A Royal Visit

My typical day as director of Archives and Special Collections (ASC) is interesting and varied: a discussion with a potential donor, a meeting to plan an exhibit, creating catalog entries to facilitate discovery of our collections… Last Friday was interesting in an entirely different way.

Merv Aubespin and Ken Clay at entrance to exhibit

Merv Aubespin and Ken Clay at entrance to exhibit

ASC has a long-standing partnership with Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin (also known as Legacies Unlimited), who, with Blaine Hudson, authored Two Centuries of Black Louisville. Many of the historical photographs in this book came from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives, and we mounted an exhibit when the book came off the press in 2011. We’ve recreated this exhibit as part of the “Celebrating the Legacy of Black Louisville” events at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage for the last two years.

We were told a couple of weeks ago that the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall would be visiting the Center, and that our exhibit would be a featured attraction. It was a huge honor, and required that we (and when I say we, I really mean Marcy Werner) had to reprint all of the images so they could be framed and reinstalled.

A portion of the Two Centuries exhibit

A portion of the Two Centuries exhibit



It also meant that we were invited to be at the exhibit when the royal couple came through. I am not normally all that interested in royalty – I was old enough to be very much aware of the Prince’s wedding to Diana, and I didn’t even try to watch it on television. But even I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what a royal visit is like. We were given some ground rules on the morning of the visit: don’t reach out to them, but you can shake their hand if they reach out to you; call them both “your Royal Highness”; and something about cell phones. I think we weren’t supposed to be taking pictures, but… everyone was taking pictures.

Crowd of people at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

Crowd of people at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

When I agreed to attend the event, I knew there were a large number (30-40) of other exhibitors, and I expected them to be promoting the Commonwealth’s industries and agriculture. Instead, the event focused on health, innovation, sustainability, and — in our case — history. There were students and teachers from local schools demonstrating projects and organizations that promote sustainable agriculture, as well as University of Louisville’s FirstBuild. There were choirs, bands, and the Louisville Orchestra. It was very impressive, and something that the University should be proud to have been a part of.

As it turned out, Camilla (but not Charles) toured the Two Centuries exhibit, guided by Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin. I was not permitted into the gallery when she was viewing the exhibit, so I can’t gauge her level of engagement, but she stayed longer than I expected. Our collections helped a member of Britain’s royalty understand something about Louisville’s history – this is a departure from our usual daily activities, to say the least. While it was fun to be part of the hoopla, and I am proud we were asked to participate, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the day-to-day work that we do: things like working with academics from all over who want to study the Stryker papers; neighbors who want to stroll down memory lane via old photos of department stores that are no more; and students who have to write a paper on a UofL building.

Louisville Weather History

We have been through a long winter, and whether you are willing to believe that it is finally over or not, you have to concede that weather plays a large role in our lives. It affects our economic lives, our educational system, and even our emotional experiences. Since one of Archives and Special Collections’ central goals is to document the history and life of the Louisville area, it isn’t surprising that we hold a variety of weather-related materials.

One of our biggest weather-related collections is the National Weather Service, Louisville Station records.

Report of smoke and "noxious stench" in Louisville

Report of smoke and “noxious stench” in Louisville

These logbooks of daily observations chronicle Louisville’s weather (and the goings-on in the Weather Service office) from its earliest days in 1871 through 1983. They provide interesting, if sometimes minute, details that connect with our lives (“what was the weather like on my birthday in 1883?”), but they also tell a broader story about how we have engaged with our environment. For several years, Louisville’s observers were asked to report whether they could see the aurora borealis. However unlikely it seems that they would ever be able to give a positive report, these observations were intended to provide data to aid in our understanding of this phenomenon. There are also frequent reports of “fog” that limited visibility downtown in the 19th century – what we would probably call “smog.”

The logbooks and other collections also tell the stories of more dramatic weather events, including tornadoes and floods. For example, on March 27, 1890, a particularly deadly tornado – part of a larger outbreak in the region — swept through Louisville, causing millions of dollars in damages and killing 76 people. While this was noted in the Weather Service’s logbooks, like many catastrophic events, it was also of interest to people outside the region. This being the case, stereographs were produced showing the damage in 3-D (this was state-of-the-art in the late 19th century).

Tobacco Warehouse after 1890 Tornado

Stereograph of Tobacco Warehouse after 1890 Tornado


The “whirling tiger of the air” was also documented by other photographers. The much more recent – and similarly catastrophic – tornado outbreak of 1974 is not as well documented outside of the Weather Service logbooks, although we do have photographs and newspaper accounts.



In addition to tornadoes, life on the banks of the Ohio brings with it the constant threat of flooding, so it is not surprising that various floods are well-documented in ASC’s holdings. While the scope of the 1937 flood puts it in a different category, our collections reveal that floods were a recurring theme.

A search for “floods” in our Digital Collections pulls up nearly 1000 items, including..

