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The Last Word: E.L. Doctorow

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:51pm

(The following is an article in the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Award-winning novelist E.L. Doctorow discusses the role of fiction and storytelling. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) 

E.L. Doctorow. Photo by Gasper Tringale.

The story is the most ancient way of knowing. It preceded writing. It is the world’s first system for collecting and transmitting knowledge. It antedates all the empirical disciplines of a modern society. For millennia, it was the only thing people had.

In the Bronze and Iron ages purely factual discourse did not exist. There was no learned observation of the natural world that was not religious belief, no history that was not legend, no practical information that did not resound as heightened language. Science, poetry, the law and daily speech were fused. The world was a story.

From their first telling, stories were a means of survival; they were as essential as a spear or a club; they instructed the young, they connected the present to the past, and the visible to the invisible. They distributed the suffering so that it could be borne.

Stories are still a means of survival. As the channels of communication round the world fall into fewer and fewer corporate or government hands, the unaffiliated young writer’s witness is a trustworthy form of knowledge.

The publication of measured aesthetically worked fictions from the configured voices of writers is one way a nation composes its identity. Every story, every poem, if created honestly, with regard for a felt truth, contributes to a consensual reality, so that with each generation we may know who we are and what we’re up to.

Writers appear unbidden out of nowhere. Society does not give them credentials as it does doctors or lawyers or engineers. A writer may choose to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree, but that is more of a salute and wish of good luck than a license to practice. The writer’s only credential is self-conferred.

The writer of fiction stands outside the assemblage of experts that organizes the intellectual life of a society. Expert in nothing, the writer is not ruled by any one vocabulary and so is free to utilize any of them. He can write as a scientist, a theologian. He can be a philosopher or a pornographer. She can write as a journalist, a psychiatrist, an historian. She can, if she chooses, render the drugged hallucinations of poor mad souls in the streets. All of it counts, every vocabulary has equal value in the writer’s eyes, nothing is excluded.

In biblical times the writer’s inspiration was attributed to God. The modern writer understands that the writing of stories is itself empowering, that a sentence spun from the imagination confers
a heightened awareness, or degree of perception or acuity; that a sentence composed with the strictest attention to fact, does not. And so the knowledge we glean from a story may be unlike any other. The modern fictive voice continues to sound the world and find its meanings.

E.L. Doctorow will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the Library’s 2014 National Book Festival this Saturday, Aug. 30.

Out of the Ashes

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:00am

(The following is an article written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer for the Center for the Book, featured in the September-October 2012 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. Aug. 24 was the 200th anniversary of the burning of the Capitol building and the Library.)

The story of the phoenix that rises triumphantly from its own ashes to live life anew is the story of how the Library of Congress survived its destruction during the War of 1812 to become the nation’s–and the world’s–pre-eminent source of knowledge and information.

An 1814 drawing shows the U.S. Capitol after its burning by the British. Print | George Munger, Prints and Photographs Division

On Aug. 24, 1814, the British occupied Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol building. Inside, the congressional library went up in flames.

Two years before the conflagration, on June 18, 1812, President James Madison proclaimed that the Congress of the United States had declared war on the United Kingdom for “the wrongs which have forced on them the last resort of injured nations.”

When the Library of Congress burned, it was less than two decades old. In 1800, the year of the Library’s founding, as the new nation prepared to move its capital from Philadelphia to Washington, President John Adams signed into law a bill that appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” The money was used to acquire 740 books and three maps, ordered, ironically, from London. On the eve of the British attack on U.S. soil, Congress’s library had more than quadrupled to just over 3,000 books, maps, charts and plans, according to an 1812 catalog. Little would survive the conflagration.

From his home in Monticello, Va., retired President Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend and political ally Samuel H. Smith, “I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited.”

Jefferson subsequently offered to sell his personal library–the largest and finest in the country–to Congress to “recommence” its library. After some political wrangling and arguments in Congress over why its members would need such a wide-ranging library as Jefferson’s–much of it in foreign languages–the United States purchased the 6,487 volumes for $23,950 in 1815.

To the doubters Jefferson replied, “There is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”The ideal of a knowledge-based democracy was a cornerstone of the new republic and has remained so for more than two centuries. The far-ranging nature of the collections Jefferson assembled and his belief in the importance of a “universal” collection have ever since guided the Library’s collecting policies and are the key to the institution’s stature as a national–and world– library.

With the purchase of Jefferson’s books–collected over a period of 50 years–the Library effectively more than doubled in size. The new Library of Congress now contained volumes devoted to the arts and sciences as well as those that pertained to lawmaking.

On Dec, 31, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ainsworth Rand Spofford to the post of Librarian of Congress. Located in the west front of the U.S. Capitol, the Library housed more than 82,000 volumes.

Spofford obtained congressional support for several legislative acts between 1865 and 1870 that ensured the growth of the collections and made the Library of Congress the largest library in the nation. The most important new measure was the copyright law of 1870, which centralized all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library. The new law brought books, pamphlets, maps, prints, photographs and music into the institution without cost, thus assuring the future growth of the Americana collections and providing the Library with an essential and unique national function.

Published in Harper’s Weekly on Feb. 27, 1897, this print shows the congressional library in its overcrowded quarters in the U.S. Capitol. Librarian of Congress Ainsworth R. Spofford appears at far right. Print | W. Bengough, Prints and Photographs Division

In 1874, for the first time, the copyright law brought in more books than were obtained through purchase. The rapid growth of the collection necessitated a new home for the congressional library. The new structure, now called the Thomas Jefferson Building, was authorized by Congress in 1886 and completed more than a decade later. When it opened across the east plaza from the Capitol on Nov. 1, 1897, Librarian Spofford called it “the book palace of the American people.”

The Library of Congress began its expansion into a national and international institution under the leadership of Herbert Putnam, who served as Librarian of Congress from 1899 until 1939. The Library’s annex–later known as the John Adams Building–opened in 1939. The Library’s third Capitol Hill structure, the James Madison Memorial Building, opened to the public in 1980.

By 1992, the Library was the largest in the world and that year celebrated the acquisition of its 100 millionth item. For its burgeoning physical collections, the Library opened a high-density storage facility at Fort Meade, Md., in 2002. And in 2007, the Library opened a state- of-the-art audiovisual conservation facility at its new Packard Campus in Culpeper, Va.

On the eve of the 21st century, the institution was acquiring materials in all media, including digital. In 1994, the Library began to offer its collections online as part of its mission to make its materials as widely available as possible. Digitization efforts focused on rare and unique items such as the Gettysburg Address, the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the papers of Frederick Douglass, early maps and the first films of Thomas Edison. Since then, the Library has continued to add materials to its vast website, which now offers more than 31.4 million items. The World Digital Library website, which launched in 2008, offers content from 151 partner institutions in 75 countries, with metadata and expert commentary provided in seven languages.

By embracing technology and exploiting its potential, the Library has transformed itself into an essential–and readily accessible–resource for the nation as well as the world. And the institution has worked to extend its reach, not only making its collections more accessible on its own site, but also appearing on other content sites such as Flickr, YouTube and iTunes.

The Library of Congress– risen from the war’s ashes–continues to inform the national legislature and the world with its unparalleled collections.

John Y. Cole, Center for the Book Director and Library of Congress historian, also contributed to this article. 

Abraham Lincoln’s “Blind Memorandum”

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 8:00am

(The following is a guest post by Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.)

Could George B. McClellan have become the seventeenth President of the United States? It certainly appeared to be a possibility as Abraham Lincoln assessed the military and political landscape of the United States in the summer of 1864.

President Lincoln understood that his chances of reelection in November hinged on military success in a war now in its fourth year. By the summer of 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had settled in for a prolonged siege against the Confederates near Petersburg, Va., and Gen. William T. Sherman made slow progress toward Atlanta. Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early, meanwhile, had led his troops to the very gates of Washington, D.C. in July. The war effort seemed to have stalled for the Union, and the public blamed President Lincoln.

The political news for Lincoln was no brighter. Republican insider Thurlow Weed told Lincoln in mid-August 1864 that “his re-election was an impossibility.” Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond expressed much the same sentiment to Lincoln on Aug. 22, urging him to consider sending a commission to meet with Confederate President Jefferson Davis to offer peace terms “on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution,” leaving the question of slavery to be resolved later.

