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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Krio: Creole language of Sierra Leone

Krio, a creole language credited with unifying most if not all of Sierra Leone is thought to have originated during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and over time developed as a method of communication between newly freed African slaves, as well as returned British and American Blacks, West Indians, and natives originally from the African Coast who settled in the West African nation during the early to mid-19th century.

Sign before entering the British Slave Castle ruins.  Dr. Turner took this image while conducting field work in Bunce Island, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. 

Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner had a special interest in the Krio language due to its history and structure, and similarity to the Gullah language spoken in America. Turner was fascinated with the origins of the African diaspora in countries like America and Brazil so Turner focused his scholarship on drawing conclusions and highlighting the similarities of commonly associated patterns of speech, processes of thought, and ways of life so typically exemplified in Black communities in the West.

In 1951 Turner conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone.  In the backdrop of Turner’s visit was the founding of the SLPP, the Sierra Leone’s People’s party, whose members had advocated for the political independence of the Protectorate, and who would later come to dominate the political arena in Sierra Leone late into the 1960s. Present among the throng of political unrest, Turner was not only able to capture the underlining social, political, and economic issues occurring in West Africa but interview one of the most  influential African linguists in Sierra Leone: Thomas Leighton Decker.

In interviewing Decker and other informants, Turner was able to discover and examine the linguistic components of the Krio language, a language that is today spoken by more than 90% of the population of Sierra Leone. In his field notebook, Dr. Turner compiled notes relating to syntax, morphology, and semantic structures as well as the etymology of words and phrases most commonly associated with Krio speaking people.     Later he produced two Krio texts An Anthology of Krio Folklore and Literature, with Notes and Inter-linear Translations in English (1963) and Krio Texts: With Grammatical Notes and Translations in English (1965).

Dr. Turner recorded this unidentified Creole informant  while conducting field work in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. 
Dr. Turner also used his research to develop education programs, lectures and courses for students, and he used the political crisis and conflicts in Sierra Leone and various other African states during his travels as a means to build upon his studies. By focusing on the expressions of language found in African proverbs and folklore, Turner was able to open doors that enabled further exploration of African culture.  The results of his fieldwork enabled him to place the importance of various African languages, customs and dialects on par with European languages.

Scroll through the pages of Turner’s Freetown Creole field notebook to transcribe and discover similarities between Krio and other creole languages.

Lorenzo Dow Turner's field notebook, Freetown Creole, Sierra Leone, B.W.A., October 1951.  Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.  

Bremacha LaGuerre
Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Volunteer

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

As the winter season approaches, it occurred to me to search SIRIS for “winter” imagery to see what the scope of such holdings in the Archives Center might be.  I found fewer than I expected, and theorize that not all the relevant items have been tagged with “winter” consistently.  The majority of the item-level records returned were for stereoscopic photographs in the Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection.  They include such scenery as snow-capped mountains, but also pictures of winter activities, including snow sports.  This entire collection of approximately 28,000 stereo negatives and interpositives is available online, although the linked images are of poor quality, having been digitized at low resolution from a videodisc (thereby creating fifth-generation copies).  We supply new high-resolution scans of pictures in this collection on an ad hoc basis, substituting them for the low-quality images linked to our catalog records—generally one at a time.

I had forgotten that an energetic summer intern, Kathy Kinakin, had already re-scanned some of these photographs several years ago.  She concentrated on anomalies in the Underwood & Underwood collection, specifically searching for cellulose nitrate film.  Most of the film in this collection is non-stereoscopic and a bit later than the 3-D pictures, documenting the company’s ventures into a new field—news photography.  In around 1898-1910, the company began producing stereoscopic pictures of contemporary political figures and “news” events, so eventually it was logical for them to complete their transition to news photography and to end stereograph production.

"Los Angeles, California - Starting on toboggans from the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park and terminating with a dip into the semi-tropical pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, youthful Los Angeles couples staged a unique race..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center 
Although Underwood & Underwood began documenting political events and even wars, a substantial percentage of their pictures for the daily press illustrated “soft” news and “human interest” stories.  I present herewith some of the winter-related press images that Kathy selected to re-scan for both their technical and topical interest.  The picture above documents a novel winter race, and its newspaper caption follows:

“Los Angeles, California -- Starting on toboggans from the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park and terminating with a dip into the semi-tropical pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, youthful Los Angeles couples staged a unique race. An hour and four minutes after they had left the snowy mountains, the winners were stripping off furry garments underneath which they wore bathing suits, and were plunging into the warm pool in the valley below. The unusual contest was part of the program of winter sports at the annual snow carnival of the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce. Photo shows: The start of the race -- left to right-- Miss Joyzelle Joynier and Chris Christensen, the winners; Miss Jean Boring and Dr. Alex Linck, and Manuella Sarsabal with Hudson Drake.  Adolff Dorr, at the right, served as starter.”

