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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: Thanksgiving postcards

November 23rd, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Though the library is closed for the holiday, That’s Distinctive! must go on! In honor of Thanksgiving holiday, this week I am sharing some Thanksgiving postcards from the Herd Family Papers. With over 37 boxes, 47 volumes, seven oversize boxes, and two folders, the collection – which spans 1817-2013 – houses a wide array of materials. With much of the collection being correspondence, it is appropriate that the items shared today are postcards celebrating Thanksgiving. Two postcards are undated, and the others are from 1908 and 1909.

You’ll notice on the last postcard that the address simply lists the town and state. According to the U.S. Global Mail website, “before addresses were used in the United States, mail would be delivered to prominent buildings in major towns and cities throughout the colonies (and later states) – usually City Hall, the library, or something similar. … Over time, though, the USPS looked for ways to create more and more efficiency. That’s when they created a new addressing system (and later ZIP Codes), totally overhauling the way that mail was sent throughout the country and laying down the foundation for the addressing system we still use today.”

Color illustration of a turkey flanked on each side by wheat, a plow, and a cornucopia of autumnal produce. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is at the top.
Color illustration of three turkeys wearing red and white striped top hats. Two are carrying American flags. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is in the lower left corner.
Two undated Thanksgiving postcards. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click images to enlarge.
Color illustration of a turkey looking at a calendar of November; most days are crossed out in red. The turkey is wearing a hat and carrying a suitcase and umbrella. The text "Thanksgiving Day" is at the top.
A Thanksgiving postcard from 1909. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click image to enlarge.
Color illustration of a turkey looking at a boy carrying a rifle. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is at the top.
This image has handwritten text.
The front and back of a 1908 Thanksgiving postcard. The transcription is below. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click images to enlarge.

My Dear Horace:-

I sure wish I could be with you for next Thurs. Wonder if you will miss me. Now eat lots of Turkey for me, and have a good time. Tonight we have a fudge party you like that so much. This is sure a dandy day. I just got home from school.

With Love. Lillian

So, whether you’re having a fudge party, eating lots of turkey and ham, or getting takeout from your favorite restaurant, we hope you have a very happy holiday!

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Spencer’s November-December Exhibit: “Creating Over a Century of Symphonies: The Reuter Organ Company”

November 14th, 2023

While each year we at Spencer process many new collections, we are also adding to preexisting collections through the continued generosity of our donors. From Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to LGBTQIA2S+ activists, an individual’s history doesn’t end when their collection comes through our doors. Individual and organizational histories continue to evolve past the snapshots their historical records provide, and we at Spencer aim to provide as complete a picture as we can! One collection we’d like to draw particular attention to is an addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection (Call Number: RH PH 68). Through this collection, patrons can follow the construction of uniquely hand-crafted pipe organs before they were built into their new homes in institutions all over the world. And now, with a 2023 addition, patrons can see even more of the grandeur of these massive instruments as well as the incredible skill and historical craftsmanship of this Lawrence-based company!

Black-and-white overhead photograph of a large pipe organ.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2179 at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1995. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

The history of the Reuter Organ Company starts in 1917 when Adolph Reuter established the Reuter-Schwarz Organ Company with his business partner Earl Schwarz. After a disastrous tornado blew through the company factory, the company relocated to the Wilder Brothers Shirt Factory on New Hampshire Street in Lawrence, Kansas, after fulfilling a commission for the city’s Masonic Temple in 1919. Schwarz departed from the company shortly afterwards, and the company was renamed the Reuter Organ Company. In less than ten years, the company grew from a six-employee operation to over 50 full-time employees with over 50 commissions a year. However, after lean years during the Great Depression, the Reuter Organ Company faced a manufacturing ban on musical instruments during World War II and stayed afloat by producing government-sanctioned boxes for munitions materials with a skeletal crew. After the war, the company began to flourish again, and Reuter began hiring skilled staff with formal music education and expertise in organ construction. Through the knowledge base of its staff, the company began to experiment and further develop traditional construction techniques with new pipe organ technology to develop a signature “Reuter sound.”