“Everything is darkness and doubt and discouragement,” wrote Lincoln’s secretary, John G. Nicolay, in August 1864. “Our men see giants in the airy and unsubstantial shadows of the opposition, and are about to surrender without a fight.”

Abraham Lincoln, text of “Blind Memorandum,” August 23, 1864, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

It was in this context that Abraham Lincoln wrote the following memorandum on Aug. 23, 1864:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.  – A. Lincoln

Lincoln folded the memorandum and pasted it closed, so that the text inside could not be read. He took it to a cabinet meeting and instructed his cabinet members to sign the outside of the memo, sight unseen, which they did. Historians now refer to this document variously as the “Blind Memo” or “Blind Memorandum” because the cabinet signed it “blind.” In so doing the Lincoln administration pledged itself to accept the verdict of the people in November and to help save the Union should Lincoln not be re-elected.

As if on cue, Lincoln’s fortunes began to change. As expected, the Democrats nominated George B. McClellan for president on August 30 but saddled him with a “Copperhead” peace Democrat, Representative George H. Pendleton, as a running mate. The Democratic platform declared the war a failure and urged that “immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities,” which even McClellan could not fully support. Then General Sherman scored a tremendous victory when Atlanta fell to the Union on Sept. 2.

Signatures of Lincoln’s cabinet members on the reverse of the “Blind Memorandum.” Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The brighter military outlook, expert political maneuvering by Lincoln and his reinvigorated party (running in 1864 as the National Union Party), and the negatives associated with McClellan and the Democrats spelled victory at the polls for the Republicans. Safely re-elected, Lincoln brought the memorandum with him to the next cabinet meeting on November 11. He finally read its contents to the cabinet, reminding them it was written “when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends.”

On its 150th anniversary, the “blind memorandum” reminds us that historical outcomes we may take for granted in hindsight (like Lincoln’s re-election in 1864) do not always appear so certain at the time.

Sources: Abraham Lincoln Papers and John G. Nicolay Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, eds., “Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay”; John C. Waugh, “Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency.”

Pic of the Week: En Pointe

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:52am

Former American Ballet Theatre dancer Sue Knapp-Steen takes in the new Library of Congress exhibition about the professional dance company. 20104. Photo by Ashley Jones.

Last week, the Library of Congress opened the exhibition “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years,” which highlights the dance company’s distinguished history and its collection here at the Library. Shortly after the opening, ABT alum Sue Knapp-Steen (1969-1974) stopped by to view the exhibition and reminisce on her time as a professional dancer with the company during the 1970s.

While with the ballet company, Knapp-Steen toured throughout the United States and Europe, performing the works of choreographers Agnes De Mille, George Balanchine,  Michel Fokine, Leonide Massine, Antony Tudor and Kenneth MacMillan in ballets such as “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” and “Rodeo.”

Knapp-Steen is actually “featured” in the exhibition itself, in a photograph for a 1960 production of De Mille’s “Rodeo.”

Sue Knapp-Steen. October 1971. Photograph by Ken Duncan. Photo courtesy of Sue Knapp-Steen.

“With time’s passage since dancing with ABT, I now realize that the 1960-70s in the world of dance included memorable dancers and ballet companies that flourished, given the burgeoning interest and support for dance in the U.S.,” Knapp-Steen said. “ABT’s international largess of repertoire, choreographers and dancers was a primal force at this time of cross-cultural sharing on all levels. The mix of ABT’s very American-spirited, theatrical works combined with its presentation of timeless story ballets such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ afforded dancers with ABT its most unique artistic allure.

“Now with ABT’s 75th anniversary, the company continues its dedication to this same spirit of communication and understanding amongst its peers and audiences.”

Trending: Happy 100th Birthday, Panama Canal

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:33am

The seagoing tug, “Gatun” made the first trip through the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks on Sept. 26, 1913. Prints and Photographs Division

Aug. 15, 2014, marked the centennial of the completion of the Panama Canal, a 48- mile waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal is a key conduit for international maritime trade.

Plans by the Panamanian government to celebrate the historic event began more than a year ago. A Panama Canal mobile app was launched to communicate about Panama around the world. Educational and cultural institutions in U.S. cities such as Miami and Gainesville, Fla., will also mark the occasion with exhibits. Nearly every cruise line to Panama has one trip scheduled through the canal this year to mark the centennial.

The Library of Congress has a free, 134-page reference guide to Panama materials in its collections. The guide, which is available as a downloadable pdf on the Hispanic Reading Room website, references the wealth of materials available about Panama in the Library’s General and Special Collections (such as maps, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs and legal material). Subjects include civilization and culture, foreign relations, history, literature, politics and government and the Panama Canal. Housed in the Library, the papers of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson contain a wealth of material about the Panama Canal–its construction having spanned their administrations. The papers of Roosevelt’s Secretary of State John Hay and the canal’s chief engineer George W. Goethals, along with the Panama Collection of the Canal Zone Library-Museum (1804-1977), are just a few of the Library’s most significant resources for the study of the canal’s construction.

Following the attempt by the French to construct the canal, the U.S. took over the project in 1904, during Roosevelt’s administration. Panama had become independent of Colombia the previous year, with the help of the U.S. The decade-long project cost the U.S. nearly $375 million to complete, with the aid of more than 45,000 workers, many of whom lost their lives. The majority of workers came from the West Indies and Spain. All told, workers from about 40 countries participated in the construction.

After a period of joint American-Panamanian control, the canal was returned to the Panamanian government in 1999 under the terms of a treaty negotiated by President Jimmy Carter and approved by Congress. The canal is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency.

This article is featured in the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.

But Did The Author Like the Movie?

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 4:12pm

Poster from the film “Ragtime”

Ever wonder, while watching a film made from a novel you’ve known and loved, what the author of the book thought about that movie? Whether they thought it was true to their vision? Whether they were annoyed at what landed on the cutting-room floor?

Four great modern novelists will share a dialogue on just that topic with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday in a session at this year’s Library of Congress National Book Festival on Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Titled “Great Books to Great Movies,” the session will feature E.L. Doctorow (recipient of the 2014 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction), Paul Auster, Alice McDermott and Lisa See and run from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  It will be one of the evening events being offered for the first time ever in the 14-year run of the festival.

In addition to the familiar author talks (by 110 authors for readers of all ages and tastes) and literacy-based activities for kids during the daytime hours of the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., other nighttime offerings include a poetry slam from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., a dialogue on the centennials of three towering figures in Mexican literature (Octavio Paz, Efraín Huerta and José Revueltas) from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. and a “Graphic Novels Super-Session” from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

There’s more breaking news on the NBF front – the addition of authors Doris Kearns Goodwin to the lineup in History & Biography and Alan Greenspan in Special Programs.

Doors will open to the public at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30 for this fresh new take on a beloved event.  The convention center is accessible by subway from the Green and Yellow Lines (Mount Vernon Square/7th Street/Convention Center) and the Red Line (Gallery Place/Chinatown).  Don’t miss it!

Letters About Literature: Dear Jhumpa Lahiri

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 10:06am

In this final installment of our Letters About Literature spotlight, we feature the Level 3 National Honor-winning letter of  Riddhi Sangam of Saratoga, Calif., who wrote to Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “The Namesake.”

Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2014 winners in June. More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, a reading-promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

National and honor winners were chosen from three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). You can read all this year’s winning letters here. In addition, winning letters from previous years are available to read online.

Dear Ms. Jhumpa Lahiri,

                  As an Indian girl growing up in America, in a culture that is predominantly Caucasian, I always felt like I was slightly apart from my peers, as if there was a barrier between myself and everyone else. I remember a time when I was six years old, in the first grade, when I was eating lunch with my classmates.  My mother had packed Indian bread, chapathi, and cubes of cottage cheese cooked in creamed spinach, palak paneer. The other children looked at the food and said, “Ew!  That’s gross!” I still remember putting the lid on my Tupperware container and closing my lunch box, determined not to cry.

