Ireland’s Great Famine began in 1845 when the potato crop, the main food of much of the population, was destroyed by a potato blight. This blight recurred in the following years, leading to the deaths of over a million people. With the emigration of up to another million people, Ireland lost almost a quarter of its population.
Among the vast range of books and other materials our library has to help us study the Famine, there are a couple of rare or unique items. Such items give insight into various aspects of people and communities. One such item is the notebook shown here, the accounts of a soup kitchen, one of the many set up to give relief during the Famine.
This is the daybook, or notebook, listing all the receipts and expenditures for Drumbo Soup Kitchen from December 1846 to March 1848, accompanied by a sheet of tickets for Drumbo Soup Kitchen (MSE/IR 0100). Of the various places of that name, this is most likely Drumbo, County Down. This has not yet been verified. It was acquired by the Library in 2012.
The expenditure gives us an idea of the ingredients. In January 1st, 1846, purchases included cayenne pepper, black pepper, split peas, whole peas, barley, beef, cow’s head and carrots.
The 32-page notebook includes the names and amounts of cash subscriptions, and the notebook bears the treasurer’s name — “Dr. James Orr, Treasurer to the Drumbo Soup Kitchen.”
Along with the notebook is a sheet of printed tickets with the following text: “Drumbo: Soup Kitchen: One Ration. Paid, One Penny.”
August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In honor of the centenary, Rare Books and Special Collections has created an online exhibition of materials from both special and general library collections. The quotation in the title comes from a speech by Mary Duffy, a working class woman from New York who addressed the state’s legislature in 1907. She argued that of course women needed the ballot for political reasons—so that they were represented in government. But, she maintained, women needed it even more urgently so that the men around them—from bosses to fellow trade unionists to family members—would take women seriously as people, as equals.
This exhibition tells a full (though not complete) story of the long fight for suffrage. It begins well before the Civil War and extends through the mid-1920s, after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. It focuses on the laborious processes of building a movement, of forging alliances, of creating a culture of reform that was broader than voting rights but that, in the end, became defined by that singular goal. It shows how women, white and black, elite and working class, native born and immigrant, moved themselves from outside of political power to inside; from second-class citizens with a limited public voice and no direct representation, to citizens with some of the tools of democracy at their disposal.
The Nineteenth Amendment was a stupendous political achievement. As political outsiders, women persuaded enough men within the political system voluntarily to give women political power. It doubled the American electorate, making its passage the most powerful democracy-building piece of legislation in US history.
Still, the victory was incomplete, or at least, a work in progress. As New York suffragist Crystal Eastman put it in 1920, “men are saying thank goodness that everlasting women’s fight is over!” but women are saying “now at last we can begin.” Eastman’s observation makes an important point about the complexity of marking this centenary solely as a victory. Suffrage for women was not turned on like a tap in 1920, nor did it flow for every woman after the Nineteenth Amendment. Many women voted before the amendment, and many women did not cast ballots after it. The reasons for these differences have much to do with racism and white supremacy, as well as religious and class prejudices, within and outside the movement.
This exhibition includes books, pamphlets, magazines, and posters—materials designed to appeal to broad, popular audiences. Scattered through these once popular books and magazines we can gain an angle of view on what many, if not a majority of, Americans thought about women’s work, their place in the family, and their civic responsibilities. At the same time, this exhibition represents the breadth of the women’s movement and how it propelled the fight for suffrage despite resilient opposition.
 Ellen Carol DuBois, Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 5.
The Irish Broadside Ballads are a treasure trove of nineteenth century social media, including commentary on economic affairs, accounts of crimes and tragedies, and political news and opinions.
We thought our readers might enjoy seeing a sample from our collection. The collection may be viewed online.
While the authors of many ballads remain unknown, some ballads may be traced to their author. This ballad, ‘A New Song on the Happy Return of Moody and Sankey‘, is described in an engaging article by Robert Gahan, ‘Some Old Street Characters of Dublin’, in the Dublin Historical Record of December 1939.
