Posted by: Stephanie | January 10, 2014

So what would you say you do here?

As I mentioned last week, we project archivists are doing a whole lot of “processing” – a word that refers generally to a method of organizing and handling records. Archivists are familiar with its collections-centric meaning, but it doesn’t mean much to people who don’t interact frequently with archival materials. So, to answer that age-old question posed in Office Space, what would we say we do here?

In general, archives’ use of the term processing covers the following steps:

1. Arrangement: Tidy and organize collections. Fact of life: in order to find something, we have to know where it is. To this end, we organize papers – just like students might have a notebook for each class, or a Google calendar for class assignments and one for sports and social events, we try to divine an order in someone’s desk folders or calendars or letters over the years. We have to write good titles too, that convey a folder’s contents – even when they seem a bit random. When possible, archivists respect des fonds as the French say, meaning ensures that a collection reflects the creator’s use and organization of the items. If that creator purposefully put a bunch of things together, our job is to describe the things with a title (“Military science memorandums”) and leave it for the researchers to debate the contents.

Processed materials

Materials are providing to researchers like this: folders with titles in a discernible order.

Accessioned materials

… but they generally arrive with less sense of organization and in containers that will cause harm to the materials over time.

2. Preservation: Ensure materials are clean and protected. Unlike library books, which can generally be replaced if they are lost or otherwise harmed, our collections are unique or very rare. Letters typically only have one copy; Terry Anderson annotated a draft of his book, and other drafts will contain different marginalia, for example. So archivists must care for paper physically to enable a long life – just like we take vitamins every day or try to eat more fruits and vegetables. Paper’s version of “vitamins” includes being stored in acid-free paper, folders, boxes, and cartons. Photographs are more fragile and popular items, so photos are put into enclosures that are made of clear materials without harmful chemicals. You would be surprised at the destruction caused by a paper clip, a few staples, or a rubber band, especially as they rust and melt over time. We remove these to prevent future issues, but if the item(s) have been exposed to mold or need a lot of help, our Preservation department comes to the rescue.

Our materials arrive in much better shape than this, thankfully. Photo of destroyed library from the Beth Israel Congregation in New Orleans, circa 2005. From Jewish Women’s Archive via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Access and Use: Catalog and promote the collections. Archivists don’t have an easy job (I may be biased) but one of the hardest things we do, in my view, is make sure that people can search for and find materials in our holdings. Just like people need to be able to find books on shelves, articles in databases and the digital repository, images on our Flickr site, we need to make sure people can find items and collections. But every book has just one title and an array of headings. On the other hand, by nature, the materials that individuals gather over their lifetime are much less focused than a book. It would take an incomprehensible amount of time to detail every single item in our collections, so instead we create finding aids that inventory the folders, write biographical and historical notes that detail a person or office’s interests and record holdings,

In order to make sure that users can “see” (via the catalog or other virtual tools, since our shelves are not open to cruising around sections) what’s available, we do a few things:

  • Create finding aids and put them online. This inventories all those folders that we put titles on during arrangement. Finding aids provide context for the collection through a biography of the person or history of an organization, an overview of what is present (or not present) in the records, and a listing of the folder titles. This way, visitors can skim a finding aid and see present – or not present – sort of like a book’s table of contents or index.
  • Create searchable catalog records. Just like you can search for circulating books through the Library website, you can search for special collections as well. These link to the finding aid, as well
  • Write blogs. Finding aids stick to the facts, and frequently collections cannot be digitized – again, the time and file space required is not practical. So these posts allow us to showcase images, provide more context, and wax whimsically about our favorite parts of a collection. Since they’re online also, people can use Google to come across the collections at ISU – library catalogs, not so much.
  • Display exhibits. On the fourth floor of Parks, inside and outside of our reading room, we have exhibit cases that allow us to highlight collections. Currently, the cases are dedicated to the papers of Congressman Edward Mezvinsky and contain photos and sports memorabilia from his youth in Ames and artifacts from his political career. Exhibits may also be virtual – Collections Archivist Laura Sullivan’s online exhibit in honor of Homecoming’s 100th anniversary in 2012 gives a comprehensive view of Cyclone pride that is accessible to alumni near and far.
MS-274 exhibit on Congressman Edward Mezvinsky