                  After that, I begged my mother to send me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — American food, food that everyone else ate — for lunch. My mother readily agreed, but I can see now that my rejection of Indian food symbolized something more to her; a wish not to be associated with Indian culture.

                  I wanted to be American. I wanted sandwiches and pasta and food that did not provoke disgusted looks from my classmates. I wanted to have blue eyes and a name that was easy to pronounce, a name not vulnerable to a gamut of creative mispronunciations. When people tried to pronounce my name for the first time, I would apologize embarrassedly for my culture, saying, “My name is Indian. Sorry.” I did not realize, however, that in wishing all of these things, I was rejecting my heritage and all of the sacrifices my family members had made so I could live a happy life.

                  Because I felt alienated from my peers for most of my childhood, I believed a happy life was one where I was not an outlier, a life where I was simply the same as all of my classmates. I reasoned that although I could not change my name to make myself fit in with the rest of my peers, I could mimic my classmates in dress. I did not want clothes that could provoke my peers to say, “That shirt’s so … interesting,” and I did not want clothes that were too “Indian-looking” — anything paisley-patterned or anything that was excessively embroidered was put into this category. I wanted specific shirts, the shirts everyone wore, the ones that were emblazoned proudly with logos, logos that seemed to proclaim that I was jut like the rest of the children. I remember shopping for these shirts, hearing my parents say, “Why do you even want these shirts? You know, when I came to America, I never would have spent so much money on such frivolous items. You know what I did instead? I cut coupons. I walked miles in the snow from the grocery store to my tiny apartment because I didn’t have a car. I had permanent welts on my fingers from the plastic grocery bags straining against my hands. Do you ever think of that, Riddhi?”

                  I was extremely conscious about my heritage until the tenth grade, when a group of students in my English class, including me, was assigned to read ‘The Namesake.’ Although I love to read, I did not think that I would enjoy the book — I normally do not enjoy books that come with assignments and reports due for school. This preconception changed as soon as I read the first few pages and immediately saw my parents in Ashima and Ashoke, and later, myself in Gogol and Moushumi.

                  Reading the book was like reading an echo of myself. I empathized with Gogol’s struggles to find an identity with which he could be content; Moushumi’s struggles to please her parents; and finally I realized what my parents had given up so they could create a good life in America.

                  As I read about Gogol and how he detested his name, the way his peers, meaning well but not understanding, mispronounced the letters, I felt a kinship. I saw myself in the way he strived not to be associated with Indian culture, the way he fought so hard to break the bonds between himself and his roots.

                  I identified with Moushumi’s decision to pursue a degree in French — my forte has always been languages and the humanities, and in a family composed of doctors, engineers, and businesspeople, my strengths have been treated like a hobby, something to do on the side, not to be taken seriously. “Riddhi?” She’s good at French. But what can you do with a degree in French?  Nothing, that’s what!”

                  But I was most enlightened by reading about Ashima’s and Ashoke’s lives and the sacrifices they made. My parents told me about the life they had when they immigrated to America — cutting coupons; walking for miles in the snow because a car was too expensive; and living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment — but when I heard these stories, I dismissed them.  When I read about Ashima trying to recreate chaat in her kitchen in America, I envisioned my parents when they arrived in America, trying but failing to recreate the lives they had had in India, failing because, “[...] as usual, there [was] something missing” (Lahiri 1). As I read about Ashima’s efforts to assimilate into American culture, I imagined my parents, lost and confused in American after sacrificing the comforts of Indian for a life of cutting coupons and walking in the snow.

                  I no longer desire blue eyes; I no longer desire a different name. As Gogol realizes and as I realized, “The name he had so detested [...] that was the first thing his father had given him” (289). As I read these words, I understood, just as Gogol understands, that my name is the most important thing I have ever received, for my name is the embodiment of my parents’ sacrifices, my parents’ cooking, my parents’ sotires, my culture; my identity. I understood that my name and subsequently, my culture, is not something just to be rejected; instead, it is something to embrace, because my name stands for all of the past generations in my family, and all of the sacrifices they have made — such as immigrating to American when Indian held the comforts of home — so that I could have the best life possible.            

                  Now, I bring Indian food to school for lunch. Now, I wear clothes I previously deemed “too Indian-looking” to school. Now, when people have difficulty pronouncing my name, I say proudly, “My name is Indian.”

                  Thank you, Ms. Lahiri, for making me finally realize that my heritage is my identity. Thank you for making me realize that my culture and my heritage are the most important parts of me.

Riddhi Sangam

Library in the News: July 2014 Edition

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 8:45am

The Library of Congress had two major announcements in July, featuring well-known public figures, that garnered several headlines.

Billy Joel was named the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Stories ran in Rolling Stone, the Dallas Morning NewsThe Washington PostThe New York Times and The Today Show.

Joel was also featured as ABC World News Tonight “Person of the Week.”

In addition, on July 29, the Library opened to the public a collection of letters between President Warren G. Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips.

“Every so often, we get a poignant reminder of what has been lost now that letter-writing has been replaced by texting, emoticons or nothing at all, if you’re a politician afraid to commit anything to paper for fear it will show up on page one or be read aloud by a committee chairman on a tear,” wrote Margaret Carlson for Bloomberg. “This makes the trove of love letters written by Warren Harding, to be unsealed at the Library of Congress and published online this month, all the more appealing.”

“The roughly 900 pages illuminate an extraordinary and intimate chapter in the life of a seemingly drab president who was dogged by political scandal, died in office and had campaigned on a platform of ‘a return to normalcy,’” wrote Washington Post reporter Michael E. Ruane.

ABC News covered a panel discussion a week before the public opening that featured historians and Harding’s grandnephew discussing the letters.

Also running stories were Slate, the New York Times Magazine and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Several news outlets turned their headlines to the Library itself, taking a look at its buildings and services.

“I can’t leave Capitol Hill without fulfilling a dream to get a library card at the Library of Congress,” wrote Robert Reid for National Geographic. “After a look at the Jefferson Building’s exhibits (an early U.S. map shows Connecticut as a long rectangle extending toward the Mississippi), I make a tunnel walk or two between neighboring wings and find myself with a new Library of Congress Reader Card.”

PBS Newshour ran a piece on the Library’s efforts to restore Thomas Jefferson’s library.

“Sixteen years ago, Mark Dimunation and his team set out to restore Jefferson’s collection, replacing the lost books with copies from the same publisher, date, and edition,” reported Jeffrey Brown. “Green ribbons denote books from the original library. Gold are copies that serve as replacements. The white or ghost boxes are placeholders for the 250 books still being sought.”

And, finally, local ABC affiliate WJLA captured a remarkable photograph of what appeared to be a lightning bolt striking the Library’s Jefferson Building dome. There were no reports of damage or injury from the alleged strike.

Clocking In

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 7:27am

John Flanagan’s clock. Photo by Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building opened to the public in 1897. Hailed by a guidebook as a “gorgeous and palatial monument to its [America’s] national sympathy and appreciation of literature, science and art,” the construction of the edifice was a feat in and of itself – more than 15 years of postponements, major architectural changes and an assortment of hang-ups marked its debut to the nation.

In fact, Superintendent of Construction Bernard Green wouldn’t consider the building finally complete until Aug. 9, 1902, with the placement of the ornate clock in the Main Reading Room, according to an entry in his journal.

A focal point of the symbolic epicenter of the Library, the clock was designed and crafted by American sculptor and medalist John Flanagan (1865-1952). Flanagan accepted the commission on October 1, 1894, and Green proposed the “Flight of Time” as the subject. Neither could have imagined the clock would take more than seven years to complete.

Flanagan’s original design in May 1895 contained exact notes on materials and placement of the clock’s elements. For example, the rosettes surrounding the clock face were to be pink or purple marble with a lapis lazuli center. The hands of the clock were to be serpentine and set with precious stones. (The snake design of the hands did not, in fact, make it into the final piece.)

Flanagan’s original design contained exacting notes on materials and placement. Not included in the final piece were the snake hands shown in this drawing. Manuscript Division.

