograph back has a matte surface, you can use a pencil to very lightly write a date, location, and any other identifying information on the back of the photo.  Pencil lead will not bleed through the backing material.  Writing lightly is important.  Pressing too hard will imprint the text through to the front of the photo. 

If you have a photograph with a glossy backing, the Library of Congress recommends using a film marking pen to write on the back of the photographs. The pen must have acid free ink that dries quickly and doesn’t bleed into the photograph material. Be careful not to stack photos while the ink is still drying to prevent unwanted transfer onto other photographs.  

Instead of writing out a full description, photos can be numbered on the back with pencil or a special pen. Details about the image can be recorded on a sheet of paper or in a digital file with information corresponding to the numbers. Again, that paper or digital file must always be available to the owners of the photographs for this method to work. 

Smiling baby seated on a pony
This card mounted photograph also came in the box of family photographs.  It features a smiling baby who is sitting side saddle on a dark colored pony.  Based on the style of the card, it is likely from the era of 1890-1910.  Because my aunt kept it, I assume it is an ancestor but I don’t know for sure. I really wish this one was labeled!   

Most of our modern photographs are digital, so there are different challenges for “labeling” the images. Developing a naming system for digital images can help you to retain a minimal amount of descriptive information about the files.  You can include dates, location, and other details in the filename, but you don’t want your filenames to be too long. If you name them with a consistent pattern such as YYYY-MM-DD_Location_Name, they will be easier to search and keep organized.  You can also create a folder structure with some subject information in the folder names.  

For large collections of digital images, you might consider a photograph management program such as Adobe Lightroom or Picasa.  These programs will allow you add tags and descriptive information about your photograph files.  If you don’t want to use a program, this blog post gives an overview of adding information to digital photographs without using special software. 

I hope this post will inspire you to organize and label your photographs collection.  It will make your family and archivists happy in the future.  

Resources: 

Library Congress Photographs Preservation FAQ 

4 Easy Ways to Label Photographs Blog Post 

How to Add Photo Metadata without Special Software Blog Post 

Northeast Document Conservation Center Care of Photographs Preservation Leaflet 

WVU Libraries to take questions on #AskAnArchivist Day, Oct. 7

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 28th, 2020

October 7 is #AskAnArchivist Day. This day-long event, held on Twitter and sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, provides an opportunity to connect directly with archivists at West Virginia University Libraries and at institutions around the country to ask questions, get information or just satisfy one’s curiosity.

Staff at the West Virginia and Regional History Center will participate via the Libraries’ Twitter handle, @wvuLibraries, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

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Downtown Campus Library continues with temporarily adjusted service hours

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 24th, 2020

The Downtown Campus Library will continue with temporarily adjusted hours this weekend and next week following a COVID-19 exposure in Access Services on Sept. 19.

The area was disinfected as part of routine daily cleaning protocols, but several staff are required to quarantine resulting in a shift in services hours until further notice. The temporary hours of operation are:

  • This weekend, the Downtown Campus library will be closed Saturday and open Sunday from noon-5 p.m. Evansdale Library will be open Saturday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday from noon-midnight.
  • Next week, the Downtown Library will be open Monday-Wednesday from 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., and the Evansdale Library will be open Monday-Wednesday from 7:30 a.m.-midnight. Downtown will resume regular hours on Thursday.

Hours for all WVU Libraries buildings are available on the Libraries’ website.

From the Rare Book Room: Familiar Lectures on Botany, by Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 21st, 2020

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

A woman of many talents, Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was passionately engaged in the education of young women at a time when the ideal was marriage and children.  Over the years she wrote many textbooks, but this volume, Familiar Lectures on Botany, from the West Virginia and Regional History Center rare book room, is perhaps her most popular and enduring. 

Portrait of Almira Lincoln Phelps

Familiar Lectures on Botany was her first textbook.  Designed to teach young women natural history and the science of botany, the book went through nearly 40 editions with revisions made by her daughters.

The Rare Book Room copy is the fifth edition, revised and enlarged, and it goes by the formidable title, Familiar Lectures on Botany; Practical, Elementary and Physiological, with an Appendix, containing the descriptions of the Plants of the United States and Exotics, etc. For the Use of Seminaries and Private Students. It was published in Hartford by F.J. Huntington, 1836. 

