Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Cooking with Duke Power

Post contributed by Ashton Merck, Graduate Intern for the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

In the mid-twentieth century, the Duke Power Company Home Service wished its customers a “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy New Year” with an annual collection of holiday recipes.

Covers of two Duke Power cookbooks. Both feature their mascot, a stick figure made of lightning bolts.
“Merry Christmas,” circa 1950s (Item 1950s-0499); “Recipes,” circa 1950s (Item 1950s-0504)

The John W. Hartman Center has at least two of these pamphlets in the Nicole di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks. These cookbooks focused almost exclusively on holiday baking. One cookbook included separate sections for cakes, pies, candy, cookies, and desserts, while “salads, sandwiches, and breads” were combined into one category.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I decided that I would give one of these recipes a try. Quite a few of them looked recognizable as something my great-grandmothers used to make, like “Cheery Cherry Cake” or “Skillet Cookies.” Others, like a “Chocolate Yule Log” – which involved an unholy combination of mashed potatoes, confectioner’s sugar, and shredded coconut – sounded completely inedible. But one recipe, for “Spiced Cherry Bells,” caught my eye. Somewhat inexplicably, the recipe called for ginger and instant coffee, in lieu of the usual holiday spices like cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg. It also required more advanced assembly than the other cookies or cakes, through the creation of the “bell” shape. It seemed like something that was unusual enough to be worth trying.

Original recipe
“Spiced Cherry Bells,” from “Merry Christmas” cookbook

As soon as I mixed the dry ingredients, it was clear that there was not enough of either the ginger or the instant coffee to overcome the 3 ½ cups of flour called for in the recipe. I took note of that fact, but did not adjust the recipe for my taste, resisting the temptation to add copious amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg. I next realized that the ingredients as mixed was simply too crumbly to form a stable dough that I could roll out, even with the use of a stand mixer. I had to add about another 1/8 cup of heavy cream to get the dough to come together. Even still, it called for so much shortening that it was tricky to roll out to the thickness specified. I eventually managed to get the cookies onto the (mercifully, ungreased) cookie sheet, where I shaped them into something that, if you squint your eyes, could be imagined as “bells.” I then baked them for the allotted time of 15 minutes.

I considered what the small quantity of the “spices” might indicate about the time and place in which this recipe was created, and imagined several possible hypotheses: Perhaps instant coffee or ginger were expensive or hard to come by; or, the far more likely scenario, they were so ubiquitous that they might already be in the pantry anyway. That got me thinking – when was instant coffee invented? Could it have been a new or trendy product at the time?

For an initial answer to these questions, I requested a box from the J. Walter Thompson “Competitive Advertisements” collection. The ads in the folders depicted instant coffee drinkers as married couples engaged in energetic outdoor activities or home improvement projects, like this campaign from 1956:

Vintage advertisement for instant coffee. Illustrated with a picture of a woman pouring coffee for a man. The headline reads "Richer Coffee Instantly!"
“When the Moment Calls for Coffee,” Hot Beverages – Coffee (1 of 2), 1956, Box 1956-15, Competitive Advertisements 1955-1997, J. Walter Thompson Company, Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Advertisment Martinsons Instant Coffe, featuring "Swedish Beef Puffs"

From looking at these ads, it seemed like instant coffee was one of many “convenience foods” that became tastier and more widely available in the post-WWII era, along with TV dinners and canned foods. I then requested another box from the Alvin Achenbaum collection, which contained several market research studies on coffee. The studies further emphasized that consumers valued instant coffee primarily for its convenience and low cost.

I also noticed that a few ads included recipes that contained small amounts of instant coffee, like this one for Swedish Beef Puffs at right.

But these ads were few and far between. As I perused the market research, I looked to see if the consultants recommended promotion of alternate uses of instant coffee in recipes, or baking, but they did not. Instead, the market researchers were far more interested in carefully segmenting the coffee buying market by their tastes and preferences, rather than by inventing new and creative uses for the product.

So, after this investigation – using Rubenstein collections, of course – it seems that instant coffee was already cheap and ubiquitous by the time it made it into the “Spiced Cherry Bells,” but the choice to use it in a recipe might have seemed as unusual then as it does now.

The Verdict: The cookies were … okay. The flavor of the baked, slightly caramelized maraschino cherry was delicious, and the “filling” mixture which called for pecans, brown sugar, and butter was something of a foolproof combination. But, as I expected, neither the instant coffee nor the ginger came through at all in the final bake.

