Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
For the last several weeks and for the next several weeks I'll be working with the Cassel Collection # 1610. So far, cataloguing and digitizing them for online use has been challenging.
Handling these often fragile volumes is something that requires delicate attention. They have fragile pages and tight binding which doesn't lend to being photographed easily. I often have to use a book cradle which, is two wedge shaped pieces of foam, to support the book. The cradles go underneath the book and when photographed from above the book usually looks slightly angled.
Due to the book cradles and the fact that the writing on these old volumes usually goes far into the gutter it is really important to try to get the pages to lay as flat as possible. This often means holding them in place gently, with clear mylar strips. You may have noticed on our Digital Library that some volumes have thin, strips running vertically in the image? That is what the images look like when they have to be secured in this way. While not ideal, this is the least intrusive way I have to gently secure pages for digitization while not covering up any of the information in a volume.
Photographing in this way requires a great deal of attention to: the angle and tension of the mylar. Pulling it too tight can cause unwanted reflections and/or damage to the book binding. As well, to photograph every page the mylar often has to be released and then re-positioned. This is because pages of old volumes are fragile and can be brittle. Any unnecessary friction between the mylar and the pages can cause damage and so extra care must be taken to avoid this.
Another interesting challenge to photographing Cassel volumes is the language barrier. The collection of volumes we have are in German, a language which I unfortunately cannot read or speak. This is particularly frustrating for me because I love to work with the collections at HSP. Understanding the content of the collection is part of this experience and when there are barriers, like this, it can make photographing a rather boring task.
This is unfortunate because the Abraham H Cassel collection has an intriguing set of volumes ranging in topics from the religious/mystical to practical advice about cooking, medicine and bee keeping. The collection demonstrates the taste of Abraham H Cassel who lived in Montgomery County, PA and whose life spanned the years 1820-1908. His passion for reading and collecting volumes existed during a time when acquiring something of interest meant traveling sometimes west of the Mississippi River! What is most surprising however, is that Mr.Cassel was literate at all. His only formal schooling was for six weeks when he was eleven years old. Raised on his family's farm, chores took up most his time. Until, he broke away completely to become a teacher at the age of 20. This unlikely career for his background was a cherished break and it was during this time that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Rhoads and was able to fill his academic passions.
After a seven year interlude from farming he returned to take over his family business and remained there until his death. The story of Mr. Cassel is in many ways as interesting as the content of his many volumes. Lucky for us, even if you can't read German script, you can enjoy HSP's finding aids which include biographical information about collections. To this end, I am grateful to know what I do about this collection and know that my work may give someone who can fully enjoy Cassel's volumes the opportunity to do so from anywhere in the world!
While I sit at my wooden, kitchen table in Michigan processing metadata for a collection of drawings and paintings of mansions, buildings, and landscapes, most of which have been swept away by the passage of time, I am over 700 miles away from the unfamiliar streets of Philadelphia. As I approach the midway point in my internship with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I find that the most challenging and yet, most enjoyable aspect of processing the metadata for David J. Kennedy’s artwork is the georeferencing. Georeferencing requires me to pinpoint on a modern-day Google map the location of the object that Kennedy drew or painted. Accomplishing this presents many challenges, most of which revolve around the physical distance that separates me from the geographical locations that I am referencing.
In truth, I have never even been to Philadelphia, which, of course, makes it even more challenging to georeference. On a few pieces of work, Kennedy noted the crossroads of where the object once stood. An example of this is the Vauxhall Garden at northeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. Specifying the Vauxhall Garden at Broad and Walnut Streets is a simple, clear-cut georeference.
However, it is the objects where little information or no information is provided that are the most difficult to map. Yet, despite its difficulty, these objects can be also be the most interesting, because they require me to do more research. Kennedy’s “Belmont, The Residence of Judge Peters,” stands out in my mind as an art piece that I had to delve deeper into. I could not simply pinpoint Belmont, Pennsylvania as the exact location for the residence, as multiple Belmonts could exist. So, when I created a related entity for Judge Peters, I needed to find out his first name as Peters is a common surname. When I began my research, I discovered that Judge Peters was Judge Richard Peters, Judge of U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania. Researching a brief biography of Judge Peters led me to the official website for Belmont. Belmont was not a town at all; it was an estate located at 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive in Philadelphia. If I had not conducted further research into Judge Peters, I may not have discovered what Belmont truly was.