Aside from the dial structure, Flanagan was committed to incorporating mostly sculptural elements to the clock, emphasizing not only time but also its relation to knowledge. Symbolic elements included seated bronze figures on each side of the dial representing study (“Sitting Students”), the “Flight of Time” above the dial featuring Father Time and attendant seasons, a mosaic back piece with signs of the zodiac and a circular panel below the dial with a bas-relief of the “Swift Runners” who “keep the light of knowledge circulating.”

Flanagan continued to revise his sketches and his work dragged on – so much so that Green threatened to cancel the commission if the clock was not complete and in place by Jan. 1, 1897. Flanagan wrote to Green saying he was working as fast as he and his assistants could “push it.” He assured the superintendent that the mosaic with zodiac signs and dial structure would be ready but the larger bronze sculptural elements would take more time.

John Flanagan. Prints and Photographs Division.

By April 20, 1897, the clock’s mosaic background and dial structure were put in place in the Main Reading Room. It would take another year for the “Sitting Students” and “Swift Runners” to arrive and another two-and-a-half years for the “Flight of Time” to be finished and delivered.

In late July 1902, Green wrote in his Journal of Operations, “Having been made very wide with spreading eagle wings and so high as to overlap the architrave, and being about 1600 lbs. weight the job is an extremely difficult one,” documenting the placement of the “Flight of Time” sculptural element. Over the next few weeks, Flanagan was on hand to supervise the installation, and, according to Green, was “nosing about” and fussing over various details regarding his creation.

Flanagan also designed the statue of Commerce, which can be found in the Main Reading Room as well.

For more information on the history of the Library of Congress and its buildings, see “Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress” and “On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress.”

Searching the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for “Library of Congress” brings forth numerous images of the construction of the Jefferson Building and its architectural drawings, as well as vivid color photographs of the Library’s Capitol Hill campus and buildings interiors.

Global Gathering

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 11:56am

(The following is a story written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library’s staff newsletter, The Gazette, for the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.)

The sun truly never sets on collecting at the Library of Congress. At any given hour, somewhere on the planet, an employee is acquiring material to add to the world’s largest library.

Scattered across 11 time zones, from Brazil to Indonesia, the Library’s six field offices acquire hard- to-get publications from developing nations for its own collections and those of other U.S. and global research institutions. It’s a vast undertaking that requires knowledgeable people at the source. Wherever material is published—be it Syria, Pakistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Nepal or Suriname—the Library of Congress is, in some fashion, there.

“Really, for much of what we collect, no other libraries do so on this scale,” said William Kopycki, director of the Cairo field office. “We’re the only library in the world that has this concept of overseas offices.”

Librarians in Rio de Janerio work at the Rio Book Fair at a booth constructed from recycled paper. Overseas Operations Division.

In the years following World War II, the Library and U.S. academic institutions recognized the importance developing regions would play in a changing world—and the need to better understand the history, politics, religion and culture of these far-flung places. So, the Library, beginning in the early 1960s, established nearly two-dozen field offices around the globe. Today, six remain, in Cairo; Islamabad; Jakarta, Indonesia; Nairobi, Kenya; New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro. Their mission: supply the Library and other research institutions with tough-to-acquire primary materials from developing regions to ensure Congress, analysts and scholars get critical information.


Carrying out that mission in developing countries presents serious challenges. War, terrorism, political unrest, censorship, poverty, huge geographic distances, scores of languages, underdeveloped infrastructure, unreliable power grids and a lack of publishing standards all pose difficulties.

In 2011 and again in 2013, massive, violent political protests forced the temporary closure of the Cairo office and the evacuation of its director, Kopycki, from Egypt. The U.S. State Department at times denied approval for acquisition trips for fear that an airport would close and leave Cairo employees stranded – decisions, Kopycki said, “made to keep us safe.”

Islamabad is risky enough that the director oversees that office from 430 miles away in New Delhi, flying back to Pakistan’s capital city several times a year. The Library’s office in Nairobi is located in the U.S. embassy complex built after the 1998 bombing of the old embassy. Last year, terrorists attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, killing nearly 70 people.

“Just coming into work can be challenging, given the critical threat faced by this country with terrorism,” said Pamela Howard-Reguindin, former director of the Nairobi office, who now heads the Islamabad office.


Ismail Soliman, former head of monograph acquisitions in the Library’s Cairo office, searches for library materials in a bookshop in Mauritania. Overseas Operations Division.

Despite the difficulties, the overseas offices collect a huge range and volume of material: government documents, newspapers, magazines, academic journals, monographs, books, maps, DVDs, CDs and, in recent years, websites—in all, more than 663,000 items in fiscal year 2013.

The offices also cover a vast geographic and linguistic range. In the last fiscal year, they acquired and cataloged material from 79 countries in about 120 languages. Such an effort requires knowledgeable people at the source, wherever on the globe it may be.

“The only way to get some of these materials is to be there and pick them up as they come hot off the press, so to speak,” said Beacher Wiggins, who directs the overseas offices for the Library of Congress. “Particularly in areas where there may be dissident views or dissident groups that challenge the government or espouse a different view, you wouldn’t get these through normal publishing channels. By the time you got that kind of information, it would be two or three years later. Firsthand scholarship would suffer. Congress wouldn’t necessarily get firsthand accounts of what’s going on.”


Each office is led by an American director and staffed by locals—about 240 in total—who serve as librarians, catalogers, accountants, information technology specialists, shipping clerks and drivers. Most of the catalogers and librarians have library science degrees or advanced degrees.

The local employees’ knowledge and linguistic skills are invaluable in navigating the myriad cultures and languages, the huge geographic spaces and the sometimes-tricky political terrain. They also possess another important skill: They know what to get and where and how to get it.

“Because the staffers are local, they know the language, they know the culture,” Wiggins said. “They know when it might be imprudent to advertise that they are collecting as a U.S. government employee.”

Students listen to a story being read aloud at the Somali-English family literacy story hour at the USAID-sponsored Garissa Youth Summit in Northeastern Kenya. Photo by Nancy Meaker.

Each overseas office covers a group of countries in its region. The Jakarta office, for example, collects from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. The Nairobi office covers 29 countries over a gigantic swath of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Material is gathered through a blend of methods—relationships with commercial vendors, bibliographic representatives who collect on the offices’ behalf and acquisitions trips made by field office staff.

“We do know the sources, where to get things,” Kopycki said. “It’s how to engage to get the things that are really unique and special.”

The materials they choose—in collaboration with the collections divisions in the Library’s Capitol Hill offices— are selected for the quality of scholarship, the importance of subject and the extent to which it adds to the knowledge of a topic. Sometimes they represent new cultural trends, such as graphic novels produced in North Africa and drawn in Japanese anime style. Other material frequently is controversial and from underground sources.

“We spent the last couple of years in particular since the Egyptian revolution gathering ephemera and pamphlets,” Kopycki said. “This culture of publishing ephemeral materials with heavy political tones was really unknown in Cairo the past 30 years.”


Many institutions benefit from the hunting and gathering done by the Library’s local employees.

The offices provide material—some 375,000 items in the last fiscal year—to 80 other U.S. institutions and 24 foreign institutions through the Cooperative Acquisitions Program. Those institutions could acquire major commercial publications from some developing nations on their own. The Library field offices do what they can’t: acquire less-accessible material and items from harder-to-cover countries.

“That’s really a unique service, not just for our parent institution but for our participant libraries as well,” Kopycki said. “We’re acting as their eyes and ears to get materials that otherwise are not readily available.”

All that collecting requires a lot of other work— cataloging, accounting, processing, packing and shipping—to make sure everything arrives safely and in the right place. Shipping is a big part of what the offices do. In fiscal 2013, they collectively shipped about 180 tons of material by sea and air freight to the Library and Cooperative Acquisitions Program participants.

A lift van in New Delhi is loaded with publications for shipment to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Overseas Operations Division.

“It’s all these things that you don’t picture a traditional librarian doing that our staff does in order to make sure that book, that newspaper, that DVD arrives in the hands of a researcher in Washington,” Kopycki said.

The flow of that material, gathered at the source in countries around the globe, helps ensure that the Library of Congress, and other libraries, have the firsthand resources Congress, analysts and scholars need now, and decades in the future.