Gahan describes a trio of street musicians known as Hamlet, Dunbar and Uncle, who performed together on Dublin’s streets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the 1870s. He goes on to tell us the circumstances that led to this ballad:
In 1874 the eminent Evangelists, Moody and Sankey, came to Dublin ; walls and hoardings were covered with posters announcing their meetings, and Dublin was, as a prominent newspaper said, “greatly stirred.” “Hamlet” was stirred too, but it was to compose in “appreciation” of the evangelists. The song the trio let loose upon Dublin… is “A New Song on the Happy Return of Moody and Sankey.”
In honor of Juneteenth (the June 19th celebration of freedom from slavery) and Black Lives Matter (BLM), RBSC highlights several collections about African American life in the United States over the last century. We also reflect on how social and cultural changes—some of them the result of protest movements like BLM—have reformed and are reforming collecting and practices in special collections libraries and archives.
One important collection is the National Ideal Benefit Society records, an African American cooperative and fraternal organization that spanned more than 50 years during the early to mid-twentieth century. Another is a late 1920s ledger book for the Birmingham Black Barons, an elite Negro League professional baseball team, that recorded the team’s financial transactions with players. The collections provide sources about the economic and working lives of African Americans and the unequal labor and social contexts of twentieth-century America.
The National Ideal Benefit Society was an African American insurance cooperative whose benefits supported people through illness, offered cultural events, and provided death benefits for survivors to assist with burial costs. The society was established in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, by Alexander Watson Holmes (1861-1935). The collection holds correspondence from policy holders, official society publications and records, and letters to Holmes from individuals and institutions.
The Birmingham, Alabama, Black Barons were a professional baseball team during the sport’s long period of segregation. The ledger book records the club’s financial transactions with players over five seasons (1926-1930). The accounts include credits (monthly salaries) and debits (cash advances, equipment charges, fines, extra meals, taxi fare, phone calls, and so on). Satchel Paige was one of many notable players on the team.
These collections underscore the shift in collecting that has occurred over the last 40 years in special collections libraries.
Special collections such as ours, and archives also, collect unique and rare manuscripts and books to preserve our society’s cultural record. Until the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States that cultural record largely consisted of the records of elite, white men, mostly from the Northeast with ancestors who came from the British Isles. A number of changes in American society led to a major shift away from this cultural identity in archives and special collections libraries.
Social reform movements that culminated in the 1960s and 1970s—for the rights and full participation of African Americans, women, Native Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ, and others in American life—fueled demands for archival collections that more accurately reflected and included the diversity of American society.
At the same time the rise of social history demanded new sources. Focused on writing the history of ordinary people and changes that came from the many rather than the few (history from the bottom up), social historians relied on documents of everyday life as well as social movements—letters, diaries, ledger books, and scrapbooks of the non-famous, as well as ephemeral printed materials like posters, broadsides, menus, annual reports, and programs.
More recently, archivists and special collections librarians have, as a profession, begun seriously to grapple with questions of power in archives: who is represented and who is left out in our collections? Are collecting decisions made independently, or under institutional or donor guidelines? How are people of color and non-elites and their accomplishments described in catalogs and finding aids? Is the archive open to community members, or are there professional or membership requirements to use the collections? Do staff working in the archive represent the diversity of the collections and their users? As we honor Juneteenth and confront Black Lives Matter’s challenge to truly achieve the promises of American freedom and democracy, these questions become even more sharply relevant.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day—April 22, 2020—Rare Books and Special Collections offers an online exhibition, Describing, Conserving, and Celebrating the Earth: Primary Sources from Hesburgh Libraries. It displays sources about the earth in science, culture, public policy, and politics, from the 1750s to 2004. In keeping with the American origins of Earth Day in 1970 and the EPA, these sources are primarily from an American context.
