Friday, October 20, 2017

Newcomer Legacy: A Vietnamese-American Story in West Michigan


by Frank Boles

On October 5 Alan Headbloom presented the documentary he produced and directed, “Newcomer Legacy: A Vietnamese-American Story in West Michigan.” The documentary interviewed nine refugees who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and resettled in the Grand Rapids area. It asked about their leave taking from Vietnam, how they first experienced and grew to understand the United States, and, finally, where today they would call “home.”

The leave taking was often harrowing and sometime heartbreaking. One interviewee spoke of how her husband got her out of the country, but stayed himself because of the obligation he felt to others. After reaching America, she received a few letters from her husband, before she eventually learned he had been executed. Others spoke of dangerous trips in unseaworthy, overcrowded boats and period of interment in countries such as Malaysia.

The interviewees also spoke of their arrival, and the challenges they faced in a new land. One spoke of how she and her family were greeted at the airport by representatives of a local church who had “adopted” the family. They were taken from the airport to a furnished house that they were allowed to live in, with supper waiting for them on the table. Many of the interviewees told similar stories regarding the kindness they experienced in their first days in America.




But however welcoming the local population was, the refugees had been uprooted from there former lives and placed in a completely new environment. There were, therefore, challenges. Things residents of Grand Rapids might easily take for granted could prove an obstacle for these newly arrived refugees. Everyone who arrived in the winter commented on the cold. One comical yet revealing story was about how early on one of the refugees needed to travel in town. He was shown where the bus stop was, told where he needed to get off, and warned that several different bus would come by and that he should wait for the number 4. This was good advice, but the morning he left his house it had snowed and the exterior numbers on the bus that drove past were unreadable. Without any English language skills he couldn’t ask the bus driver if this was the number 4 bus. After three bus passed he decided he would just have to take a chance, and got on the next bus. Inside, he saw it was indeed the number 4 bus, and thanked God.

To a person each of the refugees worked very hard and succeeded in their new home. As Alan Headbloom pointed out, this is typical of refugees. Unlike other immigrants, who can always go home if things don’t work out, going home for these people could mean imprisonment or even death. They had no “plan B.” Making life work in America was the only option.

In the last few minutes of the documentary the refugees were asked where, for them, is now “home.” Each answered the question in various ways, but each ended by saying “home” was now Michigan.

In an era when immigration plays an important role in our national political discussion, Alan Headbloom’s documentary offers invaluable insights into the immigrant experience. For more information about the documentary visit Mr. Headbloom’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NewcomerLegacy.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Congratulations to Le Roy Barnett



by Frank Boles

At its 2017 annual meeting the Historical Society of Michigan honored Le Roy Barnett with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Lee Barnett has regularly enhanced the documentary record of our state. Today Lee is retired after serving for 23 years as a reference archivist at the Archives of the State of Michigan. But during his career and archivist and continuing into the present, Lee has published hundreds of books and articles documenting literally all aspects of Michigan history.



The Clarke Library’s connection with Lee is a deep one. Lee has donated over thirty feet of his documents and background files to the Clarke. As Clarke archivist Marian Matyn notes in her Collection Scope and Content Note, topics found in the papers include: “Michigan ash; railroads; highways; the Mackinac Bridge; music and people who sang or wrote songs about Michigan and/or cars; the longstanding oleo versus margarine debates, issues, advertisements, laws, and illegal sales; Agricultural Demonstration Trains of Michigan State University, 1906-1937; buying Michigan, 1795-1796; counties, name changes/considered creation of new counties; the history of county names; dandelions [as an emergency source of post-World War II rubber]; highway lighthouses [precursors to traffic lights]; lynchings; prisoners building Michigan roads during the 1920s; reflectors (roadside); roadside parks [Michigan had the first]; and stagecoaches. An addition in 2006 included the topics of: Broadcasting, Homestead Lands, Michiganders who went to Hollywood, Port Huron and Milwaukee Railroad, Sabbath Blue Laws, particularly in Ludington, and Swamp Lands, among others. Later additions include the topics of centroids, Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad, Michigan ferries, Michigan’s population centers since statehood, and Oldsmar, Florida, harvesting deadheads (logs in rivers), LaChoy, and Michigan as a Commonwealth, David Ward, Deward (Mich.), and the Detroit and Charlevoix Railroad Company.” The complete finding aid describing his collection can be found at https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clarke/ehll--barnett?byte=485843;cginame=findaid-idx;focusrgn=summaryinfo;id=navbarbrowselink;subview=standard;view=reslist.

The Michigan Historical Review has published ten works written by Lee. The most recent contribution to the MHR by Lee was “Publications of the Saint Mary’s Falls Ship Canal Company and Its Immediate Offspring.” Lee’s sly sense of humor sometimes shines forth in unexpected titles, such as, “Michigan's War with Mammals: Bounties, Hunters, and Trappers against Unwanted Species,” which can only be topped by “Soil Surveys: A Down-to-Earth Source of Cultural Information.”

When not publishing new works or shuttling donations from his home to the Clarke Library, Lee also regularly looks at dealer catalogs and other sources of historically related material and regularly sends along helpful notes about what he has found. A number of acquisitions found their way into the Clarke stacks because of a helpful note from Lee, making me aware of their availability.

Lee Barnett has been a friend of the Clarke, and more importantly an outstanding contributor to the body of knowledge about our state. I am delighted that the Historical Society of Michigan has recognized his work.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ralph Connable




by Frank Boles


Recently at the Michigan Hemingway Society’s annual meeting, a participant from Canada asked me an interesting question. “What can you find out about Ralph Connable, the man who invited Hemingway to Toronto in 1920?”

To be honest, I had never heard of Ralph Connable, but based on a promise to “find out what I could and get back to you” I began to do my homework. It was worth the effort. Connable was a fascinating, Michigan-based, character.

