Two distinguished alumni are returning to Middlebury as the faces of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, celebrating its opening weekend to coincide with Alumni of Color and Martin Luther King Weekend, January 15-17, 2016.
Mary Annette Anderson and Martin Freeman represent the struggles and triumphs of the beginning of diversity at Middlebury College, and Special Collections & Archives is pleased to see their impact on College history continue in the form of the new Resource Center.
The opening weekend festivities begin with a keynote address by UCLA and Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw at 7pm in Mead Chapel. On Saturday professors, alumni, staff, and students will speak about the “History of Diversity and Student Activism at Middlebury College” at 12:30pm in Wilson Hall, followed by an official opening ceremony at Carr Hall and a talk by Professor of History William Hart on these two iconic alumni at 2:30pm.
This recently rediscovered clip from the 1930s in the College’s 16mm film archives shows the once-bustling Middlebury train station with students eagerly boarding a southbound train home for the holiday break. The footage also captures views of notable town architecture including the conical spire that once capped the Battell Block before it’s removal after a 1950 hurricane and the residence of George Harvey years before it became the Fire and Ice restaurant in 1974.
As fall semester comes to a close, be sure to affix a Middlebury pennant onto your luggage, don your fur coat, and board the southbound train home for holidays!
Langrock, Joann. Middebury Stores and Busineses. Middlebury: Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, 2002.
In special collections, visitors often ask us, “What’s your most expensive item?” Or sometimes, “What’s the oldest thing you have?”
In late November, we acquired our newest, oldest thing: a baked clay tablet that originated in ancient Mesopotamia (current-day Iraq), from roughly 2,000 BCE. This small tablet (measuring just about 1 inch x 1 inch and pictured here) is incised with cuneiform script, considered to be one of the earliest forms of writing.
With the help of Middlebury alum Seth Richardson, Class of 1990, a historian of the ancient Near East at the University of Chicago, we’re learning more about our new acquisition. Likely in British and American hands since the early 20th century, our tablet is essentially a beer coupon. That’s right. Based only on preliminary examination, Dr. Richardson translated the first line: “3 liters of first-rate beer.”
And as it turns out, the Western tradition of beer brewing began in Mesopotamia between 3500 – 3100 BCE. How do we know? Largely from cuneiform tablets like ours, which contain detailed records around beer production, the delivery of raw materials (barley, yeast, bread, flour), and the trading of beer products. Like apple cider production in colonial New England, ancient Mesopotamians lacked clean water, but had an abundance of grains and the know-how needed to ferment them. And they had the earliest known written alphabet to boot.
Funds for the purchase of this item were gifted by Jeri Bapasola, French School, 1978.
When the capital of the Assyrian Empire was moved in the 9th century B.C.E. to what is now Nimrud, Iraq, a new palace for King Ashurnasirpal II was built and adorned with ornate alabaster reliefs. One such carving, which depicts a winged deity pollinating a date palm tree, became Middlebury’s first art acquisition when it was bequeathed to the college by alumnus Rev. Wilson A. Farnsworth in 1854.
Rev. Farnsworth had been serving as a missionary in eastern Turkey when the archaeological exhumation of the old palace was taking place and managed to secure one of several unearthed slabs. Now known as the “Winged Genie,” the carving contains a cuneiform inscription extolling the wonders of the king. Upon purchase, Rev. Farnsworth had it cut into sections that could be more easily transported on camelback to the coast. After a long sea voyage, the relief found its way onto a wall in the Library of the Department of Pedagogy in Old Chapel.
By 1936, a college newsletter lamented the lack of attention given to the artwork by students and alumni, adding that “occasionally some archaeologist who [had] never heard of Middlebury’s football team, its summer schools, its mountain campus or its academic rating [would arrive] to do obeisance” to the carving. Perhaps in a move to raise the relief’s profile, it was hung in the entryway of the newly-constructed Munroe Hall in 1941. As the following clip from the College’s 16mm film archive demonstrates, people were more than happy to become familiar with the carving.
After gaining recognition from the college community and a fair amount of wear and tear, a campaign was launched in 1988 to raise funds for the cleaning and conservation of the slab. Complete with a new steel frame, the Winged Genie is now on permanent display in the Middlebury College Museum of Art where students and archaeologists alike can offer their obeisance.
Be sure to attend the November 5th lecture, Ancient Near Eastern Art—in New England and in the News, to learn more about the legacy of Near Eastern Art in American museums from Prof. Susan Ackerman of the American Schools of Oriental Research and Prof. Shalom Goldman of the Middlebury Department of Religion.