Exhibits in Parks Library are just one way we provide access to our collections

Whew! So that is what archivists do when they process, in brief. Every researcher who uses materials from Special Collections, at Iowa State or in any repository, has seen processing’s results up close. Archivists do plenty other tasks: materials have to come from somewhere, groups pay us visits, classes come learn how we can improve their work, we have a web presence to maintain, policies are always changing and developing, etc. Melissa Mannon maintains a long list of the variety of tasks that archivists accomplish using a Pinterest board, What does an archivist do? amongst other archives-centric boards. Maybe I should start one for processing archivists…

Posted by: Laura | January 6, 2014

Coach Johnny Orr


Johnny Orr, who passed away on New Year’s Eve, is a Cyclone legend in every sense of the word.  It can be said that many would argue that he is the best loved and most respected figure in Iowa State University history.  Orr came to Iowa State from the University of Michigan in 1980 and resurrected a basketball program that had not been invited to play in the postseason since the 1940s.  His Cyclone teams slowly improved until, in his fourth season, Iowa State finished with a 16-13 record and an invitation to play in the NIT, reaching the quarterfinals.  By 1986, Iowa State had competed in its second consecutive NCAA tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in modern history.  Orr led Iowa State to six NCAA tournament appearances and five 20+ win seasons during his tenure.

“Hilton Magic” is a phrase that was coined during Johnny Orr’s coaching days.  The game atmosphere in Hilton Coliseum became known far and wide as one of the most intimidating in the country.  The Hilton crowds became an effective “sixth man” on the court.  Opponents that were highly ranked often left Hilton with a loss after dealing with noise from fans cheering so loudly that the hoop rims and floor would vibrate.  Hilton Magic simply would not exist today without Johnny Orr.  Every shred of success and every high expectation was set because of how he built his program and fan base.

The Special Collections Department has materials that will allow you to revisit the career of Johnny Orr as Iowa State’s head men’s basketball coach.  The University Archives has a collection of news clippings about Johnny Orr ( RS 24/3/13), and there are also media guides, game-day programs, photographs, and newspaper articles in the men’s basketball records series (RS 24/5).   All of these are available for viewing in the Special Collections Department’s Reading Room.  We also have a selection of images of Johnny Orr available on Flickr under the set “Athletics – Coaches.”

Post written by:  Matt Schuler, Library Assistant

Posted by: Stephanie | January 3, 2014

Introducing your 2014 ISU Special Collections Blog

Welcome to 2014, readers!

As you might have noticed, over the past several weeks, the blog has taken on a new rhythm of posting. The department personnel have started posting twice a week – on Tuesday and on Friday – and while we get some help, the bulk of the posting is done by the three new project archivists. Our Tuesday posts, which we will now be calling “CyPix,” feature a fun photo from an Iowa State collection; recent photos have highlighted the history of holidays and football at ISU, for example.

Fridays feature longer posts that provide insight into individual collections that are ready and waiting for research, educational, and all other kinds of uses. Since we three project archivists are hard at work on making collections available to researchers, these posts will frequently highlight the collections that we are working on. But we still have some tricks up our sleeves! During National Aviation Month, Amy highlighted Charles Lindbergh’s lesser-known aviation rival, former Iowa State student Clarence Chamberlin. Then, just as I was needing books to read over the holidays, Amy shared the story of the local (defunct) book club the Serendipity Club – complete with reading list. Whitney is no slouch, either – she recently wrote about bank robberies in Iowa, including a few by Bonnie and Clyde.

Since we’re on the topic of changes in ISU Special Collections, let’s talk for a moment about the role of the project archivists. I said earlier that we are helping make collections available to our user base – we use the term “processing” but a good deal goes into that ten-letter word. Similarly, the term “user” or “patron” is more complex than it seems, because Special Collections is open to the same people as the library is: everyone. If you’re reading this, you can come see us! Our users are frequently members of the Iowa State community – current students, staff, faculty, administration, and alumni – but our resources are available to all, and recent visitors have included middle-school students from other parts of Iowa, faculty of other institutions, and folks interested in the design of old Iowa State sports memorabilia. One size does not fit all when it comes to the work in our department, nor the output of this blog.

In a future post, I’ll go into more depth about what we archivists mean when we talk about processing. Our special collections and university archives contain plenty of mysteries, but we hope this space will be a forum for conversation and education about our efforts. As archivists, we know that not every question has a direct answer, but we work to provide access to as much information as possible. Check back next week for more about the whats, whys, and hows of archival work. In the meantime, if you have questions about our collections or projects, please let us know in the comments!

