Fogler Library's Special Collections provides an enriching
exploration of the past
It's one thing to read about history.
It's another to hold it in your hands.
Diaries of sea captains, letters from suffragettes in Maine, an early
manuscript of Carrie make us vicarious eyewitnesses to history in the
making. Original footage of a 1930s log drive transports us like a time
machine to the riverbank where the cameraman stood. We peer deep into
the eyes that stare out at us from photographs of the past, looking for
a glimmer of recognition, searching for understanding of what these
people — women, children and men — saw and experienced.
Some of this history already is displayed in museums, interpreted in
books and sensationalized on the silver screen. Most of it is not. What
makes archives like the Special Collections Department of the Raymond H.
Fogler Library at the University of Maine so compelling are the
original, unadulterated threads of history that are woven into the
colorful tapestry that is America's past.
"Historical documents — being artifacts directly created by the lives,
communities and struggles of the past — can convey a sense of history
that can never be duplicated by books or movies," observes Richard
Hollinger, head of Special Collections.
Fogler's Special Collections is Maine-centered and manuscript-dominated,
largely rooted in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. At its core
are the overarching themes of nature and the environment.
Its leading collections document the state's extensive logging and
lumbering history. Letters, books, photos, business records and diaries
similarly preserve the histories of other natural resource-based
industries in the state, such as shipbuilding, farming, fishing,
papermaking, ice harvesting, and slate and granite quarrying. Even the
effect of the landscape on Maine politics and arts is reflected.
Such Maine-focused collections as those of folklorist Fannie Hardy
Eckstorm and historian James Vickery are not "famous," yet they are
incredibly valuable for their depth of documentation.
While many of the approximately 1,200 collections archived by Fogler
Library are of regional interest to scholars, others are of value to
researchers nationally and internationally. They include political
papers of U.S. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, former U.S. Secretary of
Defense William Cohen and Maine's current governor, John Baldacci. The
James Russell Wiggins Collection documents political and journalistic
history throughout the former Washington Post editor's 21-year tenure at
Papers of UMaine alumnus and author Stephen King, big band leader Meyer
Davis and painter Vincent Hartgen are part of a growing collection
focusing on artists, writers and the Maine "climate" deemed so conducive
Also actively being developed is an archive of Maine women's history.
Already in Special Collections is a range of documents, including the
papers of the first woman to serve as a judge in Maine, Harriet Henry;
plans by eminent landscape architect Louise Payson; and diaries of
farmers and a 19th-century millworker.
A number of the manuscript collections
include fascinating — and surprising — artifacts. In context, these
objects of history have unique stories to tell — stories that add to the
experience inherent in an exploration of archives.
1. The William S. Cohen Papers is the University of Maine's most
famous collection. Established in 1996, it includes correspondence,
memos, reports, speeches, voting records, videos and photographs
spanning the Maine leader's political career in the state, in the U.S.
House and Senate, 1973–97, and as Secretary of Defense, 1997– 2001. His
papers document his involvement in both the Watergate and Iran-Contra
investigations on Capitol Hill. Born in 1940, Cohen was first elected to
public office as a city councilor, then mayor in his hometown of Bangor,
Maine. In the state's hotly contested Second Congressional District race
in 1972, he walked 600 miles throughout the district (in the shoes
pictured above, the bright yellow sign posted on an accompanying
vehicle) to "find out what is on people's minds." Walking and talking
informally with his constituents became Cohen's trademark.
2. Dime Novels, a genre of popular fiction for adolescent
audiences, were in their heyday in the 1800s. Young readers were
introduced to adventure stories set on the frontier and on city streets,
featuring historical figures like Buffalo Bill and characters such as
Deadwood Dick. UMaine's collection of more than 1,700 pieces includes
Beadle's Dime Novels.
