Headless Horsemen in American and Irish Legend

by Sara Weber, Special Collections Digital Project Specialist, and Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

2019-2020 marks the two hundred years anniversary of Washington Irving’s first publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which includes the perennial Halloween favorite “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow”. In the time since its publication, the story has found its way into films, TV shows, other books, and various other popular culture references. In honor of the anniversary, we’ve selected it for our 2020 Halloween tale.

The particular volume shown in this post came to us across the ocean from Ireland. It was part of the library of Walter Sweetman, a nineteenth-century Catholic landowner in County Wexford. When the Sweetman family of South Dakota inherited the Irish property, all the books from the library were included with furniture, but many perished from exposure to the salt water. It’s a pity our conservators were not involved in organizing that shipment. We like to imagine a reader in a large Irish country house reading of Sleepy Hollow with the backdrop of an Irish stormy evening.

The Sweetman Collection, given to us in 1997, is a large collection of over 470 volumes.

Download a PDF of Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to read the whole story.

Irving’s headless horseman was not the first of his kind, however. Riders who have lost or carry their head appeared in various stories and folklore before featuring as Ichabod Crane’s nemesis, beginning as early as the 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight. In Irish legend, the Dullahan or dúlachán is a Grim Reaper-like rider who carries his head under his arm (sometimes also known as the Gan Ceann, meaning literally “without a head” in Irish). (See Jessica Traynor’s ‘How tales of the headless horseman came from Celtic mythology’ in the Irish Times, October 23, 2019.)

In Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1834), we find several stories grouped together under the heading of “The Dullahan”, including one titled simply “The Headless Horseman”. Croker was one of the earliest writers to compile collections of Irish folklore. Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland was first published in 1825. Having received much attention, including translation by the Grimm brothers, Croker went on to produce two more volumes. This edition, published in 1834, is a one-volume selection that he edited. A summary of the controversy surrounding the various friends who contributed stories may be found in the biography by Maureen Murphy in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

The humorous story that we have selected begins in a sheebeen in Ballyhooley, West Cork, and follows the incredible encounter of Charley Culnane with a headless man on a headless horse.


Happy Halloween to you and yours
from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!

Halloween 2016 RBSC post: Ghosts in the Stacks
Halloween 2017 RBSC post: A spooky story for Halloween: The Goblin Spider
Halloween 2018 RBSC post: A story for Halloween: “Johnson and Emily; or, The Faithful Ghost”
Halloween 2018 RBSC post: A Halloween trip to Mexico

Protecting the Reader: A Banned Books Week Miscellany

Our colleague Doug Archer, a longtime activist for intellectual freedom and a Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor awardee, has always used Banned Books Week as a time to raise awareness of threats to intellectual freedom. During this year’s Banned Books Week (September 27 to October 3), since Doug is enjoying his well-earned retirement, we decided to dive into our collections and identify books whose circulation has been impeded in different times and places.

In this post, you will find an assortment of examples that show various types of books and the ways that they have been withheld, by government or by church, nationally or locally, in various parts of the world.

This was the poster for our 2008 exhibit on the Index of Prohibited Books, curated by Benjamin Panciera (now Director of Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College). The Freedom to Read and the Care of Souls: The Index of Prohibited Books since the Enlightenment examined how the Catholic Church sought to influence the circulation of ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries and what sort of material was considered dangerous.

Galilei Galileo. Dialogo dei massimi sistemi. Fiorenza: Per Gio: Batista Landini, 1632.
Special Collections Vault QB 41 .G1332 1642

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list compiled by the Catholic Church over a period of four centuries, consisted of a large number of books that lay Catholics were not permitted to read. Galileo’s Dialogo dei massimi sistemi [Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems] was added to the Index in 1634 and was not removed until 1822. In addition, Galileo was tried for heresy in 1633 and placed under house arrest, where he remained until his death almost a decade later.

