Monday, July 13, 2020

The Flowers Of Summer

by Frank Boles

As an occasional gardener, I was delighted when the library recently received a complimentary copy of Passion for Peonies: Celebrating the Culture and Conservation of Nichols Arboretum’s Beloved Flower, edited by David Michener and Robert Grese (Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press, 2020).

As the authors point out, peonies were once America’s favorite flower, and because they are so easy to divide they remain a cherished, flowering heirloom in many families, where a part of “grandma’s peony” still blooms every summer in the garden.

Noting the flowers' long history in gardens, the book includes a section on “Peonies in Classic Garden Writing.” There I found a piece of writing by an old acquaintance of the Clarke Historical Library, Louisa Yeomans King. In the early years of the twentieth century, Mrs. King, who lived in Alma, Michigan, was one of the nation’s leading gardeners and an important author about gardens. Her home and garden in Alma, Orchard House, was something of a shrine. But when Mrs. King’s husband died in 1927, he left his wife without the means to maintain her extensive garden. Mrs. King sold Orchard House and its garden. After an extended tour of Europe, she settled in New York state where she continued her career as an author and planted a new, far less extensive, garden.

Mrs. King chose to destroy her personal papers, and for many years there were no good pictures of her Alma garden. But in Alma, the family of Mrs. King’s long-time gardener, Frank Ankney, had preserved a treasure: an album of photos taken of the garden that had been given to Frank. That album is now preserved in the Clarke Historical Library. Pictures from the album of Mrs. King’s peonies illustrate her reprinted article in Passion of Peonies.



Mr. Ankney’s album is a small piece of mid-Michigan summer beauty the Clarke Historical Library is happy to hold, preserve, and make available for use. As for the garden itself, without Mrs. King’s inspiration it slowly declined. Eventually this small piece of paradise did actually become a parking lot. But we remember it in its glory, through pictures, some taken more than a century ago.

If you would like to know move about Mrs. King and her Alma garden, visit the Clarke library's website

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Covid and DigMichNews


By Ed Bradley

During this pandemic, time spent finding social media items in CMU’s Digital Michigan Newspapers portal has taken an interesting turn.

In searching the Clarke Historical Library-administered portal – and Michigan newspapers digitized by the Clarke for the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” site -- for potential entries for the DigMichNewspapers Twitter site, I came to wonder about the similarities in coverage of Covid-19 and the last great world health crisis: the “Spanish flu” outbreak of 1918-19.

Big-city papers of that time gave substantial coverage (albeit much less on the front page in comparison with 2020) to the pandemic, but much less attention was paid by the kinds of small-town dailies and weeklies found in the DigMich collection. Their focus was on local, not national, news, and the flu hit cities harder. But the town papers did not ignore the crisis. As with Covid-19, their concern was expressed in multiple attitudes: warning, suspicion, exploitation.

For example, an October 11, 1918, story in the OxfordLeader was meant to provide help on how not to become infected, with language not unlike that of 2020. The syndicated “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu” article quoted U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue with a strong sense of concern – and a call for social distancing without using the term that would be ubiquitous a century hence.

“It is now believed that influenza is always spread from person to person, the germs being carried with the air along with the very small droplets … expelled by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking, and the like by one who already has the germs of the disease,” Blue said. “… [E]very person who becomes sick … should go home at once and go to bed. … It is highly desirable that no one be allowed to sleep in the same room as the patient.

“When [outdoor] crowding is unavoidable … care should be taken to keep the face so turned as not to exhale directly the air breathed out by another person.”

Indeed, some folks did wear masks in 1918, but the Great War was still foremost in the public mind. A public-service message that accompanied the above Leader article read “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases … As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells,” a reference to the deadly chemical weapons used overseas.

As there have been conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus, so were there regarding the 1918 flu. The October 2 issue of the BeldingBanner-News blared that the flu “May Be Spread by German Spies.” This was a local story of sorts, for the source of the story was a Banner-News editor, Hubert Engemann, a sailor who had returned to Michigan after a stay in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, which had been overrun by the flu.

 “There was some talk,” read the story, “that the disease was spread by German agents or spies, but [Engemann] was rather inclined to discredit this himself, although he said that there was nothing that the enemy would not stoop to do.”

As the pandemic lingered into 1919, opportunities came for commercial entities to take advantage. A page of the January 16 Leelanau Enterprise included competing ads for anti-flu medicine: the stomach acid remedy Eatonic promised to clean “Toxic Poisons Out of the Digestive Tract,” and the touting of Hill’s Bromide Cascara Quinine was even more direct: “Don’t wait until your cold develops Spanish Influenza or pneumonia. Kill it quick.”

By the way, the 1918-19 sickness was generally referred to in print as “the Spanish ‘flu,’” not “the ‘Spanish’ flu” or “the ‘Spanish flu.’” The small difference in punctuation signaled doubt on whether the malady was influenza while affirming it was Spanish in origin. Actually, there is no clear evidence of the latter, but Spain was likely saddled with the blame because it was hit hard early by the flu – and, as a World War I-neutral nation without imposed censorship, did not curtail reporting of its troubles.

Regarding some of the phrases we’ve been hearing as we battle Covid-19, a search of the Clarke collection reminds us of the fluidity of linguistics. A 1994 Oxford Leader advertisement advised us to “Be Safe at Home!” – only this safety came in the purchase of a home security system. And a 1964 ad in the same weekly informed us we would save money by staying home to shop -- but this “Shop at Home” strategy was in buying from local merchants and not from those out of town.


