But as I flipped through the book, I was keeping an eye out for photos and descriptions of music, dance, instruments, and religion.
New York, 1952
The smell of books lingered in the air as card catalog drawers clinked closed and creaked open. Dena Epstein walked through the golden light bouncing off the stone walls. She might have felt at home in any library, even if she had never been there before. On this day in 1952, she found herself in the New York Public Library, a monument to curiosity and learning in the heart of Manhattan. Dena had studied music and library science, and had worked as a music librarian. At thirty-six years old, her career as a librarian was temporarily on hold as her husband worked a government job and she took care of their children.
Not working in a library didn’t seem to suit Dena, though. She wanted to engage her mind, she wanted to have interesting things to think about. Unanswered research questions nagged her. One of those questions made her come to the library from her home in New Jersey.
“‘Getting Up Cows,’ that’s what it’s called, ‘Getting Up Cows,” William Adams said. “An old fella played that. He was a cracker-jack old fiddler, though, I don’t believe he could beat me….”
Mike Seeger hadn’t come to the neighborhood to record Adams initially, but now he wanted to hear any tune the Black fiddler could remember, even if he forgot it halfway through or couldn’t remember the name.
“I forget how that goes, though, I haven’t played that since a long time ago,” the 72 year-old Adams continued before he put the bow on the fiddle’s strings and hesitantly pulled the tune from deep in his memory. In the end, it sounded like he might have just last played it a week or a year ago, not some 20-odd years earlier.
This field recording wasn’t taken in some rural hamlet or deep holler, it was less than five miles from Seeger’s home in the well-to-do suburb of Chevy Chase outside Washington, D.C. And yet in 1953, when Seeger stepped into Adams’s neighborhood of KenGar, segregation left this community so separate from the white towns and neighborhoods surrounding it, a white person might drive by without even knowing it was there.
Bad Science, Bad Parent
What would happen if you raised your baby and a baby chimp together, as brother and sister, in the name of science?
Don't worry, you don't have to try. In 1930, scientist Dr. Winthrop Niles Kellogg did just that. Read more about the crazy (bad) experiment in my article on OZY.
If you want to check out the full report on the experiment, Kellogg's book is available via HathiTrust, and there are some good newspaper articles from when the research was made public in 1932.
The Women of the Hull-House
Inspiring women, innovative approaches to living and learning, and pioneering social justice work: sound like something from the #metoo or #TimesUp movements? Maybe, but it was also how women at the Hull-House in Chicago lived and worked over 100 years ago.
While I was in Chicago in February, I had a chance to visit the Hull-House and be totally amazed by these women, who I already knew a little bit about. Here is a tour and brief history of the settlement house.
Think hockey is a white sport? The fast-paced action and some signature moves are thanks to a pioneering Black Hockey League that changed the game forever.
The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes was truly innovative in so many ways, and I'm glad that George and Darril Fosty researched the story in their book Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895–1925. I can't remember where I first heard about the anecdote that led me to the Fostys' book, and I didn't know much about the history of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia or the Maritimes, but I've found some cool research of which I hope to share more.
On May 1, 1950, Communists took over a small town in Wisconsin. Except that every part of it was totally fake, a stunt meant to scare and warn Americans about what communism was really like. Newspapers, photographers, and newsreels (like the video below) captured the day and make the story a nation-wide news phenomenon.
Read the full story at OZY.
Pumpkins & Parties!
Friday the 13th has enough scary stuff, so here are some cute photos of kids celebrating Halloween festivities!
This whole post was inspired by this one photo, from the Upshur County Historical Society in Buckhannon, West Virginia. In a collection of thousands of glass plate negatives, this gem appeared. The photographer Fred Brooks was a naturalist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so many of the photos in the collection are of diseased trees or insects. But since he had the camera, he also took photos of his children (like this one) and the travels he took around the United States. (I'm pretty sure this is his daughter Dorothy and the photo is from 1920-22.)
You never know what you'll find in a box.
Midwife Problems, and Solutions
(Hey! I'm trying something new here, with a series of short, interconnected posts based on research and archives I visited in the fall of 2015, relating to Swedish midwifery and comparing it to the U.S. Let me know what you think in the contact section.)
Hanna Karlen arrived in Boston on October 11, 1901 with four pieces of luggage. She was 36, traveling alone. On the ship's manifest, Karlen called herself a nurse, a statement that wasn't totally accurate.
Come in, the stacks are open.
Away from prying eyes, damaging light, and pilfering hands, the most special collections are kept in closed stacks. You need an appointment to view the objects, letters, and books that open a door to the past.