“These areas still are in turmoil and, in some instances, changing their worldview or becoming a powerhouse,” Wiggins said. “The overseas offices are critical in supplying Congress information as well as supplying research materials scholars might need 10, 50, 100 years from now.”

Download the July-August 2014 issue of the LCM in its entirety here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.

Semper Paratus, Always Ready

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 8:00am

Setting the course to victory with the U.S. Coast Guard / L.W. Bentley, U.S.C.C.R. Prints and Photographs Division.

Most people know the United States Coast Guard as a military branch that provides local maritime safety and law enforcement, with service men and women patrolling America’s shorelines and answering distress calls after boating accidents. However, the USCG has incorporated a number of functions throughout its more than 224-year career as the “oldest, continuously serving sea service.”

Today’s Coast Guard is actually an amalgamation of five former independent Federal agencies: the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation and the Lifesaving Service.

The Coast Guard’s official history began on Aug. 4, 1790, when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act that authorized the construction of 10 vessels. The United States Revenue Cutter Service, as it became known, used these vessels, or “cutters,” to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.

First Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton actually proposed the “system of cutters” and urged Congress to establish this service as the new nation was struggling financially following the Revolutionary War.

“A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws,” he wrote in the essay “The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue,” part of The Federalist Papers.

The Library has a very significant collection of Hamilton’s papers. In fact, a few years ago, the institution received a gift of a letter written by Hamilton that concerns the per diem payments for rations issued to seamen on board the cutters.

“This is certainly not the most significant letter Alexander Hamilton ever wrote,” explained Julie Miller, early American specialist in the Library’s Manuscript Division. “It is important, however, because it shows Hamilton at work establishing the operating procedures of the Revenue Cutter Service very soon after it was founded.”

Hopley Yeaton commission signed by Washington and Jefferson. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

The Manuscript Division also holds the March 21,1791, certificate signed by President George Washington and countersigned by Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state commissioning Hopley Yeaton as the first officer of the Revenue Service.

The service expanded in size and responsibilities as the nation grew. Because the Continental Navy was disbanded in 1785, the Revenue Service was the only maritime force available to the new government. The cutters also served as warships protecting the coast. Since then, the Coast Guard has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789.


Other responsibilities of the cutter service included protecting the country’s strategic natural resources with the Timber Act of 1822, cruising coastlines for those in distress and, after the Titanic sank in 1912, conducting international ice patrols.

Revenue Cutter Bear at Sitka, Ala. 1890-1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Coast Guard has helped to protect the environment for more than 180 years. With the purchase of Alaska in 1867, the ecological responsibilities of the Revenue Cutter Service were greatly increased. Sealing was a huge problem as fur seals were being hunted into extinction due to the value of their coats.

The Library’s Manuscript Division holds records from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, including a journal and letter book detailing voyages of several cutters. In entries dated 1889-1890, mentions are made of the cutter Bear and its Alaskan patrols looking for sealers and its efforts in tamping down the illegal seal trade.

The Library’s collection of papers of Naval officer Elliot Snow includes notebooks from Horatio D. Smith, who was an officer in the Revenue Cutter Service. Smith also documented voyages of various cutters, including the cutter Golden Gate doing “good service” during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and transporting President Taft across the bay in 1909, and the cutter McCullough being the first to pass through the Suez Canal.

Notebook documenting voyages of cutter Golden Gate. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

In 1848, Congress passed an appropriation for $10,000 to allow for “the better preservation of life and property from shipwrecks.” This system eventually grew into a federal agency called the United States Life-Saving Service. Operating from small stations throughout the nation, the service saved tens of thousands of people in distress between 1878 and 1915.

In 1915, an act of Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the U. S. Life-Saving Service, and thus the U.S. Coast Guard was born. The nation now had a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.

Additional agencies were later merged into the Coast Guard.

While the cutter service was established in 1790, Congress had created the Lighthouse Establishment the year before – only the ninth law passed by the new government – and took federal jurisdiction over lighthouses then in existence. It continued to exist as a separate agency within the Treasury Department until 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered its transfer to the Coast Guard. With this executive order, the Coast Guard began to maintain the nation’s lighthouses and all maritime aids to navigation.

The Steamboat Inspection Service and the Bureau of Navigation existed separately before being combined in 1932 and reorganized and renamed in 1936 as the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. Essentially both provided for safety inspections and the safeguarding of life and property while at sea.

During World War II President Roosevelt transferred the bureau to the Coast Guard and in 1946 the shift was made permanent, thereby placing merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under the service’s purview.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE SUMAC. Prints and Photographs Division

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Coast Guard transferred from the Department of Treasury, where it had been since the Revenue Cutter Service was founded, to the newly created Department of Transportation. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard was again transferred by executive authority when President George W. Bush moved the military branch to the newly established Department of Homeland Security.

Other Coast Guard-related resources at the Library include the USCG Historian’s Office Collection,; the papers of Charles Frederick Shoemaker, who was chief of the Revenue Cutter Service in the early 1900s; and the diary of William Cooke Pease, service officer, written while in command of the cutter Jefferson Davis on voyage from Charleston, S.C., to San Francisco, Calif.

In addition, searching the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for “coast guard” will deliver a variety of photographs. As part of the Veterans History Project’s “Experiencing War” series, read and listen to first-person accounts of men and women who served in the USCG.

Junior Fellows Show Off Summer Finds

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 8:26am

(The following is an article written by Rosemary Girard, intern in the Library of Congress Office of Communications, for the Library staff newsletter, The Gazette.)

Abigail Weaver of CALM demonstrates her work with miniature books from the Library collections. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

After weeks of researching, curating and unearthing some of the Library of Congress’s millions of artifacts, members of the Junior Fellows Program had a chance to present their most interesting finds.

During an open-house display in the Jefferson Building last week junior fellows shared the culmination of their 10-week internship at the Library. The displays were organized by division, flowing from copyright materials to African and Middle Eastern artifacts, from sheet music to legal documents. In many ways, moving through the junior fellows showcase mirrored a tour of all the Library’s divisions, missions, and offerings.

Among the artifacts on display were examples of pulp fiction from the 1930s; a check from Marilyn Monroe to actor, director and acting teacher Lee Strasberg for $90 (1955); an audition sheet showing Al Pacino’s first audition for the Actors Studio (1961); hard copies of the Batman and Green Lantern comic book editions; and a letter written by Winston Churchill’s daughter-in-law describing the events of D-Day.

Julie Rogers, who worked in the Serials and Government Publications Division, described the importance of the pulp fiction collection she displayed.

“Many people do not realize the Library of Congress collects popular-culture items such as the pulp magazines or comic books,” she said. “These collections are essential if the Library is to preserve the true complexity of American creativity and knowledge.”

In addition to the physical artifacts on display, many junior fellows presented their work on monitors or iPads, demonstrating Library digital initiatives in action.

The event provided the opportunity to learn from the junior fellows about some of the connections and stories behind these treasured items.

Ayana Bowman and Miguel Castro presented an English/Spanish online display telling the story of the Mexican Revolution and its impact on the U.S. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

Walton Chaney, for example, conducted outreach for the Veterans History Project (VHP). In his time as a junior fellow, he helped create a system through which Congressional offices can partner with the Library to make veterans visiting Capitol Hill offices aware of VHP and encourage them to share their stories.

“I have seen how liberating the experience of telling one’s story can be on a personal level, as well as enlightening to others,” Chaney said. “This idea of encapsulating the human experience of war ensures that our nation’s veterans and their efforts will never be forgotten.” At the showcase, Chaney displayed a video interview of the last remaining World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, who died in 2011.

Each year, the Junior Fellows Program allows undergraduate and graduate students to explore and increase access to the Library’s collections and resources. The 2014 program specifically focused on increasing access to the Library’s special, legal and copyright collections, making them better known and available to researchers through digital service and preservation projects.

The program is made possible through the generosity of the late Mrs. Jefferson Patterson and the Knowledge Navigators Trust Fund with additional support provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Letters About Literature: Dear George Orwell

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 11:12am

We’re rounding out our spotlight of letters from the Letters About Literature initiative, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. National and honor winners were announced last month.

You can read the winning letters from the competition Level 1 (grades 4-6) and competition Level 2 (grades 7-8) here.