Other objects can prove even more challenging when the georeference is outside of the United States. Occasionally, Kennedy painted in locations within the United Kingdom. His painting, “General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831,” was a little challenging to work with, as I discovered that it was located in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Again, this required me to investigate who the person noted in the title was first for me to attempt properly locating the georeference. My research led me to N. Lanarkshire, United Kingdom. Researching individuals does not always led immediately to a geographical location, so digging up this information can be time consuming. But, as I enjoy most historical research, it is a rewarding experience to gain more knowledge on something I knew nothing of before.
General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831
Wednesday March 7th, Sarah and I hosted an experimental tour for a small group of high school students. This tour, funded by HPP/Pew Charitable Trusts gave us the opportunity to explore a rather routine area of our work (student tours) with a new creative eye. Our task was to improve this tour in ways that ordinarily didn't seem possible due to constraints like time, money, people, etc.
Through a couple sessions with creative staff from other institutions and HPP we shaped and fleshed out our ideas till we had a clear sense of what this tour would accomplish. It was going to be an information finding mission. To gather the widest purview of feedback we would try to expose more of the building and include more staff stories and collections than before. This meant visiting the basement and other areas normally not shown on the tour. It also included a 'surprise' visit by our popular ghost Albert J Edmunds. After this hour long tour culminated we would meet in a conference room and discuss the tour and lastly, ask the students to do an interpretive project about their impression of HSP.
Seeing this project to completion this week we were amazed with how good it felt to give the tour and hear immediate feedback. The tour was given to a small group of students from Abington Junior High School who showed persistent interest in the various departments, collections and building features. Upon reviewing the tour with them it was interesting to note how no two students had the same impression. When asked a question like: given what you saw tonight what job at HSP would interest you most; no student picked the same one. In fact, one student wanted to be a janitor even-though that wasn't directly included on the tour.
As well, we went out of our way to create a reenactment of the ghost Albert J Edmunds. Our thinking was it would at least provide a dynamic moment half way through the tour incase anyone was falling asleep. One minor preoccupation was that this would be an overwhelmingly popular moment and the rest of the tour wouldn't be as exciting. This notion, however, was dismissed. No one fawned over the amazing ghost but they all warmly agreed it was interesting along with other things like: seeing the documents up close, learning that photographs could be printed on tin and that sometimes translators are employed to help us interpret collections.
While we wait for the students' projects to come we are excited to see what new insights their projects may reveal to us about what appeals to them (or doesn't) about HSP. This will help us serve this elusive and complicated age bracket so fondly referred to as "youths." More info to come!
In an era when millions “keep up” with the Kardashians, it’s easy to see tabloid culture as a modern phenomenon, an ill effect of our 24-hour news cycle and social media that puts every tweet and Facebook update at our fingertips. But one need only look to the Lindbergh baby, Bonnie and Clyde, and countless others to see the nation’s fascination with celebrity and scandal is nothing new. I was recently reminded of this truism while digitizing some materials from the Bergdoll family papers [MSS021], a collection that perfectly captures how the salacious story of one individual can take hold in the popular imagination and dominate the national psyche.
When I first started corresponding with a Bergdoll descendant about digitizing her family’s papers, the name “Bergdoll” wasn’t familiar to me. But as I soon realized, had I lived in Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century, the Bergdolls were inescapable. In the heady days before World War I, the sons and daughter of the prominent Philadelphia German family who operated Bergdoll and Sons Brewing Company dominated headlines in and around Philadelphia. From racing cars around Fairmount Park to building a roller coaster at their Brewerytown estate, the five children of Louis Bergdoll, Jr. and Emma Barth Bergdoll were constant fodder for the press and provided a rapt public with snapshots of the alluring lives of Philadelphia’s privileged class.
Of all the Bergdoll family’s adventures and exploits, none attracted public fascination quite like those of the youngest son, Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. Known as “the playboy of the Eastern Seaboard,” Grover was both an aviation and racing enthusiast whose numerous traffic violations raised a public outcry against issuing him a driver’s license in 1912. But it wasn’t until World War I that Grover’s exploits attracted national attention and infamy when, after registering for military service, Grover and his brother Erwin failed to show up for physical examinations when they were drafted in 1917. Grover fled across the United States and, for the next two years, taunted authorities with postcards sent from each new hideout.
The case of the errant Grover Clevand Bergdoll captured the public imagination and inspired rumors about his German sympathies and offers to serve as an aviator for the Fatherland. The so-called “Philadelphia slacker” was finally apprehended in 1920 and sentenced to five years at Governors Island, but escaped imprisonment a short time later and fled to Germany. For the next two decades, Grover’s exploits continued to provoke national ire and captivate the public consciousness to the extent that even President Warren Harding commented on the case and personally ordered the seizure of the Bergdoll family's assets. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, details of Grover's life in Germany dominated the headlines, as did the ongoing efforts of kidnapping vigilantes determined to return him to the U.S. In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Grover finally came home to face trial and was eventually imprisoned at Leavenworth federal penitentiary until 1944.