Ulysses first edition cover
James Joyce. Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922.
Special Collections Vault PR 6019 .O9 U4 1922

One of the most famous pronouncements on censorship of a literary work, which occurred in the U.S., is that of Judge Woolsey on James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was widely reported in newspapers at the time.

COURT LIFTS BAN ON ‘ULYSSES’ HERE

Ignores Single Passages

His Judging of Volume as a Whole, Not in Isolated Parts, Establishes a Precedent.

James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a novel which has been banned from the United States by custom censors on the ground that it might cause American readers to harbor “impure and lustful thoughts,” found a champion yesterday in the United States District Court.

Federal Judge John M. Woolsey, after devoting almost a month of his time to reading the book, ruled in an opinion which he filed in court that “Ulysses” not only was not obscene in a legal sense, but that it was a work of literary merit.

New York Times, December 7, 1933.

As we have seen in the case of Galileo (above), in various places and at various times in history, censorship has not only prevented people from access to certain books, but has sometimes punished, imprisoned, or publicly shamed their authors.

This rare book is an example of early Stalin propaganda. It became the first and only Stalin-era book that glorified the use of slave labor in the massive building projects of the 1930s. An estimated 170,000 prisoners worked in subhuman conditions on Belomorkanal, moving stones and digging the canal using their bare hands or primitive materials and technologies. Tens of thousands of inmates died during the twenty-one months of its construction (1931–33).

Commissioned by Stalin and published in Moscow in 1934 to coincide with the opening of the infamous XVII Party Congress, this book was presented as a souvenir to Congress delegates to celebrate the success of the First Soviet Industrial Five-Year Plan. Thirty-six Soviet writers and many leading artists, including the avant-garde photographer Aleksandr Rodchenko, visited the Canal and contributed their essays and photographic images of prisoners to praise the “transforming power” of the Gulag. By 1937, at the height of the Stalin Great Terror, the policy of “reeducating” class enemies through corrective labor was replaced by mass arrests, imprisonments and executions. The new policy called for the physical extermination of the “enemies of the people” and the obliteration of their names from the public record, including books. Four years after its publication, even this blatantly propagandist piece was found suspect and withdrawn from circulation; most copies were destroyed, and its many contributors were sent to the Gulag.

Eric Cross. The Tailor and Ansty. London: Chapman & Hall, 1964.
Special Collections (Medium Rare) Medium DA 925 .C73 1964

While many countries have not taken such extreme measures against authors, censorship has sometimes been carried out along with public shaming.

In Ireland, books that portrayed indecency or behavior that was not approved by the Catholic Church were often subject to censorship. A famous case was that of The Tailor and Ansty, Eric Cross’s book portraying the storytelling and commentary of a rural couple, Tadhg Ó Buachalla and his wife Anastasia, or Ansty. Not only was the book the subject of government debate over a four-day period, but the couple were visited by a priest (or three priests in some accounts) and ordered to burn their own copy of the book.

The Gadfly
E. L. Voynich. The Gadfly. New York: International Book and Pub. Co., 1900.
Special Collections Rare Books Small PR 6043 .O78 G34 1900

In the first decade of Ireland’s Free State, the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, was enacted to prohibit the sale and distribution of “unwholesome literature”. Over the next forty years, hundreds of books were banned from sale in Ireland.

Ethel Voynich’s popular novel, The Gadfly, first published in the U.S. in 1897, was banned in Ireland in 1943. We had occasion to pull this book off the shelves as a Notre Dame student who is writing her senior thesis on this novel is particularly interested in why the book, popular elsewhere in Europe, was little known and also banned in Ireland.

Land of Spices by Kate O'Brien
Kate O’Brien. The Land of Spices. Dublin: Arlen House, 1982.
Special Collections (Medium Rare) Medium PR 6029 .B65 L3 1982

Novels by Kate O’Brien were banned in Ireland and in Spain. The novel featured here, Land of Spices, was apparently banned in Ireland on account of one sentence in which the protagonist learns that her father was in a homosexual relationship. “She saw Etienne and her father in the embrace of love.” Thus the novel was deemed indecent and obscene.