The following is the Level 3 (grades 9-12) National Prize-winning letter from Devi Acharya of University City, Mo., who wrote to George Orwell, author of “Animal Farm” and “1984.”

To George Orwell:

                  You were right, you were right, you were right. I’m sorry I never saw it before, and I feel like an idiot, sitting here and penning this to you when you were so unspeakably right. You shouldn’t have published those books of yours under the guise of fiction—how could fiction be what’s happening outside my very doorstep! People get so worked up, angry at some imaginary oppressive tyrant when the very dystopias we fear and loathe are being built around us. I’m only just beginning to see them myself—brick and mortar meant to keep worlds apart, shields of hatred and arrows of intolerance, warlords arming for battle while the unwitting peasants continue to live from day to day. Soon only the fortress, a bastion cutting down any hope of love or compassion, will remain, with every citizen gripped tight in the steely apathy of law.

                  Oh, if only I could make you understand just how important—nay, fundamental!—your work has been to my life! If only I knew I would be able to express such a thing in this letter—and it not come across as the ramblings of a madman! What I enumerated before, but feel I have not adequately expressed, is that you were right. I first read “Animal Farm” when I was young—too young to understand it. I thought of it as a humorous fable, nothing more. Every day I saw oppression—in the news, on the street, in my home. Every day I watched as underlings tried to rise above their rulers, getting drunk on power and imposing rule harsher than even that of previous tyrant. I saw the denizens, mindless and dumb, waiting to see who the new ruler would be, wondering if they should care. And in my wide-eyed youth I did not think, “Those are Orwell’s words! Those are the very actions, painted on the canvas of reality! That group is made of pigs, and those other fellows’ horses and goats and sheep. Here is where the story starts, and here is where it will end, every word as he penned it.” My eyes might have been as blind as those vacant stares about me, but to my credit I did observe. I watched people and places and motivations and reactions. I tried to piece my world together through the map you created.

                  Then came your work “1984.” This piece was the key that turned the lock in my mind, allowing me to see that this was real, that vigilance was needed. I saw in my slovenly compatriots the face of Parsons, and in my fellow youth those trained only to follow orders and the herd under the guise of “teambuilding” and crafting “character.” I saw the posing, the scare tactics, the hypes and hysteria. I saw the pain of real terrorism as it happened, and then saw the far more expansive, far more deadly panic and paranoia of imagined threats of terrorism.

                  Now what do I see when I dare to venture outside my tiny safe haven? Drones circling overhead. Cellphones that track every move; whose conversations are being recorded and analyzed indiscriminately for any sign of suspicion. More and more information has been released, telling evidence of our descent into dystopia—and yet people seem to become ever more complacent! Scandals blow up in a day and are gone the next. Disaster relief gets attention perhaps only a few months. People would much rather live in an era where superheroes and men with guns can solve all the problems in the world. And I must confess, I can’t blame them for that.

                  I am not saying, sir, that I think that every aspect of society is awful and must be usurped, countermanded, destroyed. I love this world. That’s why I want to protect it. I am saying (as you have always said) that people must always watch the world around them instead of drifting between obligations and pleasure, as so many do now. That’s the reason I wrote this letter—to say (for it must be reiterated this one last time) that you were right. Right to write your books, right to do all that you have done to better the world. I, too, have begun my first steps in the world of writing, describing the world I see around me just as you did. I hope to be, just as you have been, an observer spinning my cautionary tales, and trying to help the world understand.

                  You are truly an inspiration. Your words will echo in this world for centuries to come. 

Goodbye for now,

Devi Acharya

President Harding’s Letters Open to the Public

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:00am

(The following is an article written by Mark Hartsell for The Gazette, the Library of Congress staff newsletter.)

Warren G. Harding / Prints and Photographs Division.

For most of two decades, a future president carried on an affair with a family friend. For 50 years, the love letters they wrote each other – discovered in a closet, sealed by a court order and, finally, locked in a vault at the Library of Congress for safekeeping – have been closed to the public.

Today, the Library opens the letters Warren G. Harding wrote to his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, to the public for the first time since they were sealed by a probate judge in 1964 and later donated to the Library by the Harding family. The Library also has recently obtained a separate collection of material, such as photos and letters, from Phillips’ descendants.

An Affair Between Friends

Harding and Phillips began their affair in 1905 in Marion, Ohio, where both lived. He was the lieutenant governor of Ohio. She was the thirtysomething wife of a prominent dry-goods merchant and mother of a little girl.

The families were close enough to even vacation together in Europe. All the while, Harding and Phillips carried on their intimate relationship.

Harding and Phillips exchanged letters when either was away from Marion, sometimes writing dozens of pages at a time. While Phillips lived in Germany for several years and after Harding was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914, the affair – and the letters – continued, long distance.

“They talk about their relationship,” said Karen Linn Femia, Library archivist who organized and described the material. “They talk about family things, hometown things, political things, the war in Europe.”

The Harding-Phillips collection at the Library includes about 240 items: drafts, empty envelopes indicating letters not saved, letter fragments and about 100 full letters that total about 1,000 pages.

The letters date between 1910 and 1920. Most were written by Harding, many while he served in the Senate. The affair ended just before he was inaugurated as president in1921.

“It was a 15-year relationship,” Femia said. “We just see the last 10 years. It’s almost sort of like looking in on a marriage, at some point, because it was such a long-term thing.”

Carrie Fulton Phillips / Manuscript Division.

Harding and Phillips remained on cordial terms after the affair ended, as did the families – even though Harding’s wife and Phillips’ husband had earlier discovered the relationship. Indeed, Phillips, her husband and her mother in 1922 visited President Harding at the White House.

Harding’s presidency ended early and tragically: He died of heart failure in 1923 after only two years in office.

Discovery in a Closet

Phillips over the decades became something of a town eccentric, living in Marion in a neglected house overrun with German shepherds. Her health failed, and in 1956 her lawyer and court-appointed guardian moved her to a nursing home.

While preparing for the move, the lawyer discovered a box hidden in the back of a closet. Inside, he found a surprise: a stash of letters from Harding. Not knowing what to do with them, he took them home for safekeeping.

Phillips died in 1960 and, three years later, the lawyer made the letters available to a potential Harding biographer.

Word of the letters’ existence spread and the New York Times eventually wrote a story about them, drawing the attention of the Harding family and Phillips’ daughter, Isabelle Phillips Mathée.

“That’s when Isabelle, the daughter, finds out these letters exist,” Femia said. “That’s when the legal proceedings begin, when the Hardings find out these letters exist.”

                                                                                          A Tangled Web

Warren G. Harding with his wife, Florence, in 1920 / Prints and Photographs Division.

Harding’s nephew, George Harding, brought a lawsuit, thwarting the use of the letters by the biographer. An Ohio probate judge closed the papers on July 29, 1964, as the court tried to determine who, exactly, owned the letters.

Finally, after extended litigation, Harding agreed to purchase the letters from Phillips’ daughter – a settlement that included a 50-year closure, dating from the probate judge’s original sealing in 1964. In 1972, Harding donated the letters to the Library of Congress for safekeeping, with the stipulation that it keep the papers closed for the remainder of the 50 years. The letters have been locked in a Manuscript Division vault ever since. Other copies, however, do exist.

Ohio archivist Kenneth Duckett microfilmed the collection during its temporary storage at the Ohio Historical Society in 1963. Author and historian James D. Robenalt discovered the microfilm in Duckett’s papers at the Western Reserve Historical Society and in 2009 published a book on the subject, “The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War,” that contends Phillips may have been a German spy.

“There are aspects of presidents’ personal lives that lead them in a certain direction as far as decisions they make in a political realm,” Femia said. “Scholars may find things here that led Harding in certain ways. There’s importance to that.”

See It Now: Historians Discuss Significance of President Harding’s Letters

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 9:22am

The Library of Congress will open a collection of approximately 1,000 pages of love letters between 29th U.S. President Warren G. Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, on Tuesday, July 29. The collection has been locked in a vault in the Manuscript Division since its donation in 1972.