As interesting as Grover’s tale is in its own right, the public fascination and anger with his draft evasion adds another intriguing layer to the story. Whether due to his wealth, ancestry, showman’s flair (or some combination of all three), Grover Cleveland Bergdoll struck a chord in such way that made him a national celebrity. Looking through the Bergdoll family papers, this phenomenon is most evident in the family scrapbooks and clippings that make up the bulk of the collection and dutifully chronicle a sense of public rapture and outrage with many modern-day parallels. Now available for view in our digital library, these scrapbooks and the mania to which they attest evoke Alger Hiss, O.J. Simpson, and countless others who became notorious by virtue of a love of gossip and scandal that endures, even if the medium has changed.
By Mary Tasillo and Ashley Harper, with exhibition photos by D’Arcy White.
Most of the fibers in HSP’s collections are the paper fibers of our books and manuscripts. Every so often we encounter something in a collection that references fibers and textiles in another way – a pair of gloves, pattern samples from local family-owned textile mills, or perhaps a knitting pattern. In conjunction with the FiberPhiladelphia Biennial, a team of HSP staff combed the collection to showcase several facets of textiles in the collection.
The lobby features over thirty portraits from our cased photograph collection alongside images from Godey’s Lady’s Book, and demonstrates dating 19th century photographs based on women’s fashion. Cases in our reference room include a look at identifying family heirlooms in the Allen Family Papers (Collection #3126), fiber arts and handcrafts as representations of ethnic identity including images from postcards in the collections, textile manufacturing history in Philadelphia with an emphasis on mills run by local families, and knitting in wartime.
This exhibition has been a great way for staff to bring some of our smaller and over-looked collections to light. We take special care to research, catalogue and digitize nearly all our collections on display. This saves the originals from incurring light damage due to ambient lighting, as well as allowing patrons to see items enlarged for detail, which was stunning in its intricacy for some items such as this lace mit from the Allen Family Papers. Additionally, these pieces are available for people to view from their homes.
The team working on the exhibition was intrigued by the myriad patterns available to women in 19th century periodicals and pamphlets, as well as by the long daily lists of household items and wearables created by Elizabeth Drinker as recorded in her 18th century diaries. HSP staff members attempted to recreate a number of these items, which are also on display alongside images of the original patterns and diary pages – discovering the differences in pattern and materials terminology over time.
This example of the Bible with Needlepoint Cover, displayed along with other items mentioned in Elizabeth Drinker's Diary, is a treasure in fragile condition which is slowly fading and decaying. The chance to digitize it for the exhibition means we can capture its vitality and expose one of the many great examples of elaborate bibles which we possess--a beautiful example of craft and often a genealogical record as well.
We at HSP are thrilled to be able to bring some insight into local fiber history along with great examples of this craft in the context of industry, the home, fashion, ethnic heritage, and war and conflict.
Today I was reminded of HSP's digital project called the DCA or the Digital Center for Americana. Last year this project focused on the processing, digitizing and archiving of collections related to the Civil War. We have a great wealth of information in this area and it wasn't surprising that a couple months ago someone came into HSP and showed us a belt of their ancestor who fought for the Union Army, Company E, 53rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.
The belt itself was made of leather and contained an extended flap that, once fastened to the waste, could extend over a jacket, coat or any outwear. On the flap was written "Willie Sargent, Co. E, 53rd Regt. Pa. Vols. Wounded, Battle Fair Oaks, June 1st, 1862." This served to inform people who would have no other way of knowing that the state of Willie Sargent was greatly in part to the wounds he had recieved fighting at the battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia. During this battle he received bullets in both arms and buckshots to the face and especially, the nose.
In one of HSP's resources titled: "Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War" published by Broadfoot Publishing Company, anyone can go and look up people who were injured during the War of the Rebellion, as it is also called. There it specifies, rather straightforwardly, that both of Sargent's arms were amputated due to his injuries. He survived this and was able to return to Philadelphia but was obviously disabled.
