1885 program for the magic lantern show
“The delights of travel without its discomforts” — On a cold night in March, 1885 the students of Alfred University and the local community residents gathered in the auditorium in Alumni Hall (then called Chapel Hall) and were treated to a magic lantern show by Ragan Illuminated Tours. These shows were the 19th-century version of today’s PowerPoint presentations. Ragan lectured on “Paris, the Magnificent” while projecting images he had photographed. Paris – a place those in attendance would have been aware of but few could hope to ever visit themselves.
The University Archives has a collection of lantern slides that represent various scenes and people from Alfred. Presumably many of them were made 100 years ago as a January 18, 1916 Fiat
Lantern slide showing the Fiat Lux newspaper staff in the University library in Kenyon Hall
Lux headline suggests: “Lantern Slides of Alfred to be Made.” The article says they would be for exhibition purposes, chiefly to loan out to high schools, an early Admissions marketing campaign. The Archives also owns a lantern slide projector!
For more information on magic lantern shows, read a nice write up from Victoriana Magazine. An excerpt: “Imagine yourself back in the Victorian period, say in 1895, just before the birth of the movies. Suppose you wanted to go out for an impromptu evening’s entertainment. What would you do? The chances are you’d go to a magic-lantern show, a combination of projected images, live narration, and live music that the movies came from. They were incredibly popular 100 years ago. In 1895 there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. What were these shows like? Most were the equivalent of our modern “Nova” or the “Discovery Channel” – illustrated lectures on subjects of popular interest like Travel, Science, and Art, using photographic lantern slides to create interest and excitement. In addition to this “moral entertainment” as the Victorians called it, there were shows that emphasized stories, songs, and comedy — the kind of shows that would soon lead to the movies.”
Arthur H. Crapsey, II was a ceramic design major at Alfred University, graduating in 1942. The University Archives recently received a framed charcoal drawing he completed in 1940. Arthur enjoyed creating original stage settings for the university’s performing arts theater productions, and acted in many of them as well. In addition to the drawing, the archive collection contains hundreds of slide images Arthur took of various AU productions after he graduated as well as some of his set designs. The Performing Arts Division today is the beneficiary of an endowed fund from him.
After graduation, Arthur joined the Air Force, joining the 306th Bomb Group. During a raid on Germany on Dec. 22, 1943, his aircraft was hit and he was injured, eventually losing his right leg due to an infection. He was awarded a silver star “for conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy.” After leaving the Air Force as a first lieutenant in 1944, Arthur became one of Kodak’s first industrial designers and had a major and lasting influence on the company’s products. In 1972, Arthur was inducted into the “Academy of Fellows” of the Industrial Design Society of America.
(Airlift photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
In response to a Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin following World War II, in June 1948 the United States began a massive airlift to assist the citizens of the besieged city. It was a daunting logistical task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities of life for the over 2 million fearful citizens of the city. For nearly a year, American planes landed around the clock. Over 200,000 planes carried in more than one-and-a-half million tons of supplies. [excerpted from the History Channel webpage]
That fall, just months after graduating, alumnus Edwin A. Gere, Jr. was recalled for active duty for the Berlin Airlift (he had flown Seventh Air Force B-24s against Japan during the war). Gere was soon at Fassberg, a Royal Air Force base in northern Germany, flying with the 1420th Air Transport Group. “During the autumn months, I began to think of all the children in Berlin and Christmas coming up,” said Gere. His solution: “I wrote to student friends back in Alfred, asking if they could organize a so-called Operation Santa Claus with Christmas packages for the Berlin children. Their response was overwhelming!” In the end, students assembled 110 packages of Christmas cheer for Berlin children. According to an article in the Alfred University Alumni News of the time, the “only comment from Saint Nick was ‘Mission accomplished successfully.’”
In all, Gere flew 184 missions during the Airlift and in 2006, published the book “The Unheralded: Men and Women of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift” which outlines this amazing time in U.S. history.
In Nov. 1929, Mary Sherman Greene donated this “hair album” to the Steinheim Museum at Alfred University. As described on her website, Joyce Tice says “During the 1850s to 1870s a custom developed to make a small decorative wreath from the hair of a friend or relative. It was considered a good keepsake of love and friendship and was similar in nature to the much older custom of putting a lock of hair in a locket.”
The Victorian Gothic site notes: “As Helen Sheumaker describes in Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America, hairwork in its myriad forms had not only established itself as longstanding tradition by the latter half of the 19th century, but had become an active fashion. Husbands went to work wearing watch fobs fashioned of their wives hair. Locks from the dearly departed were mounted into rings and brooches. Ladies filled their autograph books with snippets from their friends. At a time of rising commercialism, sentimental hairwork became a way both to signal one’s sincerity and, paradoxically, to stay in style.”