Connable’s Hemingway connection was clear, and relatively brief. In December 1919 Harriet Connable, Ralph’s spouse, happened to hear Ernest Hemingway talk at the Petoskey Public Library. She took a liking to the young man, deciding he would be just the thing to introduce the Connable’s somewhat sickly son to the joys of physical activity. Hemingway was hired to spend the winter of 1920-21 in Toronto with the Connable’s son, while the rest of the family enjoyed an extended Florida vacation. The job was not particularly demanding and the Connables had also introduced Hemingway to the editors at the Toronto Star, for whom he started to write – eventually publishing 172 pieces in the Star over a four year period, many of them while in Paris.

That story is well told in the literature printed about Ernest Hemingway. But who was Ralph Connable? I spent an afternoon looking into the question and found one of those stories that had to be real, since no one would believe it were it put into a work of fiction.

Born in 1873 in Petoskey, Ralph Connable could politely be referred to as a gentleman who engaged in many careers, primarily because he failed in the one preceding his move to the next. His father was postmaster in Petoskey and relatively prosperous – a blessing that seems to have save Connable several times.

Connable attended Albion College’s Preparatory School where, by his own admission, his major interest was in stud poker. His scholarly career at Albion was short-lived. At 15, Connable’s father gave his son his first job -- charge of the stationary counter in the post office, a private concern for which the boy was to receive 10 percent of sales as his salary.

Connable himself, in an amusing autobiography from which most of this account is taken, admitted that had he been less interested in dime novels and more willing to serve his customers this arrangement would have worked out well. The counter, after all, was the only place to buy stationary in town. Unfortunately, Connable was much more interested in reading dime novels than the business, and saw no reason why a customer shouldn’t wait to be helped until he finished reading a sentence, or a paragraph, or maybe a page, or a bit more of the book. Business did not go well. This was a pattern that was repeated many times.

Next, he and his brothers got involved in fishing. Commercial fishing was a profitable business. With three steam tugs and almost 500 miles of gill nets, it seemed the firm’s future was bright. However the business did not go well.

With little prospect of making a go of fishing on the Great Lakes, Connable hit upon a new scheme – going to northern Minnesota to make caviar from sturgeon eggs. After spending a fall fortune to learn how to make caviar and a year in Minnesota he came to the sad realization that there were too few sturgeon in the area he had selected to make money in caviar.

Again out of a job, Connable found work with the Booth Packing Company of Chicago, acting as their agent in scouting potential fishing sites in Minnesota. This too did not amount to much, but it did introduce him to people in Chicago, which would play an important role in his future.

Leaving Minnesota and the Booth Packing Company, and returning to Chicago, Connable found work at an “Edison Phonograph Co.” on State St. in the Loop. The emporium had 30 or so phonographs where ”drunks with ‘sporting ladies’” would pay to hear songs played. Told he needed to go west for health reasons, he raised the money to buy two “Kinetoscope Fight Machines,” and shipped them to Colorado. He was assured by the company his would be the first “moving images” west of Chicago, an assurance he decided was not worth much when he arrived in Denver to discover someone had preceded him by about a month, with the same machines. Nevertheless by taking his machines to various mining towns he managed to make some profit.

But in the end he shipped the machines back to Chicago and in 1895 returned to that city. Looking for a line of work that would not be seasonal, he learned to run a laundry business by volunteering to work for free. After three weeks of “training”, he discovered that the owner of Petoskey’s White Swan Laundry was dead – and the business for sale. With a $500 loan from his father and several notes to various creditors the White Swan Laundry became his.

He learned two things running the laundry. Business was steady during the tourist season, but come October it slumped badly. The second thing he learned was that, when the business burned one night, the insurance money he planned to use to rebuild it went instead to the various creditors whose notes he had signed.

With the help of his father he ended up managing a bookstore in Traverse City. Having read little since those dime novels many years earlier Connable nevertheless was undeterred, writing that “Being completely uncultured adds a degree of assurance that spells success in any line.” While running the bookstore he first encountered the 5 & 10 business. Travelling to Chicago he bought a small stock of items from Siebert, Good & Company, which ran several large 5 & 10 stores. The five and dime business sold discounted general merchandise, generally as the name implied for either a nickel or a dime. Connable’s 5 & 10 business did well and soon proved much more profitable than the book store, so profitable the store was sold, and the new owner installed his son as the new manager.

As a substitute, Connable was offered the opportunity to manage another store in Kalamazoo, but with the sum of $2.85 in his pocket he turned down the offer to return to Petoskey.

In 1900 he decided to follow up on a casual remark made by Daniel Good, from whom he had bought that small stock of merchandise, that he would hire him should the opportunity arise. Good was indeed good to his word – and employed Connable at the company’s State St. store in Chicago at a salary of $12 a week. After about seven weeks Connable went back to Mr. Good and announced he was ready to become a store manager. The manager of the branch store in Bloomington, Illinois had just been fired – and Mr. Good gave Connable that job.

Given Connable’s past history, unsurprisingly things went poorly. The store burned. But something magical happened. Connable managed to persuade the more than peculiar owner of the property to allow him to rebuild on the site, something Mr. Good had been unable to accomplish. Good was so impressed Connable was recalled to Chicago to serve as Good’s assistant and general buyer for the chain’s nine stores – at the generous pay of $1,800 a year. Within six months Connable had proved so adept at the business his pay was raised to $3,600 a year.

Siebert Good & Company was first bought out by a company headquartered in Buffalo, New York, which in 1911 subsequently merged with several other 5 & 10 chains to form the 900 store strong Woolworth Company. The Woolworth Company wasn’t quite sure what to do with Connable, so they sent him to run their eleven stores in Canada. 

The stores were poorly managed, something Connable addressed quickly. They were also buying most of their stock in the United States, and as a result paying a 40 percent tariff to import the goods into Canada. Connable turned to domestic Canadian suppliers for most of his needs and avoided the 40 percent tariff – a change that made the stores profit soar.