Ten sort of bell shaped cookies on a baking sheet. They look dry and not particularly attractive.
Unfortunately, they taste as good as they look.

Described by taste-testers as “aggressively neutral” and “a bit dry,” the dough was definitely the weak point in these cookies. “You almost get bored with it halfway through,” one observed. Yet the cookies also had a confusingly familiar flavor to them; there was plenty of room for the individual housewife to give the recipe her own spin enough to call it her own. As another taste tester noted, the recipe is “very much of the era.”

In Search of Their Anti-Racist Lineage

Contributed by Amanda Mixon, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine. Read more in their recent article: Amanda Mixon (2019): “Not in my name”: the anti-racist praxis of Mab Segrest & Minnie Bruce Pratt, Journal of Lesbian Studies, DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2019.1678964

With the assistance of a Mary Lily Travel Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center in the summer of 2018 to carry out research for my dissertation, which analyzes how a group of white southern lesbian writers theorize whiteness and practice anti-racist activism. The project is as much invested in tracing friendships and influences as it is in elaborating a single individual’s political thought. Therefore, when perusing the papers of Dorothy Allison (1949-), Minnie Bruce Pratt (1946-), and Mab Segrest (1949-), I was especially interested in how the holdings might give voice to these women’s relationships with each other and the two other figures in my study, Rita Mae Brown (1944-) and Lillian Smith (1897-1966).[i]

Conference brochure featuring a portrait of Lillian Smith on the cover.
“‘Listening to Sounds Larger Than Our Own Heartbeat’: A Conference on Lillian Smith” brochure listing talks by both Mab Segrest and Minnie Bruce Pratt, held at Georgetown University, October 7-9, 1994. From the Mab Segrest Papers, Box 63.

I knew that Smith, arguably the most outspoken white southern critic of Jim Crow segregation, had a profound impact on Pratt and Segrest. Her lifelong partnership with Paula Snelling (1899-1985) and searing critiques of white supremacy offered Pratt and Segrest a foundation from which to learn and build. However, when scanning Pratt’s papers, I was surprised to find an unpublished stage play that Segrest wrote about the couple in the late eighties. There, Segrest prioritizes Snelling’s experience, allowing her to criticize Smith for closeting their same-sex relationship. As Segrest told me in person, this centering is an ode to the significant amount of unrecognized work that Snelling contributed to Smith’s career and their collaborative projects. But what I found most compelling was Segrest’s creative license with the couple’s relationship: that is, no primary or secondary sources confirm the dynamic that Segrest depicts. As such, the untitled play is not only an example of how we represent historical figures in order to do them justice, but also an account of what those figures emotionally do for us. In their published nonfiction, both Segrest and Pratt express a yearning for a Smith not bound by the closet’s silence. In the play, Snelling becomes the voice of that desire. She asks: what would it have meant—for Smith’s own career and life, for Snelling, and for the countless women inspired by their work—if Smith had claimed a lesbian identity?

“Scenes from play about Lillian Smith” by Mab Segrest, original pictured here from the Mab Segrest Papers, Box 63. Another copy is located in the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers, Box 57.

[i] Rita Mae Brown is author of the 1973 lesbian coming of age novel Rubyfruit Jungle. Lillian Smith was a white civil rights activist, known for her 1944 novel Strange Fruit, which featured an interracial couple.

The Satirist and Tinkerer, Hogarth

Blog post contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger

large volume
Volume of Hogarth prints awaiting treatment in conservation.

Way back in 2018, back when the new decade was but a glint in our eyes, we received something very big (literally and metaphorically) here at the Rubenstein: a single volume of 83 prints associated with William Hogarth. The creation dates for these prints span from 1732 (Midnight modern conversation) to 1781 (Mr. Walpole). Some of them are sincere, like a portrait of the actor David Garrick as Richard III. Others chart corruption and vice, notably in the series A rake’s progress and A harlot’s progress. Still others are pointed rejoinders to Hogarth’s nemeses, which included people like the satirist Charles Churchill (The bruiser, C. Churchill), alcoholic beverages (Gin Lane), and the French military. The themes are varied; the production methods evolve; and even Hogarth’s role in the creation of these prints oscillates between publisher, printer, artist of original work, and artistic supervisor. The prints are thus unified by their differences.