Each section holds a primary source or group of sources that reflect different periods, kinds of materials (books, illustrations, posters, reports, etc.), and approaches to studying, appreciating, and preserving the earth. The library’s Rare Books and Special Collections resources are where some of these items come from; others are government documents that are available in the open stacks of Hesburgh Library (when the library’s print collection reopens).
A mid-eighteenth-century British naturalist’s illustrated description of wildlife and plant life in the American colonies.
The first issue of the Sierra Club Bulletin, a nature enthusiast’s magazine focused on the western United States.
A late nineteenth-century botanist’s findings, published in an early scientific journal.
A World War II poster by the United States Forest Service, urging people to preserve forests.
A mid-century warning about human damage to wildlife in the United States.
Examples of federal conservation before the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): a conference report on pollution in the Lake Michigan watershed, and an international commission’s findings about pollution levels in boundary waters between Canada and the US.
A compilation of environment-inspired poems, published a few years after the first Earth Day.
An Earth Day-inspired speech by actor and environmentalist Eddie Albert.
Two EPA publications: an early catalog of agency-sponsored training programs for professionals responsible for pollution control, and a 2004 brochure about the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay.
We join the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history by celebrating Women’s History Month.
In commemoration of Women’s History Month, RBSC highlights Mary Taussig Hall (1911-2015). Hall was a social worker, and an activist for child welfare, civil rights, and peace, from St. Louis, Missouri. Her career spanned most of the twentieth century and shaped social services policy in Missouri and the nation. As a lifelong advocate for peace, Hall’s reach extended internationally: as a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the United Nations Association in St. Louis.
Arielle Petrovich (Hesburgh Library’s Instruction & Outreach Archivist and Librarian-in-Residence) created a Special Collections spotlight exhibition on Hall for Women’s History Month. Because of the Coronavirus that exhibit is currently closed, so we share highlights and photographs from the show here:
Women’s Peace Party, St. Louis, secretary’s minutes, 1915-1916
In 1915, Progressive social reformer Jane Addams co-founded the Woman’s Peace Party (WPP), a pacifist organization established in response to the First World War. Florence Gottschalk Taussig, Mary Taussig’s mother, a political activist and a close friend of Addams, chaired the St. Louis chapter of the WPP. Local meetings centered on planning of educational speaking engagements and membership recruitment. (Mary Taussig Hall Papers, MSN/MN 0511, Box 7, Folder 200)
Jane Addams letter to Mary Taussig, 10 May 1933
After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1933, Mary Taussig was invited by Jane Addams to work as her private secretary and to volunteer at Hull House in Chicago. Addams had established Hull House to support recently-arrived immigrants to the city. Eventually it offered childcare for working mothers, job training, and other services. Mary eventually returned to St. Louis for a graduate degree in social work at Washington University, where she took up the cause of child labor reform among lead miners in Missouri. (MSN/MN 0511, Box 5, Folder 132)
FDR telegram to Florence and Mary Taussig, 1936
President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent this holiday telegram to Mary Taussig and her mother to thank them for their support during his reelection campaign that fall. As part of the affluent elite in St. Louis, Taussig and her mother’s social peers generally did not support FDR’s New Deal economic reforms or vote Democratic. Roosevelt applauded both women for maintaining their party loyalty. (MSN/MN 0511, Box 6, Folder 185)
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom pamphlets, 1950s and undated
After World War One the Women’s Peace Party became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Florence Gottschalk Taussig served on its national board and Mary Taussig Hall eventually chaired a joint committee to commemorate the centennial of Jane Addams’ birth in 1960. After World War Two the WILPF’s work broadened to include world disarmament, racial integration, civil rights, and international peace. (“Billions of Dollars…for What?” Pamphlet, c. 1955; “Integration” Pamphlet, c. 1958; and “The ABC’s of Civil Rights” Pamphlet, undated — all from MSN/MN 0511, Box 7, Folder 210)
The Mary Taussig Hall Papers also document Taussig Hall’s commitments to peace and disarmament in her personal correspondence. In a July 1933 letter to her parents, while she was working at Hull House, Taussig exclaimed, “I want so badly to follow in your footsteps Mum—and really play an important part in the W.I.L. [Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom]. I’m going to work at the Peace booth out at the Fair [1933 Chicago World’s Fair] too—won’t that be fun?”
