Friday, October 5, 2018

What's in Your Attic? Treasures Big and Small

The William L. Clements Library invited members of the public to join us on Sunday, September 30, 2018, for an event we called "What's in Your Attic?"  We encouraged attendees to bring their own paper treasures, such as letters, journals, photographs, prints, books, and maps, for discussion with Clements Curators and guest Americana collectors.  Our intentions were to garner enthusiasm for the Clements Library, gain some knowledge of exciting materials currently stewarded by private owners, learn more about our friends, build new relationships, and above all have a pleasurable time sharing fascinating stories buried in old paper.  This informal gathering took place in the beautiful Avenir Foundation Reading Room.  Families, collectors, aficionados, and colleagues came to the event for conversations about donation, storage and conservation, family history, and mutual interests.

Often, visitors express surprise that in addition to papers of Great Public Figures, the Clements Library acquires and collects the letters, diaries, documents, photographs, and other papers of everyday persons living everyday lives in Colonial America and the United States.  Not only do we care for over 100 of General George Washington's original letters, but also the correspondence of struggling farming families, social and religious activists, immigrant families, and economic players of all kinds.  Not only do we preserve and protect the hand-drawn maps of highly accomplished Revolutionary War military cartographers, but also map exercises of schoolchildren.  The following two manuscripts, donated to the Clements Library during the "What's in Your Attic?" event, suggest the breadth our collection.

Manuscript 1:  The Adam Ludewig Diary

Dr. Angela Del Vecchio brought to the Library a charming 8 x 15cm, 1885 pocket diary, kept by A. Ludewig of Alpena, Michigan.  The diarist wrote daily entries for the full year, each offering only the briefest mentions of his activities, expenses, and the weather.  A typical entry, for example, reads, "All well in Store. / at Church & SS- / [at Church] in Eve with Paul. / at my Sisters. / all well. / Fine Day, but Stormy."  Although not descriptive, the regular daily contributions to this little book give us unique insight into the life and activities of its author, of daily concerns and events that were especially important for him to remember.  A few hours of research gave us enough information about the diarist to contextualize the manuscript and help determine the significance of the piece.  A. Ludewig was Adam Ludewig, born in April 1862 in Germany.  His family immigrated to the United States sometime prior to 1871.  They settled in Alpena, on the Northeast shoreline of the lower peninsula of Michigan around the time of the Great Michigan forest fire.  He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1884.  At the time of the diary, in 1885, he worked as a clerk in a bookstore; he later became a businessman and bookseller in his own right.

What information about 22 and 23 year-old Mr. Ludewig are we able to secure from his diary?  We know that Ludewig took painting lessons on Sundays and spent time learning French.  We know that he spent nearly every day at his bookstore; he attended morning and evening Congregational Church services and Sunday School meetings; he regularly visited, received calls from, and corresponded with several unmarried young women; he visited his parents and played chess with his father; he was engaged in the local Freemason Lodge; he offered financial support to the German Aid Society and the Arbeiterverein; and he read often.  He read Titcomb's Letters to Young People, Single and Married by Josiah Holland; Nature's Serial Story by Edward P. Roe; His Sombre Rivals by Edward P. Roe; Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott; Farm Ballads by Will Carleton; an unspecified life of Washington; The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Goethe; and much else.  In short, this unassuming and sparse diary will support research on young adulthood, the intellectual and artistic life of a man in his early 20s, German Americans in Michigan, family dynamics, and much else.

Manuscript 2:  Abraham Lincoln partially-printed DS to William Warner

When Dr. Elizabeth Bishop informed the Library that she wished to donate her ancestor William Warner's commission, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, we envisioned one of the many ornate military officer's commissions, partially printed on vellum (and, of course, we looked forward to seeing it).  On arrival, however, we were excited to find that the document was of a much rarer sort--an appointment for William Warner to serve on the allotment commission for the state of Michigan.  On December 24, 1861, the United States Congress approved an Act to provide for Allotment Certificates (12 Stat. 331), which authorized President Lincoln to appoint up to three commissioners from each state to manage a voluntary program, by which soldiers could assign a percentage of their pay to be disbursed directly to specified family and friends.  The commissioners were unpaid volunteers, who sought out the soldiers of their respective states and procured documents certifying for allotments to be drawn from their pay for the benefit of those at home.  William Warner's appointment bears the signatures of President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and an embossed seal of the U.S. War Department.  The Bishop family preserved the document in an envelope of University of Michigan Librarian William Warner Bishop, marked as the property of University of Michigan Law School Professor William W. Bishop, Jr.  The envelopes still accompany the manuscript.

Cheney J. Schopieray
Curator of Manuscripts

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a wonderful story. I suspect that Dr. Elizabeth Bishop is my old University School classmate (Class of '68.) We all called her Betty. Wonderful story.

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