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Archive for August, 2019

“In the fall of 1934, Gertrude Stein arrived in America to much buzz about “Gertrude Stein.” Her photo appeared on the cover of Time magazine following the blockbuster success of her accessible and witty The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Journalists and a film crew waited at the dock to document Stein’s arrival. Her name appeared in lights in Times Square. Receptions were held in her honor. She enjoyed tea at the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt and dinner in Beverly Hills with Charlie Chaplin. She received the key to her hometown city of San Francisco. Fans and skeptics filled lecture halls across the United States to hear her Lectures in America. A two-month lecture tour turned into seven. Everywhere she went Gertrude Stein made headline news.”

Kirsch, Sharon J. “Gertrude Stein Delivers.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 31, no. 3, 2012, pp. 254–270.

One of Stein’s stops on her “Lectures in America” tour was Amherst College.

From the Amherst Student, January 7, 1935:

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Stein gave her lecture on January 9, 1935, as reported in The Amherst Student for January 10, 1935:

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Sharon Kirsch describes Stein’s tour of the United States as a public relations triumph — Stein achieved a tremendous degree of celebrity and name recognition even though the majority of those who attended her public lectures had likely never read any of her work. Stein herself later commented on that celebrity in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937):

“It was very nice being a celebrity a real celebrity who can decide who they want to meet and say so and they come or do not come as you want them. I never imagined that would happen to me to be a celebrity like that but it did and when it did I liked it.”

In addition to the coverage in The Amherst Student, we hold other traces of Stein’s visit in the Archives & Special Collections. We hold three letters and a postcard from Stein to Amherst President Stanley King; Stein and Alice B. Toklas both inscribed a copy of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York, 1933) for King upon their visit:

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Since the arrival of Ted Baird’s diaries in the Archives, we now regularly consult them to see if he commented on campus events. Gertrude Stein’s visit, and the dinner at President King’s home afterward, are recorded in this brief entry from January 9, 1935:

TB diary.jpg

Fortunately, Baird’s handwriting is more legible than Stein’s. Anyone interested in attempting to decipher the letters Stein sent to Stanley King is welcome to visit the Archives & Special Collections to see what other details from her visit can be recovered.

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As I reprocess our Buildings and Grounds Collection, I occasionally find mislabeled images, like a photo of Williston Hall labeled Appleton Hall. Sometimes there are items with an incorrect description, like a set of postcards in a folder titled “Photographs”.

But sometimes I find things that are just unidentifiable. This item was in a folder of photographs!

I’m not sure exactly what this object is. My first guess was a tobacco cloth of some sort, designed to be rolled up. It might have been made from poorly-tanned leather that stiffened over time.

The back side has a cord to tie it closed, but it’s not strong. The cord is thin, with a gold-colored metallic finish, similar to the elastic cord found around a gift box. This suggests that the cord was decorative.

My current guess is that this was a cover for a small booklet, like a banquet menu or an event program. The three fragments fit together somewhat like a dust jacket for a standard book. In addition, there are discoloration marks that match across all three pieces, which helped to align them.

This looks familiar…

  • A sketch of College Hall with three front doors, and an octagonal cupola topped by a weather vane. Along the walkway, young trees stand amid the lawn.
  • A sketch of College Hall without front columns, showing trees and front walkway.

I recognized the image as one I’d seen before, and checked the usual suspects for published building pictures: Stanley King’s Consecrated Eminence (1951), Claude M. Fuess’s Amherst: The Story of A New England College (1935), and William S. Tyler’s two editions of A History of Amherst College (1873, 1895).

I found the image in Tyler’s second edition, A history of Amherst College during the administrations of its first five presidents : from 1821 to 1891.

Mystery numbers

Looking more closely at the copied image, I noticed something (else) odd. In the published image, the panels above the three doorways are blank. But in the purple printed copy, something was written on those panels!

Image of College Hall. Each door has a number above it (from left to right) 10, 32, and 3. Each door has a number above it, from left to right, 10, 32, and 3.
A printed drawing of College Hall, with unexplained numbers added to the panels above each door
The numbers 10, 32, and 3 are outlined in black for sighted readers.
The added numbers–10, 32, and 3–are outlined in black.

I read these as the numbers 10, 32, and 3. If you see something different, leave a comment! As to what they mean? Your guess is literally as good as mine. A team season record? A date with unusual formatting?

What else do we know?

  • This object probably dates between 1895 and 1905.
    • We know the earliest possible date because of its publication in Tyler’s history (1895).
    • We know the latest likely date because in 1905, College Hall was renovated and a new front portico with columns was added. Though it’s possible that the older image was reused after 1905, I don’t think it’s very likely. The added portico, as seen in the photograph below, dramatically changed the look of the building.
A portico with 6 columns graces the front of College Hall. The front of the building is shaded by several large trees in leaf.
College Hall with its new portico. Photograph by Edgar T. Scott, circa 1913.

Do you know what this mystery object is?

Or maybe what those numbers refer to?

Post a comment or send us a note if you know anything about this object or something like it. We’d love to know more.

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