While many believe that the first edition of a text is the most important as well as the most valuable, that is not necessarily the case. The fifth edition, revised and enlarged with “many additional engravings.”  would be of greater interest due to the extra illustrations and their accompanying text. 

"Familiar Lectures on Botany" title page

Born in Connecticut, Almira Hart came from a large family, the youngest of 17 children.  Her parents strongly believed in education for young women.  One of her older sisters, Emma Willard, pictured below, was a well-known educator, who taught herself geometry as a young girl.  The Emma Willard School she founded in Troy, New York is still educating young women today.  It was Emma who would teach the intellectually inquisitive and capable Almira. 

Portrait of Emma Willard

At that time, there were few schools dedicated to educating young women.  In addition, academic institutions taught boys and girls separately at schools that were privately owned, not state supported.  These schools were frequently operated under personal ownership, mostly by the educators themselves, such as Emma Willard’s School for Young Women.    

Illustration for the description of the calyx, showing interior and exterior view of flower
Illustration for the description of the calyx. 

Another New Englander, the poet Emily Dickinson, was a student of botany at the Amherst Academy in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts.  She would often roam the woods, gathering plants, bringing them home to press, then pasting them onto pages, creating a personal herbarium that documented the world around her. 

Dickinson’s botany textbook was Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany. As her poetry was often filled with flowers, it is no surprise that her own copy of Phelps’s textbook holds a pressed flower between its pages, placed there by Dickinson herself.

Book pages with a pressed flower on one page
Emily Dickinson’s own copy of Mrs. Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany, published in 1838, with a flowering plant she pressed between its pages, still retaining some faint vestiges of color. 

The original owner of the rare book room’s copy of Familiar Lectures on Botany, was Ellen Beirne, of Belmont.  Though we don’t know which state she lived in, there are three towns named Belmont in New England, we do know that she was probably the first person to own this book.  Published in 1836, the date she wrote beneath her signature, December 11, 1837, hints that she acquired it shortly after publication. 

Page with a WVU Library stamp, signature, and date

In this year, 2020, as we mark the centenary anniversary of women’s right to vote and celebrate the suffragists that made it possible, it is interesting to note that Phelps, as a passionate advocate for the education of women, was fervently against women’s suffrage.  Though she believed that women should be educated in the event that they would have to work outside the home, she spoke out against suffrage and wrote articles against it. 

The next time you take a walk and find your eye attracted to a beautiful wildflower along the way, think of Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps and her Familiar Lectures on Botany, a book that educated an aspiring poet as well as many other young women who may not have had the opportunity to learn botany without her. 

Resources:

Downtown Campus Library to close at 8 p.m., service hours temporarily adjusted after COVID-19 exposure

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 21st, 2020

The Downtown Campus Library will close at 8 p.m. today (Sept. 21) after being notified of a COVID-19 exposure in Access Services.

The area was disinfected as part of routine daily cleaning protocols, but several staff are required to quarantine resulting in a shift in services hours until further notice. The temporary hours of operation are:

  • Monday-Thursday: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Fridays: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Weekend hours: TBD
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Libraries to host storyteller performing as suffragist

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 16th, 2020
Ilene Evans performing as suffragist Coralie Franklin Cook.

In commemoration of the Suffrage Centennial, the WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries Virtual Program will host West Virginia storyteller Ilene Evans performing as suffragist Coralie Franklin Cook on Friday, Sept. 25, from noon-1 p.m.

Cook (1861-1941) was a gifted orator and respected leader in women’s suffrage, temperance, the fine arts and education. After graduating from Storer College at Harpers Ferry in 1881, she became the school’s first female instructor of African American descent. Cook went on to teach elocution at Howard University, establishing it as a permanent part of the curriculum and the foundation of their drama department.

