What is a fact? Missing State Library artifacts

Carl Becker once posited the query, what is a fact? In his famous essay, his answer included the following, “And generally speaking, the more renowned a historical fact is, the more clear and definite and provable it is, the less use it is to us in and for itself.” His observations have relevance today.

Consider the steps taken to verify information laid out in a brief paragraph written by the Smithsonian Institute – in response to a survey sent out in 1849 in an effort to “capture the state of public libraries in the United States” – as reported in its 1850 Annual Report.

Included among those libraries that responded to the survey was the Indiana State Library, then consisting of four rooms on the first floor of the Indiana State House and opened daily, Sundays aside, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. As well as its 7,000 volumes, the library had “some curious Mexican armor and arms; a portrait of Beato Simon de Cassia, painted in 1751; a painting of the ‘Tippecanoe battle-ground;’ 150-square-feet; and a small collection of minerals and fossils.”

If those same items might intrigue patrons today, we shall never know. None still reside within our collection.

Take, for example, the portrait of Beato Simon de Cassia and the Mexican suit of armor. No mention of these items can be found in the library director’s report from 1850-1852. Yet, they are regularly referenced in the Daily State Sentinel, a contemporary and manically partisan newspaper. Indeed, the items became a sort of rope in the heated tug-of-war between the town Whig and the country Democrat politicians.

The Daily State Sentinel was owned by brothers George and Jacob Chapman, who weren’t without a sense of flair. The masthead of their paper carried an image of a Rooster, soon to become the symbol of the Democratic Party in Indiana, and the words, “Crow, Chapman, Crow.”

To understand how this came to be, a little background is needed. The portrait, suit of armor and a book – apparently of less interest – comprised a gift from one John S. Simonson, a military man with one foot firmly planted in Indiana, as his wife, Elizabeth Watson, hailed from Charlestown, and the other in a stirrup riding with the U.S. Mounted Riflemen. Before being elected to the position of Indiana’s Speaker of the House in 1845, Simonson had served one term as a state senator. Soon after his election to speaker, James K. Polk appointed Simonson Captain of the Mounted Riflemen, a post he held throughout the Mexican War. He played an integral part in the siege and capture of Vera Cruz and then spent the next many years fighting American Indians in Texas.

Papers suggest that Simsonson held a good opinion of himself, which might help explain how his gift to the state of Indiana became a point of contention for Indiana Democrats, who argued that Simonson’s gifts were plunder from an aggressive war. On Jan. 30, 1852, proceedings from the State House reveal that Mr. Sleeth, a Democrat, demanded that all material stolen from Mexico during the U.S. invasion be turned over to the local Catholic Cathedral. Mr. Holloway, a Whig, insisted the spoils remain, byproducts of the nation’s defensive war with Mexico. Similar discussions resurfaced, each time less heatedly, for decades, until 1885 when the portrait and book were quietly donated to a local Catholic church.

The fate of the painting of the Battleground at Tippecanoe is uncertain. In an Indianapolis Star article from December of 1929, Kate Milner Rabb laments the condition of a George Winter painting of the Battleground at Tippecanoe, languishing at the State Library. This plea for help appears to have gone unheeded. A painting of the Battleground at Tippecanoe by George Winter is referenced in a letter from the State Museum, in 1980, which explains that if the library transfers the painting of the Tippecanoe Battleground to the Museum, the Museum can then restore it. Might the below image from the State Museum Collection be the said work from the director’s report? We may never know.

From the Collection of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

While documentation has yet to be uncovered, it seems likely that the minerals and fossils from the early days also winded their way to the State Museum.

The Mexican suit of armor is still unaccounted for. It may have trotted off with a concerned legislator, found a home in a Catholic or a Mexican cultural institution or, perhaps, stands in in a closet, waiting to be found and traced back to Captain John Simonson?

Other matters are less shrouded in mystery. For instance, the state librarian – a job held by both men and women – was a busy person. Reports from the 1850s onwards chronicle a variety of pressing 19th-century duties. The perennial problem of keeping the library’s collection from walking away was dealt with in the 1850s by taking all books out of circulation. Theft was also discouraged by printing the names of delinquent patrons in the director’s report, with inconclusive results. Then, there was the daily foot traffic. Statistics from the librarian’s 1894 report indicate that 6,218 patrons read newspapers in the reading room.

Since the librarian maintained the Statehouse and building for a chunk of the century, their time could be consumed with non-librarian issues as well, such as how to care for the building when it became a military encampment during the Civil War.