This booklet seems to have belonged to a young woman (probably Irena) from the Ennis family in Richmond, RI. It dates from the late 1840s – early 1950s. One page has numerous hair clippings from her siblings. Black ribbons signify the person had died, as was the case with two of her younger brothers: John Ennis, less than a year old, and Appleton Ennis, age 4. The hair and ribbon for their sister Sarah, age 7, is missing. The following poem is an ode to her…
On the death of my Sister
Our circle is broken we miss from our number,
That youth we were wont in our converts to meet,
Now low in the grave does she silently slumber,
And the heart once so cheerful now ceases to beat,
Our Sister has parted from earthly enjoyment,
She has fled from a world full of sorrow and care,
She is gone and forever = no more will she cheer us,
Her smiles and rejoicings are now at an end,
And yet methinks I see her now
With death cold sweat upon her brow
The fever flush the palid hue
That speaks the depth of nature due
She fell asleep in the arms of death
On the 28 of July, aged 7 years and 14 days. 
On November 11th we take a moment to thank our veterans for their dedicated service to our country. This photo shows members of the Army Specialized Training Program chatting with some of the women students in the fall, 1943. The military program used The Brick for its barracks in both World War I and World War II. In the second war, there were 711 enlisted men on campus from July 1943 – April 1944.
Found in the archives is a copy of a V-Mail letter sent to the University president on June 5, 1944 by Chester Flaum, Class of 1933. It’s an interesting reflection on his AU education and helps put learning in a useful perspective:
“My dear Dr. Norwood,It is thousands of miles and a long cry from Alfred to New Guinea, but as I read your recent letter, and your less recent Alumni News, my mind wandered back thirteen years, and I found myself under the pines by the banks of the Kanakadea, instead of under the palms by the shores of the Pacific.
Little did I think, as I sat in Kenyon Hall [site of Powell Campus Center], boning away at seemingly unsolvable mathematics problems, or mixing unmeaning fluids in a test tube at the Chem lab, that what I was studying then would some day be applied, to good advantage, to the conduct of jungle warfare. However the learning that I received at Alfred, and in later life has been most helpful in aiding me to perform a job for our country in an efficient way which might help, to a small extent, to get this war over with, with a quick victory, so much sooner.
My best wishes to yourself and old A.U.,
Lt. Chester J. Flaum”
Over the entrance to the Steinheim building is a stone that many never notice, even though it’s in plain sight. Engraved with an enigmatic “76” it sits above the window just over the door. The July 1876 “Alfred Student” provides the answer to the stone’s history: “The Class of ’76 have left a monument on the campus which is likely to be lasting. It consists of a huge irregular block of stone mounted on an ancient millstone for a pedestal. With its rude figures, ’76’ chiseled on its face, it is liable to be regarded by future generations as proof of the existence of Druids in America.” When Jonathan Allen, the University’s second president, constructed the Steinheim, he incorporated the engraved stone into the structure, certainly making it “lasting” and unique. If you look even closer, you can see a smaller ’23’ on the slim round stone over the ’76’ — signifying 1823, the year Allen was born.
These pine trees stand watch over the campus, providing summer shade and respite from the snow and wind in the winter. According to the June 1879 “Alfred Student” publication, in the spring of that year “seventy-five evergreens were planted on the Campus, most of them in the vicinity of the Chapel [Alumni Hall].” These iconic trees are even part of our alma mater: “Nestled away ‘mid the Empire State hills, ‘Neath the watch-care of sentinel pines…”
One of the curious artifacts in the University Archives & Special Collections is this theater eyeglass, part of the Howells-Frechette Collection. William D. Howells, a major figure in the late 19th-century literary circles, was a known associate of Edwin Booth, brother to the infamous John Wilkes Booth; it’s likely that’s how the Howells family came to own this eyeglass. The accompanying note says “A stage eyeglass belonging to John Wilkes Booth, the murderer of President Lincoln.”
And you thought there were only lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) in the land of Oz! In all there are actually 43 books in the series outlining adventures in the Emerald City; 14 written by L. Frank Baum, the original author. The others are approved versions and considered canonical. The Alfred University Archives and Special Collections is the proud owner of the entire set of books, all with beautifully illustrated covers. Our collection (except for the 4 newest ones published 1963-2013) was once owned by W. Varick Nevins III, a member of the Class of 1932 and later a beloved mathematics professor. His love for movies endures through the naming of the campus theater; the collection of books reflects his well-known humor.
Of all the buildings on Alfred University’s campus, Kanakadea Hall is one of the most recognized and beloved. It is the oldest building on campus to have been continuously used for education. It was built in 1884 as the Alfred Grammar School for local children to begin their education and served in this capacity until a fire in 1907 greatly damaged the building. At this point the University acquired it through a trade: the lot on Park St. on which South Hall now sits, and on which a school could be built, for the half-burned out Grammar School. It was rebuilt and used for classrooms and offices in 1908 and has been serving the University ever since. It underwent a massive restoration in 2001, which resulted in the beautiful building with which we are familiar today.
This key is in the University Archive memorabilia collection and was at one time used to open the front doors of Kanakadea Hall. The picture on which it sits shows the building while it was in use as a school, complete with students milling around the entrance. It isn’t known whether or not this key opened the doors to the Alfred Grammar School or to Kanakadea Hall, pre-renovation. The building on the left is Burdick Hall, a former men’s boarding house.