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Posts from the Manuscripts and Archives Division

New York Foundation Records: the Freedom Quilting Bee Cooperative

Handmade quilts from Gee's Bend, Alabama are now well known and admired across the country, even internationally. Their vibrant, improvisational minimalist designs are often compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and (early) Frank Stella. In 2002 The New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman described the quilts as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced." They have been the focus of touring museum 

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Findings from the Miscellaneous Personal Name Collection: The Case of the Slave Ship Antelope

Detail of 1825 John MacPherson Berrien letter on Antelope slave ship trial

This is one of the most fascinating documents I have found so far in the Miscellaneous Collection. It’s a letter written by attorney and politician John MacPherson Berrien on March 4th, 1825, the same day he started his term as a U.S. Senator from Georgia.

The above detail of the letter reads: “…the U.S. have consequently a rightful possession of a number of human beings, who are claimed by the Sp[anish] and Port[uguese] 

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Findings from the Miscellaneous Personal Name Collection: 1774 Letter Describes Boston Tea Party and Its Aftermath

The Miscellaneous Personal Name Collection consists of over 12,000 files on 18th, 19th, and 20th century American and European historical and literary figures. This collection has served as a catchall for the smaller files acquired by the Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division.

I have discovered a wide range of subject matter of varied archival significance, and it has been inspiring to work with these materials to improve intellectual and physical 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: What’s My Line?

Picture an archival version of those 1950s quiz shows — “I’ve Got a Secret” or “What’s My Line” — where panelists try to guess the identity, occupation or special talent of the contestant. This is an episode in the ongoing United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) series, where project staff members do their best to analyze and accurately describe the volumes and documents at hand, asking the usual questions: who, what, where, when? What activities do these materials reflect?

Some background: During the USSC’s 

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Celebrating the Centennial: The Tilden Library

Detail of Vernon Howe Bailey's drawing of the "Tilden Library" reading roomContrary to what you may have heard — or thought you heard, at least — this year does not mark the centennial of The New York Public Library. The centennial marks the opening of what many still think of as the Library's "main branch" on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the Beaux-Arts landmark recently rechristened the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. But we could also call it the centennial of the Tilden Library, as I'll 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: Tales from the North Carolina Record Books

Project archivist Melissa Haley is processing the records of the U.S. Sanitary Commission's Department of North Carolina. Here she shares fleeting glimpses of wartime lives captured on the pages of supply inventories. Over to Melissa:

Even the seemingly driest of archival records can tell a story. Supply volumes of the United States Sanitary Commission’s Department of North Carolina are a case in point. At first glance, they are simply lists of relief items: how many quilts, lanterns, Boston crackers, bottles of sherry wine, quinine, bars of chocolate, cans of 

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Here's to Peter Stone! Screenwriter, Book Writer, and… Speechwriter?

Peter Stone, the author of Charade and 1776, is the first writer to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony (three times!) award, and, as you would expect, his papers include extensive drafts for his works. The surprise find in the Library's Peter Stone Collection, however; is a group of envelopes marked “Speeches and Toasts.” During the latter part of his career, Stone was frequently asked to host awards shows and to write and deliver award tributes and memorial 

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The General Slocum Disaster of June 15, 1904

Illustration by Samuel Ward StantonThe General Slocum Disaster occurred on June 15, 1904. This tragedy is much less well known compared to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911, and the Titanic Disaster of April 15, 1912. Perhaps these two shocking events happening within a year focused people's attention elsewhere. But the aftermath of the sinking of the PS Slocum radically altered the 

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Complimentary Fruit and Flower Festival, Given to Authors, by the New York Publishers' Association

Acknowledgement of invitation from John W. Francis. New York Book Publishers Association records. Manuscripts and Archives Division. "Doctor Francis, although by no means a littérateur, cannot well be omitted in an account of the New York literati." - Edgar Allen Poe, in The Literati of New York, published in Godey's Magazine (1846)This week, the literary and publishing community gathers on the West Side for the annual event that is Bookexpo America, known as BEA. This annual industry conference also doubles as a gathering of 

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A History of the Library as Seen Through Notable Researchers

The New York Public Library’s Beaux-Arts Stephen A. Schwarzman Building celebrates its 100th anniversary this month on May 23. The Centennial offers a wonderful opportunity to reflect on Library use from the past 100 and uncover stories that can serve as inspiration for another century. One unique way to trace the history of the Library is through call slips. In order to use books in the research collection, patrons request specific titles by filling out a call slip, which includes the following information: author, title, and call number. Not all call slips have been saved over the 