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in the corner of a balcony in an auditorium.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 1741 at the Shryock Auditorium at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, 1970. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

After Adolph Reuter’s retirement in 1961, the company continued to evolve under the direction of longtime employee Franklin Mitchell. Mitchell, with then newly appointed production manager Albert Neutel, purchased the company in the early 1980s. Together, the two continued to refine the Reuter technical craft, particularly with the mechanical aspects of organ construction and the tonal sound of the company’s organs. After Mitchell’s retirement in 1997, Albert Neutel was joined in management by his son, Albert “J.R.” Neutel, a former longtime employee of the company. Under the Neutel family’s direction, the Reuter Organ Company moved operations from New Hampshire Street to a newly constructed and specially designed factory and administrative facility in northwest Lawrence in 2001. Sixteen years later, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary by holding a public open house in their newer facility and inviting old and new customers alike. By this time, the company had constructed over 2,200 pipe organs for public and private institutions around the world. The company had also built a respected name in organ rehabilitation within the pipe organ community. In 2022, amid the retirement of several longtime key staff members, J.R. Neutel, the company’s current president, decided to sell Reuter’s factory and administrative facility. A major selling point of the Reuter Organ Company is the institutional and craft knowledge of its staff. There is a strong tradition of old staff mentoring new staff and passing down historic pipe organ construction techniques. Operating at the same scale without that same level of institutional knowledge was deemed impossible. And in the beginning of 2023, the Reuter Organ Company further scaled back operations to only fulfilling the customary 11-year warranties offered to their past clients with special consideration for smaller projects.

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in a balcony at the back of the church's sanctuary.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2044, 1982 in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Clearwater, Florida, 1982. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

To honor this historic company and to showcase a new addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection, we here at Spencer have created a temporary exhibit to display images of a few of the beautiful pipe organs Reuter’s has constructed over the years and to dip into some pipe organ terminology. Have you ever wondered were the phrase “pulling out all stops” comes from or just how big the biggest musical instrument in the world can get? Come on by to learn more about this incredible company and the incredible instruments it made! The exhibit opened free to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery on November 1st and will continue to be on display until early January 2024. We hope you “stop” by!

Charissa Pincock
Manuscripts Processor

That’s Distinctive!: Lawrence Business Cards

November 10th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I’m sharing a small and simple collection of business cards from Lawrence. The Lawrence business card collection features business cards from mostly the 1880s. The two featured today are from the Lawrence Business College and J. House.

An online exhibit from the Lawrence Public Library notes that the Lawrence Business College was “established in 1869 by W.H. McCauley [and]…was the first business college in Kansas. The school was located in the Lawrence National Bank building on the third and fourth floors.” While the business college no longer exists, it is widely unknown when and why it shut its doors. Some personal accounts from attending the college can be found in the John L. Kilworth papers at the library.

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The front (top) and back (bottom) of a business card for the Lawrence Business College, 1883-1884. Business Cards, Lawrence, Kansas. Call Number: RH MS P479. Click images to enlarge.

J. House was a clothing business operated for several decades by Jacob House at 729 Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. The building is marked by a plaque as having survived Quantrill’s Raid in 1863. Jacob House, his wife Ricka, and their seven children resided at 805 Ohio Street for many years before relocating to 701 Tennessee in 1904. House’s 1913 obituary in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World declared that “no man in Lawrence stood higher in the esteem of the public” than him. The article noted that House was born in Austria in 1833. After emigrating to the United States in 1854 and living in a variety of places, he settled in Lawrence and opened his business in 1862. House was in his store at the time of Quantrill’s Raid; he was taken by a group of raiders and “kept as a prisoner and guide all day. He was forced to show them from place to place and everywhere he saw the dead bodies of his friends and acquaintances.”