"Miss Joyzelle Joynier, of the winning couple, as she stepped in the pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center 

And here’s a related closeup, captioned: “Los Angeles, Cal.-- Photo shows: Miss Joyzelle Joynier, of the winning couple, as she stepped in the pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, winning the Winter to Summer Race staged by the Chamber of Commerce. On her head she is carrying her snow shoes and winter outfit which she wore at the start of the race -- on the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park. The contestants started on toboggans and raced down the snowy slopes. Snow shoes were also used. When they reached the Hot Springs pool, they stripped off their winter garments to their bathing suits and plunged in. All in an hour and 4 minutes."  Of course, gratuitous “bathing beauty” pictures were a staple of newspapers for many years.   The “news” justifying their publication was usually flimsier than this.

Although that picture provides a glimpse of Ms. Joynier’s somewhat daring (for its time) two-piece swimsuit, newspaper “beauty queen” pictures could be vivacious, yet quite modest.  In the image below, the Snow Queen of Westlake Park, Catherine Curby, models cold-weather clothing.

"...Miss Catherine Curby after being crowned Snow Queen in Westlake Park here. She is to reign over the snow sports in the mountains not far from here, and her furry costume in a semi-tropical setting presents a novel contrast..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center 

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, Archives Center

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Vengeance in his aspect": When a Whale Hunted a Ship

The trailer for the big Hollywood movie of Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (G530.E76 2000X NMAH) is out and it is terrifying. The true saga of the Essex inspired aspects of Moby Dick, or the title as it originally was published, The Whale, thirty years after the ship was sunk by a furious sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean. Herman Melville himself is part of the movie story, interviewing one of the survivors.

As it happens, I just cataloged for the Cullman Library a chapbook, an inexpensive form of publication usually illustrated with lively if simple woodcuts, which narrates this “most remarkable” tale of the Essex, the ill-fated voyage that began in Nantucket in 1819. Stories About the Whale: with an Account of the Whale Fishery, and the Perils Attending its Prosecution, was published in Concord, New Hampshire in 1850 (PZ10.3 .S881850 SCNHRB) and was rather crudely printed. The title page serves as the cover, with the text (24 pages in all) printed on a single sheet which was then folded and stitched with no binding. Issued a year before Melville’s masterpiece, the chapbook indicates how big and potent the tale was in 19th-century America. This piece of juvenile literature, in a section with caption title “Shipwrecks and Disasters,” warns boys of the dangers of the industry “as the whales often dash to pieces the boats in which the sailors go out to attack them” and a much quicker read of the Essex story in three pages than Moby Dick!  

Owen Chase was the first mate on the Essex and lived to pen Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-ship Essex of Nantucket in 1821. There are reprints in the Smithsonian Libraries (G530.E72 1989X, Kellogg Library), attesting to the staying power of the tragedy. The Captain, George Pollard, was also among the eight survivors; he endured an excruciating three months on one of the small whaleboats. Perhaps it is Chase or Pollard who is heard narrating the disaster in the film clip; most of the others wrote an account, which vary in the details, not surprisingly (for more of the story, click on this article in Smithsonian Magazine).

Captain Pollard, still a young man, returned to the sea but suffered other mishaps and became feared as a “Jonah.” In the second volume of Journal of Voyages and Travels by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet (Boston: Published by Crocker and Brewster, 1832; BV3705.T8 T979 1832 SCNHRB) the missionary Bennet details an encounter in Tahiti in April 1823 with a broken Pollard after the Captain had lost another ship. The author transcribed Pollard’s account, his “singular and lamentable story,” which included – spoiler alert! – cannibalism. Pollard concluded: “But I can tell you no more–my head is on fire at the recollection.”

The Smithsonian’s own expert on whales, Curator Emeritus of Marine Mammals James G. Mead, stands in this photograph before a bookcase once owned by Melville, a whaler himself, that holds an array of copies of Moby Dick, including the very first and rare printing, published in London in October 1851, which was followed one month later by another edition in New York. This collection of Melvilleana is in the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Dr. Mead points to one of its many treasures, the copy of Moby Dick that was owned by its dedicatee, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Alas, the Smithsonian does not hold any of the earlier issues of Moby Dick, but it does have Sam Ita’s Moby-Dick: a Pop-Up Book (New York: Sterling Publishers, c2007) that tells the tale in abridged and highly inventive form (PZ7.I89617 Mob 2007 CHMRB). 
"Stove by a whale!": the sinking of the Pequod

The movie's preview clip
Julia Blakely
Smithsonian Libraries  

For more on Whales and the Smithsonian, please see "A Whale of a Tale," a recent posting in the Smithsonian Institution Archives blog. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Snake Hunter with a Microphone

Arthur M. Greenhall, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

 Arthur “Art” Greenhall was a zoologist; but even more importantly, he was an adventurer and an explorer. Paul Greenhall describes his father as, “a true 20th Century pioneer with his fervent desire to explore, observe and document.”  Art travelled the world collecting and studying animals that many people have only seen in books or on TV. He put out a record, wrote multiple books, was interviewed for magazines and newspapers, and became one of the foremost zoologists of his generation.

