Where to Find the Freshest Memories

Jana Matthews, Ph.D and her RCC class look through Rollins Archive photos in search of early unidentified pictures for ghost story inspiration. Photo:Scott CookStudents examining records in the Archives (photo by Scott Cook)

Last week, The New York Times featured an article about the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and their efforts to preserve and share their memories with others (“Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Pass Their Stories to a New Generation”). I was surprised to read that some survivors have entrusted their memories of this event to “denshosha”:  younger people who are designated to speak on their behalf and tell their stories.

Hiromi Hasai, who was 14 years old at the time of the bombing, is one such survivor.  According to the Times, he would like denshosha to also relate the stories of witnesses who are no longer alive, but whose accounts of the bombing, collected soon after the war, are preserved in the archives of Hiroshima’s Peace Museum. “There are all kinds of records, but how many people actually seek them out?” Mr. Hasai says, adding, “The freshest memories are stuck in an archive.”

This statement strikes a particular chord with me.  As an Archival Specialist, one of the first lessons I learned from our Archivist is that our role is to preserve and provide access to the archival records, then let them speak for themselves. And I have found that they do:  a photo, a letter, or a news story from long ago–to an archivist, these are “primary sources”:  items from eyewitnesses or participants in history, offering a firsthand account of events. But such a technical term fails to convey the powerful impact these records can have on those who encounter them in the Archives.

A photo of a relative, seen for the first time; a letter in a family member’s handwriting; or a story published long ago in our student newspaper, The Sandspur, can be profoundly moving to our visitors. The term “archive” may sound a bit dull and lifeless, but actually, it’s a place alive with voices and memories, where an event or a person from the past often seems to spring vividly back to life for a moment.

ReminiscencesFiles_002The “Rollins Reminiscences” files (left)

Some of our earliest students and faculty have left behind written reminiscences or letters describing their days at Rollins. I have shared some of these memories in our blog posts over the years, such as those of William Webster Lloyd, who taught class on the very first day the College opened. He later recorded his reaction to his first sight of the new, unfinished campus:  “The non-existence of the college buildings shown on the prospectus of Winter Park was a chilling shock.”

I also sympathized with the story of Henry “Hank” Mowbray, class of 1897, who waged a tough campaign to have the College colors changed to blue and gold, in the hope of winning the heart of his classmate, Marie. More than 50 years later, he wrote, “It still brings tears to my eyes, and today I hope to your eyes, that after all this labor of mine, for her, the ungrateful Miss Marie transferred her affections from me to my rival, Ernest Missildine. How bitter life is!”

We are lucky to have some of these early voices preserved on reel-to-reel audiorecordings, and that we have a machine in working order to listen to them. It was exciting to play one of these last year and clearly hear the voice of Ida May Missildine (one of the two members of the first graduating class of 1890) reminiscing about her student days, when Rollins had just been founded. And I find it moving to hear the voice of Pres. Hamilton Holt delivering his last speech at Rollins, as he left the presidency after 24 years.

There are many more Rollins memories saved in this format that we have yet to hear.  (Today such interviews are saved in our Oral History Archive, which is much more accessible.)

ReeltoReelTapesSome of the reel-to-reel recordings in the Archives

The work of an archivist, is, of course, a human undertaking and therefore imperfect. Not everything makes it into the record; some stories will be lost. Sometimes sources contradict one another. But this human aspect of the Archives is also the source of its emotional power:  whether amusing, inspiring, or heartbreaking, each photograph, document, or recording has its own story to tell. Give them your attention, and they will speak to you.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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Arriving in the Literary World: Letters from Rex Beach

Beachc1894-95Cropped2Reduced             Rex Beach ’97 ’27H, circa 1894-1895.  Rex Beach Hall is named in his honor.

The Archives is happy to have recently received several letters written by our alumnus, Rex Beach, at the start of his writing career. After leaving Rollins in 1896, he studied law briefly in Chicago before joining the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. His experiences there led to his career as a prolific writer of adventure stories. As The New York Times described it, “He found gold in the Yukon, but practically all of it was literary” (The New York Times, 12/8/1949).

Our letters are all addressed to John D. “Jack” Leedy, a miner Mr. Beach had known in Alaska. By the time they were written, Beach had experienced his first taste of success, and both its highs and lows are reflected in these letters to the man he called “the only real pardner I ever had or ever expect to have” (Letter to John D. Leedy, September 6, 1907).

