A Cautionary Tale…for Cold Weather

One of the nation’s great archival collections of New England folksong and folklore, the Flanders Ballad Collection was the lifework of Helen Hartness Flanders (1890-1972), of Springfield, Vermont.

Over the course of thirty years, Helen Flanders gathered and preserved more than 4,800 field recordings of New England folksongs and ballads as sung by native Vermonters and other New Englanders. 

As the weather turns nippy and the days shorter, here is a bit of historical audio. Recorded on July 21, 1946, here is Asa Davis from Milton, Vermont, singing the folk ballad he called, “Young Charlotte.”

Here’s a little more about “Young Charlotte,” starting with the various titles it was known by:

Fair Charlotte
The Frozen Girl
A Corpse Going to a Ball

Based on a poem (and possibly a true story) by the Maine-based writer Sheba Smith (1792 – 1868), “Young Charlotte” is a cautionary tale about a young girl who refused to cover up her party dress en route to a winter ball. When her horse-drawn carriage arrives, Charlotte’s fiancé discovers that she has frozen to death along the way. Here is one version of the lyrics, thanks to the Maine folk music site https://mainlynorfolk.info:

Young Charlotte lived by the mountain side, in a wild and a lonely spot;
Not a dwelling house for five miles around, except her father’s cot.
Yet on many a winter’s eve, young swains would gather there
For her father kept a social board and she was very fair.

Her father loved to see her dressed, fine as a city belle,
For she was the only child he had and he loved his daughter well.
‘Twas New Year’s Eve, the sun went down, wild looked her anxious eyes
Along the frosty window pane to see the sleighs pass by.

At the village inn, fifteen miles round, there’s a merry ball tonight.
The air is freezing cold above, but the hearts are warm and light.
And while she looked with longing eyes, then a well-known voice she hears,
And dashing up to the cottage door, young Charlie’s sleigh appears.

Her mother says, “My daughter dear, this blanket round you fold.
For it’s a dreadful night abroad, you’ll take your death out cold.”
“Oh no! Oh no!” young Charlotte said and she laughed like a gypsy queen,
“For to ride in blankets muffled up, I never could be seen.

“My silken coat is quite enough, ’tis lined you know, throughout,
And then I have a silken scarf, to tie my face about.”
Her gloves and bonnet being on, she jumped into the sleigh
And away they ride over the mountainside and o’er the hills away.

There’s merry music in the bells, As o’er the hills they go;
For the creaking rake the runners make, As they bite the frozen snow.
Then o’er the hills and faster o’er, and by the cold starlight
When Charles in these frozen words at last the silence broke.

“Such a night as this I never knew, My reins I scarce can hold.”
Young Charlotte said With a trembling voice, “I am exceeding cold!”
He cracked his whip which urged his steed much faster than before,
And then the other five miles ’round in silence were rode o’er.

“How fast,” says Charles, “the freezing ice is gathering on my brow.”
Young Charlotte said with a trembling voice, “I am growing warmer now.”
Then o’er the hills and faster o’er, and by the cold starlight
Until they reached the village inn, And the ballroom was in sight.

They reached the inn and Charles sprang out and giving his hand to her,
“Why sit you like a monument what have no power to stir?”
He called her once, he called her twice, but yet she never stirred.
He called her name again and again, but she answered not a word.

He took her hand in his, O God, ‘t was cold and hard as stone;
He tore the mantle from her brow and the cold stars on her shone.
Then quickly to the lighted hall her lifeless form he bore,
For Charlotte was a frozen corpse and a work spake never more.

He threw himself down by her side and the bitter tears did flow.
He said, “My young intended bride I nevermore shall know.”
He flung his arms around her neck and kissed her marble brow,
His thoughts went back to the place she said, “I’m growing warmer now.”

He bore her out into the sleigh and with her he rode home,
And when they reached the cottage door, oh, how her parents mourned!
They mourned for the loss of their daughter dear and Charles mourned o’er the gloom,
When Charles’ heart with grief did break—they slumber in one tomb.

Poetry exhibitions, in the Library

Two new Special Collections exhibits feature poetry collections, both on and off the page.

In the Library Atrium on the main level, view Object Poems by Vermont-based poet and translator, Jody Gladding. Gladding’s poems “operate in physical space,” on feathers, tongue depressors, milkweed pods, wooden logs, and eggshells, among other forms.

On the Lower level and in Special Collections (room 101), view On And Off The Page, an exhibit of fine press poetry broadsides and manuscripts by poets such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams and others.

