The Archivist’s Nook: Conservation in Rare Books

St. Jerome with lion, Epistolae, ca. 1400 (MS 168) Learn more about why Jerome is often pictured with a lion here.

Beginning last year, Special Collections staff began a process of reviewing Catholic University’s Rare Books collection for works facing conservation issues. With over 65,000 works in the collection, we had to focus on the most immediate concerns. Of particular interest was the manuscripts collection, which holds over 200 one-of-a-kind handwritten texts from the medieval to the early modern period, ranging from alchemy treatises to choral books.

After working alongside graduate students and faculty from the Department of Greek and Latin, our staff selected four initial works to send offsite for conservation with local vendor Quarto. The four we chose exhibited serious binding and textual issues that threatened not only the long-term survival of the works but also severely limited their safe access by patrons.

Our goal in Special Collections is to provide both our external and campus patrons with access to the works they need to research and study. And thus, our number one goal in conserving these manuscripts was to render them stable for both eventual digitization and in-person access, without damaging the text or any original materials in the binding.

We would like to keep the campus community informed about the progress of this long-term project, so whenever we finish with a batch of books, we will post a blog on the highlights of the returned works. And so without further ado, we present the four most recently conserved works for your consideration:

1. De emandatione pectoris [and various other works], ca. 1450 (MS 114)

This work from the mid-fifteenth century contains theological and spiritual works from a number of late antique and medieval authors, ranging from Caesarius of Arles to Leonardo Bruni.

MS 114 – before (left) and after (right) conservation.

Comparing the before conservation photos (left column) with the after conservation (right column) reveals a subtle, but important, difference. This late medieval text was rebound sometime in the 18th century, with a leather covering that was beginning to experience red rot (a common degradation in vegetable-treated leather). The leather cover was cracked and loose, most notably along the spine. This cracking made it difficult to access the text without further damaging the leather covering and binding around the spine.

To resolve the issues limiting access, the conservators repaired and reaffixed the damaged part of the spine. They also used treatments to clean the textblock (the stacks of pages inside the covers and binding) of the manuscript and slow the process of decay of the leather binding.

2. St. Jerome, Epistolae, ca. 1400 (MS 168)

This northern Italian manuscript of Jerome’s letters is a beautiful work with a gorgeous miniature (a small illustration) on its opening text page (as pictured above). Sadly, accessing the work was difficult without its stabilizing boards attached.

MS 168 – Top and left center photo show the manuscript prior to conservation, with the bottom and right center image after.

Medieval and early modern books are usually bound with wooden boards over the front and back pages, offering stabilization and protection to the textblock contained between them. The boards, which are bound together with the textblock, are then covered with leather. These wooden boards can experience rotting or damage, but in this case, the binding had loosened, causing the boards to become completely detached from the textblock and spine. This made accessing the text difficult without adding damaging pressure onto the first few pages of the text.

In the collage on the right, you can see what the manuscript looked like a year ago, including how the front and back cover boards were completely loose.  On the bottom and right center photos, you can see the work Quarto did to restore the binding. The conservators rebound the boards to the textblock and added chemical solutions to stabilize the cover’s leather.

3. Johannes Canonicus, Quaestiones supra octo libros physicorum, 1364 (MS 169)

This may have been the most challenging of the works sent offsite. A manuscript reflecting on Aristotle’s Physics, the entire binding and cover boards of the work were warped, pest damaged, and decayed to such a degree that it was virtually impossible to safely open the manuscript. But this was a popularly requested manuscript from researchers!

MS 169 – Top photos are before conservation, with the bottom two after.

To complicate matters, the cover boards appear to be original to the text, dating from the 14th century. However, the spine is coated and bound in a much later (19th century) paper binding, including bits of newsprint. This paper binding had rapidly deteriorated and was marked with evidence of past insect infestation. The binding was effectively non-existent, with the work and its textblock loose. Even attempting to open the book was difficult and caused damage to the text. Serious work was needed to stabilize it for continued use.

You can see the end result of Quarto’s work above. Keeping the original boards and binding was nigh-impossible, so the conservators created replica boards and alum-tawed calf cover (a calf leather prepared with a liquid solution to create a white appearance) — mimicking the style and weight of the original — with new binding.

MS 169 – String and paper binding shown on top, with original board on bottom.

But fear not! We do not toss out book materials in rare books! These pieces can tell us so much about the original production of a work or later restoration, rebindings, or conservation work. So the original boards, spine, and threads have all been kept and added to our collections. Patrons wishing to access the collections may see these pieces, alongside the restored manuscript.

4. German prayer book, 1440-80 (MS 178)

Our final work is a fifteenth-century prayer book from Germany. A small, but bulky text, this work presented an interesting challenge. Not only was the front board missing and the original binding exposed, but several pages were loose throughout the text. The back board was still present and attached, with the original leather partially covering it (but cracking and brittle). With cracking leather and an exposed textblock, handling this work was precarious.

MS 178 – Left column of images are before conservation, with the right after.

In the left column, you can see the manuscript prior to conservation. On the right is the manuscript after conservation. The goal was to stabilize the textblock for access and preserve the original binding, board, and leather. In order to do so, Quarto crafted a facsimile board for the cover, worked to stabilize the surviving leather, and reattach the loose pages. Without modifying or removing the original binding threads, the conservation team attached the new board to the front and developed a paper chemise (a case in which a book is stored) to offer an extra layer of protection to the text and binding. This chemise is easily removable (as seen in the photos) and will allow patrons to study the original binding, board, and leather. When not needed for viewing, the chemise can be slipped back on to protect these original components.