LeedyJohnfromGoogleBooksResized2        John D. Leedy (Photo: Harrison, E. S.  Nome and Seward Peninsula.  Seattle, WA: Рипол Классик, n.d.  Via Google Books)

In the first letter, written from Chicago in January 1906 (but dated 1905), Beach catches his friend up on recent events in his life, saying, “Let me see, Well, I guess I have ‘arrived’ in the literary world, from what the papers and magazines say about me.” Not only had “scurrilous stories” appeared, but “critics have begun to rail at my style and call me a cheap skate, newspapers have printed dreams regarding the size of my bank roll, and all of my friends have begun to borrow money, by which unfailing signs I am growing to see that I have done something, or what is just as good, made them think I have done something.”

RexBeachResized                  Rex Beach in an undated photo (from the Rollins College Archives)

He often wrote of financial matters to his friend, and in this letter he reports that as a result of “taking a bundle of mss. under my arm and floating to New York to sting the publishers,” he had come out “about Ten Thou to the good” (equivalent to over $261,000 in today’s currency).  This he called “the best cleanup any dark horse ever made in Gotham.”

A further mark of his success came in an invitation to “the great dinner given to Mark Twain” to celebrate his 70th birthday, “the biggest affair of the kind ever pulled off and all the literary guys were right there at the ring side with their chins on the canvas.”  The dinner, held at New York’s famous restaurant, Delmonico’s, was the subject of a special souvenir edition of Harper’s Weekly.  Mr. Beach was one of the speakers that evening, and though he was “a bit leary [sic]” and “felt that I was fighting out of my class,” “I stuck till the bell and got the decision. . . They say I was the only one to make old Mark laugh, and gave me second place. He took first money with the greatest speech I ever heard. . .”

MarkTwains70thBirthday1905ResizedRex Beach, third from the right, at Mark Twain’s 70th birthday dinner, December 5, 1905 (Photo: “Mark Twain’s Seventieth Birthday.”  Harper’s Weekly 23 Dec. 1905: 1907. Via Google Books )

His first Broadway production came soon afterwards.  In a letter written from New York’s Hotel Algonquin in March 1907, he asks, “Do you remember riding up Broadway with me one night in a car, when I said to Nellie [Mrs. Leedy], ‘Gee!  I’d like to have a play on B’way, and see my electric sign gleaming’?  Well!  It came sooner than I dreamed.” The play was The Spoilers, adapted from his best-selling novel. Beach reported that “the papers were about half for and half against the piece,” and a search of The New York Times historical database reveals that the paper was not very complimentary. A review printed on March 12, 1907, describes the play as a gun-filled drama that proved to be full of “slow fingers at the trigger. . . Persons who stick their fingers in their ears as soon as they see a shooting iron on the stage need have no hesitancy about going to the New York [Theatre] to see ‘The Spoilers.’ As soon as a gun appears in one man’s hands another man takes it away from him.”  Though Beach noted the mixed reviews, he wrote Leedy that he believed the production would “make a lot of money yet, and meanwhile I’m getting at other things.”

TheTheatreApril1907CroppedA scene from The Spoilers (Photo: “The Current Plays.” The Theater Magazine  Apr. 1907: 93.  Via Google Books )

The “other things” included writing a new play for producer Charles Frohman and another novel due by September.  “My plans are many and fearful for the summer,” he wrote. In addition to his literary projects, there were “a few mining interests in Nevada” and “that lawsuit” involving his holdings in Alaska.  A profile of Beach in The New York Times that same month describes him as someone “who makes you feel that he will do great things,” (3/9/1907) and the letters definitely give the impression that he was determined not to overlook any opportunities.

In November 1908, he wrote that he would soon be moving into a new house, “the most beautiful, inside, that I have ever seen, for the first two stories have parquet floors, the wood work is immense and the walls are in tapestry and brocaded satin. There is a silver electric light fixture in the dining room which cost $1400 and other things to match.” The house cost Beach $50,000 (the equivalent of more than $1.3 million today).  Recalling his childhood in Florida,”when I used to wade through the sand burrs to our squatter’s shack on the ‘Garrison’ at Tampa, in time to feed the chickens and ‘slop’ the hogs,” he wrote of an old dream of heading North, where he planned to “live in big cities and spend money–lots of money, maybe two thousand dollars worth, and have a house made of stone.” He continued, “I used to dream and dream until the fleas recalled me to the fact that I was bare-footed and a long ways away from the ‘North.'”