This event is in conjunction with WVU Libraries’ exhibition Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage  and in partnership with the West Virginia Women Vote of Morgantown coalition. Register here: https://wvu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYud-uvqzgpHtTcPir8e-SKdJBkjvMxcwRL

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Metal, Moisture, and Memories: How Paper Clips Can Ruin Family Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 14th, 2020

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

Family papers are those things that we have saved because they mean something to us – they are our paper treasures – and they tell us something about ourselves, our families and our friends: how we’ve lived our lives and what we value most.

Society of California Archivists

Many of us are using this unusual amount of time at home during the COVID-19 epidemic to sort through our treasures.  This is especially true for folks like me who have a 40-50 year accumulation of stuff.  During my raid on the basement, I found boxes of photographs and family documents which I took responsibility for after my mother’s death in 1998.  This was a role expected of me since I am the librarian in the family and I am a part time employee of the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  I get to decide what to keep or what to get rid of and how to preserve records that are important to us. 

West Virginia elementary school diploma
My mother’s elementary school diploma, 1931

My job in the Center is to process papers and records of families and organizations. Every single collection I process in the Center provides me with more knowledge about how to preserve materials and how to make the information in them accessible for researchers.  Records come in a wide variety of formats and media but they are mostly paper based.  One of the collections I processed last year had obviously been stored in a non-climate-controlled area.  One sign of that was that the papers contained a large number of rusty paper clips, staples, and metal binders. 

rusty paperclip and the rust marks that it left on a piece of paper
rust marks on paper, left by a rusty staple
rusty metal binder and marks on paper
Some examples of rusted metal from a paper clips, staples, and binders

This blog post will not be dealing broadly with preservation of materials in archival collections or family documents, but will look only at metal fasteners such as staples, paper clips, and binders, with some rubber bands thrown into the metal mix.

Hand full of rusted paperclips
One workday’s worth of removed paper clips

Since the worst enemies of paper are heat, moisture, and light, metal paper clips frequently degrade on archival records and they should be removed if possible when you find them in old records, ideally before they completely adhere to the papers.  Instead, it is best to use plastic or plastic-coated clips.  Major retailers sell these as well as office supply stores.  Some archives prefer to use stainless steel paper clips, which are supposed to be rust-proof.

Plastiklips and plastic coated paperclips on top of a "Dear Taxpayer" letter
Papers from the Assessor that I want to keep

To remove rusty paper clips which are adhering to the paper, I stabilize the paper on a flat surface by holding the corner down as I insert a knife or letter opener under the open end of the paper clip keeping it parallel to the surface.  I open the paper clip while sliding the knife under the open end while continuing to stabilize the paper on a surface.  When the clip is fully open, I can remove the paper clip without damaging the paper.  Sometimes the paper is so brittle that it will crumble no matter how careful you are with getting the clip from around it.  It’s a very meticulous process requiring patience.

Rusted paperclips, all partly open
Use a knife or letter opener to open clips to remove them from fragile paper

I will mention one last commonly used fastener which will cause damage to our family papers.  Rubber bands are susceptible to the same enemies as metal fasteners: moisture, heat, and light.  Rubber bands will melt, crack, and degrade leaving their mark over time. 

According to a flyer from the National Park Service, you can use a microspatula to remove both paper clips and residue from rubber bands.  The microspatula is available online at major retailers and scientific instrument stores.  I haven’t used it, but this source has some excellent suggestions on removing fasteners.  

If you aren’t able to check your family papers for problematic fasteners now, you can buy time by storing the papers in an environment that is climate controlled, not exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity fluctuations.  That should help the fasteners degrade less rapidly.

I hope my experiences working with the documents in the West Virginia and Regional History Center will help you preserve some of your meaningful family treasures.

Additional Resources:

Society of California Archivists, “Family Papers: Preservation and Organization.”  Accessed at on July 28, 2020: https://calarchivists.org/Resources/Documents/Brochure_Series/Papers_in-English.pdf

U.S. Library of Congress. “Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper.” Accessed on July 28, 2020 at: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/paper.html

U.S. National Parks Service. “Removing Original Fasteners from Archival Documents” Conserve O Gram, July 1993, 19(5). Accessed September 1, 2020 at: https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/19-05.pdf

Interlibrary Loan Analysis and Course Reserves Review

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
August 31st, 2020

Blog post by the Collections Advisory Committtee

Interlibrary Loan Costs vs. Subscription Costs

The WVU Libraries Collections Advisory Committee strives to make data-informed decisions regarding journal subscriptions.  Highlights of our recently completed review of FY20 interlibrary loan (ILL) costs may be of interest to our WVU faculty.  Below is a chart showing the journals that incurred cumulative interlibrary loan costs of more than $200 between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.