While there are many details that this post did not cover with respect to conservation efforts — especially when it comes to cleaning the textblock’s pages — we welcome all patrons to send us questions about the conservation process or these manuscripts.

As we work on our conservation efforts, we will continue to update the community. In the meantime, if you have any questions about accessing the above manuscripts or any materials in Rare Books or Special Collections, please contact us at: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

Our digitized manuscripts may also be viewed at this link.

The Archivist’s Nook: Teleworking in the Archives

After a few months away, finally back in the stacks. Something seems different?

During spring break week in mid March, as many of the Catholic University community were away from campus, the Archives staff met to discuss our contingency plans for the spreading pandemic. Our researchers from across the United States and the world were beginning to cancel or delay scheduled appointments, and we began to determine how best to shift our services and resources online. With little time to prepare, we readied the stacks for a possible long-term closure.

Friday, March 13, 2020 would end up being the last normal day of work at the Archives. (Yes, Friday the 13th was when our “luck” ran out.)

When we think of essential workers during the current crisis, we rightly think of medical professionals, delivery drivers, grocery and pharmacy employees, custodians, etc. But even among those professions mostly teleworking, there are those who exercise an essential function. In addition to the facilities staff (a huge shout out to them!), many administrators and librarians at Catholic University have continued coming to campus to assist in the transition to online instruction, to guarantee that students and faculty (as well as most staff) could remain safely at home.

My home office, with a book to prop up my laptop for Zoom sessions and serve as comforting reading when I need a break.

As for the Archives staff, we need to monitor our collections to guarantee that the humidity and temperature levels are maintained at proper levels, that leaks are not occurring, or that bugs are not infesting the stacks! Plus, as many online collections as we have, most of our materials are still only available onsite. Each of our staff received a letter marking us as essential employees, able to come in to protect the collections during the strictest period of the DC shutdown.

Does that mean we took unnecessary risks to visit the stacks? No. Most of us continued to telework, with two of our staff (who live close by or can drive in) stopping in one to two days a week to check the collections. (A special thank you to Archivist, John Shepherd, and Special Collections Technician, Brandi Marulli, for keeping the onsite stacks maintained during the first few months of the pandemic. Not to mention Curator, Maria Mazzenga, and Graduate Library Pre-professional, Amanda Bernard, for expanding our digital presence during the shutdown.) As for me? I began to return to the onsite collections in June.

“Stay Home” signage lines the streets of my neighborhood. One morning, I found one such sign sitting like this just outside my house. Cleaning up or an artistic statement?

Overall, I have been fortunate thus far. I’ve been able to mostly telework, have kept my livelihood, and been healthy. As a current graduate student, despite my displeasure at endless Zoom sessions, my remote classes have kept me busy. (Knitting during Zoom classes tends to help me stay focused on the lecture/discussion!)

With that said, I do live alone. Many days are long, with my small basement apartment becoming the center for my entire life. For over four months, often the only outdoor activity I may get is an occasional walk or an early morning trip to the grocery store.

My family is back in central Nebraska, and they reside mere blocks from a meatpacking plant forced to remain open, despite becoming a hot spot for the virus. My family had no options for teleworking and the local authorities seemed unwilling to take the pandemic seriously. For months, almost every morning, before logging into my laptop to work remotely, I would talk to my relatives on the phone to see how everyone was doing and check in myself. (So far, so good!)

George Avenue in late March, after the Maryland and DC “stay at home” orders went into effect. This is at the height of rush hour, when this road is usually bumper-to-bumper traffic.

All this has made me reflect on my short- and long-term plans. Every year, I visit my family several times. But not in 2020. Maybe not in 2021. Wherever I have been in life, I have always found my way back to Nebraska every Christmas and New Years, to see my family and childhood friends. This may be the first time in my life I must skip that journey, for fear of risking my family’s safety by traveling.

I worry about finances, as so many schools and businesses face tough economic choices. I consider my meager savings now as not only a cushion for myself but possibly for my distant family and friends.

While taking graduate coursework during a pandemic is a challenge unto itself, I am relieved to have the distraction. But also taking these courses has helped provide a sense that my life is not stagnating in quarantine, that I am advancing in some capacity while sitting at home most of the week.

I have friends and family who are public school teachers, rewriting their wills as they are potentially put back into classrooms too early, grocery store workers and truck drivers on the “front lines” for months on end with no breaks, and childcare workers furloughed. I know people who (incorrectly) claim the virus is a hoax, and others who will never leave their homes out of fear of getting sick. I know people afraid, people struggling, and people offering hope.

I live mere blocks from a food pantry. One to two days a week since late March, a long line has stretched down the street from it. It is heart-breaking to see, but it is also encouraging that the pantry keeps helping. Volunteers still go in, despite any personal risks to health. Food is still being handed out to each person in that line. Donations keep coming in.

Mullen Library main stairwell, with not a soul around.

Collecting stories can be exhausting – reliving my own experiences of the pandemic or empathizing with those submitting their own accounts – but it is crucial work to preserve our tales for the future, to vocalize our experiences, and to help us understand that we are part of a broader web of human experiences during challenging times.

There are millions of stories during this pandemic. Many negative, some positive, and most still being written.

Keeping a journal myself, I want to end with one short reflection I wrote a few weeks ago, after I came to campus and had entered the still-closed library:

As I entered Mullen Library at 6:30 in the morning to check on the collections, I found myself alone in the building. Staring over my face covering and fogged-up glasses, I found a sight I usually love – a quiet, uncrowded library.

But not like this.

Not for these reasons.

Not due to a pandemic keeping patrons away and staff at home. Not from an economic crisis forcing us to make hard choices about what services we can provide. Not due to BIPOC students feeling targeted on campus, thus feeling unwelcome in their own library.