The letters were written between 1910 and 1920 during an affair that began in 1905 between then-Ohio Lt. Gov. Warren Harding and family friend Carrie Fulton Phillips. The vast majority of the letters were written by Harding—many while he served in the U.S. Senate (1915-1921). Additional material from the Phillips/Mathée family will also be accessible to the public on July 29.

On July 22, the Library hosted a symposium on the historical significance of the Harding/Phillips correspondence. The following is a webcast of the program.


Manuscript Division Chief James Hutson moderated the panel, which included Library of Congress archivist Karen Linn Femia, Ohio lawyer and historian James D. Robenalt and Dr. Richard Harding, a grandnephew of President Harding, who made this statement on behalf of the Harding family. Members of the Mathée family provided a statement that can be read here.

Slammin’ those Books OPEN!

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 4:43pm

This year’s Library of Congress National Book Festival is going to segue from a big day of authors for all ages to an evening of excitement – starting with a poetry slam titled “Page [Hearts] Stage” at 6 p.m. in the Poetry & Prose Pavilion.

The festival will be held from 10 a.m.–10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.  It is free and open to the public.

The 2014 National Book Festival poster by Bob Staake

The slam—a contest in which poets read or recite their poems, which are then judged by a panel—will include the District of Columbia’s top youth slam groups: the DC Youth Slam Team and Louder Than a Bomb DMV.  Champion delegates from both groups will compete to be named the city’s top youth slammer, by performing new works on the subject of books and reading. The event is a collaboration among the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center, The National Endowment for the Arts and the poetry organization Split This Rock. Judges will include national and international slam champion Gayle Danley, Tanuja Desai Hidier, author of “Born Confused,” and Maryland State Sen. Jamie Raskin. The emcee for the slam will be Beltway Grand Slam champion Elizabeth Acevedo.

The poetry slam is among this year’s first-ever nighttime activities in the 14-year history of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. This year’s festival theme is “Stay Up With a Good Book.”  The event will take place in the Poetry & Prose Pavilion sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

And that’s not all! Evening activities will include a Graphic Novels Super-Session with Michael Cavna, author of The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog, as master of ceremonies, ­presented with the assistance of the Small Press Expo. The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the festival.

Other festival events between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. will include a session featuring “Great Books to Great Movies” moderated by Ann Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post, with panelists E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott, Paul Auster and Lisa See.

There will also be a session celebrating the 100th anniversaries of the births of three literary giants of Mexico—Octavio Paz, Efraín Huerta and José Revueltas—in collaboration with the Mexican Cultural Institute.

The festival will feature more than 100 authors of all genres for readers of all ages. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is accessible via Metro on the Red Line (Gallery Place) and the Green and Yellow Lines (Mount Vernon Square/7th Street/Convention Center).


Letters About Literature: Dear Ray Bradbury

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 9:28am

In this fourth installment of our Letters About Literature series, we highlight the Level 2 (grades 7-8) National Honor Winner Jane Wang of Chandler, Ariz., who wrote to Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451.”

Dear Ray Bradbury,

                  “Fahrenheit 451 the temperature at which books burn.” A title that would kindle any curious eighth grader’s interest. Its simplistic, plain back cover showed only a small picture of an ancient, smoldering tome to hint at the plot. It bore the distinct appearance of being one of those antiquated, perplexing novels with a profound theme that would probably make my language arts teacher grow all warm and fuzzy inside but leave my head pounding. But your book was so much more than even that. It was a story of ignorance and knowledge, illusions and reality, misery and happiness. It was a story that changed my perspective of something that had once troubled me very much.

                  Controversy and debate; I have never liked either of them. It was previously my belief that they had only ever been a nuisance to me and overcomplicated my life. You see, I am a naturally cautious person. I do not enjoy taking risks, and I hate having to make decisions or pick sides for fear that I will regret it later. It has always been a huge burden to me and in my mind; I used to tentatively entertain the notion of a much easier life where only one opinion, one belief, and one answer existed for everything. There would be no more test questions asking “why,” no more arguments with Mom about possibilities for the future, no more discord between countries regarding controversial government programs or questionable laws. After all the absence of furious debates and nasty disputes should lead to a happier, more peaceful, and ultimately better world, right? Wrong. Your novel showed me just how wrong I was.

                  “Fahrenheit 451″ told the tale of a world where the controversy and debate that had troubled me so much did not exist. But I quickly realized that your book did not tell a happy story. That controversy and debate had been eliminated at the cost of something much more important: free, individual thought. Montag’s wife, Mildred, and the rest of her friends cared about nothing more than their own immediate pleasures. Anything that required even the slightest bit of time or concentration was believed to interfere with the advanced technology, loud music, and fast cars they enjoyed in their fast-paced lives. Literature, self-reflection, and even the simple act of thinking had no place in their world, though they play important roles in mine. I read to learn and grow. I reflect to make myself a better person. And thinking, wondering about the ways of the world as Clarisse did, is something I take for granted. The books that Beatty, Montag, and the rest of the firemen sought to burn have shaped me into who I am today. All my life, I have surrounded myself with books to promote my learning and knowledge of the world; I would be miserable without them. Montag and many others in your novel never had that opportunity to experience such a form of genuine happiness. They never had the chance to spend that time on their own simply sitting in a rocking chair at their own front porch and quietly reflecting. And without that special moment to think and wonder, Montag and everyone else’s mind slowly faded away as they were continually stifled and restrained, their individual thoughts and ideas burned away with books they couldn’t even remember. No wonder all that controversy and debate disappeared; how could there have been any argument regarding any matter if no one knew of any problems to discuss?

                  Your novel did not change me in a particularly noticeable way. I did not take on a radical new personality or come to any unexpected epiphanies. My peers and others around me still saw the same careful, perfectionist girl they had known before. But underneath all the layers of invisible yellow caution tape that I had wrapped myself up in was a girl with a new perspective. Suddenly, the words controversy and debate did not seem like the very nemeses of my cautious nature. What was once a burden now seems like a wonderful gift to be cherished. “Fahrenheit 451″ showed me what a life without argument would entail. Your novel allowed me to understand that where there are no disagreements, there are no personal opinions, and where there are no personal opinions, there are no individual thoughts.

                  Furthermore, I realized after reading your book that the events in your novel were not all fictional. Censorship exists in today’s society just as it did in the world of “Fahrenheit 451″; burning books is just a rather extreme version of it. I recognize the fact that there are people who live in places very similar to Montag’s world, where individual thoughts that don’t align with the purported ideals are forbidden. I know now that I am very fortunate to be able to experience the occasional disagreement, because controversy and debate are proof that my thoughts are well and truly my own.

                  Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for writing “the novel of firemen who are paid to set books ablaze.”

Jane Wang

Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2014 winners in June. More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, a reading-promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

National and honor winners were chosen from three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). You can read the letters from the Level 1 winners here and here and the Level 2 National Winner here. In addition, winning letters from previous years are available to read online.

America’s Other Anthem

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 6:40am

O beautiful for spacious skies,

“Sea to Shining Sea,” by L. Stovall, 2008. Prints and Photographs Division.

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Pikes Peak is one of America’s most famous mountains. Rising more than 14,000 feet, the mountain has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The views from the summit have inspired many, including Katharine Lee Bates, who penned the iconic anthem “America, the Beautiful” following a visit to the top in July 1893.

Bates was an English literature professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and had traveled west to Colorado to teach a summer course. As she told it, “We strangers celebrated the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak.”

She and her band of fellow educators traveled to the top by prairie wagons pulled by horses and mules.

“It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind,” Bates later wrote.

She finished the poem before she left Colorado but would not publish it until two years later. Her words appeared in The Congregationalist in commemoration of Independence Day. She went on to revise the poem in 1904 and again in 1913.

Pike’s Peak, Colo. 1899. Prints and Photographs Division.

Bates’ poem was first set to music in 1904 and was typically sung to almost any popular tune, with “Auld Lang Syne” being the most common. In 1910, her words were published as “America, the Beautiful” and set to the tune we know today, which is by Samuel Augustus Ward, a Newark, N.J., church organist and choirmaster. He originally composed the melody in 1882 (also titled “Materna”) to accompany the words of the 16th century hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem.”