“Well, dreams sometimes come true.  What I want to make it perfect, is to have you and the Mrs. visit me in my own place where I can take you around in the automobile and where there are good things to drink and big long cigars to smoke and big sleepy chairs to sit and tell stories in” (Letter to John D. Leedy, Nov. 24, 1908).

We don’t know whether the two friends ever had a chance to do this, though this passage does bring to mind another one of Beach’s commercial ventures:

BeachRexCigarBoxLabelResized                            Rex Beach cigar box label (from the Rollins College Archives)

Mr. Beach’s letters to John Leedy are held in the Rex Beach Collection in the College Archives.  The collection is available to researchers upon request.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist




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Words from Rollins Veterans, 1945

RollofHonorwithHolt    Pres. Hamilton Holt (center) at the Rollins College Roll of Honor, erected in 1943, listing the names of all Rollins men and women serving in the Armed Forces                                           (please click on the images to enlarge them).

In October 1945, The Sandspur announced a writing contest: “Ever since veterans first began to come back to Rollins last year we have wondered time and time again, just how college life seemed after months or years of day-to-day living, living under combat conditions, where the most vital concern of each individual was to obey orders and somehow stay alive. Those of us who have not experienced this, no matter how much we read or hear on the subject, will never be able to fully grasp what this means, what it does to a man’s thinking, how it affects his views and his philosophy of life. Neither can we see college life and class room discussions from the same perspective. For this reason, we of the Sandspur believe that it would be of interest to everyone at Rollins to know how a veteran sees Rollins. . .”  Two or three of the best entries would be published in The Sandspur, and the one judged best would win a prize of five dollars.

Veterans were very much a part of campus life at this time.  One hundred twenty-two of the 534 students enrolled in 1945-1946 were ex-servicemen, making them almost 25 percent of the student population.

AlumniRecordMarch1946Cropped               Some of the 122 ex-servicemen studying at Rollins in 1945-1946,                                       as they appeared on the cover of the March 1946 issue of The Rollins Alumni Record.

The three selected entries, presented here as they originally appeared in The Sandspur, discuss many aspects of veterans’ College experiences.  The first addresses some of the differences between ex-servicemen and other students.

VeteransEssay1945-11-07                                                                   November 7, 1945

The second essay is a very personal story of a veteran’s experience of war and its aftermath.

VeteransEssay1945-11-14_01                                                       VeteransEssay1945-11-14_002                                                                 November 14, 1945

The third editorial offers a perspective on what veterans need from others as they resume their postwar lives and pursue their goals.

VeteransEssay1945-11-21                                                          November 21, 1945

The Rollins Roll of Honor is no longer on our campus, but we do have a Veterans Memorial (pictured below).  It was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, in honor of all those at Rollins who have served.


~ by D. M. Moore, Archival Specialist






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Enough Hair to Carpet Versailles?

Napoleons HairArtifact labeled “One Lock of Hair From The Emperor Napoleon” in the Rollins Archives

For many years, the Archives has preserved a relic labeled “One Lock of Hair From The Emperor Napoleon,” accompanied by a testimonial vouching for its authenticity. This document, written by Capt. Frederick Lahrbush in 1861, is also signed by Rev. John Cotton Smith, rector of the Church of the Ascension in New York, who vouched for “the venerable Capt. Lahrbush,” someone “I believe to be worthy of entire confidence.” But was he?

Who was Capt. Lahrbush, and what was his connection to Napoleon? According to his testimonial, he had been a member of the H.B.M. 60th Rifles Regiment and served for three months in St. Helena, “together with other corps as a guard over the Exiled Emperor and his faithful followers.” During that time, he “became acquainted with a Mr. Geo. Balcombe,” a government employee who “had in charge the supplying of provisions, etc. to the French Exiles.” Several years later, the two men met again in Sydney, Australia, where their “former acquaintance soon ripened into an intimacy.” As Lahrbush tells the story, Mr. Balcombe became ill, and on his deathbed, “lifted himself up a little and after searching for a little while under his pillow, he brought out from there a parcel and handed it to [the] Deponent saying; here my Friend, I leave them to you a few hair [sic] from the Emperor Napoleon given to my daughter by Monsieur Marchant [sic] first valet des Chambres to the Emperor at St. Helena who himself did cut them from of [sic] said Emperors [sic] Head, Keep them in remembrance of me.” This is the story Lahrbush wrote down for Rev. Smith, his “Real Friend and Pastor.”