So many of us as individuals, groups, and localities have sacrificed to slow this pandemic, have helped those hurting economically, and have protested and started the long-term processes of confronting our own internalized and institutionalized racism.

Staring around me at dawn, this quiet library served as a reminder of both these challenges facing us and the collective actions we are taking to address them.

It is shuttered to help us control the spread of a virus. It is quiet due to staff mostly teleworking, with the Library working to maintain their employment and health in uncertain times. It is a time in which libraries are further reflecting on and working to address institutionalized racism in the profession, while providing (usually digital) sources to help others learn about these issues.

What will define this empty library – the challenges of the present moment or the work that hopefully helps and changes our culture? I’m a historian, not a seer, but I’ll do my best with my small platform in this currently quiet library to help.

In a few short weeks, there may be more people going up and down these stairs. While I’d like to see that, I do have concerns. So I’ll keep my mask and hope handy.

Just one account among many during these times of pandemic, social change, and economic upheaval.

To learn more about submitting your own story, please see this form. Questions or concerns can be addressed to: lib-archives+covid19@cua.edu

The Archivist’s Nook: War Comes to Campus – CatholicU Students in a Time of Crisis

Catholic University Receives War News Calmly

WWII Memorial, originally dedicated in McMahon Hall in 1945. Made by local sculptor, Frank Zuchet, it reads at the top, “We ask a memento for these students of the university who have died in service of their country”.

So reads the main headline of the December 12, 1941 Tower — the first issue of the Catholic University student newspaper published after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. But reading into the article it headlines, and the many articles and letters that are in this same issue, one finds a variety of emotions on display beyond just “calm.” Many members of the campus community expressed fear and anger, patriotism, or even disinterest. This particular issue is a symphony of emotions and uncertainty. Students, faculty, and staff report hopes for peace, desire for revenge, or even attempts at making jokes. Columns advocated for a quick response by the college student to the crisis facing the nation and world. Rumors swirled about what would happen. The uncertainty about the length and severity of the conflict, or even if universities would be able to continue operating the same way in the short- or long-term weighed on many minds in December 1941 and in the months and years ahead.

In hindsight, it is easy to assume that everyone understood what was happening at the time and shared in a collective response. The hindsight of history has provided us with a perspective of the days and weeks following the US entry into World War II that can be uniform and seem well-planned, with every person and institution on the same page. But people and history are seldom so simple and clear-cut. And looking through the student-led Tower during the war years reveals the anxieties, hope, adjustments, and ultimate triumph of the campus community in the face of a global challenge.

Catholic University War Bonds Fundraiser in Mullen Library, 1943

To better understand their place and how their university may respond, students turned to the last major global conflict — World War I. The Tower reports efforts to understand how campus offices functioned and how groups such as the “Student Army Training Corps” operated at the time. Articles reflect on students enlisting and highlighted the way students rallied both to the nation and to the campus during the “Great War.” The paper also took pride in highlighting the service of WWI veterans among the current faculty and alumni community. In its column “C. U. Men of Yesteryear,” the focus shifted from job promotions and weddings to reporting largely on military enlistments. In the August 20, 1943  issue, the Tower casually reported on Class of 1912 alumni: 

Major-General Terry Allen, who so successfully commanded the first U.S. Infantry Division in North Africa, is currently leading the same outfit in the Sicily Campaign. 

Generals Omar Bradley (left), Terry de la Mesa Allen (center), and Dwight Eisenhower (right) pictured on November 10, 1944 in Grenzhof, Germany.

But it was not all focused on the war fronts, as campus life did continue. Changes to college life during the war years were anticipated, with a November 1942 Tower article discussing rumors about changing academic calendars, adjustments to how classes may be taught, and even shifting commencement dates. As the author put it: 

It indicated that the men in charge of the war effort, having solved the major problems connected with transferring the processes of civilian life to the methods of total war, were coming round to putting an end to the difficulties of the position of the colleges in war time.

As the war continued throughout the early 1940s, material and demographic changes occurred on campus. In addition to some dances and social gatherings, USO training sessions were held and military exercises occurred on campus. Publications like the Cardinal Yearbook were suspended from 1944-1947, and more women were able to enroll on campus.

1517th Army unit specialized training program at Catholic University, August 1943, marching in front of the now-vanished Albert Hall

As recounted in an earlier blog, the admittance of women to Catholic University was still relatively new and often limited to programs in the School of Nursing. But with so many male students enlisting, women began to take more active roles on the campus. In early 1943, for example, nine School of Nursing students joined the Tower staff as its first women members. But these writers were not merely replacements meant to keep the newspaper afloat, they were active agents shaping the future of the campus.

Among the nine writers, columnist and member of the Tower business staff Margaret Clarke ‘44, wrote:

It seems that throughout history women are facing some form of competition, some barrier, some challenge. Just in the past World War I days the women of the entire nation faced a challenge when they tried to gain the legal right to vote. But they overcame this challenge, and the country really doesn’t seem any worse today for it…Maybe if the few of this University would come to the realization that the women, too, belong to the University, that they are worthy of having an interest in what goes on about them on their campus. And yes, they have a right to partake in the various campus activities…maybe some day the few will learn to accept these students – and the University really won’t seem any worse then for it.

Catholic University War Bond Drive in McMahon Hall, 1943.

Despite the war ending in 1945, it would take several years for certain pre-war elements of campus life to return. For example, the Shahan Debating Society ceased operations during the war years and only returned in 1946. But other changes were fast and permanent. Women were more prevalent and active in the campus community. Not to mention, the G.I. Bill also led to an increased enrollment, dramatically ballooning the size of incoming classes. And with this increased enrollment came more and more new programs on the campus, from the School of Music to aerospace studies.