Posted by: bishopae | December 20, 2013

Curl up by the fire with a good book: Serendipity Club

For many students, winter break means a welcome vacation from books and reading, but for others, it is a long-awaited opportunity to crack open that new, juicy novel. If you belong in the latter category, and if you are looking for a new book to sink your teeth into, this post is for you!

Today we are taking a look at the Serendipity Club, an organization that was founded in Ames in 1936 by a group of women to promote reading and friendship. The fifteen founding members were the wives of Iowa State College professors and administrators. Among them was Mrs. Vera Friley, wife of the Charles E. Friley, president of the college from 1936-1953.

Serendipity Club members in 1963. Ames Tribune, April 9, 1963.

Serendipity Club members in 1963. Ames Tribune, April 9, 1963.

The name for the club was suggested by Mrs. George Godfrey, who discovered the word coined by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), an English earl and man of letters, when he referred in a letter to a fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. Elizabeth Wilkinson, first chairman of the club, writes in the minutes from the meeting:

These princes in their wanderings were always discovering, either by chance or sagacity, desirable things which they did not seek.

Hence, the word has come to mean the art of acquiring something that is both pleasurable and profitable without any seeming conscious effort” (Box 1, Folder 1. Journal of Activities (Minutes), p. 6. April 30, 1936. The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library).

The ladies unanimously voted to adopt the name. They decided that, in order to vary the reading, each member would choose her own book to purchase through the club each year and that the books would be passed around amongst the members. At each monthly meeting, there would be no discussion of the books read; instead, the ladies would present information on the author of their chosen book.

Although the ladies did not review their books, there was no lack of lively discussion. At different times, letters would be read aloud that members had sent back from various exotic vacation spots, like California and Italy, or members would show off their souvenirs, such as the time Mrs. Buchanan brought “a most interesting display of textiles who [sic] had been woven in Egypt and it gave us a very definite idea of the garb worn by the shepherds” (Box 1, Folder 2. Journal of Activities (Minutes), p. 35. November 22, 1949. The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library).

At other times, the discussion would verge on news and scandals of the day, such as when

“Mrs. Buchanan entertained the group with an account of her visit to Father Divine, and his heavens in West Harlem N.Y.–how his obscure theological reasoning confounds his followers; how he manages the financial side of his enterprise and how the advent of one of Father Divine’s “heavens” in Harlem means a moral cleanup of the entire block.

“The description of his Peace Mission[,] a stone house of fifty rooms, his huge Duesenberg sedan, 22 ft in length[,] his numerous important angels, his habit of midnight banqueting and his Pinninah, the only one of his women followers who is permitted to sit beside him, was of interest to all of us” (Box 1, Folder 1. Journal of Activities (Minutes), p. 60. November 26, 1939. The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library).

The meetings always included refreshments and a social hour. Chairman Dorothy Elwood summed up one meeting: “We had a lovely noisy meeting–the kind Serendipity thoroughly enjoys” (Box 1, Folder 2. Journal of Activities (Minutes), p. 12. September 24, 1947. The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library).

Pages from Journal of Activities, showing Gone with the Wind at the top of the list. The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Pages from Journal of Activities, showing Gone with the Wind at the top of the list (left). The Serendipity Club Records, MS 358, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Each year, the members chose their new books from those that had been published in the previous year. It is interesting to see which books have had staying power and are still read today. One of the books chosen during the club’s first year, 1936-1937, was Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling Gone with the Wind (find it in the ISU catalog) which had just been published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. Here is just a selection of some other well-known books and authors, chosen by Serendipity Club members throughout the years:

Now doesn’t that just make you want to curl up in front of the fire with a good book?

To learn more about the Serendipity Club, check out the finding aid for MS 358, The Serendipity Club Records, or come look at it in Special Collections.

Posted by: Whitney | December 17, 2013

A Holiday Tradition

Christmas tree lighting n.d.

Christmas tree lighting ceremony on central campus, undated.

With the holiday season upon us and winter break officially starting next week for the students, it seems fitting to highlight a photo of a long-standing holiday tradition here at Iowa State. The tree-lighting ceremony originated in 1914, but was discontinued only to be started up again in 1946. As part of ISU’s annual WinterFest celebration, people gather around the evergreen tree across from Beardshear Hall on central campus to listen to the carillon, hear a speech from the president, sing Christmas carols, and to watch the tree light up. This year’s celebration was December 6th and was held inside Beardshear due to the frigid temperatures.