Connable was opening eight to ten new stores a year, but was convinced that the biggest profits were to be made in Canada’s far west. Investors however balked at the high overhead Western stores would require. Eventually Connable was given permission to open three as an experiment, with the first in Calgary. After the store’s first month, Connable was given authority to open stores wherever he wanted. In 1915 he was made president of Woolworth - Canada. In 1926 he retired from Woolworth, a wealthy man despite the many business failures during his younger years.

Somewhere in this long career Connable developed a love for golf. He thought of it both as the perfect recreation for he and his staff, and a very, very good way to seal deals with suppliers. Connable’s love of the game, was such that he was responsible for the construction of Toronto’s earliest public golf course, sharing his passion with those unable to join a country club, which previously was the only way one gained access to the links.

Connable was also an inveterate practical joker.'His favorite escapade was to dress like a woman and walk into the men's locker room of the staid Lambton Golf Club. While men shouted and tried to hide behind doors, Connable would whisper, "I'm looking for my gentleman friend." 

Connable’s connection to Hemingway was brief. His connection to Michigan much stronger. And his story truly one of persistence in the face of repeated failure, eventually leading to finding his way to great success. It is amazing what kind of story can be found answering a simply question.




Newspaper Digitization Proposals Due November 3

by Frank Boles

With the help of the Robert and Susan Clarke endowment the Clarke Historical Library will again this year sponsor a mini-grant competition that will make it possible to bring all or part of a Michigan community’s historic newspaper online. 

The DigMichNews grant will allow the Clarke Library to scan and place online up to 9,000 pages of a previously microfilmed newspaper, or microfilm, scan, and place online up to 4,500 pages of hard copy newspaper.

Applications for the program can be found on the Clarke Library website, https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/digmichnewsgrant/Pages/Grant.aspx

Got your community’s application in today.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The First Homecoming Tradition and the Creation of a Mascot

by Bryan Whitledge

In 1924, the Central Michigan Normal School held our first homecoming football game. And even from the first game, it was important to establish traditions. Some of the traditions that Central students and alumni have known through the years include Homecoming Mums (1930s-80s), the Homecoming Queen (1946-96), the Homecoming King (1982-96), the Homecoming 5K(1987-present) and the Homecoming Medallion Hunt (2003-present). In 1924, the first tradition started by Centralites (we weren’t the Chippewas until 1941 and we weren’t even the Bearcats until 1927), aside from the game, was the menacing dragon that trotted out at halftime to intimidate the opposing Alma team and inspired our gridiron boys to victory. According to the 1925 yearbook, the dragon “symbolized that the visiting eleven was helpless against the dragon-like power of the Maroon and Gold fighters.”


The following year, the second homecoming was planned. Among the highlights of the Friday-night pep rally, was “the traditional Central Normal dragon,” which “wound its way among the crowd encircling the bonfire while the red lights shooting out from its gaping mouth were portents of the ordeal that Albion must undergo on the morrow.” The dragon also made an appearance at halftime the following day when the Central team held the strong Albion squad to a draw. Clearly the fire-breathing dragon had become a homecoming tradition.

Through all this time, Central still did not have a nickname for the athletics teams. It should come as no surprise then, in June of 1926, when a Central Normal Life sportswriter was lamenting the lack of a snappy name for the team, that “Dragons” would be suggested as a nickname for Central’s teams. The writer noted that the fire-breathing dragon was Central’s “outstanding pep innovation of recent years.”

Through that fall and spring, the Central Normal Life was full of headlines like, “Dragons Smash Thru for Four Touchdowns,” and “MIAA Champs Vanquished, 13-2, Bv Terrific Drive of the Dragons.” But alas, the Dragons would last only one year. By August 1927, students were calling for a new mascot to compete in the world of Bulldogs, Bears, and Tigers. An early suggestion was Wildcats, but by October, Bearcats was the name that was chosen. As the Central State Life noted at the time, “the expression [Bearcats] is one that is used much in this section of the state to signify that a team or an individual is a topnotcher, a fighter, and a winner.”

It’s not often that a school’s Homecoming tradition gives rise to a team mascot, but such is the case for Central’s short-lived fire-breathing dragon that rallied students and intimidated opponents.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Homecoming Queen Race of 1950

by Bryan Whitledge 

This week is Homecoming week at Central. One of the long-standing traditions has been the selection of students to represent the University for Homecoming. Since 1997, these students have been called Ambassadors and two are bestowed the honor of “Gold Ambassadors.” Before that, these students were referred to as Homecoming Queen and King and the Homecoming Court. And before 1982, there was no King, only a Homecoming Queen and her court -- a tradition stretching back to 1946.

1998 Homecoming Ambassadors

Sometimes the competition for Homecoming Court is so memorable that it lives on in infamy for decades. Such is the case for the Homecoming Queen race of 1950. As far as the public was concerned, everything seemed typical as of Tuesday, October 3, 1950. The October 4 CM Life reported that there were seven candidates in the race for Homecoming Queen: Doris, Katie, Jeanne, Mary, Marilyn, Marie, and Mary Kay. The young women were to participate in the Queen’s candidacy program the evening of October 4. Then, a campus-wide vote would take place the following day to name the Queen that would preside over Homecoming weekend - October 13, 14, and 15. Everything looked like it was moving smoothly, but something was afoot.

In the lead up to Homecoming, some of the young men from Ronan Hall felt that the campus environment was a little dull and spirit was lacking among Central students. A young freshman named Edward Miller decided to be the spark that would make things a little more interesting. The day before the Queen’s candidacy, rumors began swirling about Mr. Miller’s plan. Some of the Ronanites, as they were called, began a publicity campaign to let people know that the Homecoming Queen race was about to get shaken up. If people hadn’t heard the rumblings of the plan, they only had to wait until the Queen’s candidacy program on the evening of October 4.

As the CM Life reported the following week, even before MC Bob Johnson could finish making the announcement of a new contender - a “dark horse” as he put it – the crowd started in: “We want Ed-na.” The curtains parted and there, before a packed Warriner Auditorium, stood Edna Miller. The young Ronanite from Saginaw had been transformed into a “gorgeous” Homecoming Queen candidate. As the CM Life put it: “She smiled and hearts throbbed. She winked, and cheers rose. She threw a kiss, and the men swooned."

