Today’s post introduces a new blog series here in Special Collections and University Archives— Artifacts in the Archives. These will be a series of posts that include staff picks for different artifacts. This week’s post lists some of our favorites.
The Death Mask
From Whitney Olthoff, Project Archivist
I might get judged for this, but… I have to go with Margaret Stanton’s death mask. It’s creepy, it’s a bit macabre, and it’s a fascinating artifact. It’s a piece of Victorian history – this was just one of many kinds of memento mori (items created to remember the dead) that were a popular custom in that era. From my understanding, death masks were never typical in the Midwest, so it’s especially interesting that this one was made here and that we have one at all.
From Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist
My favorite artifact is Margaret MacDonald Stanton’s death mask. It gives us an opportunity to talk about two people who were here in the early days of the college, and who contributed to keeping the fledgling institution on the right track. Edgar was the first student to receive a diploma at Iowa State. He devoted his life to Iowa State, and was a member of the faculty until the day he died. His memorial to Margaret has become a major symbol of the university.
Because Margaret Hall, the first dormitory specifically for women, was named for Margaret Stanton, we can also talk about early student life, and the changes on Central Campus over the years. And there is the general creepiness factor, which can work into a discussion of past rituals surrounding death and mourning.
From Chris Anderson, Project Archivist
It’s fascinating how the math we now do digitally can be done mechanically. These are such ingenious devices. So much mileage out of a couple of interacting cylinders in a wooden frame. And of course, it’s cool looking!
From Brad Kuennen, University Archivist
My favorite artifact is the cylindrical slide rule (2009-R004). When most people think of slide rules, which I know doesn’t happen often anymore, it conjures up images of flat ruler-sized devices carried around in the pockets of 1950s college students. This cylindrical slide rule is definitely not pocket-sized! At 24 inches long and nearly 5 inches in diameter, I can’t imagine students toting one of these around campus all day. In this day of computers and smartphones we take for granted how much time and sweat was involved in solving complex equations 100 years ago. This device reduced the amount of hand calculations required to solve some of these difficult mathematical problems. The cylindrical slide rule is now a relic of the past, however I still find it fascinating to look at and wonder about its workings. Maybe someday I’ll actually take the time to learn how to use it. And by that I mean typing “cylindrical slide rule” into YouTube to see if there is a video that someone else has posted.
Land-features Globe of Mars
From Matt Schuler, Library Assistant II
I like it because it’s a map and it’s not something you would typically expect to see represented on a globe. It would be something I’d love to have on display in my house if it wasn’t here.
Oliphant P. Stuckslager’s Hammer
From Laura Sullivan, Collections Archivist
For this post, I’m going to say that my favorite artifact is the Stuckslager hammer. The hammer was used to construct one of the first buildings here on campus, Old Main. We have just enough information on the hammer to give a person enough to start imagining all the activities, people, and sites the hammer saw during its lifetime – helping to bring me that much closer to the hustle and bustle which must have been part of the construction of the main building for the State Agricultural College and Model Farm (now Iowa State).
It’s seemingly a regular, common, everyday hammer of today, in look, feel, size and weight – which makes viewing the hammer both familiar and disconcerting. This particular hammer came to Ames in 1868, brought by Oliphant P. Stuckslager with the specific purpose to help build Old Main. We even know where Stuckslager and his family lived in Ames – further helping me to go back in time and imagine the life and times of the hammer during its quite active career, which is said to have continued until the death of its owner in 1908. We know as much information as we do about the hammer in part thanks to a senior research project done on the hammer. A summary of the student’s findings can be found on an earlier blog post.
The Laundry Mailer
From Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist
I like the laundry mailer because it reminds me of when I was an undergraduate. Every weekend I returned home and my dad would do my laundry. Once I got my laundry done before I came home and he was disappointed! It’s also my favorite artifact because it reminds me that life was so different not too long ago. For one, students could fit an entire week’s worth of laundry into the mailer. It’s not very large. It is smaller than most carry-on luggage pieces today. I can’t imagine fitting a week’s worth of clothes in the mailer in the winter. I may be able to swing it for the summer, though, it would be a tight fit and it’s likely I’d have to wear some shorts or skirts more than once during the week. Students back then probably didn’t have a change of clothes for every day of the week. Also, I would guess that mostly mothers did the laundry. More research on the details of ISU students’ use of the laundry mailers needs to be done. Did both men and women use the laundry mailers, or did the women have laundry facilities in their dormitories? What years were the mailers in use here on campus?
Below are some links to additional information about the laundry mailer, shared with me by Becky Jordan:
- “Laundry mailer, 1950-54” from the Montgomery County Historical Society, Maryland
- “Laundry Box,” Object Spotlights from the National Postal Museum, Washington, DC
Dance Card from Alpha Kappa Delta Dance
From Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist
I love dance cards because they are one of those elements from the past that have completely fallen by the wayside. I am a dancer, and I would love to go to a dance and fill up a dance card with my partners’ names. This particular one is my favorite, because it is so inventive and fun. Most dance cards are little booklets, but this one is a wheel with a little paper inside where you write your partners’ names that you can view through a little window. You turn the inside paper to reveal the different names. It works like a star chart. To use a fancy term, it is a volvelle. It is from an Alpha Kappa Delta dance, but there is no indication of the year. It is part of a collection of dance cards from Clarice Johnson Van Zante given to the department as a donation in 1999. Clarice was an ISU alum who attended in the 1920s, majoring in home economics. Later she worked as a school teacher in Ottumwa. The dance card is currently part of a mini-exhibit in the Special Collections reading room called “‘I’ll Pencil You In’: Dances and Dance Cards at Iowa State.”
The Rice Krispies Treat
From Petrina Jackson, Head of SCUA
You are probably wondering why Special Collections and University Archives keeps a Rice Krispies Treat for posterity. It is a good question since it is unusual for repositories to keep food products as collection material. However, this is not just any Rice Krispies Treat. It is a piece of the world record-holding, largest Rice Krispies Treat, weighing in at 2,480 pounds. Members of the Iowa State community created the sweet, sticky snack during VEISHEA 2001 to celebrate the university theme “Strengthening Families to Become the Best,” co-sponsored by the College of Family and Consumer Science (now the College of Human Sciences). The record-holding treat was also made in honor of Mildred Day, a 1928 ISU graduate of home economics, who “was a member of the Kellogg Company team that developed the Rice Krispies Treat recipe in the 1940s.”