German Catholic church, Jeffersonville, Ind 1883…stereographs from an 1883 flood in Jeffersonville…

Postcard of 1907 Flood

Postcard of 1907 Flood

…a postcard from a 1907 flood…

Fourth Street, 1924 Flood

Fourth Street, 1924 Flood

…Caufield and Shook photographs from 1924…

1933 Flood, Louisville

1933 Flood, Louisville

…Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) photographs from 1933…

Southern Parkway, 2009 Flood

Southern Parkway, 2009 Flood

…and images from the 2009 flash flood.

Given the devastation it caused, it is not surprising that the flood of 1937 is particularly well documented. Newspaper articles, photographs, postcards and maps were produced in the wake of the destruction. Some of this material – including maps of the floodwaters – is available in our Digital Collections. In addition, we have recently accessioned a series of 13 oral history interviews with flood survivors that were recorded in the early 1990s. These interviews tell the stories of people who ranged in age from ten to thirty-nine at the time of flood. Some of them had to flee the rising waters, moving in with family or friends, while others were able to stay and assist in the recovery efforts – or at least welcome friends and family into their homes. They all tell a personal story of life during the flood of 1937.

There is an old adage, “everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it.” While we can’t help you do anything to change the weather, we can help you put it in historical context.

All Aboard! Celebrating Archives and Special Collections’ L&N Railroad Collections

On November 6, Archives and Special Collections opens its latest exhibit, “All Aboard!” We are celebrating our L&N Railroad collections — the Photographic Archives collection of L&N photographs (including glass negatives), Rare Books’ early railroad publications, and University Archives’ L&N Railroad Company records. For the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of going through these materials looking for photographs, documents, maps, menus, timetables… all sorts of items that will help tell the story of the L&N.

I was already familiar with the L&N collections, since these records are frequently used by academic historians, community researchers, and train modelers. But preparing this exhibit helped me see it in a whole new way. First, it made me appreciate the tremendous variety and quality of photographs in this collection. As you would expect, there are many pictures of trains – interiors, exteriors, loaded freight cars, locomotives — you name it, and there is a picture of it.

Shop forces with loco 209, ca. 1915

Among my favorites are several shots of workers on and around the locomotives, as in this image of locomotive number 209 in Decatur, Alabama, taken around 1915.





Many of the images were taken for the L&N Magazine.  This one, for example, is from a feature on Mardi Gras that ran in 1948, which included this photograph of a couple dressed as Vikings.Mardi Gras, 1948.









The photographs sometimes include sweet surprises, as with this image of the of Ringling Brother-Barnum and Bailey circus train. If you look closely, you can see elephants reaching their trunks out of the car:

 Barnum & Bailey train, 1969.

Working with the L&N Magazine has also been a special treat. In addition to stories on different cities, it ran features on the different types of freight carried by the railroad: the L&N shipped everything from bananas, peanuts and other types of produce, to coal (lots of coal!), to appliances, to special shipments including “Iron Lungs” and race horses. L&N Magazine, Sept. 1948

The magazine also featured photographs of company sports teams, and shared information about different employees’ hobbies and family events including weddings. It warned workers of possible threats to their safety and their health, including alcoholism and heart attacks. It also profiled employees, departments, and services, helping promote a wider understanding of the tremendous variety of activities going on within this large and multi-faceted organization.

All Aboard! runs through February 7, 2014. Archives and Special Collections is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; we are having a special Sunday showing of the exhibit on Sunday, November 10, from noon to 5:00 p.m.

Corn Island Storytelling Festival

Mark your calendar for the 2013 Corn Island Storytelling Festival, which will be held on UofL’s Belknap Campus on October

Master Storyteller

A Master Storyteller at Work

11! The stories start at 7:00, in the Quad in front of Ekstrom Library. If you haven’t been to a Corn Island Storytelling Festival before, I encourage you to give it a try – bring a blanket or a folding chair, sit back, and enjoy the stories. Some are clever, some are scary, but they all invite you to see the events unfolding in the narrative in your mind’s eye.


Program from 1985 Corn Island Storytelling Festival

Program from 1985 Corn Island Storytelling Festival


Storytelling is a rich feature of Kentucky culture, and we are proud to announce that the Corn Island Storytelling Festival has donated their records to Archives and Special Collections (ASC). These materials document and reflect the organization’s mission to celebrate and preserve the tradition of storytelling and oral tradition, from Corn Island’s founding in 1976 by Lee and Joy Pennington, to the present day – the materials tell the Festival’s own story. The collection totals 42.5 linear feet and includes operational records, correspondence, audio visual recordings and images of storytelling events, posters and promotional ephemera, articles and press, as well as biographical information and photographs of storytellers. We are preparing the collection for use by researchers, and hope to have them available for use by the public soon.

In conjunction with the storytelling festival and National Archives Month, we will exhibit items from the Corn Island Storytelling Festival’s history. The exhibit, which will open in early October, will be located on Ekstrom Library’s first floor. The theme of this year’s Archives Month is “folklore and superstitions,” which is a perfect fit for Corn Island. Come see how Corn Island has spread and ensured the survival of our folklore – and be sure to stay to listen to the stories.

Student life and basketball, 1913-1916

Nearly one hundred years ago, in the fall of 1913, Florence Daisy McCallum began her career as a University of Louisville student and joined the “girls’ basket ball team.” She chronicled the team’s triumphs and defeats, as well as their exploits off the court, in her “Basket Ball Journal.” The journal is now available in digital form as part of the University of Louisville Images digital collection.

