What I Did This Summer

Another summer weekend is upon us. If you're looking for something to do or someplace to go, check out the August program listings. If you're thinking ahead to next weekend, we have a list of which sites will be open on Monday, Sept. 7 for Labor Day. And if you're thinking beyond that, our September listings are for you.

Our guest blogger this week is Kendra Ressler, a PHMC Keystone Intern who spent her summer at Ephrata Cloister. This fall, Kendra starts her senior year at Houghton College, where she is majoring in Communications. During her internship, she learned all aspects of historic site operations, including marketing, customer service, and historical interpretation. In this post, she describes a collections research project she undertook with great results. (Thanks to Ephrata Cloister for photos and additional info.)

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Cover of John K. Madlem's autograph book
When I found out I was interning at Ephrata Cloister, little did I know that the research project I would be working on would involve a late 19th-century album. The Cloister had recently acquired an autograph album (ca. 1879-82) whose original owner, John K. Madlem, attended the Ephrata Academy, which met in the white schoolhouse on the grounds. My job was to research him as well as the other signers of his album. Every Thursday afternoon I made my way to the Cocalico Valley Historical Society where, with the support of librarian Cynthia Marquet, I worked to identify the people who wrote in the album.

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Ephrata Academy was a public school by the time Madlem was a student there
We were able to identify 36 of the 38 signers, which is not bad considering that all we had to go on was their names and many of them used initials instead of the full names. We learned that many of the signers became important members of the town of Ephrata. Among them was Charles S. Yeager, who along with his brother, John J. Yeager, Jr., founded The Ephrata Review newspaper, which turned out to be a valuable tool in researching the signers. Family connections were also made which gives us an idea of John K. Madlem's extended family, including first cousins and second cousins once removed.

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Teacher John J. Yeager, Sr., signed the book in January 1880
While I still want to attempt to find the remaining unidentified signers, I am glad I was able to find information on all the others I researched. This all would not have been possible without the support of the Ephrata Cloister and the Cocalico Historical Society. I leave you with the opening statement from the autograph book:

To my friends:-

My album’s open! Come and see!
What! won’t you waste a line for me?
Write but a thought a word or two
That memory may revert to you

John K. Madlem.
Opening_lines_by_Madlem

From Start to Finish: How a Document Travels

The Pennsylvania State Archives collects, preserves, and makes available for study the permanently valuable public records of the Commonwealth as well as papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history. The Archives has almost 235 million pages of records and about 1 million photographs, maps and other special media. In this week’s guest post, Archives intern Corine Lehigh shares the story of how one collection of documents made its way from a garage in Merion Station (Montgomery County) to the 14th floor of the State Archives tower (and teaches us some basics of archival management).

Appraisal
Earlier this year Richard Shapp, son of former Pennsylvania Governor Milton J. Shapp (1912-1994), contacted the State Archives about donating some of his father’s personal papers, then housed in two five-foot-tall filing cabinets in his garage. The first step in the records acquisition process is appraisal. An archivist has to determine the historical value of records based on several different criteria including research potential, age/scarcity, and the size of the collection. Knowing that the information in those filing cabinets would help to fill out Manuscript Group 309, the Milton J. Shapp Papers, Archives Director David Carmicheal gladly accepted the donation.

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Milton J. Shapp, Governor of Pennsylvania 1971-1979 (PA State Archives)
On June 30 archivist Richard Saylor and I headed to Merion Station to pick up the records. With the necessary paperwork already completed, it was to be a simple retrieval.

Richard Shapp was very knowledgeable regarding not only his father’s political career but also many events of the 1970s and 1980s. He told us about Gov. Shapp’s love for poetry and short stories—two whole filing drawers contained Milton Shapp’s own work—and shared many stories, including his father’s vision for the Peace Corps, which he shared with President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s. One surprise we received was a folder of information regarding First Lady Muriel Shapp (1919-1999), who had taught Japanese American high school students at the Topaz internment camp in Utah during World War II. Listening to Richard Shapp talk about this collection as we packed it up made me want to process it and read into more detail all of the information we had received.

After we had packed up the van with over 11 cubic feet of papers, film reels and photographs, Mr. Shapp invited us to join him for lunch. While he got everything ready we viewed what his partner referred to as his “Forrest Gump” wall. I can completely see why she calls it that! The upstairs hallway was lined with photographs of our host with some very important people including Anwar Sadat, Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Nixon and Pope Paul VI. [Editor’s note: Shapp, classically trained in opera at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, has sung professionally in the U.S. and abroad, alongside such notables as Luciano Pavarotti and Anna Moffo.] Richard Shapp was more than just a donor; he was a generous host and a wealth of knowledge.