ISSNJournal TitleSum of FY20 ILL Costs# RequestsSubscription Cost
0048-9697Science of The Total Environment$957.3740$            14,812.00
1556-8318International Journal of Sustainable Transportation$816.0016$              1,076.00
0045-6535Chemosphere$407.1517$            12,295.00
1521-0251Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice$375.0010$                 455.00
0950-0618Construction and building materials$310.0913$              3,495.00
0928-6586Ophthalmic Epidemiology$275.005$              2,480.00
2372-1391Palaestra$253.724$                 319.00
1552-4205 Business & Society$234.881$              1,130.00
1746-1766The Nonproliferation Review$220.005$                 891.00
0959-6526Journal of Cleaner Production$215.559$              3,163.00
1942-7603Drug testing and analysis.$206.906$              3,214.00

In addition to the ISSN and title of the journal, you see the total ILL expenses for FY20, the number of requests that incurred an ILL expense, and finally, what we would have paid for a year’s subscription to that journal.  Since we unbundled our Science Direct, Springer, and Wiley packages, we try to do this ILL review annually, looking for any journals that are costing us more in ILL costs than the subscription price.  As you can see, even at 40 ILL requests totaling $957.37, a subscription to the Science of the Total Environment journal would not be cost effective.  The annual ILL expenditures for The Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice and Palaestra come closest to what annual subscriptions would run.  What we don’t know, yet, is if the demand for these journals is short-term or on-going, but these are titles we will keep an eye on.

(e)Reserves Purchase Requests

Providing excellent course reserve service is a high priority for the WVU Libraries.  If we don’t own an item a faculty member has requested for reserves, we quickly explore the purchase options.  The Libraries’ Collections Advisory Committee has determined that any reserve item request costing $350 or more will trigger a consultation with the appropriate liaison librarian.  The librarian will review the request and determine if there might be a suitable substitute already in our collection, or, even better, an open educational resource.  The liaison may determine that there is no reasonable substitute, in which case factors such as the number of students in the course, the license terms, and the potential for on-going use will be considered, along with the purchase price, in making the final decision whether or not to invest in the resource.

A Librarian’s Summer Reading List

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 24th, 2020

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

It may surprise you to learn that I read a lot of books about books over the summer.  I didn’t intend to.  It just happened that way.

As Mark Twain said, and I paraphrase, “a good book worth reading is a book worth reading again.”  I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  I read three of the four books on my summer reading list for a second time and I am none the worst for it.  In fact, I enjoyed reading these books again.  Most of them I read when they were first published.  One of the books I read was new to me, but had been available for a couple of years.  I’ll save that one for last.    

Given the current climate, with the many troubling realities of the ever changing news about the virus, the new sensations of working from home, the constant barrage of daily updates, and all the other things that trouble our world, I felt the need for something comforting, something I had read before and enjoyed, something that would remind me of a pleasant journey strolling through pages I had already traveled, and so, I embarked on a re-reading adventure. 

Paperback The Bookshop : A Novel Book

The first book I re-read this summer was Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop.  Fitzgerald is a British author, and her works are considered national treasures in her homeland.  Fitzgerald has written a number of novels, all appealingly brief.  The Bookshop is only 122 pages in length, and that was a point in its favor for this second go round.  The novel was first published in Britain way back in 1978, but it did not make an appearance in America until 1997, when I first read it.  Back then, I was working in a book shop downtown so I was very interested in it. 