Hogarth engraving: “The Sleeping Congregation.”  A note on the right corner notes that this engraving was “retouched & improved April 21 1762 by the Author.”  Description from catalog record: The scene is the interior of a perpendicular Gothic church. The sand in the hourglass has run out, but the preacher continues to lecture, oblivious to the fact that his congregation has fallen asleep….”

In 2019, I learned these differences were not just between prints but also within them. Hogarth was a tinkerer: He would return to the same copper plate, darkening and expanding shadows, adding crosshatching, changing clothing and facial features, and even excising text. He would do this work multiple times, releasing subsequent editions, or “states” of each print. There are at least ten different versions of some of Hogarth’s most famous prints, all subtly different and requiring the viewer to have excellent “I spy” skills. Luckily (for me and you, but mostly me), Hogarth is a very famous and well-studied artist.  Dr. Ronald Paulson’s Hogarth’s graphic works tracks every change, making it possible to differentiate between moderate cross-hatching and slightly deeper cross-hatching. Thanks, Dr. Paulson!

Hogarth engraving: “The bench : of the different meaning of the words character, caricatura and outrè in painting and drawing.”

I want to point out just one more wrinkle: After Hogarth’s death in 1764, his copper plates first went to his family, who then sold them to the publisher John Boydell. In 1790, Boydell published a volume of Hogarth’s works using the unaltered copper plates. Thus, a print that might be physically dated 1732 might really have been printed in 1790, long after Hogarth’s death. Furthermore, Boydell printed the plates on laid paper given to him by Hogarth’s wife Jane, as well as on a newer type of paper known as wove (Donihue). This can make dating quite complicated, as the use of laid paper might still mean that Boydell printed it, and not Hogarth. Some of our prints are also trimmed and mounted, making it hard to distinguish paper at all. In situations like that, caveats in catalog records really do work wonders.

This all leads me to 2020. The future that seemed far away is our present. Our once uncataloged volume of 83 Hogarth prints is now very much cataloged. You too can see what comes of industry and idleness (spoiler: basically what you’d expect) and what wigs looked like in the 18th century (elaborate and itchy). Happy new year, new decade, and new researching to you all!

Hogarth engraving: “The five orders of perriwigs as they were worn at the late coronation, measured architectonically.”

These prints were a gift acquired as part of the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism.

Citations

Donihue, David. “Boydell Editions.” In Development: William Hogarth Prints: Boydell Editions, 17 Mar. 2005, http://www.greatcaricatures.com/articles_galleries/hogarth/html/editions/ed_boydell.html.

 

 

The Disappeared and Their Editor: the Robert J. Cox Papers

Post contributed by Michelle Runyon, Marshall T. Meyer Intern for the Human Rights Archive.

This semester I have had the pleasure of processing the Robert J. Cox papers, the collection guide for which is now available.

Although he wouldn’t know it at the time, 1979 would become the most eventful year of Robert Cox’s life. A British journalist who spent most of his adulthood up to this point in Argentina, Cox found out that his son Peter had received a highly detailed anonymous death threat. The threat came as a result of Cox’s work covering the Dirty War as the editor of the English-language newspaper the Buenos Aires Herald. Cox and his family decided to flee from Argentina. His wife Maud Cox and their five children all came to England and then the United States with him at Harvard where Cox held a Nieman Fellowship. They later came to Charleston, South Carolina where Cox became the assistant editor for the Post & Courier.

A strong theme throughout Cox’s papers is the disappearances of political activists and dissidents, especially those of Jewish descent, throughout the country. Cox himself wrote about the desaparecidos (disappeared) and advocated for the Buenos Aires Herald to cover the violence enacted against them. Articles within the collection that cover the kidnappings range from brief passages to notices created by family members of the “disappeared.” However, one format that stands out above others in the collection never made their way into being published in an official formats – pamphlets created by the family members of the disappeared.

These pamphlets, almost zine-like, were created by Xeroxing official documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and passages written by the creators alongside one another to create a narrative about what was known about the disappearance of this individual or group of individuals.

We know that at least one of these pamphlets was mailed to Robert Cox himself, as evidenced by Robert Cox’s mailing address on the back of the pamphlet. Working with the ERP (the People’s Revolutionary Army), Jorge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and his wife Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dyszel were disappeared May 18, 1978. They were 22 and 21 years old respectively. Jorge was from a Polish Jewish immigrant family. This pamphlet was likely created by Jorge’s mother, Beatriz Lewin, who was very active in Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo).