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Shapp collection before processing
Accessioning
When a record is accessioned we are taking legal and physical custody of the materials and establishing intellectual control. Once the new Shapp acquisition was back at the Archives, our first step was to note, in a very general sense, what was in each box. Then Richard Saylor typed up an accession register that included all of the basic information we had gathered thus far: the source and origin, an estimated date range the boxes covered, how many cubic feet of material before processing and what manuscript group it would be accessioned into. From here the boxes and accession register were given to Kurt Bell, who is the Manuscript Group processor in the Collections Management section of the State Archives.

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Kurt Bell and Corine Lehigh examine records
Processing
Processing is the arrangement, description, and housing of archival materials for storage and for use by patrons. First we sorted the boxes into subject groups alphabetically, and then I rehoused the documents into archival boxes. (It is important to use acid-free boxes and folders for long-term preservation; many general use folders and papers will begin to deteriorate rapidly as the years progress, leaving the records unusable.) Once the records were arranged, the next step in processing was to write a general description of the contents of each folder, bearing in mind what researchers would be looking for and what would help them use the materials. This necessitated dividing the groups by subject and then boxing them up in chronological order, which was especially important for files created during Gov. Shapp’s two terms in office.

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Records in new acid-free boxes
Think about your own collection of personal items. It probably includes papers (essays you wrote in high school or college, letters from friends and family members, family recipes, etc.), photographs, videos (remember those big clunky video cameras in the ‘80s?), and various objects (your varsity jacket from high school and maybe a yearbook, your first license plate or your wedding dress, things that were important to you). Now think about whether or not you have all of those things labeled (Central Michigan Univ. has advice on storing your personal collections). Would a non-family member be able to determine why those items were important to you? That is what processing is: determining what and why someone kept something. It also involves a lot of research. For the Milton Shapp collection I had to listen to cassette tapes, flip through several reels of film and read many of Gov. Shapp’s creative works so that I was able to determine the what, why, when and how behind the collection.

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Researching film from Shapp collection
Having properly housed the collection in acid free boxes and folders, arranged the collection logically for researchers to access, and answered all my questions, I moved the collection from my desk in the work room to the 14th floor of the Archives tower, with the rest of the Milton J. Shapp collection. Taking all of the information I had learned through my research I wrote a description of the series, which we decided to entitle “Personal Papers” and assign series number 309.15. Each series contains a description like the one I wrote, often called a scope and content note. The scope and content note is a narrative statement that summarizes the characteristics of the described materials and the types of information contained. I also included the names of people who appear in the collection besides Milton Shapp, again keeping in mind what a researcher would be looking for (like John F. Kennedy or Genevieve Blatt.)

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Creating a finding aid for Gov. Shapp's personal papers
Once I was done writing my series description and had thoroughly edited my folder level descriptions for the finding aid, the information was given to Kurt Bell to upload to Archon, a digital archival management program. A finding aid is a descriptive tool used to establish physical and intellectual control of archival material (meaning we know what it is and where we can find it). The finding aid outlines the materials located in a specific collection and can include guides, inventories, special lists, and container lists as well as biographical and historical information about the individual or organization.

So that’s how a record goes from being in someone’s garage to becoming available for a researcher. It’s an important process to help preserve records for future generations to enjoy. Hopefully this post also helps you think about your own collection of personal papers and how you can make it easy for future generations of your own family to enjoy.

Stories from the Great War

But first, a programming note: On Wednesday, Aug. 19, public television stations in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere, I assume) will air all three parts of The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2014. Part I includes Dr. Joseph Priestley and his work to identify oxygen. Dr. Priestley's American home and laboratory (built after he and his family fled England) is part of the Pennsylvania Trails of History. (More details and images here.)

Our guest blogger today is Rachel Yerger, a curator in the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums as part of the PHMC's Collections Advancement Project. Rachel has blogged for Trailheads before, detailing collections care efforts related to the new exhibit at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Today she shares some info about a collection of World War I letters accepted last year at the Pennsylvania Military Museum. In her pre-PHMC life, Rachel worked on the WWI digital archives project, "Home Before the Leaves Fall," at Villanova University.