Clarke Staffer Pens Film History Volume




By Ed Bradley
The photograph on the cover of my newly published movie history book is from It’s Great to Be Alive, a 1933 mix of music, comedy, romance, science fiction, and gender-role reversal – all set amid a global pandemic.
Ripped from the headlines? No, the image on the front of Hollywood Musicals You Missed: 70 Noteworthy Films from the 1930s (McFarland & Co.) was selected well before Covid-19. Much stranger than the real-life menace is the malady in It’s Great to Be Alive, which leads to the demise of the Earth’s entire male populace … save for one conveniently golden-voiced swain portrayed by Brazilian heartthrob Raul Roulien.
Even if It’s Great to Be Alive doesn’t seem quite as frivolous now as when I viewed it during my research, I love it, and its ilk, no less. This is my fourth book about Depression era American musical films. There have been decades of movie musicals with more patriotism, bigger bands, splashier color, pricier budgets, and rock ’n’ roll. But it is easy to dive into ’30s tune fests – and the talents of Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others, with Tin Pan Alley and the advent of swing music – and not want to come up for air.
The more obscure, the better. Stellar figures such as Astaire, Berkeley, and Judy Garland deserve appreciation, but historians have discussed them and their pictures to death. That is why the new book includes entries on The Way to Love (1933), in which star Maurice Chevalier gets upstaged by a dog, and The Girl Said No (1937), a wonderful tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan that was a jukebox musical before there were jukeboxes.
Then there are the little-seen pictures starring Herbert Jeffries, the Detroit-born actor billed as the first African American singing cowboy; Dorothy Page, the first female Western singing actor; and Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees star whose emoting in Rawhide (1938) makes you wish he would have spent some time away from playing first base to take acting lessons.
Screen musicals aren’t very popular in 2020. The thought of actors bursting into song unprompted is somehow too fanciful for the audiences who thrill at Star Wars or the Marvel Universe, although the success of La La Land and recent Queen and Elton John biopics provide some hope for the genre. As time passes, the sounds of the early films seem to grow fainter, more remote.
For my first book, The First Hollywood Musicals (1996), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Sullivan, George Burns, Dorothy Lee, and other stars were alive for me to interview about their forays into song. They are gone now, but their vintage tune films should not be allowed to disappear. They won’t, as long as there are caretakers to make sure they are seen, heard, and preserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Piecing Together History

Archives, museums, and libraries are sometime seen as stodgy, but most are actually highly creative organizations that engage the public with all sorts of fun and interesting programming. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, institutions large and small across the world have gotten even more creative to connect with people. During a meeting with CMU Libraries staff, Marian Matyn, the Archivist at the Clarke, mentioned that some institutions are using images from their holdings to create virtual jigsaw puzzles.

That suggestion sparked an idea for Janet Danek, the CMU Libraries’ Coordinator of Art, Exhibits, and Projects: are there any images from past exhibitions that we might be able to give the “jigsaw” treatment? Janet worked with Bryan Whitledge, the Archivist for University Digital Records, to transform images from the Shaping Memories through Three Lenses exhibit into virtual puzzles. This exhibit, from the fall of 2019, featured the photography of three of CMU’s photographers: Robert Barclay, Peggy Brisbane, and Steve Jessmore. Over the course of nearly forty years, these three documented the history of the Central Michigan University, from big events with nationally known guests to quiet moments of studying, and everything in between.


By transforming their work into puzzles, people have a new way to interact with the Clarke’s holdings and the history of CMU. If you loved seeing the photos before, focusing on detail while piecing the images together will give you a new appreciation for the art of Barclay, Brisbane, and Jessmore. Iconic pictures, like the toilet paper toss, CMU’s Baja car flying over a dune, or Jeff Daniels’ performance in downtown Mt. Pleasant (pictured above) are available to anyone at the click of a mouse. The puzzles have been created to offer up a range of difficulty levels: from breezy, forty-piece breaks that might take five minutes to 200-piece stumpers that could occupy a couple hours.

Each week, the Clarke will upload a new puzzle. So, check back regularly to piece together the history of CMU, one iconic image at a time.

Monday, June 15, 2020

International Childrens Book Reading

In February, the Clarke Historical Library held its sixth annual “Children’s Book from Around the World” event. During the six-hour event, 190 people stopped by the Park Library’s Baber Room to listen to over 35 volunteers from all corners of the globe read children’s books in 20 languages other than English. For the Clarke, this event is always a great opportunity to showcase the library’s collection of award-winning international children’s literature, with books from over 75 countries in over 50 languages.

For our readers, many of whom are affiliated with the Office of Global Engagement or the Department of World Languages and Cultures at CMU, the event offers other opportunities. For those who are native speakers of the language, this event is a chance for them to share a bit of their language and culture. For those who are learning the language through their courses here at Central Michigan University, they can demonstrate the language skills they have acquired through their studies. And for the whole campus, it is an excellent chance to highlight the rich diversity of languages found on the CMU campus.


In a twist this year, and to coincide with the Clarke’s exhibit, The Surprise and Wonder of Pop-up Books several readers read pop-up books in languages other than English. There were other memorable moments, such as when the Japanese 202 class took turns reading from their book so that all seven students from the class would have a chance to read. Or when one reader read in five different languages found in the same South African book – Zulu, Sesotho, Xhosa, Setswana, and Sepedi!

The Clarke appreciates the support of the Office of Global Engagement and the Department of World Languages and Cultures in bringing this event together. To view an “Art Review” segment from MAC TV about the event, take a look at their Vimeo page.