First page has "Habeas Corpus a Dios!" in large text at the top, plus additional typewritten text, including a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein. The second page of the pamphlet has additional text, as well as a photographed of a man and a woman, presumably orge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dysze, in the back of the car on what looks like their wedding day.
Pages from pamphlet of the disappearance of Jorge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dyszel

Another pamphlet tells the story of the disappearances of Graciela Antonia Rutilo Artes and her daughter Carla Graciela Rutilo Artes. Graciela’s mother Matilde Artes Company created the pamphlet and became active with Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo.

Black and white pamphlet that reads at the top "Quiero a mi hija y a mi nieta." The rest of the page includes columns of text and photographs.
Pamphlet on the disappearance of Graciela Antonia Rutilo Artes and Carla Graciela Rutilo Artes.

The Grandmothers and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continue to work to hold  accountable those who disappeared their grandchildren and children.

Cox did not return to Argentina for over a decade. However, from afar, Cox wrote about Argentina with continued urgency and commitment. His personal papers reflect this engagement, consisting of his own personal writings and those collected by him written by colleagues or other interested parties about Argentina. When democracy was restored to Argentina with the election of Raúl Alfonsín, Cox reported on this and outlined the challenges that lay ahead of the new president as he grappled with the aftermath of the Dirty War. His reporting continues shape how Argentines and the outside world view Argentina and its recent history.

His story is also told through two books written by his wife Maude, Salvados del Infierno: A 25 años de la dictadura Argentina, and his son David, Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Robert J. Cox.

If you are interested in learning more, a documentary film about Cox’s life and work called A Messenger on a White Horse is available from the Lilly Library.  A shortened version of the film is also available on Amazon Prime.

Testing, Testing, Turkey

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.

A few days ago, I went searching (in the catalog) for the perfect Thanksgiving-related item and came across a folder titled “Turkey Test, 1951-1952”  in the papers of Theodore “Ted” Minah. What kind of test could Minah, the Director of Duke University Dining Halls from 1946 to 1974, be conducting on turkeys? Was it a taste test or some sort of “mystery meat” challenge? Was he investigating the sleep-inducing properties of turkey meat?  Was he out to prove that turkeys really are as dumb as they are rumored to be?

Sadly (for us), Minah was a practical fellow and it was none of those things. Minah, who worked hard to provide quality food at the lowest price to the university, wanted to know if turkey could be a cost effective meat option for campus dining halls. The test was part of an effort by the National Turkey Federation (NTF), an organization representing turkey farmers and processors, to better market the turkey and get more turkey on more American tables. (The NTF is also the organization that provides turkeys for the annual White House turkey pardon.)

Chart showing the results of the Duke turkey test.
Chart showing the results of the Duke turkey test.

Duke, along with dining offices at other schools, participated in a 1951 study to determine how much edible meat a cooked turkey yielded and how much a single serving of turkey would cost. Led by Food Production Manager Majorie Knapp, Duke cooked several whole turkeys and took detailed measurements before and after cooking. Duke’s test used Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys from Sampson County, North Carolina which, according to Minah, “is a delicious eating turkey.”

According to the results of the Duke test, turkey would cost around $1.50 per pound of cooked meat and around $0.20 per serving. In her summary, Knapp noted that the price for chicken was cheaper at $1.37 per pound. A serving of chicken would be a few cents cheaper than turkey.

Marjorie Knapp’s turkey test report.

The test results were submitted and later included in NTF marketing materials designed to get turkey on the menu at places like schools, hotels, and hospitals. In addition to the study results and Ted Minah’s correspondence about the study, the “Turkey Test” folder also includes a few of these industry publications.

Turkey marketing materials from the Ted Minah papers.

The booklets and brochures, with catchy titles like “Carving the Turkey for Portion Control and Greater Profit” and “Pre-Cut Turkeys for Institutional Use,” mostly contain recipes and instructions for properly cooking a turkey. The recipes were certainly creative.  Creamed Turkey in Pastry Tart, Turkey Salad Roll, and Turkey Chow Mein on Chinese Noodles (to name just a few) were suggested as “profit-making turkey dishes.”

 

 

list of turkey recipes
“Profit-making” recipe ideas from the National Turkey Federation.

If you are desperately seeking things to do with all of those turkey leftovers, the NTF has your back. You could make a Jellied Turkey Salad, put some gibblets on toast, or impress your guests with jellied turkey feet. They even provide tips on what to do with the carcass!