To mark Founder’s Day, the original Middlebury College Charter signed by the Governor of Vermont on November 1st, 1800 will be on view in Special Collections, 101 Davis Family Library, on Nov. 2nd. from 1p-5p.
Can’t make out the cursive? Read the transcript here.
The charter represents both the incipit of our College's narrative as well as the laborious road to the college charter itself. After two failed petitions to the Vermont General Assembly in 1789 and 1799, Middlebury faced opposition from the institution that received the first university charter, the University of Vermont. Though UVM had been chartered in 1791, it's doors had yet to open. Fearful of losing their state funding, UVM tried to block Middlebury's establishment.
However, due to the state's population increase (Vermont's population grew from 84,000 to 154,000 between 1791 and 1800) and UVM's slow start, there was a clear need for another institution to educate Vermonters at home. Middlebury, with its newly constructed Academy Building (a $4,150 project funded by public subscriptions) founded by Gamaliel Painter, proved the perfect place to serve the College and Vermonters at large. Thus, the town's college was founded with the signing of the charter, just 39 years after the town of Middlebury itself was chartered.
Source: Stameshkin, David M. 1985. The Town's College: Middlebury College, 1800-1915. Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College Press.
Today’s dose of Special Collections spookiness comes from our series, From the College Archives, curated by Josh Kruskal, ’15. Josh drew on 200 years of Kaleidoscope yearbooks in search of quotidian and familiar moments, captured across time.
What better way to wish a friend or loved one a “Happy Halloween” than with a postcard depicting a wacky, spooky, romantic Halloween tradition? Today these postcards, now archived as part of a collection of historical postcards in Special Collections, offer a glimpse of Halloween pastimes with Scottish, English, and Irish influences that became party games for early twentieth century Americans.
While we recognize bobbing for apples and roasting chestnuts as typical autumnal activities, these postcards illustrate the soothsaying power Halloween inspires in every household item – from magic mirrors to apple augurs. Who knew that uprooting kale blindfolded in the dead of night could reveal specific details about future loves? Or that an apple peel denotes the initials of your future spouse? Only on Halloween, October’s very own Valentine’s Day.
Nuts, Kale, & Cabbage
Anthropomorphized nuts, paired off with the titles “Uncertainty,” “Hope,” “Despair,” and “Happy Ever After,” represent the practice of interpreting the behavior of chestnuts in a fire. Those participating would assign two chestnuts to a couple and observe whether the chestnuts burned together, jumped apart in the flame, crackled loudly, or came together.
A couple was said to live a long happy life together if their corresponding chestnuts burned brightly and quietly next to each other, or their relationship would end in disaster if they crackled contentiously and popped in different directions.
In a similar gastronomical theme, partygoers would collect cabbage or kale from the garden blindfolded and ascribe various meanings to the experience. Perhaps in continuation of ancient harvest celebrations, this ritual took on romantic implications in the American Hallowe’en context.
If the selected cabbage or kale was difficult to unearth, it denoted difficulty in a relationship. Kale with clumps of dirt stuck to the roots signified a rich husband, and the size, shape, and taste of the kale foretold the physical attributes and personality of a future spouse.
Open Flames & Apple Peels
Another postcard depicts a daring party game in which a stick was suspended horizontally from the ceiling with an apple impaled on one end and a lit candle affixed to the other. The stick was sent spinning while guests attempted to bite the apple – without getting burned by the candle. The skill with which one could capture a bite indicated their fortune in love, and if a player got burned in the game, he or she was certain to be “burned” by a lover. (Special Collections & Archives does not endorse any of the activities described in this post. Please don’t try this at home.)
Apples weren’t just for group play. An apple peel when thrown over the shoulder could disclose a future spouse’s initials, and an unintelligible result denoted spinsterhood (though the reader could interpret her apple peel liberally).
Blindfolds & Finger Bowls
Another fun party game used bowls of different substances, illustrated in these postcards. Blindfolded players would select a bowl, and its contents would reveal their fate. Clear water signified marriage to a young and fair mate, vinegar denoted widowhood, and an empty bowl meant solitude.
Mirrors also took on special powers on All Hallow’s Eve, as depicted on the following postcards.
In fact, your true love’s face was said to appear in a mirror if you performed various activities on Halloween night. Such as, brushing your hair…
…abandoning your party guests to steal to your room with a Jack-o-lantern…
…or, walking down the cellar stairs backwards with a candle in one hand, a mirror in the other, and a mouthful of salt. If you didn’t trip and break your neck, you would live happily ever after with your love until a peaceful, sodium-induced demise.
All in the name of love and the spirit of Halloween!
Arkins, Diane C. Halloween: Romanic Art and Customs of Yesteryear. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.