Nearly thirty years later Taussig Hall received a personal note in a letter from Guy W. Solt, a staff member at the American Friends Services Committee in Philadelphia. On 29 June 1960 he wrote, “War is obsolete. But beyond the abandoning of war there remains the far more magnificent achievement of creating a strong spiritual bond between the peoples of the earth, and especially between the white and the colored peoples. Surely it is God’s plan that we live as one people. . . . I close with this quotation from above the door of a Catholic church in Boston: ‘Send forth thy spirit, and it shall be created, and thou shalt remake the face of the earth.’”
To mark St. Patrick’s Day, this year we are featuring a small selection from our recently-acquired collection of Irish postcards.
Picture postcards, commercially produced in Ireland by the beginning of the twentieth century, became enormously popular as a means of communication. From a wide range of postcard types, we have selected a small sampling of the type of cards used as St. Patrick’s Day greetings.
Postmarked in 1912, this postcard shows a boy wearing a large cross for St. Patrick’s Day, a custom no longer practiced now, but recorded in various sources. According to Cronin and Adair, crosses made by paper or card were commonly worn by children on St. Patrick’s day until early in the twentieth century. [i]
Searching the wonderful online source of Irish National Folklore Collection, Dúchas.ie, for references to St. Patrick’s Day crosses, we find some good primary sources. From 1937 to 1938, Irish schoolchildren interviewed older people in their homes and communities about folklore. In some of these accounts, people describe the ornate colored crosses they made as children for St. Patrick’s Day. The following is from a woman in County Kerry:
I used to make a beautiful cross for that day. The first thing I got was two pieces of stiff card-board, one piece longer than the other, then covered these pieces with some nice pieces of silk and I sewed them together in the shape of a cross.
For about a month before St. Patrick’s day I used to be gathering the nicest bits of silk or satin I could find to cut them into narrow strips to make nice, neat, fluffy little bundles of them. I then sewed one bundle on each of the four ends and one on the centre of the cross.
Then my cross was complete and ready to wear on my left arm on St. Patrick’s day and for a whole week after going to school. There wasn’t any “meas” [ii] on any little girl that had not a cross for St Patrick’s day. [iii]
Many postcards suggest nostalgia and homesickness for Ireland, and may have been produced with emigrants in mind. They feature stereotypically Irish decorations such as shillelaghs, Celtic crosses, harps, and of course, the shamrock, which is specifically associated with St. Patrick.
The shamrock has become the most popular symbol for St. Patrick’s Day, referring to the legend which tells that Patrick illustrated the concept of the Trinity by plucking a three-leaved shamrock from the ground. Thus, many cards include the shamrock, and in some it is the main feature.
‘The Dear Little Shamrock’ song was composed by Limerick-born Andrew Cherry, an actor, playwright and theatre manager who was active from the 1770s until 1812. At the time of this postcard, the song must have been well known, being part of the repertoire of John McCormack, whose performances of Irish songs were very popular on his concert tours of the United States.
This card was posted in September 1911 from Dublin to Middlesex, England.
The Green Isle of Erin, posted in England, is a German-produced card full of standard references, i.e., the green isle, harp, emerald and shamrocks. Ann Wilson’s informative article on Irish picture postcards of the Edwardian Age tells us that Germany was the location of much of the early picture postcard production. [v]
Though this card celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, it was posted in November 1904 from County Cork to South Africa.
When postcards first began to be used, a message was written on the front of the postcard and the address written on the back. It took time, after the development of picture postcards, for postal administrations to allow for a message written on the same side as the address. Though the British Post Office allowed a message on the left and address on the right from 1902, this was not generally accepted in other countries at the time this card was posted, hence the writing on the picture side of this card.