Edna O’Brien, whose recent books include Girl (2019) and The Little Red Chairs (2016), is the author of novels that were very controversial in Ireland in the 1950s and ’60s. Her earliest novels, found offensive for their depiction of girls’ and women’s lives, including sexuality, were consistently banned by the Irish Censorship Board. O’Brien’s books circulated widely in spite of censorship, and the following account by Dónal Ó Drisceoil shows that the Irish Censorship Board was fighting a losing battle:

At a packed public meeting in Limerick in 1966, O’Brien asked for a show of hands as to how many had read her banned books: she was met with a sea of hands and much laughter.

Ó Drisceoil, 154
Frank O’Connor. Kings, Lords, & Commons. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1970.
General Collection PB 1424 .K564 1970

The censorship in Ireland of Frank O’Connor’s Kings, Lords, and Commons continues to provide amusement as the content that raised the censors’ concern was O’Connor’s translation of the acclaimed poem “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” written in the eighteenth century by Brian Merriman. Much praised and valued as a literary work, the original Irish language text, and even earlier English translations, had never been censored, but this translation by O’Connor, conveying the humorous, hard-hitting language of sexually frustrated women, suggested that such lively discourse could exist in Irish-language literature, but not in English.

Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Bantam Books, 1949.
Special Collections Rare Books Small PS 3515 .E37 F2 1949

Once again, the Republic of Ireland is the place where this book by Hemingway was banned. This book and many others in our collection that could be freely read in the U.S. might not have been available to readers in Ireland and in other countries where such censorship was practiced. Examples of American books not allowed in Ireland for some time during the twentieth century include Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (banned 1933), Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos (banned 1934) and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (banned 1941).

Moving from national censorship to local censorship, the Hesburgh Libraries’ shelves are filled with books that have been censored in some way, either by being removed from the shelves of libraries, or being challenged and banned by local school boards. This is the kind of censorship that is generally of concern to the American Library Association, and that is highlighted during Banned Books Week.

Judy Blume, an author whose books have often been removed from school libraries, has become a spokesperson against the censorship of books. Her 1970 book, Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret, has a young protagonist who muses on, and discusses, sexuality, menstruation, bras, and religion. Reasons that the book has been challenged and sometimes removed from library shelves include the sexual content and the treatment of religion.

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, has frequently been challenged, e.g. by parents asking school districts to have the book removed from library shelves. The combination of science and religion in the book, along with a kind of magic or fantasy, is at the root of many of the challenges. The American Library Association’ Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles annual lists of books based on reports they receive from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. For two decades, L’Engle’s novel was in the top one hundred challenged books.

More on the American Library Association’s findings on the books challenged throughout America may be learned by checking the Banned Books Week website.

References

Ó Drisceoil, Dónal. ‘The Best Banned in the Land: Censorship and Irish Writing since 1950’, in The Yearbook of English Studies 35 (2005), pp. 146-160. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3509330

Upcoming Events: February and early March

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, February 20 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: MA student research presentations.

Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.


The spring exhibitPaws, Hooves, Fins & Feathers: Animals in Print, 1500-1800, is now open and will run through the summer. This is an exhibit of rare zoological books featuring early printed images of animals. We welcome classes and other groups of any age and would love to tailor a tour for your students and your curriculum — and if you can’t come to campus, the curators can bring the exhibit to you. Watch for forthcoming announcements of additional related events!

For more information about the exhibit or to set up a visit, contact curators Julie Tanaka and Erika Hosselkus.

The current spotlight exhibits are: John Ruskin and Popular Taste (February – April 2020) and Ruskin, Turner, and Popular Taste (February 2020), both featuring materials from Special Collections relating to the Ruskin Conference being held at Notre Dame in February.

