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Out of the Box

This blog channel explores the library’s world-class and ever-growing archival holdings. We’ll examine these unique materials and the works produced by researchers consulting them. Open the box and delve into the archives with us!

Freedom to Dance: The Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive, Part 1

Baryshnikov showed great promise at a young age.Recently, when friends ask me what collection I am working on and I give my answer — "The Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive" — I've been receiving unexpected reactions. Everyone seems to have a Baryshnikov story. People who I know have never been to the ballet, who couldn't name another dancer if pressed, have something to say. My younger friends were not even born when he 

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Playboy: A Seductive Periodical or Champion of Sexual Liberalism?

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is intended for mature readers onlyRecognize the icon above? Perhaps you may not realize this but Playboy the publication, historically speaking, has been a leading magazine devoted to freedom of expression and human rights (to a certain extent). Founded in 1953 in Chicago by Hugh Hefner, Playboy has often been perceived as a "taboo" 

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Homage to Jean Léon Destiné

Jean Léon Destiné, master Haitian dancer, choreographer and drummer, died on January 22, 2013. The staff members of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division mourn his passing. And as the Dance Division Curator, I will truly miss him. He was also a great friend of the Dance Division. During his long career as advocate and artist for Haitian dance he donated materials to the 

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Leon Dabo’s Notebook: An Interview with Frank Goss

In 1955, the artist Leon Dabo (d. 1960) donated a thin manuscript volume to The New York Public Library. Prolific during his time, Dabo is perhaps best known as a muralist and landscape painter. Dabo also spent many years in New York, and was involved with organizing the artistic community, including a part in shaping the 1913 Armory Show. Seemingly an address book, the volume Dabo donated also contains a handful of small sketches. Looked at as a whole the pages provide information about his social life and artistic 

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History in Print: Harriet Walden and the New Yorker Records

Harriet Walden may not be a household name. But for forty years she was, as former New Yorker magazine fiction editor William Maxwell wrote in a letter bemoaning her retirement, "the pin that [kept] the wheel attached to the axle" in her role as secretary and office manager at the New Yorker magazine.

Walden joined the New Yorker in 1944, as secretary to the magazine's infamous editor and founder, Harold Ross. She was replacing her 

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Recording the Life of a Dancer

An oral history interview is a lot more than just any old conversation or sound recording. Although the definition of oral history is dynamic, it usually refers to the collecting of individual histories, according to specific ethical and methodological guidelines, and the responsible preservation and archiving of those recordings. While human history has been collected and shared orally for thousands of years, oral history as a modern organized activity is said to date only to 1948 when Allan Nevins began the now highly respected

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RHA Cylinder Collection Exhibit

The Collection and Exhibit

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Library for the Performing Arts currently houses a collection of more than 3,000 wax and celluloid cylinders. These cylinders range from very early, non-commercial, white and brown wax cylinders, to commercial moulded black wax cylinders, to Indestructible moulded celluloid cylinders and, finally, to the later Edison Blue Amberol celluloid cylinders.

The collection is 

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Transmissions from the Timothy Leary Papers: Keith Haring Makes a Mind Movie

In the process of imaging digital material from the Timothy Leary papers, my eyes have scanned some curious documents, but sometimes the most intriguing files are the ones I can't read. Timothy Leary collaborated with a number of celebrities on projects during his years of freelancing. One of the celebrities that left his mark on the Leary papers is Keith Haring.

Among the box load of disks, a few are tantalizingly inscribed "Drink me" and "Love, 

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Metamorphosis of a Song: “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

I've blogged before about my joy in finding something I never knew existed in the richly varied archival holdings of the New York Public Library, but while processing the James Barton Papers, I had an epiphany of another color: finding something I've wanted to get my hands on for nearly twenty years.

Bear with me while I set the scene for this discovery with some personal history. It would be an understatement to say that I'm a fan of lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner.

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Cubiculo Theatre: What’s in a Name?