And, what to do with the battle flags produced by Civil War regiments? After the flags were ordered to be returned to the State of Indiana by Lew Wallace, they moved around and were displayed in various places. Their time at the Statehouse was not without problems. By the 1880s, one librarian petitioned that the flags be given to either the Geological or Agricultural Department as “the library is no place for a collection of curiosities that draws visitors and creates noise and confusion.” Added to the librarian’s displeasure was the habit of patrons to “tear off bits for relics.” Eventually, the flags found a proper home at the Indiana War Memorial, where they were preserved, and a small percentage are on display.

One senses, also, that the librarian’s needs were never at the top of the legislative agenda. A raise for the state librarian came eventually, near the end of the century, but not the oft-requested iron shelves, an interesting irony as fire prevention was a top priority when the State House was constructed.

One may be dispirited to learn that records were not kept of the comings and goings of certain artifacts, but then one should be encouraged that the state librarian, despite a light salary and a heavy load, chose to answer the Smithsonian survey. As for what to make of the work undertaken to trace an array of objects listed in 1850 – work that included tours of the State House and War Memorial (trips both worth taking), time in the library’s own fourth-floor vault, correspondence with the registrar at the State Museum and an explanation for how the rooster came to represent the Democratic Party in Indiana – consider it a nod to Becker, proof that the value of a fact can be in its unraveling.

This blog post was written by Kate Mcginn, reference librarian, Indiana State Library.

Regimental reunions of Civil War veterans

After the close of the Civil War, Union veterans’ organizations were formed, such as the Grand Army of the Republic. Both the national and state levels of the GAR held regular meetings called encampments, and those were well-attended by members from local posts. At the same time, individual regiments began organizing less-formal reunions of their veterans. Often reunion organizers decided to meet in late summer when men might have free time in conjunction with their county fair or even during State Fair week activities at Indianapolis.

Fifth annual reunion of the 20th Indiana Vet. Vols., held at Crown Point, Indiana, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 3rd and 4th, 1890. Indiana Pamphlet Collection [ISLO 973.74 no. 39].

Several of these local regimental reunions were well-documented with printed commemorative programs and proceedings. As with other types of reunions, a name list of attendees or surviving members was often published and may have been reported in a local newspaper. Some regiments would pay tribute to those who had died since their last reunion with a necrology list. Many Civil War veterans were becoming elderly in the time between the 1880 and 1900 U.S. Censuses, before there was full compliance with state death records laws. By placing a veteran along with his friends and neighbors at a particular reunion, these rosters can prove useful to researchers trying to bridge the gap.

Program of annual meeting. Roster. Seventy-ninth Indiana Veteran Association. 1889. Indiana Pamphlet Collection [ISLO 973.74 NO. 45].

Newspapers are always a great place to check for historical accounts of these “old soldiers” or “old veterans” reunions. A search of the Hoosier State Chronicles Digital Newspaper Collection points to reunions around the state. The details of the reunions may vary from names of organizers and officers to full lists of attendees.

Indianapolis Journal, Sept. 22, 1887. Hoosier State Chronicles Digital Newspaper Collection.

Keep trying searches with the regimental number spelled out in words (e.g., twenty-first, twenty-second, twenty-third, etc.) and also re-do the search as an ordinal number (e.g., 21st, 22nd, 23rd, etc.) which may give different, but equally useful results. For more information about items in the Indiana Collection or tips on finding regimental reunion documentation, please contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3670 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

This blog post was written by Indiana Division librarian and state documents coordinator Andrea Glenn.

A sad death

This November, as we remember those who served in our military forces, as well as the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the Genealogy Division has made some new materials available through our Indiana Digital Collections about an Indiana soldier, Fred C. Hurt, who served in the Spanish-American War. These materials are a part of the G034 Nancy H. Diener Collection which was recently processed by staff.

Fred Carlton Hurt was born in Waynetown, Indiana on July 28, 1876 to Dr. William J. and Susan C. Hurt. Fred followed his father’s career path and entered the Indiana School of Medicine. While he was in his second year of medical school he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Hospital Corps. Fred joined the U.S. Army as a private on June 14, 1898 in Indianapolis and was sent to Camp Thomas in Chickamauga, Georgia.

During his time there he wrote home to family and his fiancé Gertrude Jachman, telling them about camp life, and his work tending to the sick, which he really seemed to enjoy. Fred also wrote about how he was expecting to be shipped out either to Puerto Rico or Cuba and was anxious to go.