Thanksgiving from the Margins

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian

This Thanksgiving we’re highlighting a book of poetry and prose that is part of a group of avant-garde American literary works called the Small Press/Mimeograph Revolution, 1940-1970s collection. Millbrook Thanksgiving, by poet and writer Walter Schneider (1934-2015), is a panegyric to the psychedelic-fueled community Timothy Leary created in upstate Millbrook, New York from 1963 to 1967. A psychologist interested in the effects of synthetic drugs on human consciousness, Leary settled in Millbrook after being fired from Harvard University for using the substances he was studying (LSD was legal in the US at that time). In the wake of local police harassment that led to Leary’s repeated arrests for minor drug infractions, he moved to California where he crossed paths with Schneider, a PhD student at Berkeley.

Schneider’s spirited defense of Leary’s counter culturalism places the book’s content in the cultural vanguard of 1971. But so does the book’s production. Printed as a small run of just 3,000 copies, its design—from the soft cover, typography, and heavy paper, to its eclectic illustrations—signals the book’s origins outside of mainstream American publishing. Mad River Press, the small California-based operation that produced Millbrook Thanksgiving, specialized in experimental poetry and creations like Schneider’s. The press released very small runs of poetry chapbooks, which were short (40 pages or less), inexpensively constructed, soft-cover booklets. Some were published anonymously and with no identifying publication information, indicating that publisher and author rejected the authority of copyright law.

Mad River Press and its authors also placed important visual pieces in their publications. Millbrook Thanksgiving used the first photograph in Robert Frank’s The Americans (published 1958), an extended photo essay that captured Americans in real life. Beat writer Jack Kerouac, who introduced the 1959 edition, noted that “he [Frank] sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” His book of photographs remains an important visual text of post-war America. In a chapbook of poetry by Fred Glazer also published in 1971, Mad River Press included an image by the African American painter Louis Delsarte.

The library’s Small Press/Mimeograph Revolution, 1940-1970s collection holds more than 350 items. Some, like Millbrook Thanksgiving, were produced by small, experimental presses, while others were created by individuals or small collectives using relatively inexpensive copying technologies like the Ditto machine (remember the smell of those purple ink pages?) or the mimeograph. The collection is searchable in the library’s catalog.


RBSC will be closed during Notre Dame’s Thanksgiving Break (November 22-25, 2018). We wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2015 RBSC post: Thanksgiving and football
Thanksgiving 2016 RBSC post: Thanksgiving Humor by Mark Twain
Thanksgiving 2017 RBSC post: Playing Indian, Playing White

Upcoming Events: November and early December

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Tuesday, November 6 at 3:00pm | Workshop: Alternate Careers in Rare Books, Special Collections, Archives, and Museums.

Wednesday, November 7 at 3:30pm | Black Catholic History Month: “The Black Catholic Movement: The First 50 Years, 1968–2018” by Fr. Clarence Williams, CPPS, Ph.D. Co-sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, Hesburgh Libraries, and the University Archives.

Thursday, November 8 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “Fascist Im/Mobilities: A Decade of Amedeo Nazzari” by Alberto Zambenedetti (Toronto). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

Friday, November 9 at 3:00pm | Operation Frankenstein: “Melodramatic Frankenstein: Radical Content in a Reactionary Form” by Jeff Cox (University of Colorado Boulder). Co-sponsored by the Department of English and the Indiana Humanities Council.

Tuesday, November 13 at 3:00pm | Workshop: Archival Skills. CANCELED

Thursday, November 15 at 4:30pm |  Iberian & Latin American Studies: “Language and Power: Searching for the Origins of Catalan Linguistic Identity” by Vicente Lledó-Guillem (Hofstra University). Co-sponsored by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, the Medieval Institute, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, and the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures.

Thursday, November 29 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “Dante’s Florentine Intellectual Formation: From Quodlibets to the Vita nuova” by Lorenzo Dell’Oso (Ph.D. Candidate, Notre Dame). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.


