Boxplorations: Stumbling upon Home in a WWI letter

We usually try to write our blog posts without using too many first-person pronouns, but today I must deviate from that rule of thumb or else I would have no sensible way to share what I’d like to share with you.

Recently, I have been reviewing some of our World War I collections here in Special Collections & Archives for consideration of possible digitization, coinciding with the centennial of World War I, which begins this year.

Earlier today, I happened to be reviewing documents in the Clair W. Welty Papers (MS-196, click to view PDF finding aid), one I was not previously familiar with. Most of the materials pertain to Welty’s service in WWI and his death on November 10, 1918, following an unfortunate military aircraft accident. It’s not a very large collection, only 0.25 linear feet, so I was browsing casually through each folder—not reading every document but looking for items of particular interest and reading ones that “jumped out” at me.

The document pictured below jumped out at me. I’m not sure why. There are many in this folder that consist of correspondence to Welty’s mother regarding his death. I couldn’t say why I decided to read this one, written by the chaplain of the A.E.F. Camp at Issoudun, France, where Welty was buried.

Letter from Rev. Merchant S. Bush to Mrs. A. J. Welty, 23 Nov. 1918 (from MS-196).

Letter from Rev. Merchant S. Bush to Mrs. A. J. Welty, 23 Nov. 1918 (from MS-196).

The chaplain, Merchant S. Bush, expressed his condolences, described the funeral and the cemetery where Welty was buried, reassured Mrs. Welty that her son had been well-loved and would be much missed by his fellows, and that Clair had attended the Presbyterian church during his service.

In the conclusion of his letter, he wrote the following:

I am pastor of the First Presbyterian Church Portsmouth, Ohio, and am doing my bit with the Y.M.C.A. Over Seas…

I had to read that bit again to make sure I hadn’t just imagined it. You see, Portsmouth, Ohio, happens to be my own hometown. Of all the places that a World War I chaplain volunteering in France might hail from…!

As I said in yesterday’s “Chain Lines” post, you really just never know what little gems, what unexpected connections, you might find in the Archives. 

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Boxplorations: Chain Lines in a WWI Collection

Along the same lines of what I did a couple of weeks ago with the W. J. Blanchard Collection, this morning I set out to do a “boxploration” of MS-318 for 3/18 (March 18).

When I went in search of MS-318 in our stacks, I found it to be the T. E. Bennett Aviation Collection (view PDF finding aid): one tiny box on the shelf, containing 0.25 linear feet of materials. It looked pretty unassuming—wouldn’t you say?

MS-318: T. E. Bennett Collection (box exterior)

MS-318: T. E. Bennett Collection (box exterior)

Bennett was a World War I pilot, and the collection contains (among other things) some typed instructions for pilots in 1917.  As I was exploring the box, one of these documents caught my eye. The document gives instructions for flying spirals in an airplane:

Instructions for Spirals, 1917 (MS-218, Box 1, Folder 10)

Instructions for Spirals, 1917 (MS-218, Box 1, Folder 10)

Although it was certainly from the WWI era—and even if I wasn’t sure, it could not have been earlier than 1903, because after all, it gives instructions for flying an airplane in a certain way! But it had the look and feel of a document I would have expected to be older. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I thought this (besides the generic explanation that it just “looked and felt” older to me) until I showed the document to our Preservation Archivist. She held it up to the light, and that’s when we noticed the chain lines in the paper.

Back-lit image of the Instructions for Spirals, showing chain lines (MS-318, Box 1, Folder 10)

Back-lit image of the Instructions for Spirals, showing chain lines (MS-318, Box 1, Folder 10)

The above image, taken by photographing the document on a light table (and converted to grayscale for better contrast) shows the chain lines, as well as the crossing wires, in the Instructions for Spirals document. These chain and wire marks show up on papers that were created using a sieve or screen. After paper-making was mechanized, the existence of these lines (and the accompanying texture of the paper) was able to be eliminated from the process. It was during the 19th century that the mechanized, non-textured paper became more commonplace than the ribbed, chain-line-exhibiting type (called laid paper).

That explains why this particular document struck me as something that I would have expected to be much older than it was. I am more accustomed to seeing this type of paper in early 19th century collections, such as the Patterson Papers. For instance, here is a back-lit image of a letter from Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, dated 1811, that shows chain lines:

Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, June 1811, showing chain lines (MS-236, Box 1, Folder 1)

Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, June 1811, showing chain lines (MS-236, Box 1, Folder 1)

I can’t explain why a document from 1917 was typed on a piece of laid paper. There are any number of perfectly logical explanations. Whatever the explanation—which we will probably never know—it was certainly an interesting find!

If you would like to learn more about paper-making, laid paper, and chain lines, you may be interested in the following:

If you have any thoughts theories about this “find” in the T. E. Bennett Collection, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

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Archives News – February 2014

Here is an update on our February activities here in Special Collections & Archives, in addition to our usual ongoing activities (reference, records management, collection development and manuscripts processing, digital initiatives, preservation, etc.):

February 8 – Dawne Dewey conducted a workshop on “History through Newspapers,” as part of the Friends of the Libraries’ workshop series.

Dawne sharing historical newspapers at the workshop on Feb. 8.

Dawne sharing historical newspapers at the workshop on Feb. 8.

February 20 & 21 – John Armstrong and Dawne Dewey gave presentations about the Archives to the Mad River Retirees’ Association and the Beavercreek Rotary, respectively.

February 26 – Gino Pasi installed a new exhibit about Phil Donahue on the first floor of the Dunbar Library. An accompanying blog post about Donahue can be found on our Dayton Daily News Archive blog, since most of the materials came from the DDN Archive. We were later thrilled on March 11 when the NHPRC — which funded our DDN Archive processing project — picked up the Donahue blog post and shared it on their Facebook page:

NHPRC shared our Donahue blog post on their Facebook page, Mar. 11, 2014

NHPRC shared our Donahue blog post on their Facebook page, Mar. 11, 2014

February 27 – Dawne and a group of Public History students attended the annual Ohio Statehood Day celebration at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. You can read about the students’ experiences in our March 10th blog post “Statehood Day Reflections.”

We also brought history into the classroom (or brought the classroom to us!) in February: Dawne brought her UH 4000: Dayton’s Aviation Heritage class to the Archives to conduct local history research in our aviation journals (learn more about what they found!). And Gino Pasi gave a presentation to Dr. Kathryn Meyer’s HST 4900: Research Seminar class about oral histories.

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