Posted from Adrian, Michigan to Brooklyn, New York on March 15th, 1909, the cluster of items on this card suggest a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and an American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick’s Day Souvenir. Meeting of the Waters Killarney, sent from Shakopee, Minnesota to St. Paul, Minnesota. The Lakes of Killarney were among the most celebrated beauty spots for tourists to Ireland, and so this postcard imparts a romantic view of Ireland.
The Crescent Embossing Company in New Jersey published many American patriotic cards such as Independence Day greeting cards. The signature on this card, as on other cards by Crescent, are of the owner, Fred C. Lounsbury, rather than of the artist.
As these cards suggest, celebrating St. Patrick’s day in the golden age of the postcard veered from a celebration of early Gaelic Ireland, with the symbols of Christianity such as the cross and round tower in this last postcard, to wistful nostalgia such as that depicted in the ‘Dear Little Shamrock’.
The postcard collection is currently being cataloged so that in time, it will be possible to locate each postcard from our online finding aid.
[i] Cronin, Mike, and Daryl Adair. The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day. Routledge, 2002.
While Halloween has its origins in the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints), it has since spread to various other cultures. So too, the Special Collections holdings that relate to celebrations on or around Halloween are to be found in a variety of subject areas. This year, we bring you materials from our Latin American collections.
José Guadalupe Posada and the skull iconography of Mexico’s Dia de Muertos
As many Americans prepare to celebrate Halloween on October 31, Mexico and Latino residents of the U.S. ready themselves for Dia de muertos (Day of the Dead). Celebrated between October 31 and November 2, this holiday corresponds to the Catholic All Saints’ Day (known as Todos Santos in Mexico during the colonial era and nineteenth century) and All Souls’ Day, but is uniquely Mexican in its iconographic emphasis on calaveras, or “skulls.” Candy and papier-maché skulls adorn altars prepared with offerings to the deceased (ofrendas). Toy skulls and skeletons are sold in stores. And, party-goers decorate their faces with elaborate skull makeup.
Today’s Dia de muertos skull iconography is closely associated with the work of José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), a Mexican lithographer, woodcut artist, engraver and etcher renowned for his satirical broadsides and flyers. During the latter half of his career, Posada worked with the printing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo to produce loose sheets commemorating political events, natural disasters, crimes, and festivals. Often, his original work featuring calaveras meditates on death, even if it doesn’t directly refer to Dia de muertos, as is the case with the two broadsides here, “¡Calavera Zumbona!” and “La Calavera Taurina.”
“¡Calavera Zumbona!” (“The Mocking Skull”) is a satirical piece that pokes fun at various artisan groups in Mexico City, including carpenters, tailors, candy sellers, painters, barbers, pulque sellers and more while also pointing to the universality of mortality and death. Carpenters are described as drunkards while tinsmiths are overly-loquacious. Practitioners of all crafts wind up, in the image created by Posada, as skulls in a cemetery in the end. The offerings of food and the small, round “pan de muertos” bread roll in the lower left-hand corner of the image are both traditional of Dia de muertos.
“La Calavera Taurina” is an homage to deceased bullfighters, who had been eaten or consumed by the “taurine skull” of death.
Both of these prints are on very thin paper. “¡Calavera Zumbona!” is an imperfect print with lines striking out parts of the text and main image. These elements attest to affordability of the materials used by the Vanegas shop and to the rapidity with which broadsides were printed.
Posada was rediscovered by Mexican Revolution-era muralists not long after his death in 1913. Among them, Jean Charlot was among the first to highlight Posada’s calaveras. In 1947, he worked with the still-operating Vanegas Arroyo printhouse to issue 450 copies of a bilingual portfolio entitled 100 Grabados en madera por Posada (100 Woodcuts by Posada). Here, Charlot reproduces the smaller and lesser-know woodcuts produced by Posada. Many feature calaveras accompanied by verse. One (#12) even commemorates Todos Santos (All Saints Day / All Saints’ Eve / All Hallow’s Eve) by name.
