Getting Pulled In

By Nicole Wright, University Archives Graduate Assistant

The first image that pulled me in.”Squadron Sweethearts Present Guidons” Photograph from Vol. 1, No. 3 of The Fledgling. (August, 1943) From the Syracuse University World War II Collection.

When I process a new collection, or reprocess an old one, our University Archivist, cautions me at least once with the same phrase: “Nicole, don’t get pulled in too far.” She wants to make sure I don’t spend too much time on extraneous details, since my primary goal is organization. I always need the reminder. No matter what I’m working on, I’m inevitably drawn to figuring out as much as humanly possible about the person or organization and the context of the collection. I love making connections and crafting a narrative. Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed by the idea of so many stories collected in one place but most of the time I can’t resist taking that deep dive into a collection.

A recent collection that pulled me in was the Syracuse University Military and World Wars Reference Collection. I was reprocessing it and split it into three collections: Syracuse University ROTC CollectionSyracuse University World War I Collection, and Syracuse University World War II Collection. History, especially military history, doesn’t hold much interest for me, but I still found myself engrossed in the collection. In The Fledgling, a yearbook-style publication documenting military aviation activities on campus during the Second World War, there are several pictures of servicemen with their significant others at dances, on dates, and saying goodbye. I looked at all the different couples and thought to myself, “I wonder what their story is.” I’d ravenously read any documentation of social activities for those in the service. I even read all of the rules for women working in the social clubs at Hendrick’s Chapel (yes, ALL of them). I couldn’t get enough of all the materials, which painted pictures in my head and inspired musings about how often the rules may have been broken. I went so quickly down the rabbit hole because my husband is a Marine Reservist on a deployment to the Pacific. I saw myself in these pictures from the past and, as I pieced together a narrative of an era, I couldn’t stop myself from contemplating the minutia of the day to day lives of these couples.

The image that made me wonder about all the potential drama. Photograph from Vol. 1, No. 6 of The Fledgling. (October, 1943) From the Syracuse University World War II Collection.

The picture that first pulled me in was a cropped photograph inside a heart with an arrow through it titled “Squadron Sweethearts Present Guidons.” The romantic in me instantly saw the connection between the two featured individuals and I thought of the times I’ve picked my husband out of a crowd of identically dressed Marines. I asked myself what my life might be like if my husband and I had lived during those times and met at a place like Syracuse University. Flipping through the pictures of dances, I wondered if there was as much drama about the dress selections of the women as there can be at military balls today.

The image that pulled me in emotionally was a picture of a couple saying goodbye. Being sent to fight in World War II is not the same as being sent for training in the Pacific, but I felt the emotion of that couple’s embrace. I felt present in that moment almost 75 years later and wondered if, 75 years from now, another military couple might stumble across a similar photo of my husband and me, and feel present in that same way. I wonder if some graduate student worker would contemplate the minutia of my day to day life, and put herself in my shoes, wondering about the drama at the military balls I’ve attended. I wonder if she’ll be pulled in by my story.

My husband and me at his boot camp graduation after 13 weeks apart. Photograph by Dawn Morello of Nicole and Eliott Wright at boot camp graduation, August 2017

The image that pulled me in emotionally. Photograph from Vol. 1, No. 5 of The Fledgling. (September, 1943) From the Syracuse University World War II Collection.

As I said, history is not my strong suit. While processing the collection, I had to continuously look up dates to make sure I was sorting things into the right time period. I can’t tell you anything about the military structure of the time or list any battles Syracuse University students may have fought in. Despite that, I still feel like I understand the history of the collection because of the connections I’ve made to the people who lived during the time and their stories. I love that my job gives me the opportunity to explore primary source artifacts, but my favorite part of my job is not the history, the preservation, or the organization of a collection. My favorite part of my job is the stories that pull me in.

The Syracuse University ROTC Collection, the Syracuse University World War I Collection, and the Syracuse University World War II Collection are all part of the Special Collections Research Center’s University Archives (University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

November News Wrap Up

In November, SCRC staff members attended conferences, contributed to sesquicentennial activities and public workshops.

If you visited the Reading Room the week of November 18th, you may have noticed some construction happening. The doors leading into SCRC’s Reading Room and Lemke classroom were renovated to improve accessibility in SCRC’s public spaces.

Finally, our University Archives team has been busy working to gather as much coverage of and information about the #notagainsu movement as possible, through the collection of photographs, documents, posters, social media content, media coverage, and University administration materials. The goal is to document and preserve this time for future generations and ensure all voices are included and preserved in the University Archives.

Recap of Public Events:

November 8, 2019: The Forever Orange Campaign launch event featured large display panels, including historical information and images compiled and provided by SCRC staff. Staff also arranged for the display of original historical items from the University Archives at one of the event venues, which two staff members also attended to answer questions and engage with guests.

During launch of the historic Forever Orange campaign on Friday, Syracuse University Archives staff proudly displayed…

Posted by Syracuse University Libraries on Wednesday, November 13, 2019

November 12-16, 2019: SCRC’s Media Preservation Archivist, Iva Roleva-Peneva, attended the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) Annual Conference conference in Baltimore, MD.