“3 Sent to Susan Walp…” by Jody Gladding

On view through Monday, July 15, 2019.

Questions? Contact specialcollections@middlebury.edu

“So very hideous an idea” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200

Published anonymously 200 years ago in 1818, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, has since proliferated, breeding monsters and nightmares on stage, screen, in comic books, and as Halloween costumes. Frankenstein (not a monster at all, but the name of his creator, the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein) is now common parlance, describing ambitious scientific schemes run amok.

In the two centuries since it first appeared, Frankenstein has been interpreted through many lenses: Freudian psychoanalysis; Marxism; gender, feminism, and queer studies; anti-slavery; and ecological disaster. But for Mary Shelley, its remarkable teenage author, Frankenstein was a morality tale filled with social and political commentary, isolation, and tragedy. 

After the success of her novel, Mary Shelley answered a frequently asked question, “How I, then a young girl, came to think of…so very hideous an idea?”

“General views on the application of galvanism to medical purposes” by Giovanni Aldini, 1819. Image courtesy of The New York Academy of Medicine Library

On view through February 3 with the companion exhibit:

Vital Experiments: Science in 1818

a portrayal of science and experimentation at Middlebury College during the time of Frankenstein. Located on
 the Library Lower Level and in Special Collections.

Questions? Contact specialcollections@middlebury.edu

Vermont Life magazine, Digital Archive

Vermont Life magazine is available online.

Visit http://go.middlebury.edu/vermontlife to browse and search the digital archive of Vermont’s iconic 72-year-old magazine.

Vermont Life was a quarterly magazine, published by the State of Vermont, covering Vermont’s “people, places and culture.” The state-owned magazine was founded in 1946 and ceased publication in the summer of 2018.

Summer 1947


Summer 2012

The digitization of Vermont Life was undertaken to support the Middlebury College fall 2018 class: “Vermont Life’s Vermont,” taught by Professors Kathy Morse and Michael Newbury.

Vermont Life was digitized from originals held by Middlebury College Special Collections, the State of Vermont, and the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library with funding support from the following: the Davis Family Foundation, Middlebury College Friends of the Library, Middlebury College Departments of American Studies, Environmental History, and History, Middlebury College Digital Liberal Arts Initiative, the Center for Research on VermontSaint Michael’s College Library, the Vermont Historical Society, and the University of Vermont Special Collections.

Three female skiers from the Winter 1948 issue


Bhutanese festival-goers in Burlington’s Old North End, Autumn 2012 issue of Vermont Life



Hostage negotiations and homeland security, or, rare books, Italian style

Special Collections visitors often ask how the rare books in our collection make their way onto our shelves, and indeed, the question of provenance is one of great importance in the world of antiquarian items. For the materials in Special Collections & Archives, the trajectories of their journeys range from rare books and maps donated by Middlebury alumni acquired during their travels, to books purchased for specific classes at Middlebury to enhance students’ learning experiences.

One recently acquired item, an Italian Renaissance copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, had a particularly turbulent voyage from Italy to Vermont – but not in the way you might think. Our journey does not begin in 1521, the year of the book’s printing, but on Tuesday, September 13th, 2016, when Senior Acquisitions Associate Michele McHugh placed the order through AbeBooks.com to purchase the volume from an Italian bookseller based in Riva del Garda. A relatively standard request, we expected the book to arrive a few weeks later, but Mario, the owner of the bookshop, suspected we might have a bit longer to wait. In true Italian fashion, he anticipated bureaucratic delays and gave an estimate of 40-60 days before the book would reach us. He submitted the necessary government forms in late September, but in late October Mario reached out to let us know that even more documentation was required. By early November Mario reported that his paperwork had been accepted and the book would arrive soon.

This was only the beginning of the battle to obtain the book. On November 17th, Michele received a phone call from Karen at FedEx. She relayed that they were holding the package until its contents, origin, and sender could be identified and until we could provide an Importer ID number along with a form from the Office of Homeland Security. Michele responded that Middlebury College has been purchasing high priced books for many years without an Importer ID number but would forward the form to Accounts Payable in the hopes that they might know how to proceed.

Tuesday November 22nd, Karen at FedEx requested more information – this time, Mario’s Italian tax number. Without this, she said, the package would be returned to him, and he would be forced to find another shipping service. She revised her previous request, saying Middlebury would not need an Importer ID number, only Mario’s information. As asked, Michele forwarded Mario’s paperwork, but Karen’s only response was that another FedEx employee, Alexander, was now handling the case.

