Farewell to Archives Month 2017

Like the barrage of light and sound that ends a 4th of July fireworks display, Distinctive Collections is topping off Archives Month with an extravaganza of delights. Each unit has selected one “hidden story” from its files and supplied an illustration and brief description. It was not easy to choose just one—but we hope these selections will help you keep Archives Month in your hearts all year.


This quaint watercolor portrait of Philippine Welser, the wife of Archduke Ferdinand II, rests atop a super thin, translucent canvas made of cobwebs. It is one of 4 examples in the McCormick Library of an artistic tradition that started in the 16th century in the Tyrolian region of the Alps. The practice originated as a devotional art form, with the difficulty of the medium being the main point.  The patience and dedication required to master the use of the materials was a way to show humility and glorify God. By the late 19th century, they were being sold as tourist mementos, often with depictions of the pastoral peasant life of western Austria and Northern Italy. Our paintings have resided in Special Collections for decades, but because of their fragility and strange format, they have never been catalogued. Since it is October, a hidden collection relating to spider’s webs seemed appropriate, though there is really nothing scary about these little, pastel works of art. –Jason Nargis


So many “hidden” stories in the Archives’ files! Sometimes we stumble across an obscure item and suggest it as a research topic. For example, the story of NU’s Home Ec Department (1943-73—who knew?) will be featured in a future issue of the Weinberg Magazine. Often, a researcher seeking a detail will lead us to uncover a story long neglected. Several years ago, music historian Leta Miller contacted us to verify that Elmer Keeton, an African American musician she was researching, had received a PhD in Music from NU in the early 1900s, as his obituary reported. We knew the Music School didn’t offer graduate degrees back then. Our search showed that Keeton had received a certificate in music from NU in 1906–and had played in the NU Band. We had often wondered who the African American horn player pictured in NU yearbooks was! We learned Keeton went on to organize the Bay Area Negro Chorus and produce a Swing Mikado. Professor Miler was delighted to have additional (and accurate) information for her article, and we were delighted to have brought another long-lost story to light. –Janet Olson


Lasting only for a day. Ephemeral. One of the largest portions of the famed John Cage Collection is called an ephemeral collection. In archives terms, an ephemeral collection is describing the kind of material that is contained therein. Many times ephemeral collections contain materials produced to meet a specific demand at a specific time, like the program to a concert or a handbill advertising a concert. The creators this kind of material many times have no expectation that the material will last long at all. However, much of it does survive, “hidden” in library ephemeral collections. Seen here is an item from our collection – a souvenir visor produced for a 1987 John Cage festival occurring in Los Angeles. This one was owned (and worn!) by John Cage himself. –Greg MacAyeal


If, like Roald Dahl, you believe that “the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places,” random browsing among the shelves in the art library offers the potential for serendipitous discovery, the chance to encounter echoes of the past. Often, our older books were originally part of private collections, and you can sometimes see silent memories hidden within, as shown in this collage of images. There are autographs, inscriptions, and personalized bookplates, reminders of a time when books were not simply objects, but reflections of their owners. Or, as in the image of a circulation card, they chart the passing of time, the momentary interests of different readers made permanent. They may not reveal the “greatest” of secrets, but they are quiet, hidden treasures nonetheless. –Perry Nigro


The E.H. Duckworth Photographic Archive contains more than 5,000 photos documenting Nigerian life in the decades just before independence. A British civil servant, Duckworth spent more than 20 years in Nigeria, where he was editor of and frequently a photographer for The Nigeria Magazine, which was founded to promote Nigerian national identity. The photographs—plus several hundred glass lantern slides and thousands of original negatives—have spent most of the past 40 years packed up in the traveling trunks in which Duckworth shipped them back to England. The archive complements other colonial African photo collections in the Herskovits Library—notably the Winterton Collection of East African Photographs—in that it records images intended for an African, rather than colonial, audience. –Florence Mugambi


In 1947, a young couple visited Chicago on a December honeymoon. From the punches on their Chicago Transit Authority transfer slips, it looks like they may have spent part of the chilly, rainy day at the Garfield Park Conservatory, an oasis (“landscape art under glass”) in the city’s Garfield Park neighborhood. They explored the south and west sides of the city that day, December 4, traveling on the streetcar line that had been, until that year, under the operation of the Chicago Surface Lines (CSL became part of the Chicago Transit Authority in 1947). The husband would go on to become a faculty member at UC Berkeley, teaching in subjects related, appropriately, to transportation. After his passing, five transfer slips, mementos from a honeymoon half a century earlier, were discovered in his office by the head librarian at Berkeley’s transportation library. She contacted the Northwestern University Transportation Library to donate the slips, which were added and preserved in our collection, where they are available to researchers today.. –Rachel Cole


Archival Processing has the exciting task of uncovering the hidden stories in DC’s newest collections. The catalogs pictured are part of the corporate records donated to the University Archives by Gordon and Carole Segal, the founders of Crate & Barrel. Where’s the story, where’s the romance in a corporate collection? Well, Gordon and Carole were students at Northwestern University, when they met at lunch in the student union (Scott Hall). After graduation they married; Carole became a school teacher, and Gordon opened a small real estate business. But the young couple soon realized that their occupations weren’t very satisfying. One night, in early 1962, while washing dishes together, the idea of opening a store was born, and only a few months later the plan was put into action. On December 7, 1962, Gordon and Carole opened their first store, which was located on Chicago’s Wells and Burton streets, with “crates” full of European house- and glassware and “barrels” with china. The rest, as they say, is history…. –Yvonne Spura