Monday, December 21, 2015

From the Stacks: Santa Claus

The Clements staff are busy packing offices and preparing collections for our move back to campus, an all-encompassing task that makes the days pass far too quickly. We take this opportunity to step back from bubble wrap and boxes to reflect on the magic of the holidays.

The spirit of generosity that characterizes so much of this season is not only reflected in the exchange of gifts and the gathering of loved ones but also in the special efforts to heighten children's excitement and wonder. Charming letters to Santa can be found in several of our manuscript collections, but it's less common to see how Santa responded. This undated draft of a poem written by "Santa Claus" reveals some of the thought that went into these exchanges.

Undated draft poem by "Santa Claus" in our Lars Gustaf Sellstedt family collection.

"Dear children I've come with a pack full of toys / Some presents to leave for all good girls and boys / But I am growing so old, and your chimney's so small / I fear that I never should get down at all," Santa worries. His hand-wringing continues as he frets about the changing world he encounters on his yearly trip. "So many fast trolleys horses are running you meet / A quiet old saint dares not drive in the street… Then as to the chimneys they build now-a-days, / They are not made for Santa Claus by a great ways." Despite his "grumbl[ings]," Santa finishes by admitting that no matter his grievances he would not "be obliged from my darlings to part," and he promises "my sleigh with its presents shall stop at your door / And whether I come with books, candy, or toys / I've heart full of love for my girls and my boys."

This poem, if left for children to read on Christmas morning, would make Santa Claus feel all the more tangible, as his worries about contemporary road traffic and chimneys connected him to their daily experiences. Another example of how Americans grounded Santa in the historical moment can be found in Louise Clack's 1867 General Lee and Santa Claus. This volume features a story about three Southern girls arguing about Santa, with one angrily proclaiming "he wasn't a rebel. I know he wasn't, for he never came to the Southern children for four Christmas Eves." Intended to be read by children recovering from the anxieties and traumas of the Civil War, the book acknowledges the hardships experienced in recent years.

Robert E. Lee waves to Santa in this illustration from General Lee and Santa Claus. Mrs. Louise Clack's Christmas Gift to Her Little Southern Friends (New York: Blelock & Co., 1867).

The children write to General Robert E. Lee, a trusted and beloved Confederate figure, to determine whether Santa "was our friend." The return "letter" from Lee proclaims Santa "one of the best friends that the little Southern girls have," and explains that he met Santa during the first Christmas Eve of the Civil War, crest-fallen at not being able to travel South to deliver toys on account of the war. He encouraged Santa to instead "take every one of the toys you have back as far as Baltimore, sell them, and with the money you get buy medicines, bandages, ointments and delicacies for our sick and wounded men." Thus, Santa joins the rank of war heroes and the girls' worries about paltry Christmases are addressed. Tying Santa to the historical realities of post-bellum children's lives made him and his magic more believable.

The developing technology of late nineteenth-century photography could also be harnessed to heighten excitement about Christmas. Take, for example, these two stereographs from our Graphics Division.

F. G. Weller, "Christmas Scenes—No. 282" and an untitled stereograph labeled in manuscript on verso, "Santa Claus- No. 172."
These images featuring Santa, one as he prepares to descend the chimney and the second as he enters the home with his pack of toys, could be used with a stereo viewer to see them in three-dimensions. Whether through poetry, literature, or photography, Santa's plausibility—and the excitement about his visit—surely grew when these media interacted with children's already vivid imaginations. As these items from the Clements's collections show, the collective interest in building the season's wonder has found imaginative outlets through the years, harkening to children's lived realities to make the magic feel all the more special.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Blueday at the Clements Library



Today the University of Michigan is hosting Giving Blueday, a university-wide campaign to participate in the growing tradition of Giving Tuesday, a global day of generosity to mark the opening of the holiday season. All of us at the Clements Library would like to invite you to join in this initiative. Your support enables us to build and preserve our world-class collection of early Americana.

For Giving Blueday you can choose from a number of different funds that advance our mission to collect and preserve the primary source materials used by students, scholars, and the general public alike. Consider giving to our Acquisitions Fund if you would like to support the Clements's efforts to purchase materials for our collections. The manuscript and rare book markets can be competitive and expensive, but our curators' keen eyes for "new" materials have made our collections some of the best in the world. While we continue to pursue large collections and the rarest of materials, more modest purchases add nuance and context to our holdings as well. If you wonder what your donation could purchase, consider this item recently acquired for $150.


A tongue-in-cheek elegiac poem for Chippie, the "only and beloved duck of J. N. Clark," this charming manuscript gives a unique glimpse into a nineteenth-century family's relationship with pets, death, and satire. All donations made today, no matter their size, can quickly add up and help us purchase such singular items. Another way to offer more general support for acquisitions, while also getting some added perks, is to join the Clements Library Associates. Contributing to this fund not only helps the Clements Library purchase extraordinary items, like this exquisite 1793 hand-colored manuscript map Plan de Carthagene en Murcie, but you also receive membership benefits such as invitations to special events, and our semi-annual publication, The Quarto.

Detail from Baerend, Plan de Carthagene, ([Paris?],1793), purchased with funds from the Clements Library Associates.

Many of our supporters and researchers enjoy the public programming offered by the Clements Library. Donating to our Lectureship Program helps host speakers on early America. Another way to help us reach wide audiences is through our Technology Fund. As an example of how digitized collections can be used, explore the webpage for the Arabella Chapman Project. The Clements Library has two unique photograph albums compiled by Arabella Chapman, an African American woman who lived in Albany, New York, and North Adams, Massachusetts. In collaboration with Dr. Martha S. Jones and her University of Michigan classes, the Clements has made these albums available online for student and public use.

Visit the Arabella Chapman Project, where you can digitally page through these unique albums, just one example of how the Clements Library's resources benefit from technological support.

Other digitization efforts currently underway are being made by our Joyce Bonk Assistant, Noa Kasman. She is currently working on establishing an online image bank for Clements materials and will be scanning books relating to African American history to be uploaded to HathiTrust. Whether you wish to sponsor a fellowship, as the Bonk family generously did, or give towards our general Technology Fund, your donation can further our efforts to get more content available digitally. For distant researchers having our materials online would make all the difference. Your donation can make this possible.

Our conservation initiatives go hand-in-hand with our digitization efforts, as both seek to preserve our collections for future use while making them as widely accessible as possible. Donating to our Conservation Fund could help us create custom housings to protect the most fragile items in our collections. Whether it be a simple wrap or an elaborate tray case, placing fragile bound manuscripts in protective coverings can help prevent shelf wear, light damage, and other environmental impacts. Our Charity Hospital (New Orleans, La.) Lunatic Asylum Admission Book contains admittance records from 1841-1848 for patients suffering from mental health troubles and contagious diseases. Relevant to the history of science, gender, race studies, and other subjects, this admission book contains a wealth of information. However, in order to ensure that it remains in usable condition, it needs some help.
 

The volume's binding is very fragile, its original cloth cover is fraying, and some pages have separated from the spine. Your donation to our Conservation Fund could go towards protecting incredible resources like this, ensuring that all of its information remains available for study by researchers and students.

If you find it difficult to choose just one area to support the Clements Library, you can always opt to donate to our General Fund, which will grant us the freedom to use your generous contribution to support the multifaceted operations that keep our Library a world-class institution.

As we celebrate the generosity and open-heartedness that characterizes Giving Tuesday, we hope that you will consider the Clements Library as a worthy recipient for your contribution.

Please support the Clements Library today. If you would like to discuss giving opportunities further, please contact Angela Oonk at angmo@umich.edu or phone 734-647-0864.