But students did not forget the war. Many of those present on the campus in the late 1940s and beyond were veterans. Memorials, both in print and in stone and wood, were established to remember the students and alumni who had passed away in the conflict. 

The November 12, 1946 sports page in the Tower memorialized those lost in the war. The caption reads: “The Editors of The Tower dedicate this potion of our paper to men of C. U. who made the supreme sacrifice, in World War I, and II, and whose names would have appeared on this page in various activities.”

During a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, Cardinals expressed various emotions and turned to the past to understand present challenges. But once the initial shock wore off, members of the campus community rallied both on and off campus, finding ways to win the day and build a University community adapted to the times. While sacrifices were made, opportunities also arose as the campus emerged out of the war years having forged new ways forward. Out of the crucible of crisis, Catholic University’s students adapted and persevered.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Catholic University COVID-19 Story Project – A Collection in Real Time

Stories may be shared to a digital archive, safely and remotely.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the world is undergoing an unprecedented moment in history. This collaborative effort between The Catholic University of America’s Library and Archives endeavors to document the reactions and experiences of members of the Catholic University community to the pandemic. As events continue to unfold, our stories and feelings may be in flux. We are living in a time on which future students and scholars will look back with curiosity and sympathy.

While the official records of the University’s response to this moment are already being collected in the University Archives, the idea behind this project is to paint a more complete picture of the historical moment. We welcome all submissions as small pieces in the larger mosaic of the Catholic University community’s experience of events related to the pandemic. This “collection in real time” will help future researchers study how our community collectively and individually adapted over the course of the pandemic. It will also put a human face on the administrative records from the period, illustrating the humor, fears, struggles, and triumphs across the community.

Studying or working remotely? Performing essential work? Keeping a journal of quarantined life? Trying to remain on top of things? Let us hear from you! (Pictured, student studying on the roof of Gibbons Hall, 1916.)

All members of the community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—are encouraged to submit their comments and reflections for inclusion in the historical record. These accounts in the moment will help tell the evolving story of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Please note that these submissions do not have to be one-time-only or created by one person. We invite contributors to continue to update your stories throughout the duration of these events and share contributions involving multiple voices and perspectives. Multimedia submissions—such as video diaries, audio recordings, photographs, and artwork—are welcome, too.

We are interested in stories about:

  • How campus and other closures have impacted your life
  • The transition to online classes
  • Working, studying, or researching during the pandemic
  • How you are staying in touch with family, friends, and your broader community
  • Experiences navigating social distancing, closures, or stay-at-home orders
  • Creative outlets or new routines during the pandemic
  • How your faith may have been impacted by your experience of the pandemic
  • Other changes or events you have witnessed within the University or your local community

To submit your stories, please follow the link to the form. This form will provide a template for submitting and allow you to review information about your rights and consent. It will also allow you to decide whether you would like us to share your story now or archive it for future scholarship. As we collect stories, we will post the accounts of those who wish to make their stories public.

Again, submissions may be submitted via this form. Questions or concerns can be addressed to: lib-archives+covid19@cua.edu

The Archivist’s Nook: Sr. Bowman Goes to Washington

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Sr. Bowman’s life was one rich with literature, music, education, and spirituality. A scholar and teacher to elementary- to college-age students – and even bishops. Bowman contributed to Catholic education, liturgy, and experience through her outreach and writings on music and education. And like Father Cyprian Davis, she was both an educator of and advocate for the Black Catholic experience – its creativity, art, history, and contributions to the Church.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Born in 1937 and raised in Canton, Mississippi, Bertha Bowman converted to Catholicism at the age of nine – convincing her parents to do likewise. By the age of 15, she decided to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, taking the religious name “Thea” or “of God”. She entered her postulancy at the order’s motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1953. Having witnessed police brutality and mob actions against members of her community growing up, Bowman’s parents were understandably nervous about their young daughter departing to join an all-white order. In a 1989 interview, Bowman recounts that her father warned her, “They’re not going to like you up there, the only black in the middle of all the whites.” Her response: “I’m going to make them like me.”[1]

While Bowman struggled with discrimination and health issues during the next decade of her life, she would quickly prove herself a skilled educator, serving with her order in Wisconsin, and later, her home state of Mississippi. Arriving at Catholic University in the late 1960s, she entered Washington at a key moment in the post-Vatican II Church, Civil Rights Movement, and Women’s Rights Movement. As a Black Catholic religious sister, she was well placed to speak to the overlapping issues of all three movements.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

During her tenure in Washington, Bowman gained further insight into her identity as an African-American religious sister. Her connections with the broader Church and global African community – both the diaspora and African students – reignited a passion that she would carry with her throughout the remainder of her life. She not only established the first class on Black literature on campus, but she became an advocate for African-American Catholicism beyond Catholic University. She soon became a speaker of the experience of the African community with the Catholic Church, both the trauma of the past and present as well as the creative output of the present and future.  Rhetoric and music were key interests of Sr. Bowman, both of which informed her approach to her teaching and spiritual practices. As she told CUA Magazine in 1990:

While studying literary theory, methodology and criticism at CUA I began to realize the extent to which music encodes values, history and faith of my people. While studying medieval ballads, I read an author who said the oral literary tradition no longer exists. I wrote a paper showing how the oral tradition is alive and well in the black community and how music is a way we have of preserving history and teaching values.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Bowman’s passion for teaching, rhetoric, and music was exemplified in the presentations she offered both on and off campus during her time in DC. She delivered a 1968 address on Black education at Howard University.[1] As recalled by the CUA English faculty, Bowman would perform African-American Gospel spirituals in traditional regalia for her fellow Catholic University students and faculty. These performances would then be followed by a talk on the rhetorical purpose of the performance’s various components from the words to the physical gestures.[2]

