The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades – Inaugurations in the Archives

Ticket to the 1937 Inauguration (John A. Ryan Papers)

Every four years, on an often cold and wet wintry day, thousands gather on the National Mall and along Constitution Avenue to witness the peaceful transfer of power, as one President steps down and another takes the oath of office. Being located in Washington, DC, the CUA Archives has naturally accumulated images and documents related to the preparations and events that occur before and on Inauguration Day. While we have a number of photos and articles taken by witnesses to the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, the highlight of our inaugural materials are Taft’s inaugural in 1909 and Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937.

While every inauguration is an historic occasion, the 1937 ceremonies stands out in our collections for being both the first swearing-in to occur on January 20 and the first to have a public benediction. And the person who delivered this first benediction was Msgr. John A. Ryan, CUA alumnus and professor. During the contentious election of 1936, Ryan had delivered a speech defending Roosevelt against the criticisms of radio host and Michigan priest Fr. Coughlin. Being a steady ally and faithful advisor to the President on matters of Catholic outreach and minimum wage advocacy, Ryan was invited by Roosevelt in early January to provide the inaugural prayer.

1909 Inaugural Parade (Powderly Photographic Print Collection)

Thanks to Ryan’s personal involvement in this inauguration – also providing the benediction at the 1945 ceremonies – the Archives possesses a number of documents from the beginning of the second Roosevelt administration. From the tickets and programs to the “President’s Platform” seating chart and a parking pass to get through security, Ryan kept the materials from the inaugural he helped bless.

As far as it being the first January inauguration, the Constitution originally specified that the President be sworn in on March 4. With travel much easier and concerns over the Lame Duck period in both Congress and the White House, the passage of the Twentieth Amendment occurred in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to its current date. The 1937 Inauguration thus marked the first time the oath-taking occurred on a blustery January day.

Of course, it was not the first frigid inauguration! Weather was clearly not a factor in determining the date of the presidential swearing-in. As witnessed in the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints collection, snow was a frequent backdrop to the March ceremonies. The 1909 Inauguration is a prime example that the later date did not guarantee a sunny day in Washington!

Powderly snapped the top photo of the National Treasury staged for the 1917 Inaugural Parade. I snapped the below photo at the same site for the 2017 Parade.

While Powderly worked on-and-off with Presidents from McKinley to Coolidge, his photographs highlight the spectator side of inaugural set-ups and parades. Present in his collection are images of the parades of both Taft (1909) and Wilson (1913, 1917).  The 1909 Inauguration, then held on March 4, witnessed a blizzard the night before. Dumping 10 inches of snow on the city, the storm threatened to cancel the outdoor events, including the traditional parade. While the weather forced the swearing-in to move indoors to the Senate chamber, thousands of city workers labored frantically to clear the parade route. Due to their hard work, the Inaugural Parade proceeded as normal, albeit with many snow drifts visible along the route. (Incidentally, this was also the last year any official Inaugural Ball was held until 1949. When Wilson took office in 1913, he found the concept of galas unbecoming and too expensive and none were held again until Truman’s inaugural.)

No matter the weather – rain, snow, or shine – or the political or social changes that occur, and with or without an accompanying dance, the route of the Inaugural Parade and process of oath-taking has remained a constant in American politics and Washington life.

You can view find out more about the individuals who provide this glimpse into past inaugurations here:

The Archivist’s Nook: A Labor of Love – Lantern Slides of T.V. Powderly

“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11
“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11

A treasure trove of almost 2,000 lantern slides belonging to labor leader Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924) resides in our Archive. These transparent glass slides, also referred to as “magic” lantern slides, are an eclectic mix of images taken by amateur photographer Powderly as well as commercially produced images he purchased. As a native of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Powderly incorporated many images of creeks and mountains of the keystone state – as well as the occasional coal mine – into the collection. True to his roots as a leader of the Knights of Labor, many images of industrial technology are included, especially of locomotives. There are monuments and works of art from around the world, as well as personal portraits of the Powderly family at their home in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington D.C.