LahrbushLetterExcerpt200dpiReduced2                                         An excerpt from Mr. Lahrbush’s letter

Can this account be verified?  It turns out that our relics are not unique:  in 1980, Kathleen Roussac purchased a lock of hair and a testimonial letter–also written by Frederick Lahrbush–at an auction in Vermont. In 2002 she co-authored an article with Dr. David Andrew Roberts for The Gazette, the journal of the Napoleonic Alliance. The article notes that “there are very few authentic samples of Napoleon’s hair in existence,” “many more samples in circulation whose authenticity is suspect,” and “many that are clearly fake.” The authors also cite Napoleon’s former aide, Comte Flahaut, who, noting the proliferation of these mementos, “once famously remarked” that “he’d seen enough hair since Napoleon’s death to carpet the floors of Versailles.”


Left:  Charles de Flahaut, perhaps best known “for his exploits in gallantry” and his “elegant manners,” according to the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Image:  Wikimedia Commons)


The complete Gazette article, “Authenticating a Lock of Napoleon’s Hair:  The Bizarre and Dubious Career of Frederick Lahrbush,” is available online at http://bit.ly/1uDkT1J . As the subtitle suggests, Capt. Lahrbush’s true claim to fame may have been as “one of the greatest story tellers” in nineteenth-century New York. Military records show that his regiment was never stationed on St. Helena, and furthermore, that he was “court-martialled on two charges of fraud” in 1818. He did actually go to Australia, but made the trip on board a convict transport. While serving his sentence there, “he succumbed inevitably to what was either an habitual proclivity to dishonesty or an unfortunate susceptibility to misfortune when he was convicted in the local petty sessions in 1834 for stealing government property” (though the authors point out that, in this case, someone else may have been the actual culprit).

He came to New York circa 1848, where he lived until his death in 1877, “making his mark as an unusually old and eccentric war hero,” who claimed to have been born in 1766. Some had their doubts, however:  a few years before Lahrbush’s death, a librarian in the House of Lords, suspicious of the Captain’s alleged age and “the even more extraordinary aspects of his life,” looked into his background. He later announced “that he had exposed the most barefaced case of pretended centenarianism which has ever come under my notice.” Luckily for Lahrbush, his fraud convictions had not been discovered; unluckily, the revelation that he was not even an Englishman meant that an offer from the Prince of Wales “to have Lahrbush returned to England with a pension” was most likely revoked.


Left: Librarian  and author William J. Thoms. “His iconoclastic treatise on ‘Human Longevity, its Facts and its Fictions’ . . . raised a storm of dismayed protest by its forcible contention that the authentic cases in which human life had been prolonged to a hundred years and upwards were extremely rare.” (From The Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900. Image from Wikimedia Commons)


Despite the evidence, Mr. Thoms found himself “rebuked by anonymous correspondents assuring him that in New York Captain Lahrbush’s wonderful adventures, and yet more wonderful longevity, are universally accepted for truth by the very best people,” according to Roussac and Roberts. Contemporary accounts in The New York Times and other publications reveal that Lahrbush’s amazing stories still found an audience. In 1877, for example, a Brooklyn doctor wrote to a medical journal, recapping Lahrbush’s career (elevating him to “Governor of a convict station in Australia” when he was actually an inmate) and claiming that Lahrbush’s age was “well authenticated.” The doctor’s “professional interest” stemmed from the story that “Capt. L. has been an opium habituate for seventy years!  A statement so extraordinary may seem incredible, but it is well attested.” (His letter may be read at http://bit.ly/1s4WE9Z .)

Napoleon’s hair remains newsworthy, making headlines even today. In 2008, The New York Times reported that a team of scientists analyzed several samples and concluded that the high levels of arsenic they contained were not unusual for his time. This would seem to rule out arsenic poisoning as the cause of the Emperor’s death, though the circumstances are still in dispute (http://nyti.ms/1wkVHOG ).

As for Lahrbush, Roussac and Roberts write that “we are left with the unavoidable conclusion that the sample of Napoleon’s hair bequeathed by Frederick Lahrbush is a fake. That he was an exceptional character who saw and lived more than most is beyond dispute.”

A photo of Frederick Lahrbush may be seen at http://bit.ly/1m6kfKB .