As both a MA and later doctoral student in English language and literature, she wrote her MA thesis (1969) and doctoral dissertation (1972) on St. Thomas More’s A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation. She was drawn to the rhetorical style of this text that More composed during his time imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Title page for Sr. Bowman’s 1972 dissertation

After finishing at Catholic University, Bowman returned to Mississippi, continuing to serve as an educator and advocate. She not only remained involved with her local communities, but traveled the nation (and world) speaking about Black music and literature within the Catholic Church. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984, one of her final lectures was before the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1989. During this talk she performed an African-American spiritual, and invited the assembled bishops to stand, hold hands, and sing along. Bowman passed away in 1990, but her legacy of teaching, outreach, and advocacy continues as represented by her cause for canonization and scholarships in her name.

[1] Smith, Charlene & John Feister. Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman. Orbis Books, 106-9.

[2] Smith & Feister, 38.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Mysterious Case of the Utopian Ghost Car

The Ghost Car parked outside Gibbons Hall, 1953. Real specter or merely a photographic trick?

Question of the week – where’s the Ghost Car? As you ought to know. a mysterious foreign ghost limousine haunted the campus for a few days early this week, and then, just as mysteriously, slipped away to Valhalla. – Tower, October 30, 1953

Once upon a time, the Catholic University of America campus was haunted by a specter so otherworldly and so unpredictable that it moved from building to building with the aid of a society of followers known as the Utopes. What message did this ghostly automobile wish to convey? What was its unfinished business? Why, it was there to advertise the 1953 Hayshaker Brawl dance!

The Hayshaker Brawl was a dance hosted by the Utopian Club – later renamed to the SIgma Phi Delta fraternity – held every other year at Halloween. It was an informal dance – in the 1960 posting for the Brawl, guests were warned, “But whatever you do, don’t you dare wear a coat and tie!” Costumes were encouraged, and the night’s events were marked by the occasional square dance set.

Founded on March 14, 1923, the Utopian Club was among the many social organizations that populated the Catholic University campus during the early twentieth century. Among the various clubs were the Senators Club, the Abbey Club, the Dod Noon Club, and (by 1935) the Cave Dwellers. In 1945, the Columbians would join these ranks as the first all-female social club on campus. All these organizations acted as communal societies, organizing everything from formal galas to, well, Hayshake Brawls. A previous blog discussed the origins of their Homecoming and Thanksgiving galas, but there was so many shaking traditions! Often these organizations would even partner up for a dance, with the Utopians and Columbians working to establish memorable outings such as the 1956 “Cloak and Dagger Drag”, an espionage-themed dance!

Look if you dare! The only known surviving image from the 1953 Hayshaker Brawl.

Party favors were offered to guests, and there was a best costume prize awarded at the end of the evening. The 1949 prize went to,  “Ginny Bradley, dressed as a ‘Flapper’ of 1929,” who “received a homemade television set as a prize for the best costume.” We cannot say for sure whether a homemade television was a real treat or some Utopian trick!

But perhaps the trick of the 1953 dance was its phenomenal promotion. The ghost car was a hit with students. After the Utopians had placed it outside Gibbons Hall, the Tower reports, “various outlanders, enchanted by the old girl, entered the act, and unbeknownst to the Utopes, old Ghost Car made the campus rounds, ending up in McMahon lobby.” Understandably, there were a few people on campus unhappy with this new, indoor parking space and an exorcism of the ghost commenced, with the Ghost Car vanishing to be never heard from again.

Despite the disappearance of the Ghost Car, the 1953 dance managed to remain in the minds of the campus community. As the Tower acclaimed, “we hereby give [the Utopians] the prize for the most original, if not most aesthetic, contribution to the field of advertising, which has been raised to the status of a fine art at the university.” But the car was not the only form of promotion that was deployed. Utopians spread it via word of mouth and through local ads. One of which proclaimed:

The 1949 Hayshaker Brawl experienced its own strange scenes.

Hear ye, hear ye! Be it decreed to all campus kats and kittens that the coolest conclave of the sorcerers’ season, the 15th annual Utopian Hayshaker Brawl is this year set for the misty hills of Northeast Washington.

The 1953 dance became such a legend that its organizer, Michael Clendenin, was heralded in the Tower 3 years later when he was about to graduate. (Of course, being the Tower editor maybe had something to do with the praise…) Clendenin described “his work with…the Utopians as the most rewarding and socially satisfying” during his time at Catholic University.

As for the Utopians? Like the Ghost Car, they have faded from campus and entered memory. In 1956, in honor of its long-time mentor, Fr. Ignatius Smith, O.P, the Utopians changed their name to the Sigma Pi Delta Fraternity, which ceased to be active at the University by the late 1980s. The Archives holds a small collection of Sigma Pi Delta material from the 1960s and 1970s.

But if you find yourself in McMahon Hall on a chilly October night, listen closely. Perhaps you may hear the engine roar of the Ghost Car as it idles the ages away.

The Archivist’s Nook: Our Coolest Blog Yet – The Arctic Institute at Catholic University

A concave map of the Arctic is displayed in Mullen Library, 1960. Dr. Kenneth Bertrand, Head of the Geography Division, seen pointing, while Rector Fr. Mcdonald (L) and Fr. Dutilly (R) observe.

“When Father Dutilly returned from the Arctic last year, he brought a polar bear skin with him, which, I understand, was to have gone to you.”

