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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

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.

Spencer’s March-April Exhibit: “From Shop to Shelf”

March 5th, 2024

Conservators often say that what draws them to this work is the variety – every day is different! Always something new to learn! Never a dull moment! In my role as special collections conservator at KU Libraries, I am fortunate to work on interesting items from all of the collecting areas within the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, and my day-to-day experience bears out the truth of those clichés. Each book, document, and object I work with wears evidence of its own unique history. Physical condition, materials, marks or repairs made by persons past – sometimes these features tell a clear story about the life an object has lived, and sometimes the picture is murky, fragmented, or confusing. In the new short-term exhibit on view in Spencer Library’s North Gallery, I returned to the subject of a 2016 blog post to explore the ways that a book’s binding might provide information about who owned the book and how it was used.

Spencer Library’s three copies of Thomas Sprat’s A true account and declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late king, His present Majesty, and the government: as it was order’d to be published by His late Majesty are displayed in the first exhibit case. This book relates Sprat’s official account, as Bishop of Rochester, of the failed 1683 Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother (and successor) James, Duke of York. The horrid conspiracy, as we’ll call it, was printed in London in 1685 by Thomas Newcombe, “One of His Majesties printers; and … sold by Sam. Lowndes over against Exeter-Change in the Strand.”

Three copies of The Horrid Conspiracy on display in the exhibit From Shop to Shelf in Spencer Research Library's North Gallery.
Three copies of The Horrid Conspiracy on display in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery.

After leaving Lowndes’ shop these three edition-mates embarked on separate journeys, only to arrive back together again in our stacks over three hundred years later. The books’ differing conditions and binding styles invite speculation about their adventures (and misadventures!) in the intervening years. The exhibit compares the physical characteristics and evidence of use seen on the three volumes and considers what these features might tell us about who owned them and how they were used. We cannot know for sure, but it is so fun to wonder!

A selection of books from the exhibit From Shop to Shelf on display in Spencer Research Library's North Gallery.
A selection of books from the exhibit From Shop to Shelf on display in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery.
A selection of books from the exhibit From Shop to Shelf on display in Spencer Research Library's North Gallery.
A selection of books from the exhibit From Shop to Shelf on display in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery.

In case two, we expand our examination of different binding styles to include a small selection of bindings from Spencer Library’s rare books collections. The display includes books in original paper bindings or wrappers from the publisher, books custom-bound for private owners in either a plain or a fine style, and others bound simply and sturdily for use in a lending library. Spencer Library’s collections are rich with examples of bookbinding styles across the centuries; this assortment of volumes represents just a fraction of the many ways that a book might have been bound either by bookseller, buyer, or library.

Spencer’s January-February Exhibit: “Building Tomorrow Today: Clinton Lake and the Flood of 1951”

February 6th, 2024

I developed Spencer’s current short-term exhibit to compliment the research I conducted about Clinton Lake and the Wakarusa Museum as an undergraduate student. While writing my thesis paper last year, I used a lot of the materials featured in this exhibit as primary sources. I hope this blog post will elaborate more on the complex history of Clinton Lake and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from a community perspective.

This image has text against a blue and red illustration of the dam and lake.
A project brochure and map of Clinton Dam and Lake including information about costs, benefits, and construction, published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1972. Papers of Carol Buhler Francis. Call Number: RH MS 1473. Click image to enlarge.

Originally passed by Congress in 1917, the Flood Control Act directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin evaluating issues of flood control along tributaries of the Mississippi River. This included the longest tributary of the Mississippi River: the Missouri River, which feeds the Kansas (Kaw) River. On July 13, 1951, after a series of storms produced up to 16 inches of rain, the Kaw spilled over its banks. More than 115 cities along its path in eastern Kansas – most notably Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City – were flooded. In Lawrence, the river crested at 29.90 feet (11 feet above flood stage). The flood also washed out 1 million acres of land and nearly 10,000 farms. For many local community members, the Flood of 1951 represented a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. The flood forced 85,000 people to abandon their homes and amassed $760 million in damages (nearly $5 billion today).

Black-and-white photograph of a two-story home with its first level submerged in water. Two other buildings are under water, with only the roofs visible.
A submerged farm on the outskirts of North Lawrence, 1951. Photograph taken by the U.S. Navy. Call Number: RH PH 172. Click image to enlarge.