Edna certainly gave the other seven candidates a run for their money. But alas, royal status was not to be Edna’s. For unknown reasons, she was disqualified from the competition. Being kicked out of the competition did not stop Edna from attempting to conquer campus. She appeared as an unofficial entry in the parade atop a throne of her own “with fifteen able men drawing her through the parade,” as the CM Life reported it.

Edna Miller’s campaign to take the title failed - Katie Flynn was named Homecoming Queen that year. But Ed Miller’s campaign to liven up the Homecoming events was a resounding success.


This blog post originally appeared in a slightly different form October 14, 2013. It is one in a series of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – http://anniversary.cmich.edu – and the Clarke’s fall exhibit, on display through February 2018, for more great stories.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Homecoming Mums: A 90-Year Tradition With More History Than You'd Think

by Bryan Whitledge

Homecoming, that wonderful autumn rite, tends to coincide with the blooming of chrysanthemums. So, it goes without saying that deep maroon and vibrant gold mums are the perfect match for the festivities at Central each year. In the early 1930s, less than ten years after Homecoming football was a part of the fall social calendar (the first Homecoming football game was in 1924), flower shops around Mount Pleasant began taking out advertisements in the local newspapers announcing, “Mums for Homecoming.” By 1936, a student group, the Lucy A. Sloan Literary Society (later named Alpha Sigma Tau Sorority), began selling “mums” during the Homecoming celebrations for ten cents each as a fundraising activity. The "mums" were not actually flowers, but crepe paper blossoms in “rust and yellow” colors.

Homecoming mums sale, 1968

Through the 1940s and 1950s, the sale of “mums” seems to have continued, coordinated by student groups such as the Women’s League. But mums were not a major part of Homecoming with only a few advertisements from local flower shops announcing the arrival of “Homecoming Mums.”

By the 1960s, things had changed and “Homecoming Mums” became a highlight of the festivities. Sororities took responsibility for selling the mums, which were real blooms and often decorated with the Greek letters of fraternities and sororities across campus or a “C” for Central.


As time moved on and the 1960s turned to the 1970s, student organizations stopped selling mums. Local florists took their place, selling mums to current members of the Central community and the alumni who came back for Homecoming. The florists continued advertising “Mums for Homecoming” in the student newspaper through the mid-1980s, but the tradition was never as vibrant as it was during the 1960s.

Mums planted on campus, 2013. Image courtesy of Steve Jessmore.

Today, even though they are not sold as part of the plethora of Homecoming happenings, CMU’s campus is awash in “rust and yellow” chrysanthemums – a symbol of Central’s Homecoming dating back nearly 90 years!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Homecoming Traditions...With a Twist

by Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

We are all familiar with the excitement that Homecoming week brings to campus. Students have fun building up to Homecoming weekend by decorating their residences or joining in on the Medallion Hunt. Student organizations put the finishing touches on their floats. Alumni and CMU fans begin gathering all the maroon and gold they can find to wear for game day. The people of Mount Pleasant enjoy the parade in the morning, the tailgating and football game in the afternoon, and dances and other social events later on. These tend to be the usual festivities planned for the Homecoming, except one year, 1971, when things were shaken up.

The Student Alumni Association decided to get rid of the parades, dances, residence hall decorations, and even the Homecoming court. It was reported that students didn’t particularly care about the court and that there were simply not enough parade participants to make that tradition worthwhile. The Student Alumni Association wanted to try something new that all students and alumni could enjoy, so they organized a carnival, a bazaar, and a "style show" instead. The only traditional aspects they held onto were the pep rally, the snake dance, and the football game.

Homecoming Carnival, 1971

But this idea did not turn out to be such a hit. According to an editorial in CM Life following Homecoming weekend, returning alumni were unimpressed with “coming home” to a ferris wheel ride, and many people felt there was a lack of school spirit. They suggested that the next time big changes were to be made for an event such as Homecoming, those changes should be voted on by the student body to see just how many people care what weekend festivities might be enjoyed. 

Miss CMU Trudy Yarnell took the place of the Homecoming Queen in 1971

This would seem like a fair compromise, but in a rebuttal editorial post published two days later, the Co-chairmen of the Homecoming Steering Committee had many answers and explanations for the series of complaints. They felt that the Homecoming queen did not really represent CMU in its entirety, and that Miss CMU, who took the place of the queen and her court, would be a better fit. They also found that “at least 50 groups requested to build a booth for the bazaar,” which seemed to mean that there was more interest shown for the bazaar than previous parades. The Homecoming Steering Committee also noted that they did not intend for students to refrain from decorating their dorms, only that students should decorate lightly and donate to charity the rest of the money that they normally would have spent on decorations.

The experiment of the alternative Homecoming of 1971 was a one-time event that did not quite resonate with all the attendees. But the spirit of updating some of the traditions of Homecoming to better reflect the University has lived on. Since that time, the Homecoming Ambassadors have replaced the queen and her court, the dances are not as popular as they once were, and the Medallion Hunt, started in 2003, as well as the cardboard boat race, started in 1998, have become campus favorites. As long as Homecoming is a tradition at CMU, there will always be students and alumni reinventing the traditions to make them their own.

This blog post originally appeared in a slightly different form October 2, 2014. It is one in a series of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – http://anniversary.cmich.edu – and the Clarke’s fall exhibit, on display through February 2018, for more great stories.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Annual Chippewa River District Library Book Sale

by Frank Boles


Each Fall the Friends of the Veterans Memorial Library in Mt. Pleasant hold an extensive book sale at the Library where attendees find a great selection of “gently-used” books, videos and CD’s for you to choose from. The Friends Book Sale obtains its written, visual and audio materials through generous donations by library patrons and the general public. This year the sale will take place Thursday, October 5 from 10:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., Friday October 6 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and Saturday October 7 from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  Saturday is bargain day when you can buy a bag of books for only two dollars.