The book may be short, but Fitzgerald packs a lot in it.  The story takes place in the 1950s, when the effects of World War II are still heavily felt in England, and there is little “extra” in everyday life.  It centers around a young widow who moves to a new town with plans to start a bookshop.  It seems a simple enough dream, and one that should bring something new and welcome to the townspeople but there are others who find her plans disruptive.  The main antagonist is an aristocratic matron.  She is so disturbed by the widow’s plans that she orchestrates other townspeople in various roles within the community to thwart the widow’s every move. 

I won’t say more about the novel, but I will say that I have only read one other work of fiction that captures this level of cruelty, through societal means and methods, against another human being.  That book is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a shockingly cruel novel.

In 2018, The Bookshop was made into a film starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and one of my favorite British actors, Bill Nighy.  In one of those rare instances, I found the film to be better than the book.  Extraneous details were removed that were unnecessary in the novel, and new life was brought to the characters in such a way that added poignancy and drama.  Both are highly recommended.

Book cover of Easter Island

Next on my list of “read it again” titles was Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, a book I first read back in 2003. I love to read first novels and this was a first that really appealed to me.  I’ve always found the conundrum of Easter Island to be interesting.  Who was responsible for the creation of the Moai – those massive stone heads spread across the island?  How did the islanders carry off such a feat with simple tools?  How were the Moai moved into place?   There were other questions too.  Why are there no trees on the island?  Why is there little vegetation at all?  How hard would it be to live there?  I wanted to know and I hoped this book would tell me and entertain me at the same time.  Reader, I am here to tell you it did!

The story interweaves two threads.  Two stories of newlyweds, separated by nearly a century, experience the same trials.  Both couples are scholars, both follow their research interests and Easter Island is at first, a haven.  Neither relationship survives intact, but the events that transpire to tear them apart are full of pathos.  Among the most compelling elements of the story to me was the discovery of the rongorongo, a type of hieroglyphic writing carved into wood fragments.  This form of writing is completely original and it was discovered on Easter Island in the 19th century.  The surviving glyphs are studied to this day.  Although many scholars have attempted to decipher them, no one has.  The rongorongo remains a mystery.

I found Vanderbes book to be exceptionally well researched and equally well written.  It did indeed answer my questions and provide an excellent read, even for the second time.  After all, 2003 was a long time ago!  If you have an interest in archaeology and enjoy historical fiction, I recommend it. 

Book cover of People of the Book

I suppose no one will be surprised that Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book, was on my re-reading list.  This is one of those books that many people have recommended to me and I’m glad they did.  First published in 2008, People of the Book was definitely worth a second read.  When the story opens, Hanna, a book conservator, has been brought to Sarajevo to examine an ancient haggedah, a Jewish text that describes the order of the Passover Seder, only this copy comes with mysterious illustrations.   

As Hanna works through the text, she discovers bits of material that represent the life of the book, the many people and places that, when researched, will reveal its travels. A fragment of a butterfly wing found only in a specific geographic location, a cat’s hair that leads to the discovery of the artist’s technique, and wine stains that point to an historic moment in time, all of these things slowly reveal the book’s journey, chapter after chapter. 

As a librarian, I have even used this book in a material culture class, where discussions center around the elements and materials that make up the book and how they point to the book’s origins, its moment in time.  The names of previous owners, a flower pressed between pages, doodles and drawings, labels and bookplates, all of these things, when examined, can illuminate the life of the book to the student and the scholar. 

The Library Book Book Cover

Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, is the one book that I read for the very first time.  You might be surprised that, since it was published in 2018, I might have had the opportunity to read it before this date, but no, I had not.  There I was, browsing the shelves in our local Barnes and Noble and the hard red cover of The Library Book jumped right out at me on the shelf.  Oh yeah, I thought, I’ve been meaning to read this.  So I bought it.

To be honest, I don’t like the hard, thick, red boards that make up the covers.  I don’t like the printed endpapers.  And usually, if I see a sticker on the book that says this is recommended by so and so’s book club, I tend to shy away from it.  I prefer to make my own reading choices and not follow the crowd.  But this was a book about library books, after all, and as a librarian I felt compelled, nay, it was my duty, to read it.  I walked right up to the counter and purchased it, along with some frivolous but highly enjoyable magazines. 