For more information on this and other ISU traditions, see the Iowa State University Traditions, Songs, and Cheers Collection, RS 00/16/1.

However, wherever, and whatever you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday and happy new year!

Posted by: Stephanie | December 13, 2013

What’s past is prologue: the Terry A. Anderson Papers

In Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, the scheming character Antonio says, “What’s past is prologue.” While this phrase can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, archival collections and their contents often prove its most common meaning: what takes place in the past sets the stage for the present. It is so engrained in our profession that it is engraved on the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.

The recently processed papers of Terry A. Anderson, a 1972 Iowa State grad and Associated Press journalist who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years, illustrate this concept yet again. Held from March 16, 1985, until December 4, 1991, Anderson spent seven birthdays in captivity and just last week observed twelve years since his release.


Anderson blows out the candles on a month-late birthday cake to celebrate after seven birthdays in the custody of the group Islamic Jihad.

The historical record of Anderson’s story resembles the present all too well. During the 1980s, Lebanon was enduring a civil war; today, the country is bearing witness to the civil war in neighboring Syria closely. Hafez al-Assad was the Syrian president during that period; his son Bashar al-Assad is the current president. A key player in the Lebanese civil war was the sometimes militant group, sometimes political party Hizballah; now, Hizballah is involved heavily with Syrian government fighting.

Anderson’s  kidnapping was claimed by a group called Islamic Jihad (a name that still appears in the news), which has ties to Hizballah. In the 1980s, at least before Terry Anderson was kidnapped, Hizballah was relatively unknown to Americans. The group is so common in today’s discussions about global politics that a search on the New York Times website yields 900 search results from the last 12 months. What can Anderson’s collection about his interactions with the group tell us about its place now?


Anderson, in a photo released to the press by his captors in August 1988.

During the Lebanese civil war, which was marked by tensions between the United States and many countries in the region, Iran and Iraq were also at war. In 1985, the United States initiated an effort to sell weapons to Iran secretly in exchange for the release of kidnapping victims. Money from the arms sale was then used to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. This scheme, commonly called the Iran-Contra Affair, remains a black mark on the Reagan administration. Reagan claimed to have never known about the deals, though Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the scandal, asserts that the President did know. A great deal has been written on the Iran Contra Affair and the roles of various players; a number of books and even entire academic websites are devoted to it.

These subjects – Lebanon, Syria, the Iran-Contra Affair, North, Reagan – intersect with Terry Anderson’s experience. The weapons exchange with Iran was supposed to result in his and other hostages’ freedom. Some argued that the scandal it provoked actually hurt the chances of his release. When Anderson safely returned to the United States, these are the subjects he started researching to learn more about the backstory of his kidnapping and why he had languished so long in captivity. The subject files created during the course of that research – including the many Freedom of Information Act requests he filed with U.S. federal government agencies – form a large part of the Terry Anderson collection.

Once the key players of the Iran-Contra Affair and other of Anderson’s contemporaries are identified, their names start appearing in more recent news media. For example, also embroiled in the Iran Contra Affair was Robert McFarlane, the National Security Advisor to President Reagan. Anderson interviewed him for his memoir, Den of Lions, when he returned to the United States and began exploring the events that he missed while imprisoned; an interview transcript is in the collection. As a man who helped craft U.S. foreign policy at a time of plentiful terrorism, McFarlane continues to show up in the news from time to time, offering his opinion on recent events or allegedly wielding his influence improperly.


From the collection, an array of publications that Terry Anderson and his family appeared in during his captivity, 1985-1991.

Giandomenico Picco, an aide to the United Nations Secretary General, has an eye-grabbing name, and one that I thought I was unfamiliar with until, well, I knew to look for it. Like McFarland, Picco is still a sought-after voice on issues like the Syrian conflict and the recent accusations regarding the United States’ wiretapping of international figures.

The political climate of Lebanon and Syria is not the only past-prologue feature revealed by the Terry Anderson Papers. Desperate people of various ideologies continue kidnappings as a way to spread their message; journalists are kidnapped, imprisoned, and exiled regularly, as the news and the Committee to Protect Journalists tell us.