Charlot translates the verse as follows:
12. All Hallow’s Eve.
At last the day of all the dead
On which they rejoice, replete
with pleasures without
In place of sad mourning for ourselves,
Let us, with laughs and pulque,
go cry in our cups.
Happy Halloween to you and yours
from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!
We join the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.
In observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, Rare Books and Special Collections is pleased to highlight our newly acquired Latinx Ephemera Collection. This collection came to us from the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. Many of the materials in the collection were acquired by Gilberto Cardenas, founding director of the institute and Professor of Sociology at Notre Dame.
This collection is comprised of pamphlets, reports, journal issues, flyers, and magazines related to Latinx culture that date primarily between 1966 and 1999. Some materials are political or historical in nature, addressing topics such as migrant labor, the work of iconic Latinx activists such as César Chávez, and grape boycotts. Others examine socio-economic conditions among Latinx populations, access to education, civil rights, employment, and immigration. Held together in one collection, these rare materials provide a diversity of insights into Latinx life and issues in and around the U.S. during the second half of the twentieth century.
The Spotlight exhibit for June and July, “Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost: The Friendship of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac,” focuses on three items from the Robert Creeley Collection: Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost: Allen Ginsberg & Jack Kerouac; Declaration of Independence For Dr. Timothy Leary: July 4, 1971; and San Francisco Blues.
The Beats formed in the wake of World War II, a literary counter-culture set on exploring in all senses of the word; physical exploration through travel, mental exploration through psychedelic drug usage and sexual awakening, spiritual exploration through Eastern religions. Kerouac coined the name “Beat Generation.” In his spoken word album Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation, he reads the poem “San Francisco Scene,” where he describes a jazz club and all that he sees, “and everything is going to the beat. It’s the beat generation, it’s be-at, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world and like old time lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat.”[i] (Listen to it here, the first track of the album.) To drill down on one word in particular, Kerouac calls it “be-at,” as in “beatific,” or blissfully happy or holy. Kerouac was Catholic, and maintained his Catholic faith while also supplementing it with Buddhism. Benedict Giamo, a University of Notre Dame American Studies professor who retired this year, once told me that Kerouac used Buddhism as a lens through which to view his Catholicism, and it shows in his writings. Kerouac saw what he and the other Beats were doing as holy, enlightened work that expanded human consciousness.
Kerouac and Ginsberg were in the epicenter of this movement, meeting at Columbia University in New York City when Kerouac was 22 and Ginsberg was 17. Around them gathered a host of people, and in subsequent travels across the U.S. (see On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and other works for journal-esque descriptions of their trips), they connected with the San Francisco Renaissance, a group of poets stationed in California with similar ideals. Robert Creeley from the Black Mountain Poets connected here, too, and became lifelong friends with Ginsberg. It’s his amazing collection from which these three works come, as well as the works in the pop-up exhibit, scheduled for June 10.
Turning to the objects in the exhibit, the goal was to highlight Kerouac and Ginsberg’s friendship while also showing their abilities outside of their “known” styles of writing. Kerouac, known mostly for his prose work, wrote poetry like a jazz musician, and San Francisco Blues is a great example of his abilities. Scraps of San Francisco Blues appear like breadcrumbs throughout other works and publications; bits of it in Heaven & Other Poems, another selection in Palantir, some lines in New Directions. Though he died in 1969, Kerouac’s full collection of the 79 choruses in San Francisco Blues were not published together until 1983. The cover shows a composite image of Kerouac, leaning against a brick wall while smoking, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Kerouac called the completed work a “beautiful unity,” written while pondering the city of San Francisco from his room at the Cameo Hotel in 1954. He wrote about the dilapidated buildings, the people walking on the street, the feelings in his body as he pondered what he was doing with his life. The only limit to his poetry was the size of the page in the notebook in which he scrawled them — “like the form of a set number of bars in a jazz blues chorus,” he writes in the introduction — creating poems that hit the consciousness like the music he listened to.