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Jane McGonigal and NYPL present Find the Future: The Game

For 100 years, The New York Public Library's landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and its world-renowned collections have inspired people everywhere to find their futures. In honor of the Centennial Celebration, pioneering game designer Jane McGonigal helped the Library kick off its Weekend Festival with Find 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: Accounts and Vouchers

Project archivist Elizabeth Delmage has tackled the job of making sense of the U.S. Sanitary Commission’s financial records, beginning with boxes of bundled documents and volumes. The richness of information in these materials provides a window into 19th-century commerce, the history of technology in America and, of course, the world of military supplies and humanitarian relief.

Elizabeth shares her work and discoveries in the record group known as Accounts and Vouchers to date: Daunting stack of USSC bundlesWhen I first started surveying these records, it 

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Blizzard! The March Snowstorm of 1888

Spring is ahead in the month of March. The anticipation is for the warmer weather to come and for Winter to leave. This was probably the same idea that New Yorkers and many others along the northeast seaboard believed during mid-March, 1888.

The weather forecasters reported slightly warmer temperatures and fair weather, followed by rain. Certainly, there would be nothing to worry about. This was a big mistake one hundred and twenty-three years ago...

The weather from March 11-14th, 1888, pounded the northeast with howling winds and bone chilling temperatures.  

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: A Sense of History

The various “relief” activities of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, whether “general relief,” “field relief,” or “special relief,” are reflected throughout its own records, now held in the NYPL's Manuscripts and Archives Division. The group of material known as the “Special Relief Archives,” however, is not quite what you would expect to find from its name. Project archivist Melissa Haley discusses her 

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The Research Fellowship that Uncovered a New Story of 19th Century New York

Portrait of Evert Duyckinck. NYPL, Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.University of Missouri Ph.D. candidate Steven Carl Smith was sitting in a coffee shop near campus when he got the e-mail that changed his life as a young historian.

It was from The New York Public Library, informing him that he had received one of 21 fellowships to do short-term research at its landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

“I had to really 

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The Lost Musicals: Uncovering the Dorothy Loudon flops Part Two: Lolita, My Love

After the disappointment of The Fig Leaves are Falling, Dorothy Loudon got a great part in a new musical with much more promise, but this one didn’t even make it to Broadway, despite being, without question, artistically superior.

The book and lyrics were by one of musical theatre’s heavy hitters, the music was by a successful pop hit composer and the source material was one of the twentieth century’s most acclaimed, controversial, and popular novels. The lyricist 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: Giving

A colorful USSC emblemIt may seem surprising to learn that even though the United States Sanitary Commission was officially endorsed by the U.S. government in June 1861, by mutual agreement this civilian organization did not receive federal funding for its work. The USSC's extensive activities—camp and hospital inspections, medical studies and publications, and especially, a wide variety of relief efforts for soldiers—were bankrolled entirely by the private sector.

Project archivists Melissa Haley, working on the records of the California Branch and 

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The Lost Musicals: Uncovering the Dorothy Loudon Flops Part One: The Fig Leaves are Falling

What happens to a musical unrecorded? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Perhaps, but fortunately not forever in the case of two flop musicals from the late sixties/early seventies that tried to challenge American sexual mores, that also featured the sublime talents of one of the musical theatre’s incomparable divas, before she played Miss Hannighan in Annie and joined the ranks of the great musical stars.

Many of the classic 

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Before the Big Mac: Horn & Hardart Automats

115 East 14th Street. March 1933. credit: Robert Byrnes Collection of Automat MemorabiliaAsk anyone about the "Big Mac" and immediately one imagines an image of a double hamburger on a sesame seed bun. The golden arches are everywhere.  On Broadway and 42nd Street, New York City boasts one of the largest McDonald's in metropolitan America. 

Say the words "Horn & Hardart," you will probably get a different reaction.  Go back thirty years or more...

Horn & Hardart Automats were a common sight around the city.  

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: Harvests for Health

The United States Sanitary Commission records might not be the first port of call for anyone interested in studying 19th-century American agriculture or the culinary arts, but the visit could well repay the effort. 

From the first days of its existence, the USSC concerned itself with identifying suitable ingredients for a soldier's diet. A healthy diet kept men in fighting strength and in good spirits, prevented disease, and helped them recuperate more quickly from wounds and sickness. The Commission and 

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