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Archive for 'Prologue Magazine'

Four Patriots from Baseball’s Hall of Fame

World War I Draft Registration Card for Tyrus R. Cobb (ARC 641757)

Each January, as frost and snow cover baseball fields across America, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum provides heartwarming news for fans of our national pastime. This is the season when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America elects new members from the ranks of retired ballplayers.

When the Hall of Fame was first established in 1936, its inaugural class of inductees included legendary ballplayers Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Babe Ruth. These were four of the most talented stars of the early 20th century—a collection of hitters and pitchers worthy of Major League Baseball’s highest honor.

And while all four ballplayers are best known for their statistics and individual accomplishments, they also distinguished themselves for patriotic actions off the field.

As World War I drew to a close in 1918, both Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson served in France as part of the Chemical Warfare Service. Commonly referred to as the “Gas and Flame Division,” the unit  combated the virulent effects of German gas attacks.

Throughout the final months of the war, the two ballplayers took part in several dangerous training exercises. “Men screamed . . . when they got a whiff of the sweet death in the air, they went crazy with fear,” Cobb recalled in his 1961 autobiography. The … [ Read all ]

A Civil War Widow’s Story

Tintype of Adelia Springer and her daughter. (Widow’s Certificate #63958, Civil War and Later Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

Intriguing discoveries are made all the time in the National Archives. This tintype of a woman and child doesn’t look like the typical federal record, let alone one associated with military records. But it was found in one of the 1.28 million Civil War Widows Certificate Approved Pension Case Files. Since 2007, a team of volunteers has been working on a project to digitize these records and make them available online, and from time to time, unexpected treasures turn up.

The file of one widow, Adelia M. Fish, holds quite a story. Her first husband, Joseph Springer served as a private in Company A, Seventh Michigan Cavalry, and died at Andersonville Prison in October 1864. She had four children under the age of 16 when she applied for her pension in June 1865.

In July 1872 Adelia married Jason B. Webb, and she was dropped from the pension rolls. Webb left their home in Battle Creek, MI, in the fall of 1872, and Adelia never saw him or heard from him again. Presuming him dead, she married a third time to Washington A. Fish in 1883. Adelia had no children by … [ Read all ]

Hit the Road, Jack!

Today’s post is by Miriam Kleiman, public relations specialist at the National Archives.

Jack Kerouac (National Personnel Records Center)

Jack Kerouac—American counterculture hero, king of the Beats, and author of On the Road—was a Navy military recruit who failed boot camp.

Navy doctors found Kerouac delusional, grandiose, and promiscuous, and questioned his strange writing obsession.

I learned this in 2005, right before the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis announced the opening of more than 3,000 military personnel files—including those of some famous folks.

Working in public affairs at the National Archives is a challenge. We’re always trying to make what’s old seem new. Just yesterday someone asked, “What’s new at the National Archives?” I responded “Absolutely nothing, but I can tell you some neat new things about what’s old.”

The St. Louis records release gave us a chance to share some unknown gems about some very well-known people including Elvis, Clark Cable, and Jackie Robinson. Our colleagues in St. Louis sent us files to see what might interest the media, but most of the material didn’t qualify as newsworthy. It’s vision and dental records, physical exam notes, letters of recommendation, or names and addresses of next of kin.

Then, I found Jack Kerouac’s file. Thicker than the rest, it details his 10 days in basic training—and 67 under psychiatric evaluation. This, I thought, is NEWS! … [ Read all ]

Herman Melville: A Voyage into History

The Acushnet's crew list, December 1840. Herman Melville's name appears sixth from the bottom. (Records of the U.S. Customs Service, RG 36, National Archives at Boston)

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Prologue magazine.

Herman Melville’s classic American novel, Moby-Dick, was first published in the United States on November 14, 1851. In Moby-Dick and his earlier books, Melville called upon his own experience aboard whaling ships, most notably his 18 months spent aboard the Acushnet, sailing out of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The 21-year-old Melville signed on in December 1840 but never completed the journey with the ship. After rounding Cape Horn and sailing across the Pacific, Melville and another crew member deserted in July 1842 while the ship was stopped at Nukahiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Their departure was not an isolated incident; 11 of the original complement of 26 officers and men deserted at various times during the voyage.

The crew list was signed by Capt. Valentine Pease on December 31, 1840. Two days later, Pease had to amend the list to note the first two deserters from the crew and the late signing of a replacement. The collector of customs for New Bedford, Massachusetts, retained a copy of the crew list as required by an 1803 act of Congress governing merchant ships … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: A mustache, a funny man, and a President

Page of the World War I draft card for Groucho Marx, from the holdings of the National Archives

Julius Henry Marx–better known by his stage name Groucho Marx–passed away on August 19, 1977. He left behind a legacy of humor on stage, radio, and film. I was not able to find to find any images of him in our holdings, which was disappointing as his trademark mustache was a fine candidate for Facial Hair Friday.

However, I did find something unexpected. Groucho had been corresponding with President Truman.

What would a funny man and a President have in common? Well, it turns out that the young Harry Truman was an avid vaudeville fan, attending shows at the Orpheum Theatre and the Grand Opera House whenever he was Kansas City. He even took his future wife Bess to vaudeville shows on dates. Truman especially enjoyed the Marx Brothers, later recalling that he never missed a chance to see them when they were in town.

So Truman was a fan of the famous brothers, but how did he come to correspond with Groucho (and later Harpo Marx)?

It started with the displaced persons, the survivors of the Holocaust who had lost their homes and families and were now living in temporary camps. Truman had issued a directive in 1945 to allow some of them to immigrate to the United States. In … [ Read all ]