Kerouac had been writing for several years at the time he wrote these poems, with his first book The Town & the City published in 1950 He wasn’t published again until 1957 with On the Road, despite completing several novels and books of poetry. His journals from these years in between, including a few excerpts in Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost, show just how much the rejection he received impacted him as a writer and as a person. Rejection hurt him, but he also found elation once he was published.
Ginsberg, known for Howl and other fantastical, forceful works of poetry, is an electric prose writer with power and precision in every line. His defense of Dr. Timothy Leary is a masterful work of evocative but exact language. Ginsberg rallied the poetic troops with this piece, independently published in response to the arrest, charge, and conviction of Dr. Timothy Leary, who had a small amount of marijuana on his person when arrested in 1970, and who experienced a whole host of legal trouble in the years that followed. Leary had also published on drug usage, something which the federal prosecutors and judges “regarded as a menace,” according to Ginsberg.
Ginsberg made this piece a larger argument for freedom of speech, for a writer to write about whatever he or she wants to. It’s an engaging piece of prose from a man who’s most known for his manic approach and imagery in poetry. It’s rational, well-argued and had little to no impact on Leary’s legal troubles. Though his name is not listed on the piece as author, Ginsberg’s fingerprints are all over it. The evocative language, the subtle shift to near-poetry in the final lines, the intelligence carried in every line — it’s as apparently Ginsberg as Howl is. A flair for the dramatic, the group sent a contingent of poets to deliver it to the Swiss government on Bastille Day.
The two writers were constant influences on each other (for example, Ginsberg credits Kerouac for the title of Howl in the dedication page of the poem), but they were so much more than that. Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost shows scraps of communication from Ginsberg to Kerouac, as well as some excerpts from Kerouac’s journals. A humble item at first glance, the collection of correspondence between the two writers is printed simply; 34 sheets of 8.5×11 paper, three simple staples down the side. Within its pages, though, it shows a friendship fostered both in person and at a distance; while bumbling around Greenwich Village or from San Francisco; with friends, lovers, or within a mental institution.
Within their friendship they found a place to confide; their letters to each other reveal a rawness that only comes with the comfort of time. Scraps of poetry made their way into the letters, too; Ginsberg wrote to Kerouac on Oct. 6, 1959:
Leave the bones behind They’re only bones Leave the mind behind It’s only thoughts Leave the man behind He cannot live Save the soul!
According to one rare books seller, this was a “piracy edition” and was suppressed by Kerouac’s estate.[ii] In the back of the book, a page states that it was “published for friends in an edition of 200 copies.” A more extensive collection of their letters is part of our General Collection and able to be loaned.
Kerouac and Ginsberg were friends — sometimes with benefits, if Ginsberg’s Gay Sunshine Interview is any indication.[iii] They were companions. They were partners-in-crime. After Kerouac’s death in 1969 at the age of 47, Ginsberg mourned him, along with Neal Cassady, another Beat who died early in life. In The Visions of the Great Rememberer, Ginsberg writes, “So I survived Neal and Jack — what for, all my temerity? This empty paradise? Nostalgia world?”[iv]
[iii] Young, A. (1974). Gay Sunshine Interview. Bolinas: Grey Fox Press. Pp. 3-4. Ginsberg talks about specific sexual encounters he had with Kerouac and Neal Cassady.
[iv] Ginsberg, A. (1974). The Visions of the Great Rememberer. Amherst: Mulch Press. Pg. 1. The title itself is a nod to Kerouac’s autobiographical work Visions of Gerard, as well as the posthumously published Visions of Cody, which focuses on Neal Cassady (called Cody in the book). The Visions of the Great Rememberer now publishes as an introduction for Visions of Cody.