This past April brought the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War to an end (and man, will I miss saying "sesquicentennial"!). But fear not, military history nerds, because many World War I centennial commemorations are already underway. Even though the United States did not commit military support to the Allied war efforts until 1917, our centennial commemorative involvement is already gearing up. A few American based projects are up and running and vary in scope from national (Saving Hallowed Ground, a project launched by the WWI Centennial Commission) to local (Home Before the Leaves Fall and The Fallen of the Great War: Philadelphia Project). As other commemorative projects emerge or move forward, it is important that, in addition to the more well-known histories, we make a point to include the accounts and experiences of the common soldier. There are Great War narratives in the form of diaries, letters and postcards hiding in archives all over the country. These sources hold valuable information that can help us better understand what life was like for doughboys during the Great War.

I was lucky enough to read one of these personal histories while inventorying a PA Military Museum archival collection last July. The collection consisted mostly of letters written by Harry Campbell, a supply sergeant in Company C, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division (known as the "Keystone Division"). [Editor's note: I've moved Rachel's background information on the 28th Division to a separate page.]

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Supply Sergeant Harry L. Campbell
One the most interesting letters in this collection was not in fact written by Harry Campbell, but by an "R.S.R." This typed letter was tucked in amongst Harry’s letters home, and it isn’t clear who it was intended for or, at first, who R.S.R. was. (Thanks to Virginia Waters, an intern at the PA Military Museum, we now know that R.S.R. was Pvt. Reuben S. Rakestraw, a mechanic in Company C, nicknamed "Shorty.") The letter was written on July 21, 1918, almost a week after the German barrage started the Second Battle of the Marne (July 15-August 6). R.S.R. goes into great detail, and he refers to the first few days of battle as “...four days of hell.” “High explosives and shrapnel were bursting all around us every second and we had to lay there with gas masks on all night....”

At one point R.S.R. was taken prisoner by a German division, but managed to escape. “I swam, waded and crawled down a creek for over a mile and was in the water about 18 hours...." On the 17th of July, he finally came across a French outfit who gave him some food. When he finally met back up with what remained of the Keystone Division, he learned that Harry Campbell and the rest of the kitchen staff had also suffered losses. R.S.R describes Harry as, “...all broken up....” He goes on to describe Harry’s experience: “German aeroplanes [sic] swooped down on them and turned machine guns on them and dropped hand bombs. One team was killed, one kitchen blown up, one driver gassed and their lieutenant had an arm badly shatter with shrapnel.” Even through all that he and Harry had experienced, R.S.R. closes the letter with, “There had to be some outfit there and it is just as well that it was us. With all the wounded and dying I never heard a word of complaint, and all that could, pulled the trigger ‘til the last.”

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Private Reuben S. "Shorty" Rakestraw

This descriptive language, the intense situations, the strength and pride with which R.S.R. closed the letter, is all reflective of the greater whole that was the Keystone Division. Because of their brave fighting at the front, the 28th Division earned themselves another nickname, "The Iron Division," given to them by General John Pershing himself. Approximately half of Company C were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. But because of the Iron Division, and the rest of the American Expeditionary Force's perseverance, the Germans were forced to retreat and suffered more losses than the British, French and Americans combined.

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The 28th Division's red Keystone insignia

Shorty and Harry met while Company C was training at Camp Hancock, Georgia. Both had enlisted from Somerset County, PA, and quickly became friends. Harry often mentioned Shorty in his letters, and when the pair returned home they remained friends. In fact, Shorty was the one who introduced Harry to his future wife. What little we know about Shorty’s life after The Great War comes from vital records and a survey of Somerset County veterans conducted by the Works Progress Administration. In a sense, we’ve learned more about R.S.R. (and the 28th Division) through this one letter than from all the compiled vital records.

The purpose of commemorative events is remembrance, not just of certain larger-than-life historical figures, but also of men like Harry Campbell and Shorty Rakestraw. These men fought bravely and valiantly with the hope that future generations would be spared another war of this magnitude. We now know that this would not come to fruition, but it was not for a lack of bravery on the part of the men of the 28th Infantry Division. For me, this letter, and the other letters in the Campbell Collection, made the First World War more real than other historical narratives had before. Being able to put large historical events into a personal context is one of the more effective ways to engage people with history. And for a war that is largely forgotten, it is important that we be able to connect modern Americans to the people that experienced this war firsthand. And what better way to do that than by using the doughboy’s own words?