-John Murphy to Rev. Joseph M. Corrigan, Catholic University Rector, 1940

In 1940, an office on the fourth floor of McMahon – room 405 to be specific – became known as the “Igloo” in official University correspondence. It is in this space that the Arctic Institute of the Catholic University of America operated. Fittingly this site was a hive of activity in the winter months, with scholars cataloging botanical, geological, and anthropological specimens collected from the Arctic Circle. But come the summertime, its faculty would disperse to the North, hitching rides on canoes, seaplanes, and icebreaker ships in search of new Arctic plant life and soil samples.

Dutilly’s 1940 travel plan, with the “Santa Maria” and its pilot (Louis Bisson) pictured on the bottom. In the center is pictured Dutilly (far right) at the Grotto of Lourdes on the Arctic Sea shore. He is standing next to Archbishop Gabriel Breynat (far left) and Sister Lusignan, both missionaries in the Canadian Arctic.

Beginning in 1895, Catholic University became a center for botanical research. In that year, the Langlois Herbarium was donated to the University by the estate of August Barthelemy Langlois. This collection consisted of over 20,00 specimens. This massive collection served as foundation for the Herbarium, with additional deposits occurring through the 1930s. One such scholar who donated to the collection was Danish Arctic explorer and botanist, Herman Theodor Holm. One of the earliest laypeople to earn a doctorate at Catholic, Holm would teach briefly at the University and donate some of his own library to the campus upon his death in 1932. Based on the strength of its collections, Fr. Artheme Dutilly (1896-1973) would join Catholic University in 1937 as a research associate in the Department of Biology.

Born in Quebec in 1896, Fr. Dutilly (1896-1973) was an Oblate Missionary priest and celebrated botanist with a particular interest in Arctic flora. In 1933, at the behest of Pope Pius XI, he was appointed Naturalist of the Oblate Arctic Missionaries. Dutilly would spend his summers traveling within the Arctic Circle, collecting soil, plant, and anthropological specimens to be prepared and sent to the Lateran Museums in Rome. He accompanied Oblate missionaries working in the Arctic, hitching rides on their motor ship M. F. Therese and, later, their seaplane, the Santa Maria. In both cases, Dutilly was not merely a collector of samples. He was also a radio operator, plane mechanic, and fighter of bears.

Dutilly would draw his own maps. With McMahon Hall pictured at the bottom, Dutilly’s 1940 journey is visible.

In one harrowing event, a polar bear overtook Dutilly’s boat with the priest fending it off. He also served as the mechanic during many of his flights, from soldering broken pieces to spending two days in the wilderness rigging a failing engine to continue on with his fieldwork. (Despite working, the plane still needed to stop every two hours to replenish its leaking oil supply!)

Even after relocating to Washington, Dutilly did not change his fieldwork operations and instead brought along several other Catholic University faculty and students with him. Scholars such as Fr. Hugh T. O’Neill and Fr. Maximillian Duman, OSB, were also prominent figures in the history of the Arctic Institute and accomplished researchers. During the summer, they would be off to various points in the Arctic. (It was reported that in 1941 Dutilly traveled over 15,000 miles across the Canadian Arctic!) And in the winter, he would return to Washington to inventory the materials for shipment to the Lateran Museums, as well as keeping some in DC at the Smithsonian and Catholic University.

With the formal founding of the Arctic Institute in 1940, the “Igloo” contained more than 50,000 mounted Arctic plants, over 900 volumes on Arctic vegetation, and numerous samples of soil, fossils, rocks, and minerals. Dutilly even worked with the Inuit populations to collect philological texts on indigenous languages. It was the single largest collection of Arctic material in the Americas…well outside the Arctic that is!

Fr. Dutilly’s business card, late 1930s.

In 1947, the Department of Defense began to provide additional funding for Dutilly’s research, with an added emphasis on Alaska and Greenland. The expressed purpose of this research grant was to explore ways to study the soil and plant life of the Arctic to better understand how to develop agriculture in this otherwise inhospitable zone.

Dutilly remained a faculty member of the Biology and Geography departments until 1967. He served as the Director of the Arctic Institute (1939), Curator of the Department of Biology Herbarium (1947), and as a Lecturer in the Department of Geography (1947).  Not long after his departure, the Arctic Institute melted away. The collections of the Institute and Herbarium were donated to other institutions in 1985-1986.

While we have yet to find the “polar bear skin” Dutilly allegedly sent to the University’s rector, the Archives does maintain examples of Dutilly’s anthropological materials, as well as the papers of Herman Theodor Holm: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/holm.cfm

Fr. Dutilly next to records of his annual Arctic explorations.

The Archivist’s Nook: Cataloging the Library’s History

Postcard depiction of the Mullen Library, 1920s.

“Library Too Heavy! Will Sink in 10,000 Years!” exclaimed a tongue-in-cheek Tower article from 1927, calling on all students to help relocate the library building to a more stable location. The Library the article was referring to was the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, then under construction. With its marble and limestone edifice and ability to hold one million volumes, the students were perhaps only half-joking when they stated that it may sink! For Catholic University students of the time were used to a far more humble library.

For nearly a century, Mullen Library has been a hub of campus life, so it may be hard to imagine a time when it was not a fixture on the campus. While the Library as an institution – and not just its current building – has existed since the day the University welcomed its first students, it has not always possessed such a beautiful home all to itself.

First located in the basement of Caldwell Hall (then called Divinity Hall), the Library started life humbly. But as the University expanded, so did the need of its students and faculty for books. It quickly outgrew its Caldwell offices and relocated to the ground floor of McMahon Hall in 1908. But even with this move, the Library was finding itself continuing to encounter issues with space.  By the early 1920s, the University Librarian Joseph Schneider was storing excess books in the basement of the gym. Fortunately, a new chapter in the Library’s history was about to begin.