This image has text against a color illustration of a manor house at the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains.
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The front (top) and back (bottom) of a business card for the J. House clothing business, undated. Business Cards, Lawrence, Kansas. Call Number: RH MS P479. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Creepy, Curious, and Cursed Collections at Spencer Research Library

October 30th, 2023

Happy Halloween all you screechers, screamers, and hollerers! We’ve also been celebrating over here at Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the best we know how: combing the KU Libraries online catalog and finding what cursed history we can find. We asked our student workers to recommend their picks for items that best represent the spirit of Halloween. They went beyond the safety of the Reading Room and braved the stacks to bring us these unsettling tomes and relics, but not everything is what it seems. Here are a few of our favorites!

Our very first recommendation comes from the Centron Corporation, a film production company founded right here in Lawrence, Kansas. Perhaps best known for their work in educational films, the company also had a hand in the cult classic horror film Carnival of Souls. Elly Masteller found this lovely portrait in the Centron Corporation records collection. This cheerful gentleman was used in a film to help encourage literacy and creative writing among children. Remember kids, he can’t get you if your nose is in a book!

Color photograph a smiling clown who is holding a large lollipop.
Production still of a clown from Reaching Your Reader, undated [circa 1985]. Centron Corporation Records. Call Number: RH MS Q514. Click image to enlarge.

Kathryn Sauder sent in our next recommendation, another artifact, but this time from the Thomas Woodson Poor papers. Poor was an Olympic high jumper who competed for the University of Kansas from 1921 to 1925 and placed fourth in the high jump at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. Poor is also known for his lifelong crusade in helping children receive the polio vaccine after the tragic death of his daughter, Melinda Sue, from polio. One of the toys he used to do so was this monkey puppet, and while the puppet may look demonic, it helped save lives! Absolutely heartwarming, not chilling, but perhaps maybe do not look into its eyes for too long.

Photograph of a brown monkey with his hands in the air.
Monkey puppet, undated [circa 1955-1956]. Thomas Woodson Poor Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1568. Click image to enlarge.

Literary giant Samuel Taylor Coleridge brings us our next spooky item, recommended by Nile Russo: a copy of The Devil’s Walk, or alternatively titled The Devil’s Thoughts. The Devil cuts a dapper shape as he gets himself dressed in his Sunday’s best for a walk around the town. In this poem, the Devil offers commentary about passersby, questioning perhaps if mankind might be the scariest creature of all.

Black-and-white sketch of a demon cutting the devil's hair while he reads the newspaper in front of a mirror.
The illustration accompanying the title page of The Devil’s Walk: A Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, 1830. Call Number: B4254. Click image to enlarge.

Molly Leonard recommended perhaps the most soul-wrenching item among our recommendations this year: a copy of Historie des diables de Loudun. This is a book about the Loudun possessions, a piece of history about an Ursuline convent being taken over by unusual behavior and visions attributed to demonic possession. In the end, through the intervention of Cardinal Richelieu, a local priest and decrier of Richelieu’s policies named Urbain Grandier was tried and executed for witchcraft in connection with the possessions. Again, and we can’t reiterate this enough, mankind might just be the scariest monster of all.

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Title page of Histoire des diables de Loudun, 1716. Call Number: B12841. Click image to enlarge.

And finally, Ian Strasma reminds us that Halloween isn’t only about creepy clowns, puppets and possessions, and dashingly dressed demons with this recommendation: a black cat found lurking in the Ronald Johnson collection (literary estate papers). The cat may be cute, but be careful that you do not cross him!

Polaroid pictures of a black cat doing various things.
“Cat photos,” undated [but timeless]. Ronald Johnson Collection (Literary Estate Papers). Call Number: MS 336. Click image to enlarge.

Best of luck out there as you begin finishing up semester and don’t be afraid to check out the many – completely safe, we promise – collections here at Kenneth Spencer Research Library!

Charissa Pincock
Processing Archivist

A “Dead Rank Jonah”: The Unlucky Travels of Guy Hatfield

October 25th, 2023

The letters of Guy Hatfield are a collection of 50 letters written by a traveling salesman to his wife, Nell, living in Kansas City, Missouri. He made his living traveling throughout the Midwestern United States. His letters document his travels between Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma Territory, Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois, all in the hopes of making a quick buck. Though little is known about Guy Hatfield’s life outside of the collection of letters here at Spencer Library, he is associated as a contemporary of the better-known George B. McClellan, a traveling medicine man and Wild West showman. [i]

Guy’s letters to his wife, Nell, give a window into his business life as a traveling salesman. Rarely was business good. Inclement weather would keep the townspeople in their homes and slow business. Sometimes “biz” (as Guy called it) in company towns was centered around payday; setting up shop at the right time was key. Risk of illness and outbreak of the “grip” (also written as grippe, an old-fashioned term for the flu) could also be a detriment to business.