Art grew up in New York City where he spent his teenage years chasing snakes around Central Park and removing them from people’s homes for extra pocket money. During his time collecting snakes he found that some had tiny spurs near the end of their tails and concluded that “snakes have hips!” He shared his findings with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and received $100 for his submission (about $1400 today!).

Arthur M. Greenhall recording tortoises at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

While still a teenager, Art found a mentor in the famous herpetologist, Dr. Raymond Ditmars (herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, for those who were wondering). Ditmars spent much of his life travelling the world collecting animals and reptiles for the Bronx Zoo and Art wanted to be just like Ditmars when he grew up.  After high school, Art attended the University of Michigan and, by the early 1930s, earned a Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in zoology.  Following his time at university, his adventures truly began as he traveled to Cuba to work on a cattle ranch where he became fluent in Spanish. He was in Havana at the outbreak of the Cuban Revolution of 1933 and hid in his hotel room as explosions and gunfire erupted in the street below.

After returning to New York, Art went to work with Ditmars and accompanied him on trips throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. Art acted as the contact point for the team and was particularly good with finding animals for sale in the market and making friends with the locals who could help them find a particular animal. His work earned him the nickname “Snake Hunter” among the locals whose help he enlisted.

Arthur M. Greenhall recording a tiger at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

On one such trip, Art and Ditmars made their way to Trinidad, where Art managed to capture the first photograph of a vampire bat feeding. Ditmars went on to write the book Snake Hunters’ Holiday, published in 1935, about their time in Trinidad and Art used the book to lure his future wife Elizabeth into joining him on his adventures.

After he and Elizabeth were married they moved to Portland where Art was appointed the Director of the Portland Zoo. They spent 4 years in Oregon and after the birth of their children, Alice in 1943 and Paul in 1946, they moved to Michigan where Art became the Director of the Detroit Zoo.

While in Detroit, Art acquired an audio recorder and, at first, used it to play tricks on his family. He also used the recorder on multiple occasions to record his family and friends in a candid setting.  Once the novelty wore off, Art saw the scientific advantage of the recorder. He took it with him to work at the Detroit Zoo and spent many hours recording some of the 4,000 animals in the zoo. These recordings later caught the ear of Moses Asch and in 1954 the album Sounds of Animals: Audible Communication of Zoo and Farm Animals (FX 6124) with Art’s narration was released by Folkways Records (You can listen to samples from the album and his narration here). In the album, Art talks about the different sounds the animals make to exhibit different emotions.  It is easy to hear how the animal’s calls change with their mood and surroundings. His narration almost makes me wonder if translation of animal sounds might one day be possible.

Arthur M. Greenhall recording a flamingo at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

His work recording animals drew the attention of Science Illustrated and they interviewed him on his work for the December 1948 edition of the magazine. The pictures seen throughout this post were taken during this interview.

Art hated the cold weather in Michigan and his taste for travel and adventure were far from gone. He applied for a position with the Trinidadian government and in 1953 was appointed Zoologist of the West Indian British Colony. The family spent 10 years in Trinidad where Art worked simultaneously as Zoologist Curator of the National Museum and Art Gallery (formerly the Royal Victoria Institute and Art Gallery) and Director of the Emperor Valley Zoo. He also worked as Consultant Zoologist at the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory investigating vampire bats and their effect on rabies outbreaks. He also spent time collecting animals for the National Museum and Art Gallery, the American Natural History Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

After the family’s return to the United States in 1963, Art was sent to Mexico by the United Nations to study vampire bats and rabies. He grew to become one of the world’s foremost leaders in the study of vampire bats and their effect on the spread of rabies, publishing multiple books and articles on the subject.

Arthur M. Greenhall recording grizzly bears at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Art was a lover of animals and nature and that is reflected in almost every aspect of his life. He even had a hand in creating the Asa Wright Nature Centre in an effort to preserve the land of one of his close Trinidadian friends. Art took advantage of every opportunity to see the world and expand his knowledge of zoology and other cultures. The adventures Art took and the places and people he got to see throughout his life are truly enviable.

