The Archives Ghost(s)

In honor of Halloween, I wanted to direct attention to a unique member of the Special Collections team: The Archives Ghost(s). When you’re working downstairs in the ‘basement’ of an archive, there are often strange things that happen. Many will tell you that your mind plays tricks on you. You think you hear a sound, but it can easily be explained away as a water pipe or creaky door. You see the lights flash in the motion-sensor aisles and think glitches happen.  But for many of us, we wonder if there is an Archives Ghost that lurks throughout the collections.


Clearly, this is not our particular Archives Ghost because no one has been able to catch the apparition on camera. Yet we’d like to think of the Archives Ghost as a friendly individual that helps us maintain the collections, and hope that we do a worthy job of protecting the treasures that the Archives Ghost oversees.

Some have reported hearing a voice in the annex area, but when you round the corner, there is no one there. Many have reported that while working the motion sensor lights in aisles will turn on, which creates a distinct clicking sound. Yet no one will be in the aisle when you get up to go investigate. Others are even certain that folders will have been moved from one side of a table to another with no explanation. And of course, there have been times when it seems to be oddly cold downstairs.

There are, of course, many that would explain these instances away. Voices belong to people that move. Technology can do strange things by itself. While cleaning someone may have moved folders. And we work in a temperature controlled archive so of course when the a/c comes on, it gets cold for a moment. These are all reasonable explanations. However, if you work in an archive and feel like there may be otherworldly helpers watching over the collections, you’re not alone. Perhaps we all have an Archives Ghost(s) making sure we’re doing our best to preserve their materials!



A Showcase for Mary Shelley


Portrait of Mary Shelley by artist Richard Rothwell, 1840

2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). Throughout this bicentennial year Shelley and her creation have been a popular topic, with the release of The New Annotated Frankenstein with an introduction by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro, and the exhibition Its Alive! Frankenstein at 200 on display at the Morgan Library and Museum, to name just a few examples. Personally, Shelley’s novel has been a favorite of mine for its Russian-doll-like structure of stories within a story, from the monster telling his creator his story, to Dr. Frankenstein telling his story to the arctic seafarer Robert Walton, who ultimately writes it all down to send to his sister. And of course, there is the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself: her elopement with her soon-to-be-husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the scandal that derived from it, the tragedy of the deaths of her three young children, and the tragedy of Percy’s death in a boating accident in 1822. Throughout her trials and sufferings Mary turned to words for solace. For my October showcase I wanted to dive deep into the archives for materials related to Mary W. Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their creations. Here were some of my discoveries:



Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translation and Fragments (1840) by Percy Bysshe Shelley and edited by Mary W. Shelley.







Three volume set of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man c.1826. Note below the “By the Author of Frankenstein” and a previous owner’s remedy of including the female author’s name.





Below: History of Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland by Percy Byshee Shelley c1817. This was my first time coming across a book with uncut pages and I was surprised to see this was throughout the entire volume.








The Choice: A Novel Poem on Shelley’s Death by Mary Shelley c.1876. Privately printed and one of few copies on hand made paper with a portrait of Percy, which according to the finding aid is quite scarce.






The second volume of an 1833 edition of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary W. Shelley.








A 1918 members-only printing of Letters of Mary W. Shelley (Mostly Unpublished) by the Boston Bibliophile Society.




And at last, the final result, which includes Shelley’s letters, the 1833 edition of Frankenstein, and illustration plate by the artist Barry Moser that was included in a special edition printing of the 1818 text:


Needless to say it was a difficult decision of what would make it into the showcase and what story I wanted to create with it. I finally decided to highlight Shelley’s revised 1831 text and how she returned to the story after enduring the loss of Percy and her three children. So not only did she initially pen the tale in 1818 for solace, but she went back and revised it to reflect her anguish during the time-span in between. What started as a prompt by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”, and thus inspired by a dream, Mary W. Shelley’s story would go on to gift imaginative recreations over the next two centuries.




Souls with Wings

This morning is different. The beautiful monarch butterflies that accompany me on my drive in are few. Though the fear of hitting these alluring creatures has faded, I can’t help but miss the rising sun radiating from their fluttering wings. I am aware that a migration for survival is necessary. I smile at the thought of a border-less journey and know Mexico welcomes their triumphant return. In our culture, they are the souls of loved ones passed, and they arrive just in time for their lives to be honored with Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.   

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Photograph by Xochitl Santillan Reyna

I continue to process the papers of Curtis G. Benjamin. I take note of how the little organization that existed has faded. The folders within the boxes are no more, and I encounter different business documents across multiple subjects combined with personal papers. I am further taken by surprise when I locate a blank insurance form folded in half, receipts and a pencil within. I can’t help but think, “This is out of character for you, C.G.B.”  Clearly, this is unfinished business. Throughout the collection I have encountered photographs and letters from family and loved ones and find myself thinking of them as I attempt to piece together his dispersed narrative. I am nearing an end, and I anticipate C.G.B. nears a new beginning. My thoughts appeared to be confirmed when I stumbled across an invocation titled, A prayer for the aging. I’m not certain if C.G.B. authored this piece, but I sense he too anticipated a new beginning. Perhaps one as a monarch butterfly.                                                         

    Monarch Butterfly Clipart #1                                                                                               Monarch Butterfly Clipart #1

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Accession No. 87-129; Papers of Curtis G. Benjamin


Butterfly clipart:


Boxes in Boxes in Boxes

As the weeks have progressed here at Special Collections, so have I. I am still processing the John Weston Papers. I am at the point where I am arranging and foldering all of the materials in his collection, which can be surprisingly frustrating. For example, while arranging his manuscripts in alphabetical order I found another “A” titled manuscript that I had to shift all of my folders for. Luckily, I have also started on other projects to keep me sane.