The Caldwell Library, 1896 (L); McMahon Library, 1917 (R). Which location would you prefer to study in?

In 1921, the founder of the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company, John K. Mullen, provided a donation of $500,000 to construct a new home for the Library. A committee was organized in 1924 to select the designs for the building, with construction beginning in 1925. The building itself would open during the fall of 1928.

The construction of this new central library fit in with the fourth rector Thomas J. Shahan’s vision for Catholic University. Known as the “Builder Rector,” under Shahan’s tenure (1909-1928), the University experienced an explosion of construction, including Graduate Hall (now O’Connell), Maloney Hall, Salve Regina, the gymnasium (today’s Crough Hall), and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Murphy & Olmsted architectural rendering of Mullen Library, 1924.

Murphy & Olmsted Architects was selected to design the new library Frederick Vernon Murphy – the “Murphy” in the firm’s title – was the first professor of Catholic University’s Department of Architecture. Starting at Catholic in 1911, Murphy would become the unofficial “University Architect” in helping make Shahan’s vision a reality. He had lent his expertise to the design of all the buildings mentioned above, save the Shrine!

The new Library building would be constructed of Kentucky limestone and Massachusetts granite, with concrete work performed the prolific John J. Earley. The Library’s cornerstone was laid on April 22, 1925. The ceremony included introductory remarks by Shahan, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, and Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday. Emphasizing Shahan’s monumental vision for the campus – and the new library’s role in it – Guilday drew attention to the symbolic alignment of the library with the National Shrine, then also under construction:

“The sun going down to rest in the evening casts across the greensward of our campus a last ray of splendor that falls athwart two buildings…At one end of this golden axis is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception now being raised to the glory of the Blessed Mother of God by her loving children of the United States, and at the other, this enduring monument.”

Photo reads, “Crypt of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, D.C., Oct. 27, 1925.” The construction of Mullen Library can be seen in the distance on the right.

While originally planned with wings for the stacks, funding issues necessitated the building be opened in 1928 with only the front and central portions and the basement levels complete. The additional wings were not completed until 1958, three decades after the library first opened its doors. Interestingly, this project was part of a second wave of construction blossoming on campus, including McGivney, Pangborn, McCort-Ward, and additions to Caldwell and Curley Halls.

It is best we bookend this post with the original 1927 Tower article. While Mullen Library would not open for another year, the students were already playfully reflecting on its promise of alleviating the space and storage issues of the long-standing library facilities. While an elaborate parody piece, it showed that the students wished to see this palace to knowledge survive for 10,000 years, even if it meant they had to carry it across campus to more secure spot!

Special thanks to Katherine Santa Ana, for her research on the topic of this blog. Read more about the construction and early history of Mullen Library here: https://cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory/construction

The Archivist’s Nook: Introducing Students to Rare Books

Stacks of the Clementine Library. I would best describe its scent as warm and toasty.

Think back to the last book you read. How old was it? Were the pages brittle or waxy, thick or thin? How did the cover and pages feel in your hands? Was there a smell to the book – freshly printed or a musty odor? Did the book catch the eye with its cover, type, or images? Did it make a sound when opened – a crisp snap of a never-before-opened spine or the dull groan of well-worn binding? Was picking up this book an experience of all the senses?

While we certainly do not taste our books, there is no way to avoid having an otherwise full sensory experience when entering Rare Books and Special Collections. Contained within its stacks are 70,000 volumes, spanning 10 centuries. The collection includes a wide range of materials from medieval legal texts and early modern musical pieces to twentieth century textbooks and first edition novels. The aroma and sights immediately catch one’s attention, and the feel and sound of each book as you open it offers a reminder of its age.

This past academic year, the Archives staff has been assisting in Rare Books. In addition to answering reference questions and exploring the materials contained within its stacks, we have hosted three classes in the space. Each class came from a distinct program and reviewed different materials with varying learning goals in mind. Much as we are whenever a class comes to handle archival documents for the first time, we were excited to provide the students with their potential first experience of accessing rare books.

Tafsīr wāsiʻ ʻalá al-taʻlīm al-Masīhī (Translation of a Catechism for Confession and Communion), 1770.

In the fall, we hosted students from the School of Theology and Religious Studies as part of a “History and Theory of Catechetics” course. During their visit, the students were able to work with dozens of catechisms spanning several continents, numerous languages, and six centuries. Tapping into the collections of sixteenth-century folios and assorted Catholic theological and lay devotional publications, we were able to create an evolutionary display of catechisms from the fifteenth century to the present. Among the highlights were an Arabic catechism from 1770, a Navajo catechism from 1937, and a series of pocket catechisms from the nineteenth century. Supplementing this collection with materials from the Archives, we were able to bring the students from the Council of Trent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the new semester began in the cold of January, our staff prepared to host another visiting class, this time from the School of Philosophy. Entitled “Before Printing: The Establishment and Transmission of Ancient and Medieval Texts,” the course’s professor wished to expose her students to the physicality of the manuscripts they would study over the coming months. From our medieval manuscript and incunabula collections, we provided several Thomistic philosophical and theological treatises. Through a partnership with the Semitics/ICOR Library, the class was also able to review Arabic philosophical texts. While the students would primarily continue to work with facsimiles and digital copies of manuscripts this semester, having that initial opportunity for a full sensory experience is key to both contextualizing the sources and eliciting excitement.

Lectionarium, ca. 1200 (MS 158). Some of the volumes have intricate bindings and clasps, added by much later owners. This particular binding is seen in numerous manuscripts in our collections.