Every neighborhood, street, and building in New York has a history. Sometimes all that is left is an obscure name. That is what has become of the Cubiculo Condominium at 414 West 51st Street, which is described on a real estate site as a fabulous brownstone penthouse duplex with 4 bedrooms, 3 full baths "right out of La Bohème but without all the coughing and the poverty." The condo in 

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Transmissions from the Timothy Leary Papers: Season’s Greetings from William S. Burroughs

Timothy Leary first made acquaintance with William S. Burroughs in Tangier, Morocco in the summer of 1961.[1] During this heady time, Leary was reaching out to beat poets and artists for participation in his early drug experiments at Harvard University, and Burroughs made an obvious comrade. Despite Burrough's disappointment with Leary's scientific method, their friendship managed to survive 

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James A. Hamilton: Mousetraps, Memory and a Forgotten Secretary of State

In 1869, James Alexander Hamilton published a memoir. The third son of Alexander Hamilton was a Columbia-educated district attorney, colonel, writer and diplomat who addressed many aspects of his "varied life" in The Reminiscences of James A. Hamilton.i But while The Reminiscences have often been used as a source in the biographies of the father, they have never been used to tell the story of the son. A selection of Hamilton's papers and correspondence made it into the published work but the

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Transmissions from the Timothy Leary Papers: MPLP, the New Standard?

During the past several years, the archives profession has been rocked by a paper by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner titled "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing."[1] Through examining surveys of archival processing practices, Greene and Meissner proposed that switching the emphasis from physical arrangement and preservation practices to intellectual arrangement and description would expedite the processing of most collections. The upshot of their findings was a plea to end backlogs for unprocessed collections. This method (now 

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Dorothy Loudon and Annie

Dorothy Loudon wasn't working. Neither was Annie.

Loudon, by the mid-1970s, had gone into a semi-voluntary semi-retirement. The Women, in 1973, was the last of a half-dozen promising Broadway shows (if you count Lolita, My Love, which never quite made it to New York) that closed in less than three months. She had enjoyed more success touring — Paul Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, in 1971-1972, had been her favorite stage role — but Loudon was tired of the road, and hated leaving New York.

She turned down 

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The Lost Musicals: Redhead

Musicals are often most associated with women, or at least with divas: the larger than life stars that musicals are built around. To get a show produced you want to have a decent score and story, but another thing that sells the backers — and the audience — is having a name attached. You need Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, or last but not least, the star of our show, that improbably sexy, brittle but strong, mercurial, redheaded dancer, Gwen 

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Martin Pakledinaz for "The Pajama Game" (2006)

Legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Richard Adler passed away this year on June 21st. His seamless partnership with friend and composer Jerry Ross in the 1950s led to the hit musical scores and lyrics for The Pajama Game in its original Broadway run in 1954. Directed by George Abbott and Jerome Robbins, the show went on to win a Tony Award for best musical.

Fast forward to 2006, and we find Broadway director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall guiding and choreographing a 21st century revival of The Pajama Game with the Roundabout Theatre Company. Marshall 

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Short-Term Research Fellows: A Closer Look at Brooklyn History

As a graduate student whose dissertation examines the development of Brooklyn in the nineteenth century, I have spent more hours than I care to count the past several years poring through documents in the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Public Library and other repositories in what was formerly the nation's third-largest city and is now New York City's most populous borough. Recently however, through the New York Public Library's Short-Term Research Fellowship Program and 

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Transmissions from the Timothy Leary Papers: Ron Paul for President

With the current United States presidential election approaching, I thought it appropriate to share a couple items from the Timothy Leary papers relating to Ron Paul.

US Congressman Ron Paul lost his bid for President in 1988 under the Libertarian Party ticket. He has since sought election unsuccessfully under the Republican ticket in both 2008 

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Discovering Dance Lineages Through Oral Histories

Next week (on October 24, 26 and 27, 2012) I have the honor of performing at the Museum of Modern Art's Marron Atrium in Voluntaries by choreographer Dean Moss and visual artist, Laylah Ali. These performances are part of MoMA's Some sweet day dance exhibition series. Voluntaries examines the legacy of John Brown, a white abolitionist who attempted 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: After Antietam

September 17, 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam, often called "the bloodiest day in American history." With Alexander Gardner's images before us, we can easily imagine the horrific strife of those few hours that left behind over 23,000 casualties. Other contemporary materials can show us what it was like for a soldier to experience that single day within the context of a long and grueling campaign. Project staff member Joseph Lapinski describes such an item encountered in the USSC's 

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