Despite all of these initial turn offs, I was engaged with this book from the get go.  Frankly, I couldn’t put it down.  Orlean is a fantastic writer.  I have read other books by her and enjoyed them, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would find this book so compelling.  I love a good mystery and the fire that destroys the Los Angeles public library is both tragic and fascinating. The efforts to find the arsonist, if there was one, do not come to a happy conclusion.  The biographical descriptions of the librarians, from the 19th century to the present day were nothing short of revelatory.  Each generation of librarians initiated programs and events that helped to revolutionize librarianship throughout the nation.  I loved reading these stories and felt inspired by them.

Finally, I found a twist I wasn’t expecting within these pages.  Orlean discussed book burnings of other kinds and the one that really grabbed me was the burning of comic books in the small town of Spencer, West Virginia, instigated by a school teacher, Mabel Riddle, in the 1940s.  Not only was I surprised to see a West Virginia story in the book but I was doubly surprised to read about a book burning in the state that I had never heard of!  Just saying – future blog post alert!

So, there you have it.  The books I read and re-read this summer.  I recommend all of them.  If they read as well the second time around, think how much you might enjoy them the first time.  And the best news of all, they can be found at your local library.

Sources: 

Libraries to host Eleanor Smeal talk to mark Suffrage Centennial

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 20th, 2020
Eleanor Smeal

In commemoration of the Suffrage Centennial, the WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries Virtual Program will host Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m. Register for this virtual program at https://wvu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIqc-yhrjovHtx7x3qOFbQv-71CXS9_0d2S

This event is in conjunction with WVU Libraries’ exhibition Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage  and in partnership with the West Virginia Women Vote of Morgantown coalition.

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Mock Apple Pie

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 18th, 2020

Initial research and writing by Jessica Eichlin, Reference Supervisor, WVRHC; additional writing and pie making by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Today I’d like to look at mock foods.  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America defines “mock foods” in a number of different ways[1].  A mock food can be a dish made with the substitution of a primary ingredient, a food that tastes like another, a dish that looks like another, an economical alternative, a dish with less of a key ingredient, or a dish made with vegetarian alternatives.  Mock foods can trace their roots back to the medieval period, where expert chefs would manipulate the appearance of a dish to impress or entertain eaters.  In one way or another, mock foods have persisted since the medieval period.

Curious about the presence of mock dishes in West Virginia, we turned to the collections at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  Seven cookbooks sampled by Jessica yielded a dozen different recipes for mock cherry pie, mock apple pie, mock duck, mock oysters, and mock turtle soup.  The presence of mock dishes in these cookbooks indicates their popularity in the region, as most of the cookbooks she sampled were those with recipes submitted by community members.  Mock dishes likely appealed to cooks in West Virginia in the early 1900s who were tasked with creating familiar dishes using the resources at hand.  Resourceful cooks turned to mock dishes because the usual ingredients were either too hard to obtain or expensive.  With West Virginia’s rugged terrain, isolation often forced cooks to creatively bake with what they could get and what they could afford, not just during times of particular hardship such as war or economic downtimes. Mock foods seem like a great COVID-19 pandemic blog suject because they have a bit of a “what can I make with pantry staples without having to mask up and go to the store” vibe.

The mock food item I want to focus on today is mock apple pie.  Mock apple pie has a long history. Thanks to the Food Timeline website’s entry on mock apple pie, I found a recipe for “cracker pie” from the February 14, 1857 issue of the Saturday Evening Post: “CRACKER PIE—As apples are very scarce in many sections of the country, I think the housewife will find the following recipe for making an apple pie out of crackers, very acceptable. For a common sized baking plate, take four of the square or six of the round crackers, a teacupfull of sugar, and a teaspoonfull of tartaric acid; break the crackers into a pint of water, add the sugar and acid and finish as an apple pie.”[2]

Potentially the most well known version of mock apple pie was introduced to Americans by Nabisco in the 1930s, as a way to use their Ritz crackers when apples were perhaps out of season or too expensive. The “Mock Foods” entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America confirms that the Ritz recipe “evolved from mid-nineteenth-century imitation apple pies and mock mince pies, which were made with soda crackers [a.k.a. saltines], sugar, and spices. Crackers have a history of approximating apple pie in both texture and taste.”