The belt thus stood as a small consolation for his efforts and maybe afforded him the respect of others. People who would potentially have seen him as a born cripple were reminded that he was a volunteered to fight. Nonetheless, whethr there was a spring in his step or he walked in hunched solitude upon his return, we may never know? Information about the quality or extent of one's happiness if often uncapturable. Nonetheless, what I believe is able to shed light on life's mysteries are people. A family with a belt or a story past down can often be like stumbling upon a small lump of gold. I ponder how the work I do with HPS's digital collections may ultimately help bring people together. How it may give them a place to go or contact? Some of our collections are going up on Ancestory and I wonder if we will start to be more widely, useful to the public. If so, how many more stories will end up being shared with people who have belts or photos or just memories? As well, how would we as an institution ever really know?
For the past few weeks, I have been taking some time off from transcribing documents for the Greenfield digital editing project to work on a 20th-century collections guide. (Dana and I are almost done transcribing the 325 documents that we're using to tell the story of Bankers Trust Company! Yay!)
The creation of such a guide is part of the Greenfield project grant funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation since one of the main goals of the project is to highlight HSP's holdings of 20th-century collections.
Besides the Greenfield digital project, HSP staff is currently working on several projects, such as the Civic Engagement collections project and the Digital Center for Americana, which aim to educate users about its 20th-century holdings as well as provide sufficient access to those holdings. Information about and access to these materials is being established through processing, conservation, digitization and digital documentary editing.
When I took on the task of creating a 20th-century collections guide, I pretty much had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought there were probably a sizable amount of 20th-century collections, but nothing too crazy. Yeah, turns out HSP has a ridiculous amount!
Because of the vast number of collections, the guide can in no way be comprehensive. Hopefully it will serve to showcase the extensive nature of HSP’s holdings, and help users locate collections that may be of interest to them.
The depth and breadth of HSP's 20th-century collections is truly significant. Dating up through the late 20th century, the collections have both a regional and national scope. They document the greater Philadelphia area, national figures and organizations, as well as individuals and associations that had a nationwide impact. The experiences of diverse segments of society, including African Americans, women, and various ethnic and immigrant groups, are all well represented.
In order to keep the guide at a reasonable size and include the appropriate collections, Matthew Lyons and I established some criteria that I was to follow. The guide will include:
- Only manuscript collections (This excludes materials such as books and periodicals.)
- Collections that have a significant amount of 20th-century materials (Many collections have span dates that include the 20th century, for example, the Chew family papers. However, in these cases, we are only including collections for which most of the materials fall within the 20th century.)
- Collections that have a high research value, based on HSP's surveying methodology
- Collections that are at least1 linear foot (with a few exceptions)
- Collections that have a finding aid or rough inventory (with some exceptions)
Even when following this criteria, I came up with a list of about 400 collections. And again, this list is not comprehensive. There are many more collections that did not make it.
Like the subject guides that are currently on HSP's website, I decided it would make the most sense to organize the 20th century collections topically. Collections fall under one or more of the following categories:
Arts & Culture
Business, industry & finance
Community & social service history
Family life & genealogy
Graphic & visual materials
Politics & government
Race, ethnic & immigrant history
Science, medicine & technology
Sports, recreation & travel
Wars & military service
A couple notable 20th-century collections include:
League of Women Voters of Philadelphia records, 1920-1961(bulk 1941-1959) (Collection 1940) 27 Boxes (38 linear ft.)
In addition to educating the public during election campaigns, the League took stands on local issues concerning child care, city management, housing, public education, public health; national issues of the legal status of women and taxation of oleo margarine; and foreign policy questions including the United Nations and the Marshall Plan. The Philadelphia chapter communicated with the national and state League organizations, politicians, civic leaders, and organizations. Correspondence, board minutes, budget and other committee reports, memoranda, circulars of League of Women Voters of Philadelphia are included in the collection.
Richardson Dilworth papers, 1881-2000 (bulk 1965-1970) (Collection 3112) 251 Boxes, 19 volumes (101.2 linear ft.)
Richardson Dilworth (1898-1974) was a major figure in the political reforms of the 1950s, serving first as District Attorney during the Clark administration from 1952-1955 and later as mayor from 1956-1962. His appointment to the Board of Education in 1965 brought about much needed reform to the Philadelphia school system. For the rest of his life, he remained active in civic affairs.
Although the papers include little documentation of Dilworth's law and mayoral careers they do include large amounts of material concerning his Board of Education activities, civic organizations and projects, the Reading Railroad Receivership, and the Pennsylvania Governor's Committee on Transportation.
Sumiko Kobayashi papers, 1941-1989 (Collection MSS073) 22 Boxes (8.8 linear ft.)