In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a network of levees and reservoirs to prevent future flooding. The Flood Control Act of 1962 authorized funding to dam the Wakarusa River, a major tributary of the Kaw, and build Clinton Lake. In addition to flood control, Clinton Lake would also supply the city of Lawrence with water and provide a source of recreation for locals and tourists alike. Located southwest of Lawrence, Clinton Lake ushered in an era of excitement and uncertainty for the people of Douglas County. Despite protests from many Wakarusa River Valley citizens, the Corps of Engineers began buying land as early as 1968, and construction of the dam started in 1972.

Color illustration of Clinton Lake with neighboring communities and roads.
An informational brochure about Clinton Lake including a map of surrounding recreational activities and campsites, published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, undated. Papers of Carol Buhler Francis. Call Number: RH MS 1473. Click image to enlarge.

Swift action on behalf of the Corps of Engineers prompted local residents of the Wakarusa region to form the Clinton Lake Landowner’s Association, which advocated for the landownership rights of Wakarusa River Valley citizens. According to Martha Parker, a lifetime resident of Clinton and an active community member, “they did nothing but lie to you. We used to have a saying, ‘How can you tell a Corps man is lying? When his lips start moving.'” An auxiliary group, the Clinton Lake Historical Society (or CLHS) was formed alongside the Landowner’s Association with the goal of gathering and preserving the region’s history, which many feared would be lost forever beneath the lake. Many local community members held feelings of great anxiety about the proposed construction of Clinton Lake. This anxiety was not only rooted in an intense fear of the unknown, which often accompanies forced displacement, but the idea that the disappearance of regional history meant the erasure of one’s personal identity. “People just had no idea what was about to happen to them,” Parker explained. “Tons of people were selling all their belongings, their land, everything. I kept telling folks, don’t sell. Nobody listened.” With the support of the Landowner’s Association and the CLHS, Parker went on to establish the Clinton Lake Museum, known today as the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum.

A man in a bulldozer labeled "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" cutting a path across the United States.
A Kansas City Star political cartoon about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1975. Papers of Carol Buhler Francis. Call Number: RH MS 1473. Click image to enlarge.
This image has text with a black-and-white photograph of two women standing in front of a building.
A Lawrence Journal-World article reporting on the Clinton Lake Museum, 1983. Papers of Carol Buhler Francis. Call Number: RH MS 1473. Click image to enlarge.

However, it is important to remember that Clinton Lake displaced more than just rural residents of the Wakarusa River Valley. The process of artificial lake building results in the forced displacement and subsequent migration of different groups of peoples at different moments in time. Yet this process cannot be viewed from a static perspective. Dispossession is not merely an event; it is a process that continues long after initial physical removal. Beginning in the 1800s, Native American nations located within the Wakarusa River Valley were removed from their federally promised lands in order to make room for white settlers. This included the Kaw Nation (whose ancestral homelands included the river valley) along with tribes relocated from the East (namely the Shawnee and Delaware). Therefore, Clinton Lake serves as a force of continuous dispossession. Flooding the land removes any future opportunity for communities, both Native and non-Native, to return to their homes and restore their sense of historical, cultural, and spiritual connection to that place.

This exhibit is free and open to the public in the North Gallery through February 28th.

Claire Cox
Public Services Student Assistant
KU Graduate Student in History

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

Spencer’s Fang-tastic September-October Exhibit

October 11th, 2023

Stoker-ed about Halloween? Count get enough spooky stories? Excited to sink your teeth into this year’s Booktoberfest Community Read at Lawrence Public Library?

But of corpse!

Stop by and check out Spencer’s current short-term exhibit (ahem, exhi-bite) featuring a selection of materials by Bram Stoker, special editions of his novel Dracula, and copies of other early vampire stories. Highlights include:

  • the first installment of The Primrose Path, Stoker’s first novel that was initially published as a serial in 1875;
  • a handwritten draft of an unpublished article written and signed by Bram Stoker in 1887;
  • an early edition of the first fully realized vampire story in English; and
  • a copy of Dracula printed for servicemembers during World War II.
This image has text. Close-up view of items in an exhibit case.
An Armed Services Edition of Dracula, undated [circa 1945]. Call Number: AK178. Click image to enlarge.
Exhibit case with items and labels.
Bram Stoker materials on display. Click image to enlarge.