My own first exposure to manuscripts was in Rare Books at Catholic University. Working with a medieval copy of Gratian’s Decretum as part of a class project helped me appreciate the beauty and wonder of these texts, and solidified my excitement for curation and historical research. I would never have guessed I would be helping provide access to these same materials years later!

Finally, our most recent academic visitors came as part of a Greek and Latin course, “Latin Paleography.” In addition to two codicology workshops held in Rare Books, the students will each work closely with a medieval manuscript in our collections to create a catalog entry. The manuscripts held by the University are thus providing valuable tools for the students to better understand the materiality and scribal norms of the medieval written word.

In addition to its strengths in Catholic history, Rare Books contains several unique collections, including a Malta collection, the Clementine Library, the Connolly Irish Collection, the Richard N. Foley Modern English Collection, its American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories Collection, and much more.

Book of Hours, ca. 1460 (MS. 136b)

Fundamentally, the collection’s value to the Catholic University community and broader scholarly world lies in its ability to provide students and scholars with opportunities to connect with the history of the written word as well as the contexts and ideas provided by each text. Plus, as the class visits illustrate, it is a wonderful source of collaboration for its sister special collections on campus!

For more information on Rare Books, see: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/rare-books/index.html

Questions may be addressed to: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

The Archivist’s Nook: The CatholicU Campus Coffin Cavalcade

The 1930s Tower mastered early clickbait headlines.

Imagine you are heading out to Homecoming, visiting with returning alumni and catching the football game. There are numerous events you wish to catch during the weekend, but one in particular that all your friends are talking about…the “annual coffin parade.” Checking the student newspaper for more details on this strange event, you learn that during the match against the Western Maryland (now McDaniels) Green Terror, “on Saturday morning, C.U. cheerleaders will drag the casket out on the field…for the edification of the Terror team and rooters.” Do you decide to attend?

Sometimes when one is digging through the archives, one unearths all manner of buried tales. The tradition of the so-called “Western Maryland Coffin” is one such a tale. Similar to the Old Oaken Bucket of Indiana-Purdue or the Michigan-Michigan State Little Brown Jug, the Western Maryland-Catholic coffin was a rivalry trophy handed off between the schools. Whoever won the grudge match each season would carry off the macabre reward to their home campus. While the tradition of such trophies is not unusual, the choice of object is certainly eyebrow-raising.

The November 14, 1935 Tower reports the origins for this curious tradition as follows:

The annual homecoming event between the Green Terrors of Western Maryland and the Flying Cardinals, of Catholic U. brings to light one of the those hoary tales of tradition that the “old boys” love to retell. It has to do with the famous Western Maryland Coffin. Now way back yonder in 1913, when the Terrors first met with the Cards, one of the C.U. carpenters who was evidently imbued with the C.U. victory spirit thought the best thing to do with the Terrors who were to be beaten, was to bury them, so he went to work and built the coffin.

With a score of 17-6 in favor of Catholic, the coffin seems to have done the trick and remained on campus. The two teams would not meet on the gridiron again until 1924, with the coffin reemerging. However, this time, the Terror defeated the Cardinals. Rather than surrender the coffin to their victorious rivals, it is reported that:

[Coach Eddie] La Fond and some of his cohorts stole the object of the argument – the coffin…after beating around the bush, La Fond admitted the theft, but said that it was impossible for him to return the article because he has mislaid it.

St. Thomas Hall, looking perfectly like the scene of a spooky story.

Lest you think that a coffin’s shadow had passed from the campus, the lost trophy was located a decade later! In 1934, the Tower exclaimed, “The Terrors’ Ghost Coffin, Aged Sarcophagus Unearthed,” declaring that the superintendent of maintenance had located the long-lost coffin in the basement of St. Thomas Hall.

St. Thomas Hall, also known as the Middleton House, was the oldest structure on the campus. Originally built as a summer cottage (named Sidney) in 1803 by newspaperman Samuel Harrison Smith, who had relocated to Washington at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson. (During this period, Smith would host many dignitaries at the House, including Jefferson and James and Dolly Madison.) Sold in the 1830s to James and Erasmus J. Middleton, father and son respectively. With the surrounding land purchased for the new Catholic University in 1886, the House became a residence, first for the Paulist Fathers from 1889 until 1914, and later a dormitory for lay students until 1933. From that date, until its demolition in 1970, it housed the School of Social Service…and apparently a misplaced coffin.

After its rediscovery in 1934 – and some quick repairs – the coffin was triumphantly paraded around campus during the following week’s pep rally events. And despite a Terror victory (2-0) over the Cardinals that fall, the Western Maryland team seemed uninterested in carrying off the coffin, with the Tower declaring that, “Catholic University is particularly proud of the fact that this coffin has never left the C.U. campus.”

The following season, the Cardinals would win against the Terrors (19-6) and go on to win the 1936 Orange Bowl. Eddie LaFond, the once tomb raider, was by this point the longstanding and nationally recognized head of the University’s boxing, football, and basketball programs.

Eddie LaFond (center) at the Orange Bowl, 1936.

With the Orange Bowl win and the tradition of the casket well-established, the student press trumpeted the presence of the coffin during the fall semester of 1936. The homecoming events even advertised a halftime show, which included “the annual coffin parade.” But the parade was not to be that year or any years after. In the dead of night, the coffin vanished days before the big game. The Tower was quick to blame Western Maryland, stating, “This conclusion was drawn quite logically because of the fact that it would be of value to only the Green and Gold [Terror] followers.”

However, while this archivist plans to check further into the whereabouts of these legendary trophy, there is a part of me that believes the coffin is still stashed away somewhere on campus…