Short History of Lantern Slides

To get a handle on this collection, we first look to the history of the lantern slide format and how it was used. Photographic lantern slides appeared about a decade after the invention of photography in the mid-1800s, although projectable hand painted images existed long before. At about 3.25 x 4 inches, lantern slides are physically made up of a negative printed onto a sheet of glass as a positive, transparent image. The image could then be painstakingly hand colored or matted to achieve the desired effect. Next, an additional sheet of glass was placed over the transparency, creating a glass “sandwich” to protect the surface of the photograph. Finally, the two sheets of glass were taped together, and could be inserted into a magic lantern for projection and viewing.

Lantern slides were used for two purposes: entertainment and education. The primary purpose of our USCCB Lantern Slide Collection was educational, as they accompanied presentations detailing the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s work with veterans of the First and Second World Wars in the United States. The diversity and sheer number of slides in Powderly’s collection suggest he used his slides both for entertainment and educational purposes depending on the setting. While the family portraits could have been used as the equivalent of “family home videos,” the images of industry could have been part of his work with the Knights of Labor.

These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!
These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!

Additional information on the history of lantern slides:

Taking Inventory

At some point prior to the arrival of the slides at the Archives in 2009, someone attempted to reorder the collection into simple thematic groups, such as “Stone Monuments,” “D.C. and World” and “People.” In the archival world, “respect des fonds” (preserving the original order of a group of records), is an important and fundamental principle. Often, the original order shows relationships and provides insight into how the records were accessed and used. Presumably, Powderly had his own numbered list so he could easily keep track of his collection. Since we do not have this original master list, we will be reconstructing it as we process this large collection. Going through each of the slides, we will record basic information such as the slide number and title. This is also a good time to take note of any damage the slides might have sustained.

“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817
“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817

Rehousing

After completing the list, if we find it is more valuable for researchers to have the slides in the original order, we will reorganize them to match Powderly’s original intent. When handling the slides, we wear powder-free nitrile gloves to protect the images from fingerprints and hand oils.  During this phase, we will also remove the slides from their crumbling containers and place them in archival, acid free boxes. Before doing so, each lantern slide will be carefully enfolded in a four-flap envelope to protect the surface of the image. Lantern slides are surprisingly heavy, so we place no more than 70 slides in a small box. Even then, these boxes are like bricks! As of this writing, we are a little under half way through rehousing the slides.

Additional information on the housing of lantern slides:

Digitizing

Once a collection is organized and rehoused, the next question is to determine whether or not to digitize. Some questions to ask before choosing to digitize could include: Are these materials unique? Will digitization promote access to these materials? Will digitization help preserve the collection? In our case, digitization is not a high priority as many of the same images have already been scanned from prints available through the Terence Vincent Powderly Photographic Prints Digital Collection. However, should we choose to pursue digitization, many wonderful resources are available online to guide us through the process.

“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917
“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917

Additional information on the digitization of lantern slides:

Last Thoughts

Lantern slides are an interesting format with a rich history and a few special concerns, such as sensitivity to light, fragility, heavy weight, and need of specific housing materials. By taking a systematic approach to the various steps of the project, our large collection belonging to Terence Vincent Powderly will continue to be organized and rehoused as time and resources permit. For additional information about the life and times of amateur photographer, slide maker, labor leader, and former mayor of Scranton T.V. Powderly, check out the finding aid of his manuscript collection.

The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.
Treasure Chest, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.

My colleague Dr. Maria Mazzenga has blogged previously about digital materials, especially those used in the American Catholic History Classroom teaching sites. My intent here is to review the separate and distinct digital collections that originated from a 2001 grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Program to The Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC), of which CUA is a member. Each member was asked to provide materials for digitization via WRLC’s collaborative facilities known as the Digital Collection Production Center (DCPC), and CUA provided a total of ten collections during the DCPC’s era of operation, 2002-2010.

I confess that I am not one of those archivists mesmerized by every new shiny bauble that comes along, so I had curmudgeonly doubts about the utility of putting resources into digitizing at that time. Fortunately, taking a chance turned out to be the right thing to do as the collections selected (or ‘curated’) have been enduringly popular and frequently accessed by researchers. However, things have changed since 2010 and the process to create what many would call these ‘boutique’ collections is now being augmented, if not superseded, by mass digitization of a broader range of materials and formats (which my colleague Paul Kelly will talk more about future). Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!”