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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A Gift to the Archives: A Special Note from “Pansy”

DOC060414-06042014131447_Page_1                                        “Pansy’s” envelope advertising Rollins, 1888

We are happy to share this latest addition to the Archives:  an envelope featuring a Rollins advertisement, along with a note card from children’s author Isabella “Pansy” Alden, and a badge given to members of the Pansy Society. These items, donated by Gary R. Planck, J.D., and his wife, Prof. Carolyn R. Planck, provide a glimpse of both Rollins and its ties to the Alden family, who were part of the College’s earliest history. Mr. Planck has kindly provided the following look at this history (below, with photos from the Archives).


DOC060414-06042014131447_Page_2This is an original advertising envelope with a crossed out printed return address of “Rollins College,/Winter Park, Florida.”; a postmark reading “Jamestown, N.Y./Oct 22 2 PM/88”; and a cancelled two cent United States postage stamp with on the reverse of the envelope an advertisement for the recently founded Rollins College in 1885.  The envelope and enclosed note, the latter dated October 20, 1888, is handwritten by Mrs. Gustav Rosenberg (Isabella MacDonald) “Pansy” Alden (1841-1930) of 416 West 3rd Street, Jamestown, New York, to Lottie L. Snow (1877-1941) of West Chelmsford, Massachusetts, apparently received on October 28, 1888, according to a postmark on the reverse of the envelope stamped over a small portion of the Rollins College advertisement.

AldenIsabella                Author Isabella MacDonald Alden, known as “Pansy” to her readers

Mrs. Alden wrote children’s literature-authoring some two hundred books, as well as doing article writing, magazine editing, and Chautauqua speaking.  It appears Miss Snow became an educator, living at 215 School Street (1940 Census) and serving as superintendent of a Chelmsford Methodist Church School as late as 1940. (Lowell Sun, 06/21). Mrs. Alden’s note to Miss Snow reads: “Dear Lottie: I warmly welcome/you to the P.S. that you may be one/of the brightest and best among the/5000 members and all for/Jesus’ sake, dear one. Keep/Jesus in mind daily, hourly./Will you, will you, dear, dear/Lottie, come what may? Aff/-Pansy-.” “P.S.” stands for “Pansy Society” with its whisper motto “For Jesus Sake” associated with Mrs. Alden’s magazine, The Pansy (1874-1896).

Notecard                                                             Pansy’s card to Lottie

Ribbon Badge                                          The Pansy Society’s satin membership badge

So how did this note happen to come to Miss Snow in a Rollins College envelope?  About 1887-1888 Rev. and Mrs. Alden built a house at the northeast corner of Lyman and Interlachen Avenues in Winter Park, wishing to live there at least part of the year for son Raymond MacDonald Alden’s health.  Rev. Alden (1832-1924) served as a Rollins trustee under its first president and son Raymond (1873-1924) attended Rollins Preparatory School from 1886 to 1890 and then Rollins College for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in 1894; therefore, the potential sources for the envelope. Because of the advertisement, the item has two significant aspects—its relationship to a very famous writer of the era and to the very early years of Rollins College.

pansycottage2                                           Pansy Cottage, the Aldens’ Winter Park home

As for the latter, one learns tuition was $33.00 Preparatory and $50.00 Collegiate, and room and board were $165.00 with “Cottages for Ladies and Gentlemen new and neatly furnished.”  Music tuition was $33.00, and instrument was $9.00, but calisthenics were free! Rollins College was said to be a Christian institution with fourteen instructors at that time.   Five references are provided—two from Florida, two from New York, and one from Massachusetts–and Dr. Henry B. Foster, M.D., proclaimed, “No place in Florida is more healthful or beautiful.”  Those interested in possibly attending the new school in the South could write Reverend Edward P. Hooker, D.D., (1834-1904), Rollins College’s first president serving until 1892.

SKMBT_22312100915130_0003 Some testimonials from the College’s first catalogue, 1885 (click on the image to enlarge)

This Rollins College Advertisement with enclosures (note card and membership badge) purchased from Michael J. McMorrow in North Clarendon, Vermont, was acquired in May, 2014, by Gary R. and Carolyn R. Planck of Winter Park, Florida. For more information about Mrs. Alden and family visit www.isabellamacdonaldalden.com.


As Mr. Planck has noted, Pansy Alden was a very popular author.  A number of her books and several issues of Pansy magazine are available in the Department of Archives and Special Collections at the Olin Library.

SpecialCollectionsBooks                         A small selection of the “Pansy” titles in our Special Collections

We’re very happy and grateful to received these rare items for the Archives.  Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Planck!

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist











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