Besides helping the Friends raise money to support our community’s local public library, the Clarke Library owes a special debt to the organization. Each year the Friends give us a call and invites the Clarke staff to visit the book sale a day or two before the public is invited, allowing us to look through and take without charge any of the donated books that will enhance the Clarke Library’s book collection.






I spent much of Tuesday morning pouring over titles and walked away with seventy titles. A few samples of the treasures I brought back to the Clarke include, Splittin’ the Mitten: Get Your Kicks on Michigan’s Route 66; Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit’s Best Chip; Aloft: Bay County Michigan Pioneer Flyers, Flights, & Airfields, 1912-1962; and the children’s book Stephen and the Beetle by award-winning Mexican author Jorge Lujan.


But my favorite was, The ABC’s of Detroit Tigers Baseball, by the Detroit Tigers Wives. In case you are wondering A is for the American League. L is for legends, including Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Hal Newhouser and Willie Horton, along with announcer Ernie Harwell, each of who is remembered by a statue at Comerica Park.  Z is for the Zone, as in the strike zone (okay so they were reaching a little, but you come up with something better!)


My thanks to the Friends of the Veterans Library for helping us expand the collection. If you have a little time and need a good book to own, drop by the Veterans Library at 301 S. University Ave., Mount Pleasant, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. I left a few good ones behind for you!


 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ask a CMU Archivist Day


On Wednesday, October 4, archivists across the country will participate in the Society of American Archivists' "Ask an Archivist Day" event. Archivists will answer questions about what we do, how people can preserve their documents, how people can get involved with archives, and tons of other questions that archivists are (hopefully) fully-equipped to answer.

Here at the Clarke, we are going to answer your questions about CMU history for Ask an Archivist Day. In addition to our exhibit and our monthly brown bag lunch series, "Ask a CMU Archivist" Day is a way of celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of Central Michigan University. We will use this day to answer questions about CMU history and what it is that we do in the Clarke to collect and preserve that history and then make it available to anyone and everyone.

To participate, simply send a question on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #AskACMUArchivist. You can also send questions to the Clarke's e-mail using the subject "Ask a CMU Archivist." The archivists and staff at the Clarke will work throughout the day answering your questions and making those answers available to the world via our Twitter and Facebook pages. For more information, visit the "Ask a CMU Archivist" web page.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Professor Roderick McGillis


By Frank Boles

On Tuesday September 19, Roderick McGillis delivered the annual David and Eunice Sutherland Burgess Endowed Lecture to a large group of students, faculty, and other guests. A distinguished senior scholar of children’s literature Dr. McGillis presented a fascinating history of the development of children’s literature as an academic discipline, and ended his presentation by sharing one of his many stories; something he is justly famous for.

When Doctor McGillis began his career children’s literature was not taken very seriously. Books for children were considered nothing more than brightly illustrated and cleverly written teaching tools. The point of children’s literature was simply to educate children, with words and illustration having no real importance other than to keep the child’s interest. “Real literature,” the books English professors read, discussed, argued over, and eventually taught to their students, was written by adults for adults.

Over his long career Dr. McGillis struggled to help create professional organizations dedicated to children’s works, a professional discourse about children’s books, and to make those organizations and that discourse a recognized and accepted part of literary study. His presentation talked about the development of these goals, and contained more than a little concern that even today children’s literature is still dismissed by some “serious” academics as beneath their concern. But today those who dismiss children’s literature as a mere trifle are in the minority.



It was a presentation that captured the development and change of a field by one of the individuals deeply responsible for that development and change, offering insight not only into what happened, but more importantly why it happened.

But Doctor McGillis is also a well-known story teller, who proved the acclaim he has received for his ability in the field with a wonderful tale to end the evening. I cannot do the story justice, so let me simply say it was about his relationship with his grandmother, Grandma Burchill, how she claimed to him she was always up first in their house because she awoken by “the crack of dawn,” and that someday, when she died and no longer could beat him into the kitchen, she would be sure that he too knew the secret of hearing it. True to her word, the morning after she died, at first light, “Roddie” heard the crack. 

Is the story true?  As Professor McGillis reflects here, https://www.scribd.com/document/56737932/The-Myth-of-Freedom  it is a story he first heard someone else tell, over twenty years ago. He retells it placed in his own childhood home, with his own Grandmother, as it would have happened for him.

So, is it true?  Ernest Hemingway once wrote: ““You make something from things that have happened and from things that exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, and you make something through your invention that is truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.” 

Professor McGillis story about the crack of dawn I think would pass Hemingway’s test as something “truer than anything true.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

Boundary Voices: Snapshots of the Student Experience at Central Michigan University


By Frank Boles

On September 13 Professors Jay Martin and Brittany Fremion opened the Clarke’s current exhibit celebrating the University’s 125th anniversary by sharing some of the results of an oral history project with CMU students, past and present, that they have been conducting.  Their presentation offered insights into why students come to CMU, their experience on campus, and their views about the institution.

One of the many interesting points made in the presentation was on the importance of mentorship. Two stories told by individuals who attended CMU in the 1950s made this point vividly.

John “Jack” Harkins also told of how individual insight could help a student in need. The Harkins family owned a farm on what is today the CMU campus (when you visit the Music Building you are on the Harkness farm) and Jack had attended CMU’s “Lab” School, where student teachers learned their skills teaching students in a real school located on campus. Harkins went to college in Ohio and after three semesters returned home, without an invitation to return to his school. He applied for admission to Central and was rejected. He did not meet the normal admission criteria and was told, in so many words, to join the military and “grow up.”
 