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Me trying to figure out if I can fit one more folder into the box.

I have been working with our Collections Management Archivist to create a new system for our acquisitions. Basically we want a new system to help make processing our new collections easier and quicker to ensure access is readily available. This week, in implementing this new process I discovered a “matryoshka” collection, or boxes inside of boxes inside of boxes, the insanity!


“big box, small box, flat box, shoe box” — Dr. Seuss, probably

Surveying should be a fairly quick process, maybe 5-10 minutes a box, mostly depending on the state the collection came in. When materials are in envelopes or smaller boxes, it makes this process harder.  Once you get past that though, surveying shouldn’t be too stressful, you are more or less just opening boxes and looking at stuff. When surveying you want to ask yourself, what kind of shape are the boxes/materials in? Are there any immediate preservation concerns? Mold? Insects? AV or born digital materials? Is there an order? And of course you’ll want to take a quick note of what kind of materials are in the box. For students this can be confusing, how detailed should one be? This step is really just getting a feel for what you have and what you might be able to do with it, so don’t go too crazy and take note of every item in there, just get to know your collection.

I will have finished processing my Weston collection before my next post. Until then enjoy this GIF of me dealing with the more complicated boxes that I’ve saved until the end, wish me luck. Image result for indiana jones gifs

Birds Just Want to Have Fun: The Photographs of Laurence M. Huey (MS 241)

While it is not a secret that I love birds, I will pretend that this is a fact you do not yet know about me.  But my name is Michelle and I love birds. I’m also a peristerophile (someone that loves and cares for pigeons). Now that we’ve been properly introduced… you can imagine how excited I was when I saw the following manuscript labels on a collection I was not yet familiar with:


Photographs of Laurence M. Huey (MS 241). 

Traditionally, manuscript labels are simplistic. They’re in black and white text and include the manuscript identifier (MS 241), the name of the collection, and a box number. So, you can imagine my excitement that there was a bird waving at me, practically screaming, “Look at this collection!” 

Laurence M. Huey was the Curator of Birds and Mammals for the Dan Diego Natural History Museum from 1922 to 1962. His photographs include pictures from his trips across Baja California, the United States, Canada, Central America, and South America. Many of his subjects are birds because Huey loved birds *almost* as much as I do.

Now, I’m not sure where Huey found a single mallard duck in the middle of the White Mountains, but it is plausible. And it is adorable!


(MS241_Box2_Folder3): Young Stephens Whip-poor-will. June 1931. (Photo N-7874).

I was also very excited when I found several different photographs of hummingbirds in their nests. If you’ve ever seen a hummingbird, you know how fast they are. You also know that trying to photograph the tiny birds is extremely stressful, and you often end up with lots of ‘dud’ photographs. Yet Huey had an amazing eye for hummingbirds, their nests, and their young.


Another fun photograph was titled “Little husband, little wife!” and depicts two Phimbious Gnatcatchers creating their home in Western Arizona, near the Lucky Star Mine, in Mohave County. The photograph was taken in April 1938.


(MS241_Box2_Folder9). Phimbious gnatcatchers (N-7891).

Huey took several photographs of different birds sitting on branches. Whether flying solo or playing with friends, it is clear these birds were entertaining themselves and photographers.

Huey also enjoyed capturing birds feeding their young.


(ms241_box2_folder18): Ash Throated Crested Flycatcher building a nest in Yavapai County, Congress Juntion area (n-7888).

Finding odd/irregular nesting locations was a bonus for Huey.


(ms241_box2_folder18): Ash Throated Flycatchers. May 20-25, 1941 in the Congress Junction area, Yavapai County, Arizona. One bird entering a nest (in post!) and one watching for danger (n-8236).

Huey also liked to find groups of birds. As I am sure you have heard, the best things sometimes come in sets of three!

Other birds are interesting specimens because they have some amazingly unique “hairdos” that should be shared with the public.


(ms241_box2_folder19): Yuma County, Arizona (n-7925).

This prominent crest would be passed on to another generation of adorable birds–which Huey also photographed.


(ms241_box2_folder19): Phainopipla feeding young in Castle Dome, Yuma County, Arizona. April 21, 1935 (n-7901).

And if you think I forgot to include a photograph of several different bird nests that Huey photographed… here is the photo you have been waiting for!


(ms241_box6_folder3): Several photographs from the collection that show different styles of bird nests. 

I hope that you now share my love of birds just a bit more. The Laurence M. Huey collection contains a large grouping of different avian photographs–I hope to intrigue you with a few selections from Box 2, which features birds from Arizona. But if you would like to go “bird watching” in the Special Collections library, there are numerous bird sightings to be had in this collection. To take a look at the collection guide, feel free to click this link: MS 241.