This image has handwritten text.
In a letter written from Davenport, Iowa, in September 1891, Guy’s typically neat handwriting is shaky and the message short. Is Guy in the grips of the Grippe? Letters of Guy Hatfield. Call Number: RH MS 1371. Click image to enlarge.

The letters give a wealth of information beyond Guy’s correspondence to his wife. His travels, most often by train, show the rail network in the Midwest and Great Plains around 1890. The stationery and envelopes, bearing the names and proprietors of the hotels Guy stayed at, give us a list of the hotels and innkeepers that served travelers as they crisscrossed the country.

Black-and-white map of Kansas and border areas, with red dotted lines between cities.
Guy Hatfield’s travels in winter 1889/1890 outlined on a Kansas railroad map. Based on the order of his letters, he traveled to Wymore and Beatrice (Neb.) and south to Manhattan and Salina (Kan.). He then headed up to Red Cloud (Neb.) before going to Wichita and Winfield (Kan.). From there, he ventured into Oklahoma Territory. He returned, stopping in Emporia and Osage City (Kan.) before returning to Kansas City. Call Number: RH Map R452. Click image to enlarge.
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The back of an envelope for the St. James Hotel in Manhattan (Kan.) features a verbose ad for Merchant’s Gargling Oil Liniment, November 1889. Letters of Guy Hatfield. Call Number: RH MS 1371. Click image to enlarge.

So what exactly did Guy Hatfield sell? His letters mention glasses and figurines (mislaid and broken by the railroad company), wigs, a mummy, a gorilla, a skeleton (in one letter, a gorilla skeleton), and medicine (though he does not say if it is for resale or personal use). In one of his letters, he mentions his attempts to sell his whole museum to one or more interested parties in Wichita, but bad luck seemed to prevent the sale from going through. He blames an associate named Converse, who he calls a “dead rank Jonah.”

Whatever it was Hatfield was trying to sell, few were interested in buying. With a few exceptions, the common thread through the letters are complaints of low revenue, high expenses, and excuses for why he cannot yet come home. The letters begin in October 1889 in Sioux City, Iowa, where Guy complains about losing lots of money. In the last letter, dated February 25, 1892, he is staying in Pittsburg, Kansas, a couple days longer with hopes of making a few dollars. As to his association with the famous George McClellan, a letter from January 22, 1891, suggests the nature of their friendship: “George has not answered any of my letters at all nor sent me a cent[.]”

Beyond these three years of flourishing (if we can call it that), little is known about Guy Hatfield or his wife Nell. The Kansas City addresses on the envelopes no longer exist. A search of digitized newspapers reveals two stories of a Guy Hatfield, who may or may not be the same as our ambitious and unlucky letter-writer. A newspaper report in the Kansas City Journal from January 1898 tells the story of a salesman of the same name attempting suicide in a saloon; a report from the Topeka State Journal from July of the same year reports on the impending execution of a soldier bearing the same name, who, “in a drunken row soon after pay day,” stabbed another soldier to death.

When we think of archival collections, we often give too much credit to the movers and shakers of history. It makes sense that the Kansas Collection at KU’s Spencer Library would hold the personal and professional papers of governors, senators, and other pillars of the civic community. But there is much to learn about the world of the past in collections like the letters of Guy Hatfield. He lived during an era we like to call the Gilded Age. But through his own words, we are reminded that to many, it may not have been so gilded.

Phil Cunningham
Kansas Collection Curator

[i] Finch, L. Boyd. “Doctor Diamond Dick: Leavenworth’s Flamboyant Medicine Man.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 26 (Spring 2003): 2-13. Available online at