The exhibit In Solzhenitsyn’s Circle: the Writer and his Associates runs through the end of the semester.

The current spotlight exhibits are Frankenstein 200 (August – December 2018) and Delamarche’s États-Unis de l’Amérique septentrionale: The United States in 1785 (November – December 2018).


RBSC will be closed during Notre Dame’s
Thanksgiving Break (November 22-25, 2018)
.

A story for Halloween: “Johnson and Emily; or, The Faithful Ghost”

“It is always Christmas Eve, in a ghost story…”

Told after Supper by Jerome K. Jerome is an anthology of short, humorous ghost stories. The copy in Special Collections, shown here, is the first edition, published 1891 by Leadenhall Press in London and illustrated “With 96 or 97 Illustrations” by Kenneth M. Skeaping.

The four primary stories, interspersed with shorter “Interludes,” are told by guests at a Christmas Eve dinner party hosted at the home of the narrator’s uncle. In 19th century England, it was typically not Halloween but Christmas Eve that was considered the time to tell spooky stories.

Jerome’s book follows in the tradition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (first published in 1843) and other stories written or published by Dickens in the magazines he edited, Household Words and All the Year Round. Jerome’s stories are less frightening or moralizing, as the earlier Christmas ghosts tended to be, and more amusing.

And so, for this year’s Halloween post, we share for your amusement the first story from this volume, “Johnson and Emily; or, the Faithful Ghost”.

Happy Halloween to you and yours from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!

Halloween 2016 RBSC post: Ghosts in the Stacks
Halloween 2017 RBSC post: A spooky story for Halloween: The Goblin Spider

Upcoming Events: October and early November

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Friday, October 12 at 3:00pm | Frankenstein and Medical Ethics: A Panel with Faculty from Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend (IUSM-SB).

• Mark Fox, MD PhD MPH (IUSM-SB), Modern Day Re-animation: Revisiting the Moral History of Transplantation

• Joseph Kotva, PhD (IUSM-SB), Frankenstein and an Ethics of Virtue

• Gary Fromm, MD (IUSM-SB), Frankenstein, Film, and Medical Education

• Kathleen Eggleson, PhD (IUSM-SB), Teaching Frankenstein Today:  The Moral Imperative to Reform the Education of Medical Scientists

• Chair, Eileen Hunt Botting, Professor of Political Science (Notre Dame)

This event is part of Operation Frankenstein, a semester-long series of interdisciplinary events taking place at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s novel.

Tuesday, October 23 at 4:00pm | Public Lecture: “La primera entrada al Río de la Plata: Maldonado y su historia” / “The First Entry to the Rio de la Plata: Maldonado and Its History” by Silvia Guerra (Uruguayan poet and scholar).

Wednesday, October 24 at 4:00pm |Un mar en madrugada / A Sea at Dawn: Bilingual Reading by Silvia Guerra and Jesse Lee Kercheval.

Thursday, October 25 at 5:00pm | Italian Lecture: “Primo Levi e Dante: quattro casi (più o meno noti)” / “Primo Levi & Dante: Four Cases (More or Less Known)” by Fabrizio Franceschini (Pisa). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

Wednesday, November 7 at 3:30pm | Black Catholic History Month public lecture by Fr. Clarence Williams, CPPS, Ph.D. Co-sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Hesburgh Libraries/University Archives

Thursday, November 8 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “Fascist Im/Mobilities: A Decade of Amedeo Nazzari” by Alberto Zambenedetti (Toronto). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.


The exhibit In Solzhenitsyn’s Circle: the Writer and his Associates runs through the end of the semester. The exhibit will be open special hours during the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture’s 19th Annual Fall Conference “Higher Powers” (November 1–3, 2018).

The current spotlight exhibits are Frankenstein 200 (August – December 2018) and A Modern Prometheus: Balancing Science and Ethics (September – October 2018).