Jack was not of a mind to enter the Service so one evening his father walked over to President Anspach’s house (which is today the Alumni Center) and knocked on the door. Anspach answered and the two men had a discussion about Jack, which ended with Anspach promising to look into the boy’s case. After reviewing transcripts and talking to his former teachers at Central, Anspach called Jack to his office, and told him he was reversing the decision of the Admission Committee and admitted Jack to Central. As it turned out, Anspach did this a few times every year – using his judgement to admit a student who he thought had the talent to succeed, but not the background to pass muster with the admission committee. As one of “Charley’s boys”, Harkins would go on to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Central, become very successful as a local Mt. Pleasant business person, and become a generous benefactor to both the school and the community.

Walter Beach was a talented football player from Pontiac who was being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, and Central. In the end he came to Central because, as he told it in the interview that was shared, his mother decided that Central’s football coach, Bill Kelly, was an “honorable man” who would do right by her son. Kelly would quickly prove her right.

In the first few days of practice Kelly’s assistant coaches organized the squad into four practice teams, with Beach always being placed on the fourth team with the poorest prospects. Kelly, knowing Beach’s potential, kept moving Beach to the first team, only to have the assistant coaches put Beach on the fourth team the next day. After a few days of this, Kelly called a team meeting of coaches and players. He announced by name who he expected on his first team at practice – Beach among them. The point could not have been made more clearly – judge Beach by his talent, not his color.

It was a lesson the NFL had yet to learn. Beach would go on to a career in the NFL, shortened because he was considered a troublemaker. In 1961 when the Boston Patriots went to New Orleans for a pre-season game the team was housed in a luxury hotel – except for Black players who the facility would not accommodate. Black players were to be housed with Black families in the community. Beach would have none of it, and made the decision to fly down to New Orleans on the day of the game, play, and then fly back to Boston that evening. Boston’s coach, Mike Holovak, decided this was unacceptable behavior, and cut Beach from the team the day after the game.

In 1963, while working as an elementary school teacher back in Pontiac, he was picked up as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns. Just before the 1964 season was to begin, he was suddenly cut from the team. He was packing his bags for the drive back to Pontiac when Jim Brown, then Cleveland’s outstanding star player and a man who recognized Beach’s talent, told Beach to wait a few minutes before leaving camp. Brown went to talk to management. Management never apologized for the “mix-up”, but Beach was back on the team. With his help Cleveland would win the 1964 NFL championship. However when Brown retired Beach knew his days with Cleveland were numbered. He was quickly fired.

In 1967 Beach would be present at one of the most iconic moments of sports history. Jim Brown asked him to come to a meeting where several Black athletes would gather to publicly support world champion heavy weight boxer Muhammad Ali, who had announced he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and had refused to be inducted into the military.

“It was an unforgettable moment. It was one of the most significant moments in my life. Ali was one of the most principled and moral human beings on the planet at the time.  …We met as black men around a moral and ethical issue, not as celebrity football or basketball players.”

Beach’s words, while true, understate the public importance of the moment and the risk those who participated took, because of the widespread publicity received when a group of Black men, who also were a stellar assembly of athletes, publicly took a moral stand to support Ali.

The people who made Central was it is today are both the students who attended here, and the faculty and staff who helped them achieve their dreams. There stories were an integral part of Professors Martin and Fremion’s presentation, and is part of what we celebrate this anniversary year.

Friday, September 8, 2017

CM Life Issues 1999-2016 Added to Digital Repository



The student newspaper CM Life and its predecessors have been a part of the CMU campus since 1919. Recently additional issues have been brought online in Clarke Historical Library's digital repository, expanding the run up through June, 2016. The preservation microfilming unit of Clarke first brought issues online back in 2013 including Central Normal Life (1919-1927), Central State Life (1927-41), and Central Michigan Life (1941-98). This was accomplished by taking microfilmed issues of the newspapers through the scanning process in order to digitize them. Now you can find all of the digitized issues available via the CMU Digital Collections.

Whether you do a single search that covers the entire run or zero in on a time period, each issue appears as an individual PDF file which presents the newspaper exactly as published. Issues can be searched individually too.  Additionally, the page content pane displays plain text, which aids researchers with transcriptions.

The student newspaper project was the first newspaper digitization project undertaken by the Clarke. Since the original project in 2013, upgraded software provides an improved user experience to CMU digital collections which include Digital Michigan Newspapers, the Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal, CMU History, CMU Scholarly & Creative Works, Clarke Digital Collections, and the Historical Soo Locks Images. By hosting the newspaper collection, Clarke qualified for participation in the National Digital Newspaper Project, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

With 1,714 newly added issues including 14,700 pages, CMU's recent past is a near as your keyboard.





















Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Quiet Moment


By Frank Boles

August 28th we began the process of installing our Fall exhibit, celebrating CMU’s 125th anniversary by presenting the voices of 125 people who have helped make that history happen.  Installing a new exhibit is always an exciting moment, but also a bittersweet one. Before the new exhibit can go up, the existing exhibit comes down.