Fred wrote that the camp was rife with disease and understaffed. In late July, he wrote “At present we have 150 men men (sic) who are bad sick. There are only 10 men who go on duty at one time to take care of 150.” Fred himself would succumb to typhoid fever at Fort Monroe in Virginia on Aug. 18, 1898.

Inside of medical tent with personnel at Fort Monroe.

Fred’s family in Waynetown were unaware that anything was wrong until the received a telegram sent collect that Fred was dead, his body was later shipped home collect and the family was billed $117. His father William sends letters to various government official trying to rectify that matter and get reimbursed for the funeral expenses and transport of his son’s body home as well as back pay owed to his son. On May 1,1899 he sends a letter to Charles B. Landis a representative from Indiana’s 9th District asking him to look into the matter.

On March 21, 1900, a letter from the Treasury department states that they have approved payment to William J. Hurt to amount of $112.17 for back pay and reimbursement of expenses involved with the transport and burial of Fred C. Hurt.

Receipt from treasury department.

Blog written by Sarah Pfundstein, genealogy librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317) 232-3689 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Libraries in World War I

During World War I both private organizations and public institutions mobilized the American people to collect and produce millions of dollars’ worth of resources and contribute thousands of hours of volunteer labor to the war effort. Libraries across the nation led drives to collect books and magazines to fill fort and camp libraries as well as to send to troops stationed in Europe.

Leading the effort was the American Library Association (ALA), which was granted oversight powers by the federal government to collect books and money. However, the ALA depended on state library commissions to do the heavy lifting. Indiana formed a special war council to handle the logistics, which, in turn, issued directives to the county libraries under its umbrella. Extensive instructions and guidance were sent out to all libraries. Individual counties were expected to raise a certain percentage of funds and books based on their population.To aid in this effort, a series of form letters were issued to libraries for them to mail out to solicit donations and support. Each letter was tailored to community leaders: Newspaper editors, church pastors and local politicians. Newspapers collaborated by printing column after column advertising book drives, requesting contributions and offering anecdotes from grateful soldiers.

Nearly all war efforts were framed as patriotic duty. Anti-war speech was discouraged. Libraries were also asked to restrict access to potentially “dangerous” information for the duration of the war.

In the space of two years, Indiana raised almost $3,500,000 and collected tens of thousands of books. But what to do with all these materials once the war ended? Rather than attempt to retain the books it had collected or return them to their original libraries, the ALA turned over ownership of the contents of all camp libraries to the federal government.

The Indiana State Library has a number of scrapbooks concerning the war effort in Indiana during World War I, both of counties, in general, and libraries, in particular. To browse all digitized materials related to Indiana in World War I, visit our War War I and the Hoosier Experience collection.

This blog post was written by Ashlee James, Indiana Division volunteer digitization intern and IUPUI Museum Studies graduate student.

‘Hoosiers at War!’ reception to take place at Indiana State Library

Visit the Indiana State Library on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., for a special open-house reception to coincide with the “Hoosiers at War! From the Homefront to the Battlefield” exhibit that is currently on display throughout the library.

Over 150,000 people from Indiana answered the call to serve when the United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917. “Hoosiers at War! From the Homefront to the Battlefield” showcases publications, correspondence, diaries, photographs and other materials detailing the experiences of Hoosiers during World War I, both at home and abroad.

The installation process.

The library will present artifacts of every day Hoosier heroes from the Great War, as well as some specially-selected treasures from the library’s collections. Library tours will also be available and light refreshments will be provided. Click here to register for this free event. Registration is encouraged, but not required.

The library is located at 315 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis. Parking is available in the Senate Ave. parking garage across from the library for $10 beginning at 4:30 p.m. The garage accepts credit cards only. No cash payments will be accepted. Street parking is also available.

This blog post was written by John Wekluk, communications director, Indiana State Library. For more information, email the communications director.

It’s Our War, Too!: The WAC at Camp Atterbury during WWII

Ever wonder when women were first allowed to serve in the U.S. Army (besides nurses)? The answer is 1942!

Technician 5th grade Norma Boudreau and Master Sergeant Louis Dovilla with posters of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, July 12, 1943

Technician 5th grade Norma Boudreau and Master Sergeant Louis Dovilla with posters of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, July 12, 1943

With the United States embroiled in World War II, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was established on May 15, 1942 as a noncombatant auxiliary to the army. The corps was renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) upon its full incorporation into the army on July 1, 1943, enlisting each new recruit with the goal of “releasing a man from service.” Continue reading