So, the landscape of war and kidnappings that Terry Anderson faced while on assignment in Beirut in 1985 remains. Some of the players even remain the same. If you have been paying attention to recent news regarding the relationship between Iran and the United States, you may have heard that Iran recently elected a new President, Hasan Ruhani (also spelled “Hassan Rouhani”). Many hope that President Ruhani will promote moderate behaviors and beliefs within his country, unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ruhani allegedly met with McFarlane and North during Iran Contra-related negotiations in 1986.

We invite you to come discover the prologues in the Terry Anderson Papers, MS-272, available to use in the Special Collections Reading Room, Parks Library 403. In addition to subject files and working files of research for Den of Lions, the collection includes a vast set of VHS tapes with local and national news regarding Anderson; audio tapes, many created by regular Americans who were affected by Anderson’s capture and eventual release; and materials related to the efforts of Anderson’s sister Peggy Say and fellow journalists who advocated for his release. A finding aid detailing the collections contents is available online.

Posted by: Stephanie | December 10, 2013

A different kind of exam

As the semester winds down, exam season is in full force across the Iowa State University campus. Let us all take a moment to appreciate the plight of this puppy, who is undergoing an exam of his own: veterinary medicine students are examining him (or her) for mange mites under the watchful eye of their professor.

RS 14

Veterinary medicine students inspect a dog for mange mites, 1935.

More photos of veterinary medicine across the ages – including one featuring a camel – are available at the Special Collections Department Flickr site. More information about the history of the College of Veterinary Medicine is available on the College’s web site. We warmly wish a successful (and mite-less) exam season for all faculty and students!

Posted by: Whitney | December 6, 2013

Early 20th Century Bank Robberies in Iowa

The early 20th century marked a tumultuous time in America and the world. World War I, the Great Depression, World War II… and an apparent rise in bank robberies all occurred. I am currently processing the Iowa Bankers Association Records, MS 45. Among all of the records in the collection, the most interesting set, in my opinion, are those records involving bank robberies, which span the years 1910-1969. The bulk of these cover 1910-1940 or so. This portion of the collection features cross files of criminal cases in index card form, many mug shots, clippings, robberies organized by bank and/or town, and about 2,000 case files organized by case number. Hundreds upon hundreds of photographs are found within this part of the collection, though be aware that some of these are not for the faint of heart – there are several postmortem photographs, some of them featuring gun wounds. In addition to all of that, many artifacts have been found, including pieces of blown-up safes, ropes used in robberies, a bullet shell, and even a pillow case that was used to carry stolen cash and was buried.

While most of these bank robberies were conducted by relatively unknown bandits, a few hold ups were done (or at least allegedly done) by famous figures. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bonnie and Clyde. Or a man named John Dillinger.  Here is a brief description of their escapades in the Hawkeye State:

Clyde Barrow, leader of the "Barrow Gang," which included George "Baby Face" Nelson, circa 1934

Clyde Barrow, leader of the “Barrow Gang,” circa 1934. Box 145, folder 16.

Bonnie Parker (a.k.a. Mrs. Clyde Barrow) circa 1934

Bonnie Parker (a.k.a. Mrs. Clyde Barrow) circa 1934. Box 145, folder 16.

Texas outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, along with other members collectively known as the Barrow Gang, were suspected of holdups at at least three banks in Iowa, as follows: State Savings Bank in Knierim on February 1, 1934, First National Bank in Stuart on April 16, 1934, and the Bank Office in Everly on May 3, 1934. A woman (presumably Parker) was often reported as driving Barrow and other members of the gang away from these banks. The car used in the Knierim robbery bore the Arkansas license plate number 145-467, which was the plate number found in the abandoned car in which Bonnie and Clyde were killed. They met their end in Louisiana at the hand of Texas and Louisiana Peace Officers on  May 23, 1934. Marvin Barrow, Clyde’s brother who had a reputation as a “cop killer,” was killed in a raid near Dexter, Iowa in July 1933. Their hideouts in Iowa included heavily-wooded locations near Dexter, Sutherland, Lime Springs, and Mount Ayr. Supposedly, the Barrow Gang made many visits to Iowa, so they may have been responsible for other bank crimes in the state in which they weren’t identified.

Excerpt from the Minneapolis Tribune, March 14, 1934

Clipping from the Minneapolis Tribune, March 14, 1934. Box 146, folder 2.