RBSC is open regular hours during Notre Dame’s
Fall Break (October 15-19, 2018)
.

Upcoming Events: September and early October

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Friday, September 7 at 1:00pm | Operation Frankenstein: “Illustrated Frankenstein: The 200th Anniversary Edition” by David Plunkert (artist and illustrator). Operation Frankenstein is a semester-long series of interdisciplinary events taking place at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s novel.

Thursday, September 20 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “The Face of Recent Italian Criminal Television: Gomorrah and Beyond” by Dana Renga (Ohio State). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.


The exhibit In Solzhenitsyn’s Circle: the Writer and his Associates runs through the end of the semester.

The current spotlight exhibits are Frankenstein 200 (August – December 2018) and A Modern Prometheus: Balancing Science and Ethics (September – October 2018).


RBSC is closed Monday, September 3rd, for Labor Day.

Upcoming Events: August and early September

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Wednesday, August 22 at 3:00pm | “The Conservation of Dante’s 1477 La Commedia.” A public talk by Jeff Peachey (Independent Book Conservator, New York City). The conservation treatment of the Hesburgh Libraries’ important copy of Dante’s La Commedia (Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1477) will be detailed in this profusely illustrated lecture. Bibliophiles, conservators, librarians, Italian scholars, and anyone curious about the physical structure of books will find this lecture of interest.

Thursday, August 23 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “The Scene of the Crime: Tombolo On- and Off-Screen” by Charles Leavitt (Notre Dame). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

Friday, September 7 at 1:00pm | Operation Frankenstein: “Illustrated Frankenstein: The 200th Anniversary Edition” by David Plunkert (artist and illustrator for The New Yorker). Operation Frankenstein is a semester-long series of interdisciplinary events taking place at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s novel.

 

The exhibit In Solzhenitsyn’s Circle: the Writer and his Associates will open on August 20 and run through the end of the semester.

The current spotlight exhibits are Frankenstein 200 (August – December 2018) and The Forbes Simulachres: The “Dance of Death” Reimagined (July – August 2018).

RBSC will be closed Monday, September 3rd, for Labor Day.

Memorial Day 2018

To honor all who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Originally, Memorial Day was celebrated as Decoration Day.

“Decoration Day,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was published posthumously—first in June 1882 in The Atlantic and later that same year in In the Harbor, a book containing previously unpublished poems. The poem “pays tribute to what was then a new form of civic observance: a day set aside to commemorate those who had perished in the Civil War by placing flags and flowers on soldiers’ graves, a custom that gradually gave rise to our modern Memorial Day honoring all who give their lives in military service.” (David Barber, The Atlantic, May 30, 2011)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) was but five years old when he witnessed the War of 1812 devastate his hometown. This event had a long-lasting impact on him.

Wordsworth would go on to Bowdoin College, graduating along with Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1825 before traveling through Europe, where he gained mastery over seven languages. On his return to the US, he taught languages first at Bowdoin and later at Harvard, and also spent much time writing textbooks and essays on languages, particularly French, Italian, and Spanish. While at Harvard, Longfellow’s literary career took off. He travelled to Europe twice more before resigning from Harvard in 1854 to devote his full attention to writing.

Less than a decade later—in 1861—not only did his beloved wife, Fanny, die but the Civil War broke out and his son, fighting for the Union, was wounded. The invalid had to be escorted home by his father and brother. To cope with these tragedies, Longfellow immersed himself in his literary endeavors including a full translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (completed in 1864). Against memories of the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the traumatic loss of a wife and the injury of a son, Longfellow continued to write. In some of his last pieces, including “Decoration Day,” one cannot help but notice Longfellow’s solemnity and poignancy.

Memorial Day 2017 blog post

Memorial Day 2016 blog post


During June and July the blog will shift to a summer posting schedule, with posts every other Monday rather than every week. We will resume weekly publication on August 13th.