Kenna Howat, Intern
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections recently acquired a small collection of materials relating to Arthur M. Greenhall. The collection has been processed and described, thanks to Fall 2014 interns Jessica Coffin and Kenna Howat. To access the finding aid, or make an appointment to view these materials, please email

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

La Sirene (The Mermaid) Chair

Mermaids have appeared in the legends and folklore of various cultures around the world and throughout time: especially among seafaring peoples.  The Egyptians and Greeks, Chinese, Western Europeans, and West Africans all have tales of this half–woman, half–fish mythical creature.  Protective yet dangerous, mermaids are depicted as beauties with long flowing hair capable of creating great storms to wreck ships or warning sailors of forthcoming disaster.

Historically, these mysterious creatures “have been subjects of art and literature.” In Haitian culture, mermaids are known as La Sirene and are also subjects in the work of artists and craftsmen.

The mermaid chair pictured above was carved by contemporary Haitian-American furniture-maker, Mecene Jacques.  It was included in the traveling exhibition America’s Smithsonian:  Celebrating 150 Years in 1996 and in Buried Treasures: Art of African American Museums at the DuSable Museum of African American History in 2013.  The chair is part of the Anacostia Community Museum permanent collection and was first exhibited in Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC.

Mecene Jacques working in his studio (top) and the unfinished mermaid chair (bottom).  Anacostia Communit Museum Archives, Black Mosaic exhibition records,Smithsonian Institution. Photographs by Harold Dorwin.

Mecene Jacques immigrated to the United States during the economic and political turmoil that embroiled Haiti in the 1990s.  Like many other Haitian immigrants, Jacques brought to this country not only his craft and skills, but also a creative vision fueled by the folklore and vibrant cultural traditions of Haiti.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Movember and No Shave November Mustaches from the Archives of American Gardens

In honor of Movember and No Shave November, the Archives of American Gardens' honors the men behind some of America's most unique parks and gardens. These men sport some great facial hair!

This autochrome shows Alfred D. Robinson surrounded by his prized begonias at his home, Rosecroft, in San Diego, California. Robinson cultivated hundreds of varieties of begonias and was also a founder and first president of the San Diego Floral Association. The garden surrounding Robinson’s home sat on ten acres of land which has now been subdivided into multiple properties. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection. (AAG# CA142001)

Two gardeners creating a carpet bedding design at Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut, America’s first municipal rose garden, early 20th century. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection. (AAG# CT060001)

Charles Sprague Sargent, pictured here examining Quercus (oak) herbarium specimens, was appointed director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in 1872. Sargent collaborated with well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the arboretum creating a space for exceptional research and recreation. Photo by T.E. Marr, 1904. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection. (AAG# MA033024)

Catherine Bell
Archives of American Gardens 2014 Intern
Smithsonian Gardens

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Civil War Decision Makers: John W. Garrett Commits the B&O

Executive decision-making has been much in the news.
John Work Garrett, 1820-1884
During the Civil War, John W. Garrett, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, made a crucial business decision which affected the course of the war.  Despite being personally sympathetic to the Confederate cause, with Jubal Early’s men circling north toward Martinsburg and Cumberland and threatening the B&O, on February 1, 1864, Garrett wrote to Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, offering the services of his railroad to transport Union troops:

“…Immediate re-inforcements [sic] appear to be required. I have ordered vigorous preparations to be made for the transportation of troops from Washington and Baltimore…”

Letter from John Work Garrett to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Feb. 1, 1864.
From the Baltimore & Ohio Records, Misc. Correspondence, Box 2, Folder 10.
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Choosing the winning side facilitated the B & O’s post-war success in retrieving property stolen by Confederate troops.  As the Confederates circled north they were amazed to find fourteen locomotives in the B & O sheds in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A handwritten manuscript in our B & O Records entitled “The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad: Adventures of A Railroad During the Civil War” tells the story:

Locomotives Moved Over Turnpike Roads to Richmond
The Confederates had almost undisturbed possession of 100 miles of the [rail]road west of Harpers Ferry, during which time they destroyed all the bridges between that place and Cumberland, and took up and removed to Richmond the iron rails of 40 miles of the track. They also conveyed to Richmond 14 valuable locomotives, in perfect order, which they found in the company’s repair shops at Martinsburg. They accomplished this novel task with extraordinary perseverance and great mechanical skill, as they had to transport these heavy locomotives over the turnpike roads on their own wheels to Strasburg, a distance of fully 40 miles.

According to the B & O Engine Shop Records, the company got twelve of the fourteen locomotives back in 1865:

 “All 12 captured locos back in shop. 2 never returned 34 and 50.”

Christine Windheuser, Volunteer, Archives Center, National Museum of American History