That last sentence is where things get contentious.  When I explained to my husband that I would be making this pie and asking him to taste test it, he expressed skepticism at the idea that mock apple pie could taste similar to apple pie, or even be something worth eating.  When I suggested that apple pie doesn’t really taste like apples, and that crackers and spices could come close to the same taste, he expressed mock dismay that I didn’t remember how the apple pies that he makes actually taste like apples.

A Book of Favorite Recipes Compiled by Bruceton Mills Community, 1965, includes two recipes for mock apple pie, both made with Ritz crackers, on pages 44-45. Since the second recipe includes attribution, cinnamon, and a baking time, I decided to try that one. I’ve copied both below in case someone wants to give the first one a try.

pages from cookbook showing apple related recipes

Mock Apple Pie (no attribution)

Filling

2 c. water

1 c. sugar

1 lump butter

2 tsp. cream of tartar

23 Ritz crackers, broken in quarters. Put in a two quart saucepan

Boil together for 2 minutes. Pour this over Ritz crackers and boil 1 minute but do not stir. Put in double crust pie.

Mock Apple Pie, Mrs. Betty Casteel

3 c. sugar

4 c. water

4 tsp. cream of tartar

40 Ritz crackers

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon (or more)

Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar and boil 5 minutes. Add to sugar mixture Ritz crackers, crumbled and cinnamon. Cook 2 minutes longer. Bake in a two crust pie at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or cream and sugar if desired.  Filling for 2 pies. [emphasis added]

Mock apple pie filling in unbaked pie shell
The mock apple pie filling looks almost like real apple pie filling if you don’t crumble the crackers too finely, or look too closely.

For anyone else who uses this recipe, I recommend seriously considering your pie plate size versus your filling amount. I used a 9 inch pie plate that was about 2 inches deep, and I made half the recipe, which should have been enough for one pie. The pie filling didn’t fill up the pie as much as I would have liked, leading me to wonder if pie plates were smaller in 1965.

Unbaked two-crust pie
I went ahead and baked my under-filled pie.
Two-crust pie in ceramic pie plate
The edges got very brown after 27 minutes in the oven–I should have covered them with tin foil after the first 20 minutes to protect them.
Slice of pie
If I told you it was apple pie, you would believe me, right?
Pie crust with filing attached
I took this close-up to show off the texture of the filling, which didn’t betray its Ritz-y origins.

The three people who tasted the pie for me all agreed it turned out better than expected.  The general feeling was that if someone gave you a slice after dinner and you ate it quickly, you wouldn’t question that it was apple pie. The biggest critique is the lack of chunks that would add to the real-apple feeling. I wonder if bakers could overcome this lack of chunks by using a more substantial cracker, or not crumbling the crackers before baking. Overall, I decided this mock apple pie was a satisfying substitution.

If anyone is interested in exploring mock foods at home, there are a few recipes to get you started in one of our digitized texts, Souvenir cook book compiled from the best recipes of members of the Woman’s Club of Harper’s Ferry District, 1915, 1920, which is part of the History Center’s Printed Ephemera Collection. These include mock duck, mock oysters, and mock cherry pie. If you make a mock dish, or if you have any great mock food recommendations, let us know!


[1] Olver, Lynne M. “Mock Foods.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195154375.001.0001/acref-9780195154375-e-0531

[2] “Useful Receipts.” Saturday Evening Post (1839-1885) Feb 14 1857: 4. ProQuest. Web. 18 Aug. 2020.

Libraries opening to students and faculty; check website for hours

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 11th, 2020

The Downtown Campus, Evansdale and Health Sciences libraries and libraries at WVU Tech and Potomac State College are now open for students, staff and faculty. The Law Library is open to Law faculty and staff, and will open for Law students on Aug. 15.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center is open to the University community by appointment only. To schedule a visit email wvrhcref@mail.wvu.edu or call 304-293-3536.

Users will be required to swipe their ID card for access to the Downtown Campus, Evansdale and Law libraries. Also, they need to follow the health and safety protocols of mask-wearing and physical distancing.

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