Daisy McCallum's Basket Ball Journal, page 72

Score tally, UL v. UK, January 1914Highlights include documentation of the team’s handy defeat of University Kentucky – known then as State University – at Lexington in January 1914, with a repeat the next month on our home court. UofL’s women had lost to UK the previous year, but the January win was so complete (with a score of 23 to 12) that “it well wiped out all memory of past defeats.”

Daisy McCallum Basket Ball Journal, page 47

Our women’s and men’s teams also played each other that year — the men defeated the women 40-14. In addition to documenting the final (and disappointing) score in that game, this scrapbook tells the story of how these young people interacted. There are cartoons that hint at some interesting “guarding” of members of the opposite team, and others that underscore the height differences between the men and the women. It is apparent that these students knew each other well, and that they shared camaraderie as much as competition. Given that there were only 203 students enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, it is not surprising that they knew each other well.  At least one member of the team, Charlotte Wimp, met her husband, Donald Butler, through basketball.

Daisy McCallum Basket Ball Journal, page 39

While the scrapbook holds many wonderful photographs of the team (sometimes including someone’s dog – a mascot, perhaps?), the cartoons drawn of various events are especially sweet. In some cases their message is easy to read (for example, the cartoons from the game played between the men and women), and at other times they refer to what must have been inside jokes. But even though the specific meaning of these cartoons is lost, anyone who has been a teenager can relate to the image of “Shrimp” quaking before her “Ma” – while it’s not clear whether she is coming or going, she is definitely afraid she is in trouble.

Scrapbooks like this, which are not just collections of newspaper clippings or photographs, but also contain commentary and other personal touches, help give us a sense of what it was like to be a student in earlier days. They show us what is different, and what is still very much the same.

Remembering Helen Mazzoli

The Mazzoli family at Romano Mazzoli’s swearing in to the Kentucky State Senate, 1968 (Kentucky Dept. of Public Information photo)

On June 18, 2012, Louisville lost a particularly wonderful citizen: Helen Mazzoli. I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Mazzoli as the University Archives & Records Center worked with her husband, Congressman Romano (Ron) Mazzoli, to process his papers and renovate our reading room in his honor. She was the kind of woman you meet and think, “Wow. I want to be like her when I grow up” — even if you are, technically, already well past that mark.

As part of the Mazzoli Papers Project, we conducted a series of oral history interviews with the Congressman’s staff and colleagues, as well as with his family. I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs. Mazzoli in January 2011. She deserved a far better interviewer, but she was a very gracious interviewee. While I enjoyed hearing about her work on Congressman Mazzoli’s campaigns, their life together while he was in Congress, and their time at Harvard after he left politics, my favorite story concerned her going to Hollywood at the age of three to audition for the movies. I won’t relate the entire story, as her interview is now available online, so you can hear her tell the story herself.

That is one of the beauties of oral history: hearing her tell her own story is far better than reading my words. And her voice, her inflection, her way of telling that story, is captured forever in this recording. Knowing that I’m helping to preserve this memory – and making it available to the public – is one of the best parts of my job as an archivist.

The Mazzoli Reading Room… and Much More

Mazzoli campaign button, 1982

Mazzoli campaign button, 1982

Anyone who was on the fourth (okay, and third) floor of Ekstrom Library on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 8 knew something was up. This area — normally known for its silence — was packed full of people who gathered to celebrate the dedication of the Romano L. Mazzoli Reading Room in the University Archives and Records Center. A native Louisvillian and alumnus of the Brandeis School of Law, Romano (Ron) Mazzoli represented Kentucky’s Third Congressional District for 24 years, from 1971 until 1995. We also opened his papers to researchers and launched an online oral history collection focusing on the Congressman, his life and career.

The reading room includes exhibits focusing on Congressman Mazzoli, which can be enjoyed anytime between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm Monday-Friday. A companion exhibit showcases Louisville’s Italian American community. The Italian American Association (IAA) has been a generous supporter of the Archives’ work on the Congressman’s papers, and we are working with the IAA to collect materials that document the lives of Italian Americans in Louisville. If you are interested in making a donation, please give us a call at 852-6674!

Romano Mazzoli and his parents, circa 1934

Romano Mazzoli and his parents, about 1934

The Congressman’s papers themselves fill 633 boxes (that’s nearly 700 feet of shelf space). They document his campaigns as well as his time in office, including his work on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. They also tell the story of a Congressman who placed a very high value on being accessible and helpful to his constituents. A detailed description of the papers is available online (http://uofl.me/lib-mazzoli), and the papers themselves can be accessed in the Archives on the fourth floor of Ekstrom Library.

In addition, we conducted 66 hours of oral history interviews with the Congressman, his colleagues, staffers, campaign volunteers and family. These interviews complement the papers, giving life to the official record and telling stories that simply aren’t captured on paper. These are being made available online via the University Libraries’ Digital Collections (http://uofl.me/lib-mazzoli2).

So come take a look at these new resources – whether in person or virtually!