Sumiko Kobayashi was born in Yamato, a Japanese agricultural community near Palm Beach, Florida, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. Her family was relocated from San Leandro, California under Executive Order 9066 and interned in the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Sumiko was allowed to leave the camp in order to attend college through the help of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, and graduated from Brothers College, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 1946. She was active in many Japanese-American and Asian-American organizations and served as Redress Chair for Pennsylvania of the Japanese American Citizens' League's National Committee on Redress.
The collection includes personal correspondence, documents, and photographs relating to the family's time in the Topaz Relocation Center, and includes records of the organizations in which she has been active. In English and Japanese.
Beginning my work on the David J. Kennedy collection as a distance intern has been a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience as well as to provide patrons of the HSP with greater ease in searching and browsing the collection. Though it was a little confusing at first, it did not take long for me to become comfortable with the system used to edit each entry. I have since been adding new metadata to each image, such as subject headings, the dimensions of the image, and other entities related to the image. Much to my surprise, this process has been relatively simple, and is actually quite enjoyable. While working as a distance intern is more challenging than working in the same physical building that the collection is housed in, I do not feel significantly hindered in being able to complete the work required for the project. However, there are certain aspects of the project that have been an interesting challenge for me.
The most challenging task so far has been providing georeferences for each image - depicting on a modern-day map where the building or landscape in the image stood when Kennedy painted it. As a Chicago-native distance intern who has never even been to Philadelphia, this process has been much more difficult for me than it probably would have been for a local resident. I am completely unfamiliar with the main roads, land formations, and points of interest in modern Philadelphia, much less the nineteenth-century city that Kennedy called home. Fortunately, the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network and the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project have been extremely helpful; these two websites contain a wealth of information and resources such as old maps, directories, and photographs that have helped me track down where many of the old buildings in Kennedy's painting once stood. Not only have I started to become more familiar with Philadelphia's current layout, but I have also learned of some of the street name changes that have occurred throughout the years. For instance, while locating the georeference for Kennedy's painting of Welch's Circus, I found that Sansom Street was once named George Street.
Georeference page for Welch's Circus; Kennedy writes that the circus had been on Chestnut below 9th street, and near George Street - now Sansom.
For someone who less than a month ago knew little about Philadelphia and its history, I have slowly been learning more about the city throughout this project. Seeing what buildings have remained standing since (or even before) Kennedy's time, such as the Betsy Ross House, has been very interesting, and I have even appreciated the small tidbits of history that Kennedy wrote in his inscriptions, including the birth of William Penn's son John in the Slate Roof House.
Betsy Ross House, still standing since the eighteenth century.
The Slate Roof House, where John Penn was born.
By the time my internship ends this coming May, I hope to have gained more knowledge about the city, as well as greater experience with the technology used to work with a digital collection. I also hope to have helped provide patrons of the HSP with greater ease in searching the Kennedy collection, and with more informational metadata that will help them understand more about the city and its history.
Happy Valentine's Day from various members of the Hartshorne and Batcheler families! All of the images below were found during the processing of the Batcheler, Hartshorne, and Sahlin families papers (collection 3173). These valentines have a little something for everyone: there are sweet valentines, handmade valentines, lace doilies, misspelled childrens' cards, a charming poem from wife to husband, and one card featuring open heart surgery.
(The inscription on that last one is in pencil and a little hard to read. It says "Here you see your Valentine. I'm dawgon glad that it ain't mine." This is one case in which the inscription doesn't really clear up all of the questions the image creates.)
If you're in the mood for more historical love, you can also read my coworker's blog post about finding a pre-Civil War love note carefully hidden behind a c.1855 daguerreotype. Comme c'est romantique!
Whether you are joining us for the first time, or traveling here via our old Wordpress site, or just stumbling around the Internet, we welcome you! At HSP we rung in the new year with work, and a lot of it. Many projects were pushed to the backburner as all staff members devoted their engeries into getting this new site up and running, and we certainly hope you like what you see.
At the new hsp.org, in addition to getting a behind-the-scenes look into HSP's archives, conservation, and digitization departments, you have access to all our blogs, such as History Hits (snippets about the many unknown and wonderful stories held in our archives and library), New in the Library (providing information about our acquisition of new books, th availability of new finding aids, and other related items), and That's History (written in conjunction with a WHYY segment of the same name). You can access all these and the rest of blogs through our Blogs page.
In addition to this content, here you have easy access to Discover, our online catalog, our Digital Library, to which we are added new images every day, and our Shop, where you can donate or purchase everything from prints to memberships.
So please, browse, peruse, and comb through our new site. And continue to check back here at Fondly, Pennsylvania, for all the latest news from the archives. We welcome your feedback, so join in the conversation and let us know what you think.
Happy research and reading!