3. Maine native and longtime U.S. Senator Hannibal Hamlin was
Abraham Lincoln's first vice president. The winning of the so-called
"Abra/Hamlin/coln" ticket was a trigger for secession of the Southern
states. After his four-year term, Hamlin was not renominated. A month
after reelection, Lincoln was assassinated, April 14, 1865. The Hamlin
papers, documenting several generations of the Maine family, 1802–1965,
include a letter written by Sarah Hamlin to her stepmother, providing an
eyewitness account from the third row of Ford's Theater the night of
4. The School of Nursing at Eastern Maine General Hospital in
Bangor, Maine, was founded in 1892. Today, its history is reflected in
an extensive collection of photographs, yearbooks, scrapbooks,
curriculum materials, reports and correspondence. Among the artifacts
are dolls dressed in nursing uniforms of different eras.
5. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm was a folklorist and historian of Native
Americans, a naturalist and musicologist. She also was an author who
published extensively on all these subjects in the early 1900s. She
often accompanied her father, a fur trader, on his trips up the
Penobscot River. Eckstorm lived from 1865–1946; the collection spans
1730–1947. It includes documentation on ballads and legends, woodsmen
and river drives; items from J.T. Hardy's fur trading business; and
detailed information, including extensive photographs, on the Penobscots
and other Maine tribes.
6. The papers of the Talbot-Whittier Family of East Machias,
Maine, are an outstanding example of historical documentation. One
descendent, Capt. Ephraim Chase, went to sea at age 7 and later sailed
an armed schooner in the Revolutionary War. From other family members:
an 1849 journal of a trip by ship to California; a Civil War diary; an
1894 account of a journey to Europe on the (first) Britannic. Family
history is recorded through 1976.
7. Postcards are portals to the past, providing glimpses of
history and culture. Fogler holds more than 8,500, including the Hoffman
and Pottle Postcard Collections. The postcards include images of Maine
and Massachusetts, and cover a variety of periods, subjects and
8. June 6, 1918, Chicago Tribune war correspondent Floyd Gibbons
was on the front line with the Marines at the Battle of Belleau Wood
when he was wounded by German machine gun fire. One of the bullets
entered his left eye and exited the back of his skull, leaving a gash in
his helmet. He never lost consciousness during the three hours he was
pinned down as the battle raged on. Gibbons' other adventures and
derring-do, like his eyewitness account of the sinking of the Laconia
and coverage of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, made him one of the
top correspondents of his generation. He went on to a successful career
in radio with such shows as "The Headline Hunter." His papers, 1900–40,
include photographs, fan mail and radio scripts.
9. "The New England March King" Robert Browne (R.B.) Hall began
his career as a cornet virtuoso at age 16. Born in Bowdoinham, Maine, in
1858, Hall performed with all the major municipal and military bands in
New England at the end of the 19th century. He composed more than 60
marches in his career, including one traditionally performed at military
funerals. R.B. Hall's scores and sheet music comprise most of the Thomas
Bardwell Collection, 1870s–1960s. The collection also includes
recordings from more than 1,000 bands from Japan, Britain, Switzerland,
France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the U.S.
10. Maxine Elliott is said to have been one of the most
photographed and beautiful actors at the turn of the century. The
Rockland, Maine, native was the star of the stage and the silver screen.
She also owned Maxine Elliott's Theatre on 39th Street, New York City.
Her collection, spanning 1846–1940, includes correspondence, diaries,
photos and playbills from her 30-year acting career. Also included is
the manuscript of the biography written by her niece, Diana
Forbes-Robertson, My Aunt Maxine.
11. The "gems" in the University of Maine's collection of more
than 6,000 rare books are just too numerous to mention. They include The
Aurelian, a natural history of English insects, published in 1766 with
cloth pages and hand-painted illustrations. One of the oldest books
dates to the 1500s. Fogler's Maine Collection includes nearly 23,000
volumes on the state's history and literature. Rare books also are found
in archives like the Vickery Collection, which includes Scripture
Animals; or, Natural History of Living Creatures Named in the Bible,
published in Portland, Maine, in 1834, written for youth by the first
settled minister of Blue Hill, Maine — artist, author and architect
Parson Jonathan Fisher (1768–1847).
by Margaret Nagle
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.