A plaque commemorating the words to the song was placed at the summit of Pikes Peak in 1993.

You can read more about “America, the Beautiful” in a special feature as part of The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America collection. Included are audio recordings and notated music.

The Library’s National Jukebox, an online collection of historical sound recordings from Victor Records, also includes two recordings of “America, the Beautiful.”

Letters About Literature: Dear Anne Frank

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 1:23pm

For the last two weeks, we’ve been featuring the winning letters  from the Letters About Literature initiative, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. Winners were announced last month. National and honor winners were chosen from three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). You can read the letters from the Level 1 winners here and here.

Following is the Level 2 National Prize winning letter from Jisoo Choi of Ellicott City, Md., who wrote to Anne Frank, author of “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Dear Anne,

I hold your diary in my hands, and I feel as if you are speaking to me from years past. You are telling me how much it annoys you that the van Daans are always quarreling. You’re whispering sadly that you think you will never become close with your mother. Your scream rings in my ear, and the echo tells me you’re tired of crying yourself to sleep. And it tears my heart in half. Thank you for speaking to me. Thank you for your diary. Thank you for your legacy you have left for the world; for me.

I am thirteen years old, the same age you were when you first went into hiding. The same age you were when you set foot into the solitary world you would know for over two years. And at such a young age, your dreams have inspired so many all over the world. And because of you, I have learned not to wait until I am older to achieve my dreams, not to think about “when I grow up, I will…” but to strive to inspire at my age, just as you have. The fact that you have become an amazing, worldwide inspiration both comforts and challenges me.

Reading your account of the two years you spent in hiding, I cried with you, learned with you, dreamed with you. I came to know you and came to appreciate you for who you were. You cried to me so many times about how your family can’t love you for being you. If only you had known that your diary would be published for the world to be inspired by … If only you had known that the “musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl” that you thought nobody would want to read made such a difference on another thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.  Anne, in the beginning of your diary, you wrote that you did not have your one true friend. And throughout the progression of your diary, you continuously wished that you could have a friend to confide all your sorrows and aspirations in. That was Kitty.

You thought that the only person reading your letters would be you. Your letters so filled with fantasies one day and frustrations the next.  But, Anne, the world has become your Kitty. I have become your Kitty. And I am so grateful.

Every time there’s a disagreement or commotion in the Secret Annex, you always come back to your diary.  You’ve even wrote once, “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!” As an inspiring writer, just like you, I also find solace in writing. I have school notebooks filled with fragments of ideas for stories, planners with a poem on every other page. But, like you again, I also wonder if I really have talent, worry if I’ll ever be able to write something great. I worry about the same things as you, and although you may have thought they were petty concerns, they’re everything I challenge myself to overcome. And reading your unabashedly honest and real narrative, I found a real friend in you.

As a girl reading your diary over a half a century since you penned them, I know the ending to your story. To the absolutely amazing and inspiring story of your life. And I’m sorry you had to face such injustice.  Those who live the most deserving lives always seem to be silenced so unfairly and so brutally. You dreamed so ardently of the days after the war. You wrote yourself to freedom in the space which confined your body but not your soul.  I am grateful, for although the world never heard your voice, you have left your words as your story. I’ve gone through hardships in my life as well, though none have been as trying as your years in the Annex, and I’ve gone through them by writing and dreaming my way out, just as you have those long two years. You dared to dream, in spite of the reality that threatened you daily, and you have allowed me to dream as well. “There are no walls, no bolts, no locks that anyone can put on your mind.” You are truly a role model to me. You have shown me the subtle beauties in life. You have let me experience the sheer power of words, the words that connect generations across the globe. 

You have left a spark in my heart that will kindle the flames of hope in my darkest days. Whenever I despair, or consider giving up, your voice will be whispering your dreams and hopes, because they are mine also.  Anne, you needn’t worry those times when you felt no one understood. Because, dearest Anne, because your Kitty understands.

Jisoo Choi 

Letters About Literature: Dear Sharon Draper

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:23am

We continue our spotlight of letters from the Letters About Literature initiative, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. Winners were announced last month.

There was a tie for the national prize for Level 1. Following is one of the winning letters written by Jayanth Uppaluri of Clayton, Mo., to Sharon Draper, author of “Out of My Mind.” You can read the other Level 1 winning letter here.

Dear Sharon Draper,

                 I don’t have cerebral palsy. I don’t need a device to communicate. I don’t even have a photographic memory. My life is so different from Melody’s life. I can use all of my fingers to type on a computer. I can walk around the block. I can take part in a regular conversation about the St. Louis Cardinals. I don’t need an aide to help me. I have two siblings, a brother and a sister. My sister is about as free of disabilities as you can get. My brother is a different story.

                  My brother has difficulty in expressing his words because he has a form of autism. Like Melody, he tries to tell people many things, and like Melody he gets frustrated when people don’t understand him. Similar to Melody, he has a device to communicate, but unlike Melody’s, my brother’s device is quite complicated to use. On top of this, he does not always have his device when he needs it the most because the battery can fail at any time.

                  Because of his talking complications, people don’t understand him, and sadly he gets frustrated.  What’s so hard to understand about this?  If I had trouble expressing myself, I would be frustrated, too. For example, if I couldn’t tell my parents that I hated peas, and they kept giving me peas, or if I couldn’t tell them that I love eggnog and they kept offering me carrot juice…I think you get the picture. When my brother gets frustrated, he might tear paper or throw things. Sometimes, to get attention, he has even hurt himself by hitting his head or banging his chin. Before I read your book, I never understood how he could survive or how to help him.

                  Then, I read your book. Though cerebral palsy is different from autism, there are some things in common. People with cerebral palsy or autism are held back by symptoms whether it’s lack of mobility or lack of expression. Also people with autism are not dumb and the same goes for people with cerebral palsy. Reading ”Out of My Mind” gave me a different perspective on things. It is the only book I have read that was from the impaired person’s perspective. I never thought “What is she crying about?” because I could vividly see what Melody was thinking.

                  Your book made me think differently about my brother and begin to put myself in his shoes. I began to help him express his feelings. For example, when I ask him a question, I give him time to respond rather than ask him over and over again like I used to. I also have learned how to interact with my brother. We wrestle together and chase each other around the house instead of doing things separately. Before I read your book, I didn’t make the effort to play with him. That was a big mistake, because seeing my brother’s winning smile when we played for the first time has made me realize that we have a very special bond that no one can break.

                  It is important for Melody to feel confident in order to succeed, and that’s very important for my brother too, just as it is for any of us. When Melody participated in the Whiz-Kids competition, her family and caregiver, Ms. Violet, supported her and helped her study, which gave her the confidence to win. It is also vital for my brother to experience success. When he brings my mom the iPad when she wants him to watch videos, we don’t overlook it. We praise him for doing it. This gives him the confidence to do better and progress. If he hides in the closet and stuffs his face with Lindt chocolate truffles without asking, we don’t scream at him. Instead, we take the bag away, tell him to ask us first…then we stuff our faces with chocolate. This doesn’t make him afraid of us, instead it makes him laugh, and it makes us happy because we get to eat chocolate (chocolate equals treasure in our house). When he flashes his million dollar smile at us as we are eating chocolate, it sends an unspoken message that words could never express.

                  Now I know that my brother can survive. When Melody was in Mr. Dimmwit’s class and everyone thought it was a mistake that she got 100% on the preliminary Whiz-Kids test, she didn’t give up. She studied very hard with Ms. Violet and then aced the final test to get into the Whiz-Kids competition. This made me think that my brother could survive all that he was going through and that people around him would realize how intelligent he is. If Melody could endure all the taunts and insults given by Molly and Claire, my brother can endure the ignorant people who don’t understand him. If Melody can tolerate not making it to the national Whiz-Kids competition, my brother can tolerate his challenges. He works so hard in his therapies, and I am confident it will pay off.

                  Before I read your book, I thought my brother didn’t understand me. Because he couldn’t talk that well, I didn’t think he could understand anyone. After I read your book, I realized something. I was wrong. He understood me. The only person who didn’t understand anything was me. Thanks for writing this amazing book that helped me to understand my brother.

Jayanth Uppaluri