Turkey recipes including jellied turkey and turkey feet.
More turkey recipes including 33 ways to serve turkey and how to best use that turkey carcass.

The Ted Minah materials include one more turkey item worth mentioning. He was sent a booklet of photos showing turkeys frolicking on a farm. It includes a photo of a turkey that doesn’t seem particularly pleased to have his photo taken for the purposes of marketing his own deliciousness as food.

Turkey snapshot featuring turkey that’s not having a good time.

If your uncle brings up politics at Thanksgiving dinner, just turn the conversation toward the fun facts you learned in this blog post and then you can all bond over your love of jellied turkey feet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Applications Now Accepted for the 2020-2021 Travel Grant Program

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2020-2021 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!Black and white, undated, but vintage seeming United Airlines ad. The headline reads "Compare these Travel Costs." It has an illustration of a female flight attendant holding a chart showing the cost of travel to various destinations by train in comparison to fare on United Airlines.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, the History of Medicine Collections, and the Human Rights Archive will each award up to $1,500 per recipient ($2,000 for international applicants to the Human Rights Archive) to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein Library also awards up to $1,500 for individuals who would benefit from access to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history collections through the Harry H. Harkins, Jr. T’73 Travel Grant.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2020. Recipients will be announced in March 2020.

Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series Event, Nov. 19: Education of American Surgeons, 1900-1960

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator, History of Medicine Collections.

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Time: Noon (12 p.m.)
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room (Room 153), Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Please join us Tuesday, November 19 at noon for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series. Justin Barr, M.D., Ph.D., will present Creating a Profession: The Education of American Surgeons, 1900-1960.

In 1900, anyone with a medical degree could declare themselves a surgeon and operate on patients.  By 1960, American surgeons had to complete rigorous, uniform, and regulated training called residency.  Influenced by war, supported by the federal government, and driven by professional organizations, the transformation of residencies over these decades from extraordinary, unique experiences to mandated, standardized education helped create a unified profession of surgery that continues to influence health care in this country.

Dr. Barr is currently a general surgery resident and an instructor in the Department of History at Duke University.

All are welcome to attend. Light lunch will be served.

Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Playing the Game: Football at Trinity College

Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager.

With the 150th anniversary of the first American college football game fast approaching (Rutgers faced off with Princeton on November 6, 1869), let’s take a look back at Duke University’s early football history.

Trinity College Football Team, 1888
Trinity College Football Team, 1888

The beginnings of Duke football stretch all the way back to Trinity College. The first “Duke” football game was played on Thanksgiving Day 1888. Football was introduced to Trinity College by President John Franklin Crowell, who imported it from the northeast. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Crowell had attended Dartmouth College before transferring to Yale where he earned a B.A. degree in 1883. Crowell then served as principal of Schuylkill Seminary in Pennsylvania, eventually returning to Yale to study at both the Divinity and Graduate Schools. Crowell began his presidency at Trinity College in 1887.

Crowell was a strong advocate of physical fitness and felt a football team would benefit the health of the Trinity College community, a far cry from current health concerns about the modern game. Crowell was in fact the coach of the first football team, which defeated the University of North Carolina in its first game 16-0 on Thanksgiving Day 1888 at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. Crowell’s version of football, imported from Yale, used an oval ball and focused on rushing rather than kicking. These new “scientific rules” of the American Intercollegiate Conference resulted in this game being considered the first true college football game in the American South.

Crowell brought football to Trinity College, but not without controversy. Many church leaders, highly influential given Trinity’s close relationship with the Methodist Church, complained about and protested the matches, declaring the sport to be too dangerous. After Crowell’s resignation as President in 1894, the next President of Trinity College, John Carlisle Kilgo, banned football that December, stating that it was too dangerous to play.

Trinity students and alumni were not happy about the ban. They routinely complained about the absence of football and fought for its reinstatement. There was even a demonstration in the fall of 1913. However, administrators would not budge. Football was too dangerous, too expensive, immoral “in the methods used to win victories”, and resulted in scandalous conduct. Intercollegiate football remained banned at Trinity College.

Football began to be reinstated in 1918. A commission was formed to review the case for football on campus, and play eventually resumed on October 1, 1920 with Trinity beating Guildford College 20-6.

A player heroically dives for the ball during a game in the 1920's.
A player heroically dives for the ball during a game in the 1920’s.