John Dillinger left a bloody trail all across the Midwest. Dillinger and his gang, which included for a time notorious gangster George “Baby Face” Nelson, were suspected of robbing $52,000 from the First National Bank in Mason City on March 13, 1934. There was some debate as to whether or not it really was Dillinger, or if it was instead a similar-looking criminal named Frank D. Carpenter. The photo above, clipped from a Minneapolis newspaper, highlights this debate. Overall consensus, however, is that it was in fact Dillinger. In this robbery, the gang used bank employees as hostages to stand outside of the car and protect them from gunfire and used tear gas in the bank. One witness was wounded in the leg by a stray bullet, but luckily there were no deaths in the robbery. For more information on the robberies of the Barrow Gang and Dillinger, contact us about looking through the collection.

A group of vigilantes gather for a practice shoot, this time with a tommy gun.

A group of vigilantes gather for a shooting match. Matches involved pistols and rifles, so this photograph featuring a Tommy gun is unusual. Box 333, folder 8.

In response to the common occurrence of bank robberies across the state, county vigilante groups were organized, known as County Auxiliary Protective Units. These were official units that were recognized by the American Bankers Association. Story County participated in this, and the Ames National Bank and Ames Trust and Savings Bank were among those that contributed to the protective units. In exchange for contributing to the County Auxiliary Protective Units, banks were entitled to discounts in their premiums for Burglary and Robber insurance. These units look to have been formed in the mid-to-late 1920s, while county vigilance committees formed a bit earlier. “State shoots,” held at Fort Des Moines, started as early as 1918. The “state shoots,” or “state matches,” were made up of sheriffs, regular deputy sheriffs, special deputy sheriffs, town marshalls, and constables representing their respective counties. The special deputy sheriffs were men who were chosen from Iowa communities, and they were often referred to as “vigilantes”; their purpose was to find and apprehend bank bandits and other major criminals that endangered their communities. Participants at the shoots competed in pistol and rifle matches, consisting of short range, midrange and rapid fire contests. The Iowa Bankers Association bore the costs of these shoots, although the county associations paid the expenses of their contestants. More information about these vigilante organizations can be found in the collection.

If you’re interested in this, other collections might appeal to you that involve the time periods covered in Bank Robberies record series featured in this post. A few examples include MS 409, United States Works Progress Administration (Iowa): Special Reports and Narratives of Projects, MS 605, Harold French Davidson Papers (these contain letters from World War I), and MS 388, World War II Ration Memorabilia. Or, take a look at our many other wonderful collections. You never know what might pique your interest!

Posted by: bishopae | December 3, 2013

Skating on Lake LaVerne

The days are getting colder, and if you have walked past Lake LaVerne lately, you may have noticed ice beginning to form on it.

Here is an early picture of ISU students playing a game of hockey on Lake LaVerne:

Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne

Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne.

The creation of Lake LaVerne was funded by LaVerne Noyes, an 1872 graduate of ISU who made a modest fortune as a businessman, manufacturer, and inventor of farm machinery. He wished to beautify the campus of his alma mater and hired the landscape gardener O.C. Simmonds. Lake LaVerne, as it came to be called, was created between 1914 and 1915. You can find out more from the LaVerne and Ida Noyes Collection, RS 21/7/235, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library. A finding aid is available online.

Don’t try skating on Lake LaVerne today! The lake no longer freezes over in winter because aerators are used to keep the water open through the winter months for ISU’s beloved pair of swans, Lancelot and Elaine. If you want to glide across some ice, try heading to the Ames/ISU Ice Arena instead. 

Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA.

Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA, 1936.

Check out these photos and others of Lake LaVerne on our Flickr site.

Here at Iowa State University, many of our students and staff as well as many of our other readers may be flying today to visit family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday. In honor of Aviation Month, here is the story of an early Iowa State flier.

You’ve probably heard something about Charles Lindbergh… the Spirit of St. Louis, the solo trans-Atlantic flight to Paris, the international acclaim. But did you know that, but for legal squabbles, Iowa State University’s own Clarence Chamberlin might have beat Lindy to Paris?

Clarence D. Chamberlin in 1927

Clarence D. Chamberlin in 1927.

Who was Clarence Chamberlin? Born in Denison, Iowa, in 1893, Chamberlin studied electrical engineering at Iowa State College (University) for two years beginning in 1916. He learned to fly during World War I when he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army, and he had just received orders to head to Europe when the war ended. He was so taken with flying that after the war, he purchased his own plane and flew around the country barnstorming, which means giving sight-seeing flights to passengers and/or stunt flying.