And so, Michele forwarded everything to Alexander, who replied on Monday November 28th saying she had been misinformed – FedEx would not require Mario’s tax information. Instead, Middlebury College would have to be added to their official list of American Importers in order to receive the parcel. (He also asked Michele what exactly was in the box, a small detail that had been lost in the administrative shuffle.) Middlebury’s Accounts Payable office quickly filled out the Homeland Security form, which Michele forwarded to Alexander at FedEx, and Thursday December 1st – 79 days after the order was placed – the book finally arrived.

Curious to see the book that caused such a stir? Come to Special Collections to see for yourself. Ask for RRBMS Oversize PA6519 .M2 1521.

Originally posted by Mikaela Taylor, Class ’15.

Beast, Animal, Brute

Inspired by the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot’s massive, thirty-five volume Encyclopédie, the current exhibition in Special Collections & Archives reveals our enduring curiosity of animals through a selection of rare and unusual books dating from the 17th through the 20th centuries.

The Lamia, a mythical demon from ancient Greece who devoured children, from Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, 1607


Other works on display include Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, published in 1607 in London (and possibly one of  William Shakespeare’s literary sourcebooks) and a polar bear as described by Captain James Cook, the British explorer, in the 18th century, upon arrival in the Russian Arctic Circle.

Zoology of New York, or the New-York fauna : comprising detailed descriptions of all the animals hitherto observed within the state of New York, with brief notices of those occasionally found near its borders, and accompanied by appropriate illustrations, by James De Kay, 1842-44

Also on exhibit in the Davis Family Library: Banned and Banished: Ovid and 2,000 Years of Exile curated by Mikaela Taylor.

What’s up with “My Books Smell Good”

Last summer, Special Collections & Archives rolled out new swag: black tote bags (er, book bags) and stickers emblazoned with the slogan My books smell good. First, we want to thank Carey Bass, Middlebury’s talented graphic designer, for the bold serif font and brash ending punctuation. But, “What does it mean?” (People have asked, with a skeptical gaze.) As well as: “Isn’t it a little vulgar?” A little behind-the-scenes seemed overdue.

In a 2010 interview in The Paris Review, the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury  was asked about e-books and Kindles:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.

That sums it up, though a little curmudgeonly.  And from the Journal of Chromatography, chemists used solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to analyze volatile organic compounds emitted from a naturally aged groundwood pulp paper originating from an old book. (Read it for yourself here.) Volatile organic compounds. This is what we’re talkin’ about:

And another recent article lays out a framework to identify, protect and conserve the smells that influence the way we engage with the past. Smithsonian Magazine wrote about this research, and here’s a photograph of a scientist taking a deep sniff at the National Archives of The Netherlands.

From Smithsonian Magazine, April 7, 2017


Whatever it is that brings you to our doorpoetry, history, chemistry, or a hankering to smell a centuries old book for yourselfjust come. We have lots of bags left and they make memorable graduation gifts. (Totes are $5, while they last).

Email specialcollections@middlebury.edu
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Minute 1:16 is the best part, or, DIY Bookmaking

While we love the entirety of this video by our local Middlebury filmmakers (we’re talking to you, Demetrius Borge ’16, and Chris Spencer), our hands-down favorite clip in their recent piece J-term Scenes: Tell Us What You’re Most Excited About (featured below) has to be minute 1:16, featuring our very own postgraduate Fellow in Special Collections & Archives, Mikaela Taylor.



Military tanks move in. At Bread Loaf, 1941

Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus is usually seen as a peaceful academic retreat nestled in the lush landscape of the Green Mountains, but 75 years ago, it was briefly home to a serious display of military might. College President Paul Moody (who had served in World War I and was a member of the National Guard) hosted the 754th Tank Battalion at the campus in the fall of 1941.

This compilation of footage from 16mm reels in the College archives are believed to show the visit, including a shot of a helmeted President Moody in one of the battalion’s vehicles (an unused title card on another reel in the archives reads: “Prexy Gets Tanked”). Other footage includes author and professor William Hazlett Upson with an unknown child dressed as a soldier, officers visiting the Middlebury Inn, and a procession of military vehicles through campus.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Wallace thanked President Moody in a letter saying, “The quarters afforded us were excellent, and the party held for the Battalion at Bread Loaf by the girls of Middlebury College, will long be very pleasantly remembered by all the men of the Battalion.”

For more information or for permission to use this clip contact SpecialCollections@middlebury.edu. Compilation from original 16mm films in the Middlebury College Archives.