I came into the library a few minutes early on the 28th, for a final chance to reflect on “As Remote as the Moon: The Soo Locks in Photos.” Every exhibit has its joys and triumphs, its trials and tribulations, and the Soo Locks exhibit was no different. There were carefully planned components and last minute decisions, usually the result of something not working quite the way everyone thought it would. But on the last morning every exhibit takes on a bit of nostalgia. All those moments of joy and concern come together to create a complicated quilt of emotion and remembrance.
What I remember most are the people who made the exhibit come to life. Michelle Briggs, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger at the Soo, who made the exhibit possible with a phone call asking the Clarke staff to come up to the Locks and see if we could work out a plan to deal with the historic records stored there by the USACE. She also gave a wonderful presentation to open the exhibit in 2017. There is a good reason the Soo Locks Visitor Center is worth the visit – Michelle.
Bryan Whitledge who, when the Corps of Engineers decreed that the glass plate negatives would not come to us for scanning, made the long trip to the Soo (in February) to spend several weeks on the third floor of the Locks Administration Building. He worked in a building designed to keep its inhabitants warm no matter what the weather – so warm some days Bryan worked in a t-shirt and shorts. Bryan kept three scanners running constantly, and still found time to puzzle together the occasional shattered negative.
Janet Danek, the Libraries Exhibits & Projects Coordinator, a title that ignores the tremendous work she performs in drawing up the plans for, and then installing, each new exhibit. Every exhibit tells a story, and Janet is the person who makes the story come to life. She also directs a small army of students and volunteers who seem to arrive from everywhere to help install the nearly complete exhibit. Especially noteworthy are Peggy Brisbane and Sally Rose, who regularly make installation easier by giving hours of their time over the course of a few days.
Working with Janet is Rebecca Zeiss. For years, Rebecca has created the panels that are placed on the walls. In the past several years she has taken Janet’s ideas and shaped them into the extraordinary display pieces that we place up for the public to see. Over the years, Rebecca has made every topic work – an accomplishment worth noting since some of the source material given her is less than visually stunning: way, way less.
The cooperative help of the Clarke staff is also found in every exhibit. There is the inevitable last minute, “don’t we have one of those,” “how did we miss that,” and “this just isn’t going to work – what else do we have” moments that Reference Librarian John Fierst and Archivist Marian Matyn drop everything else and respond to. It is a great way to ruin their well-planned day, and it happens often enough that I can only thank them for their patience, and not saying, “what now?”
Susan Paton, the assistant editor of the Michigan Historical Review, also has her work interrupted by an exhibit. Among the challenges in any exhibit are linguistic concerns– from subject-verb agreement to commas (and the occasional, “what on earth are you trying to say?”) – concerns Susan regularly helps us resolve. Although I dread of those fateful words spoken after an exhibition is supposedly complete, “you need to read this,” the concern is considerably lessened by Susan’s good work.
Each exhibit has a person or two who lends us wonderful treasures that bring the exhibit to life in ways the Library’s own collection could not. The Soo Locks show was no different. Gary Skory, director of the Midland County Historical Society, has loved the Locks and collected all sorts of tourist items, from pieces of tourist china to restaurant place mats. His loaned material helped us tell the story of the tourist industry that has developed around the Soo Locks in a way that we simply could not have accomplished without his help.
And I would be terribly remiss if I also didn’t mention the many student employees who make exhibits happen. Drake Smarch, who works with Janet Danek, becomes a regular part of our staff during exhibit installation. Clarke student employees are pulled from their regular assignments for all sorts of help. Sometimes what they do may not feel important to them – but it is critical. Without their help we simply could not take down one exhibit and put up another. I hope our student employees, who don’t get much glory for their help, realize how deeply their contribution is appreciated.
Thank you, everyone, for making Clarke exhibits so memorable. I will miss the Soo Locks show, but I look forward to the exhibit celebrating the University's 125th anniversary, which opens September 13th.  









Friday, August 18, 2017

The Central Marching Band

By Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

In September 1923, the students of the Central Normal College were hustling around in a frenzied attempt to register for classes (Central Normal Life, 9/25/1923, p. 2). The only peace to be had on campus was coming from the newly-established marching band. Before ever taking the football field to entertain during a game, the band was given the duty of lightening the atmosphere and reminding students that their first days in Mount Pleasant were the start of an exciting chapter of their lives. It would be two months before the marching band would have their maroon and gold uniforms and would take the field supporting the effort of the players on the gridiron at an away game against Alma on November 24.

Central Marching Band, 1923

Since that time, the Marching Band has been a fixture of the fall. More than 50 years after their first appearance, the Marching Chips were there in 1974 as the football team took part in the biggest game in Central's history to that point, the Camellia Bowl, otherwise known as the Division II National Championship. Because the University was able to offer only $17,000 of the $200,000 needed to send the band to California, a little help was needed to send the band out west. Clarence Tuma led a community fundraising campaign that raised the additional money. Tuma also had a final surprise for the band.
"Before they left California [by plane, bound for Michigan], Clarence Tuma had loaded a full round of Coors Beer for the band members. As they flew over Denver, Colorado, Norm [Dietz] gave Clarence the baton, and on the downbeat, everyone opened a Coors.John W. Beery
Coming back to the present day, students new and old will be moving to Mount Pleasant in the coming days. They will be buying books, getting their residence halls and apartments in order, and catching up with friends after three months of summer vacation. All the while, just like 94 years ago, the CMU marching band will be heard in the background, lightening the atmosphere during an otherwise chaotic time.

CMU’s first football game, a clash with Rhode Island on Thursday, August 31, is just around the corner and the football team has been putting in hours of hard work on the practice field. But the football players aren’t the only ones honing their skills daily in preparation of the opening kickoff. During band week, which happens right before the start of classes, the Marching Chips are on the practice field all day, every day, whether in the blazing heat or the pouring rain. Throughout campus, the Marching Chips work on the songs and routines that will be on display for thousands of fans throughout the fall.


The cadence of the drums can be felt across the Warriner Mall, the trumpets blare the high notes that will be the highlight of their performances, and the members of the woodwinds work in numbers to create big volume that will support the whole band. All of these musicians put in hours of work to learn about eight songs for football halftime shows in addition to the dozens of pregame tunes, stand times, and of course, the CMU Fight Song.

The work doesn’t stop after band week. It should be remembered that the members of the Marching Chips are first and foremost students at CMU. Once classes start, many of the music majors will be taking ten or more classes along with their marching band duties, which includes practicing a few hours each afternoon, except for game days when some sections begin practice before 7:00 am. Graduate students and senior section leaders will help the mostly freshman marchers keep each foot together and each note in sync until the formations are performed to perfection.

And what does all of this hard work bring? Well just like in 1923, it brings cheer to the students of CMU when they need an upbeat song to get them through the day. Of course, it brings life to football games and the annual homecoming parade. It brings traditions that have been handed down through generations of Marching Chips. Finally, for the musicians who are a part of the Central Marching Band, they earn a wealth of experiences, they garner a sense of pride in persevering to accomplish something magnificent, and they make memories that will last a lifetime.