Chamberlin had dreamed of making a trans-Atlantic flight ever since the New York City hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize in 1919 for the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris. It wasn’t until eight years later that he got a chance.

In 1927, Chamberlin began working as a test pilot for the Columbia Aircraft Corporation, founded by his friend Guiseppe Bellanca and Charles Levine. In April of that year, Chamberlin set a new world record for endurance by flying a Bellanca monoplane for 51 hours and 11 minutes straight with another test pilot, Bert Acosta. After this success showing what the plane was capable of, there was talk of trying for the Orteig prize.

Unfortunately, Bellanca and Levine, the owners of the company–and the plane they would be flying–argued over who should pilot the flight. Levine did not want Chamberlin to fly and chose as his replacement Lloyd W. Bertaud, a U.S. Air Mail pilot. Chamberlin explains in his book Record Flights, that Levine felt that “Acosta and Bertaud, who were both tall and powerfully built in contrast to my own slender physique, would make a much better screen impression than I and ought to make the flight together because of the motion picture offers that would pour in as soon as they landed in Paris” (23). Bellanca, the plane’s designer, flatly refused because Chamberlin was such a good pilot, weighed less, and knew his plane so well.

Yet, there continued to be disagreement over which two of the three men would pilot the flight until the christening of the Columbia, the plane that was to make the flight. Levine’s nine-year-old daughter Eloyse had the honor of performing the christening, and afterwards she asked if she and her friend, the fifteen-year-old Grace Jonas could be taken for a ride in the plane. As the plane took off, a pin in the plane’s left shock absorber came off, causing the landing gear to become useless. Mechanics on the ground saw what had happened and sent up another plane to signal to Chamberlin of the problem. He was able to make a safe landing, in spite of expectations of a crash, much to the relief of Eloyse’s mother! Shortly after this episode, Acosta sent a letter or resignation to Levine, noting that Chamberlin’s skill in safely landing the plane carrying his daughter and her friend was proof enough that Chamberlin should pilot the plane to Europe.

The Columbia was repaired, many test runs were taken, and other teams were trying without success to take the flight from New York to Paris. Finally all was ready for take-off when both weather and internal dissension stopped the proposed flight in its tracks. Bertaud objected to a contract Levine had forced on the two pilots, and legal action grounded the Columbia in its hangar at Roosevelt Field on May 20.

The very same day, from the very same airport, Charles Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis bound for Paris. Chamberlin stood watching from the sidelines.

But that’s not the end of Chamberlin’s story. Levine proposed paying Chamberlin $25,000 (the amount of the Orteig prize) to go as Chamberlin’s passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight. Two weeks later, in the first week of June, the two finally set off in the Columbia. Anxious to show what the Bellanca plane was capable of, Chamberlin made Berlin his destination, a good distance further from New York than Paris.

The plane made it as far as Eisleben, Germany, before they had to land to refuel, flying some 300 miles further than Lindbergh and setting a new world record for longest non-stop flight and the first trans-Atlantic flight with a passenger. After refueling they pushed on to Berlin, landing on June 7, 1927, to a crowd of 150,000 admirers.

Clarence Chamberlin (left) and Mr. Charles Levine (right) leaving the President's Palace in Berlin, Germany, with Mr. Jacob Gould Schurmann, the American Ambassador on September 6, 1927

Clarence Chamberlin (left) and Charles Levine (right) leaving the President’s Palace in Berlin, Germany, with Mr. Jacob Gould Schurmann, the American Ambassador on September 6, 1927. P. & A. Photo.

Admirers were thick at home, as well. Iowa State College (University) Division of Engineering presented Chamberlin with an honorary Certificate of Distinguished Engineering Service in the fall of that year, in recognition of his achievement. He was also honored at a banquet in New York, along with the crew of America, another plane that made the trans-Atlantic crossing after Lindbergh.

For more information, including photographs, newspaper clippings, and correspondence, see the Clarence D. Chamberlin alumni file in RS 21/7/6. To read about his adventure in his own words, check out: Chamberlin, Clarence D. Record Flights. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1928. Iowa State University Library, General Collection and Special Collections, Call number TL540 C355r.

If you are interested in our other aviation related collections, check out our Aviation Collection Guide:

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