College football has been a continual presence on campus since 1920, including through the creation of Duke University and the beginnings of West Campus. The first football game at Wallace Wade Stadium, then called Duke Stadium, took place on October 5, 1929. Over 90 years ago, Duke’s reinstated program lost big to Pittsburgh, 57 to 7.

This is the kick-off to a Duke game in Duke Stadium, later known as Wallace Wade Stadium, circa 1929.
This is the kick-off to a Duke game in Duke Stadium, later known as Wallace Wade Stadium, circa 1929.

Book Talk w/Prof. Richard Bell, Nov. 5

Please join us Tuesday November 5, Rubenstein Library 349, Breedlove Conference Room, for a conversation with Professor Richard Bell, Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, as he shares his latest book STOLEN: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home. Bell will describe his research of the fascinating story of five free African American boys stolen from Philadelphia in 1825 and sold into slavery in Mississippi, and the efforts of parents, neighbors, and activists to rescue them and bring their captors to justice.

This event is co-sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture and the Department of History

Lunch will be served

Medicine and Magic in North Carolina

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Frank Clyde Brown was an English professor at Trinity College in 1909. Although, to call him just an English professor is a bit of a disservice- he was also the chairman of the English department, the University Marshal, the Comptroller of the University… he wore many hats while he was here. But, most importantly for today, he was an avid folklorist throughout his career.

He was so interested in North Carolina and Appalachian folklore that he helped to begin the North Carolina Folklore Society. Although busy with his many university roles, he still found the time to roam about North Carolina (or send his students to do so) and collect people’s stories and beliefs. The resulting collection of all these research materials, the Frank Clyde Brown Papers, 1912-1974, is absolutely massive. Alongside the huge print collection, there is a digitized collection of audio performances Brown collected during the course of his research- the physical wax cylinders and discs that they come from are still in the collection to be seen, but the only way to listen to them is through Duke’s Digital Repository.

But, in the spirit of the season, I took a look at box 45 of the print collection. Folk medicine is a wonderful and often strange portion of the history of medicine, and I quickly found that this collection reflected that idea. In this particular box are folders full of small pieces of paper that have bits of folk knowledge printed on them, as well as the source of that knowledge, be it a person or a book.

Four pieces of paper with folk remedies Brown collected. 1 is binding a frog to your head to cure a headache. 2 is washing your face in a stream of water that runs north to cure a headache. 3 is using beetle blood to cure a earache and 4 is putting ground pepper in your ear to cure a earache.
3:B:Z(8)-3:B:Z(16), Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, some of these cures may not be quite what you expect. You couldn’t expect that washing your face with cool water may help alleviate a headache, but water that runs north? Why is that significant? Do beetles really only have two drops of blood in their bodies?

The thing that’s most interesting about this box is how the materials transition from folk medicine cures of diseases and insect bites into the supernatural. Some of these cures could arguably be called magical, but conceptually they still have to do with curing something wrong with the body- but what about spiritual health? What bad omens are out there that could impact my health? How do I know if he loves me or not? How can I get an edge on my exam tomorrow?

Four slips of paper describing various folk charms Brown collected.
4:A-4:C, Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

In a context where the supernatural is accepted and has an effect on one’s personal health, it also stands to reason that one should be afraid of witches. Someone who has the power to bedevil you against your will, curse you with bad luck, make you sick? Because of this fear, the next few folders that follow the common sense cures and the charms are things to directly deal with witches. There are counter-spells, ways of identifying witches, and, most importantly, ways to keep them as far away from you as possible.

Four slips of paper describing signs that someone is a witch or can practice magic, as well as charms to keep witches away.
4:A-4:C, Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

It can be difficult these days to think that medicine can or should be magical, but in the spirit of the season I would invite you to try. These materials are available to you to look at with many more cures and curses, all you have to do is register and request and we’ll be happy to retrieve them for you.

A note about the collection: if you’re looking at the collection, just keep in mind that these papers directly quote real people; as such, there are a handful of these items that contain racial slurs and some other outdated language that we find offensive today.

Staff recommendations from the collection:

If you’re someone who’s more into stories, we would recommend checking out this paper on Witches in Old Salem, this one on vampires, or this one about werewolves.

Honorable mentions for Halloween:

The inspiration for the movie Poltergeist, Ruysch’s dancing skeletons and anatomical sketches, and some of our materials about the famous Lizzie Borden Case, which you can read about here.

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University