This blog post originally appeared in a different form August 26, 2014. It is one in a series of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – http://anniversary.cmich.edu – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening in September, for more great stories.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reformatting and Imaging at the Clarke Historical Library



Clarke Historical Library operates with departments typical of most libraries. As a special collections library it also has a reformatting and imaging unit, which reproduces content onto more stable or accessible formats. The work of this unit makes historic, fragile and rare documents more widely accessible to researchers. Begun a half century ago to preserve old newspapers, the operation has grown to include all manner of text and graphic material. Some of the most popular collections preserved include Central Michigan University history and the historic Soo Locks images.





The Library is the leader in preservation of Michigan newspapers. What began as a microfilm operation now includes digital access as well. The library maintains significant holdings in Michigan newspapers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Additionally, it works with libraries and historical societies throughout the state to preserve contemporary local news too. Although digital is the choice for wide access, microfilm remains the preservation standard. A typical newspaper project begins by manually microfilming the paper with a large professional camera, then passes through many specialized steps before a final digital document is produced.

Smaller paper formats such as manuscripts, letters, and photographs generally go direct to digital on flatbed scanners. These units can produce very high resolution scans suitable for publication. Images can be adjusted for traits such as brightness and contrast, sometimes revealing results more clearly than the originals. When researchers apply magnification to documents of this quality, they're able to zero in on important and fascinating details.

The Clarke web site hosts many digital collections with digital imaging produced in-house by the reformatting and imaging unit. Best of all, the collections are always open for exploration!














Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day and Our Veterans


Memorial Day is celebrated this weekend. Although decorating soldiers graves is an ancient custom, the custom became a national mourning ritual, known as Decoration Day in the U.S., during the Civil War. It was a ritualized, recognized day to decorate the war dead because of the unprecedented numbers of dead at the time, most of whom died far from home. Many families could not visit faraway graves, or even know for sure where their loved ones where buried. Memorial Day is documented in some of the collections in the Clarke.


What the day is all about- rows of honored, decorated U.S. soldiers graves in France, World War I
This image and others are in Nurse Mary Bourgeoise's gorgeous WWI A.E.F. [American Expeditionary Forces] photograph album 


Closeup of Nurse Mary Bourgeoise's clever photographic cover
 



Mary and her nursing unit in France, WWI
 
Within Clarke holdings are many primary source collections documenting veterans of wars, mostly the Civil War and World War I, although there is some material from World War II and Vietnam, and one collection mentioning the Korean War. These collections also document veterans' organizations and the women's organizations that supported the veterans. There are posters, official government records of war, postcards, scrapbooks, photograph albums, photographs, letters, pins, radio addresses, printed speeches, as well as secondary sources, published books, music, newspaper articles, and films.
 
Clarke Historical Library Archivist Marian Matyn would like to start documenting more of the Michiganders who have served our nation since World War II. If you are or have the materials of Michigan veterans or Michigan organizations that supported our troops since World War II, please consider donating to the Clarke. There are Michiganders making history right now serving our nation today.

 
Patriotic 1907 postcard in our Display Items

 
 

An assortment of GAR pins Civil War Veterans wore to parades, meetings and gatherings honoring fallen veteran comrades, also in our Display Items
 
 
 
To learn more about any of these collections, go to the Clarke Historical Library webpage
 
 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

125th Anniversary of the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company

by Bryan Whitledge

Exactly 125 years ago, a small group of individuals came together with the goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County. Throughout Michigan, communities such as Muskegon and Saginaw had been purchasing land, selling off the lots, and using the proceeds to establish hubs of industry in an effort to increase the population and bring in more revenue. In Mount Pleasant, this group of individuals, who called their enterprise the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company (MPIC), decided that doing the same would benefit their town, but rather than industry, the best route was to make this small Midwestern town of 2,700 inhabitants, “the educational point for Central Michigan.”

First page of the Mount Pleasant
Improvement Company record book
showing the first entry on May 24, 1892.
click on image to enlarge
Sixteen citizens of Mount Pleasant made up the initial membership of the MPIC, and they convened their first meeting at 9:00 am on Tuesday, May 24, 1892, at the “private offices of the Exchange Bank on Main Street in the City of Mount Pleasant.” Of these sixteen members, nine were named directors: Douglas H. Nelson (President), Michael Devereaux (Vice President), Frank D. Patterson (Treasurer), Samuel W. Hopkins (Secretary), Charles M. Brooks (Manager of the Association), Isaac A. Fancher, Wilkinson Doughty, George A. Dusenbury, and John W. Hance. By the end of that first day, the group had determined that they would create an institution of higher education called “Normal University.”**

To create the “Normal University,” which they later decided to call the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute, the MPIC needed to inject capital into the community, as one would say in the twenty-first century. The MPIC put $500 down and secured a loan for $7,500 to purchase 52 acres of the Hursh farm (land now occupied by Central Michigan University). Of the 52 acres, 10 were set aside for the Normal School and the rest was separated into 224 lots. Those lots were then put on the market to raise funds for the operations of the Normal School and the new building. Initially, 174 lots were sold for $110 each. Later 49 more sold at a price of $150 each. With this revenue, the MPIC was well positioned to give the newly-appointed principal, Charles F. Bellows, the resources he needed to start a higher education institution in Mount Pleasant.

Advertisement from the Isabella County Enterprise (July 22, 1892)
offering lots for sale to support the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute.

So Central started on ten acres with a community investment of about $25,000 and served twenty students in the first graduating class. Now, in 2017, CMU has evolved to include a 480-acre main campus (not to mention the numerous satellite sites and research facilities across the country) with a $130 million endowment that saw 3,100 students receive degrees earlier this month. It is safe to say that, 125 years later, the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company has achieved its goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County, let alone the state, country, and entire world.

Groundbreaking of the new Normal Building, September 19, 1892,
located on the site where Warriner Hall stands today.
**Normal was a common term for teacher training colleges and universities. The term comes from the French, where the accepted standards for teaching that were taught to aspiring instructors were referred to as "norms."

This is the first of many items of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – http://anniversary.cmich.edu – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening this fall, for more great stories.