We hope to see you if you’re in our neck of the woods! The display is free and open to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery until October 31. Be sure to also download, print, and enjoy Spencer’s Halloween-inspired coloring pages and Frankenstein-themed MadLibs.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

Fall Exhibit 2023: To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio

September 28th, 2023

Spencer’s current exhibit is free and open to the public in the Exhibit Space through December 22nd. An online version of the exhibit is also available.

I’ve had the joy of working very closely with David Bergeron, Emeritus Professor of English, for several months as we prepare To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first exhibit piloting the David M. Bergeron and Geraldo Sousa Exhibit initiative.

Two people standing near the Shakespeare First Folio title graphic.
Beth M. Whittaker and David M. Bergeron. Click image to enlarge.

David and I had already been in conversation about exhibits as he and Geraldo developed their generous gift to support faculty research grounded in our collections. This project is very exciting to me, because I believe that exhibits are one of the best ways we can tell the stories of why libraries like this are important for a research university. We had bold ambitions to launch a call for proposals and a timeline, and then, as things happen, we encountered staff departures and a dean departure and all manner of other “reasons” progress was not made.

Luckily for all of us, David is a patient man. He approached me one morning and asked if the library had considered that this fall marked the 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare first folio. To be honest, I was unaware. We were still figuring out when we would have large scale exhibits, coming back from lockdown. The only fixed point on our exhibit schedule at that point was Fall of 2024, when we planned around the exciting centennial of the OTHER gorgeous library on campus, Watson. With David’s inspiration, we had the opportunity not only to work on an exhibit about this important milestone anniversary, but to test-drive collaborative exhibit processes prior to our launch of this program.

A book open to its title page; the facing page shows a black-and-white illustration of a bust framed by an elaborate border.
One of the items in the exhibit: Fifty Comedies and Tragedies by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, 1679. Click image to enlarge.

It has been a long time since I worked on a large-scale exhibit in Spencer’s exhibit space: 2018 to be exact, the magnificently fun 50 for 50. In the meantime, my colleagues have done a tremendous job of improving our exhibit processes. For those who don’t know, exhibit design is not as easy as picking which of our marvelous collections to put in a case. That’s the fun part. But it’s not all glamour, and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who wants to nerd out about digital file naming conventions and permissions to use images from other libraries and the perfect balance between font size for readability and size in the cases.

David and Geraldo’s gift is designed to encourage KU faculty to research in, and create exhibits from, the collections at Spencer Library. David isn’t the typical KU faculty member. For one thing, he’s a prolific author who uses our collections, and those of similar libraries, intensively in his research. For another, he’s continued this level of scholarly productivity into his retirement. So he has a lot of great ideas, and a lot of time on his hands, which is an exciting and terrifying combination. As I laid out the basic timeline of exhibit preparation from our end, he did not bat an eye.

Three exhibit cases interspersed with two cocktail tables, with the exhibit title graphic in the background.
A view of the exhibit To the Great Variety of Readers, with tables set up for the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.

We met roughly every other week to talk about the exhibit. He came up with a list of items very quickly, and not surprisingly, we couldn’t include it all. Spencer holds copies of thousands of significant literary works, but despite what you may hear from student guides on campus, KU Libraries does NOT hold a complete copy of the First Folio. While our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library were open to lending us one of their many copies, they are closed for renovation.

But David has been gracious about our limitations, and very patient with me as I encouraged him to keep a lay reader in mind. We believe Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone, and so should Spencer Library’s exhibits.

Three people looking down at items in an exhibit case.
Visitors exploring the exhibit during the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.
A man standing and speaking before a large seated audience.
David M. Bergeron providing remarks at the exhibit opening reception in Spencer’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

We also had fun planning an event, complete with the excuse I never knew I wanted to order cardboard Shakespeare standees. And finally, stay tuned as we develop more collaborative exhibits with KU faculty. The lessons we learned working with David on this project will make future exhibits easier for the recipients of David and Geraldo’s generosity.

Two men standing next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
David M. Bergeron (center) and Geraldo Sousa (right) with William Shakespeare (left). Click image to enlarge.
A woman tanding next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
Dean of KU Libraries Carol Smith with Shakespeare. Click image to enlarge.

Beth M. Whittaker
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library