November 13, 2019: Visiting researcher Dr. Sumathi Ramaswamy of Duke University gave a public lecture titled “Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience”, discussing India’s modern artists who have turned to the Mahātma as their muse.

November 15, 2019: Visiting researcher Dr. Sumathi Ramaswamy of Duke University held a workshop titled Through American Eyes: The Mahatma and Margaret Bourke-White, using materials from SCRC’s Margaret Bourke-White Papers in her presentation.

Newly processed collections:

A Highlight From Social Media:

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, the University Archives has a piece of an old goal post from Archbold Stadium. It…

Posted by Syracuse University Archives on Thursday, November 21, 2019

James Thornton and The Syracuse State School

By Aisha Pierre, Reference Assistant

As students in the museum studies program, we are trained daily to recognize how to handle any object in a museum collection. Watching us examine how to pick up an object makes me think of those robots in car factories, constantly swiveling their heads. When I began working at SCRC, I was interested in gaining some background knowledge in archives, and I will admit I was a little overwhelmed. The complete size of Syracuse University’s holdings are incredible. Every day, I get to learn more about our collections through our numerous patrons that visit the sixth floor.

A school receipt including entries for bacon, pork, and cider.

During one of my shifts, a patron had requested the Syracuse State School Collection and I was excited to see the contents. I am originally from Rhode Island (yes, it is a state) where, as an undergrad, I learned and wrote about State Schools and Asylums every semester. A State School is a facility that cares for mentally disabled children and, in some cases, adults. In 1851, The New York State Asylum for Idiots was founded in Albany, New York and cared for almost 300 students. In 1855, the school moved to Syracuse and went through several name changes. First known as the Syracuse Idiot Asylum, then the Syracuse State Institution for Feeble-Minded Children, the Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives, and finally, the Syracuse State School. The Syracuse State School records are in a small thin box, which contains approximately ten folders, labeled as either receipts or business records. The receipts are a record of the school’s purchases and to me, the receipts demonstrated care by the school’s director, Hervey Wilber, through purchases of winter coats and boots for the Syracuse winter. The school spent money on high-end food options such as salmon, lamb and mackerel.

I was delighted to discover that SCRC also had a collection from a student of the school. James Thornton was a student at the Syracuse State School from 1855 until 1862. According to his collection, he was placed into their care because he was “deaf and dumb.” The collection is a series of letters from the school to his mother, Mary Thornton. The letters are written by Director Hervey B. Wilbur or other members of staff. Here is an excerpt from a letter from Hervey B. Wilbur sent in 1855:

An 1855 letter from Director Hervey B. Wilbur to Mary Thornton.

“Your little boy continues well – he is perfectly happy in his new home and getting on nicely in school matters. He is an affectionate little fellow and all the teachers and attendants are quite attached to him. I hope that you feel quite easy about him for he seems healthy and he is much more in the way of improvements here than he could possibly be at home.”

When I first read these letters, they seemed sincere, but the more I read, the more I noticed the use of similar phrasing. Almost every letter referred to James as an “affectionate little boy” who “seemed well and happy.” I recalled the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island who used their patients from the 1950s until the 1970s for hepatitis experiments unbeknownst to the parents. I wondered if the Syracuse State School was not being as truthful concerning James’ well-being and the care he was receiving from the school as the letters indicated at first glance. Was Mary ever concerned towards her sons care while reading these letters? Did she also notice the repetitive phrases?

Undated letter from E.F. Malford about James Thornton.

One of the undated letters written by E.F. Malford, a member of the school’s staff, states, “[we were] satisfied that he remembers [her] for really I was quite surprised to see him show so much emotion- he actually shed tears.” My initial interpretation of this was James was seen often as a happy boy with a smile on his face. However, when I read the letter again, considering the underdeveloped understanding of mental heath at this time, as well as how the school went through several name changes from the Feeble-minded to the Idiot School, it made me question how staff members might have really viewed James.

Do these letters and receipts show the full care offered to the children? These records are important because they provide an opportunity to piece together an individual’s experience, in this case, James Thornton’s. His letters open up the question of well-being on an institutional level. If you come to SCRC and pull these records, you will see the purchases made by Hervey Wilbur for the students of the school and the letters written about James Thornton’s experience at the school. These letters and records will continue to be reviewed by researchers who have their own opinions on the records and the type of care offered to children by the Syracuse State School.

The Syracuse State School Collection (Syracuse State School Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and James Thornton Correspondence (James Thornton Correspondence, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections. 

Additional Sources:

“Diet Table.” Dexter Donation and Dexter Asylum of the City of Providence, Providence Press Company, 1879, pp. 72–73.

Gunderman, Dan. “Revisiting the Atrocities That Once Consumed the Halls of Willowbrook State School in Staten Island – WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT.”, New York Daily News, 8 Apr. 2018,

“The State Idiot Asylum.” The New York Times, 19 May 1855,

Special thank you to Shaina “Shay” Weintraub at the Providence City Archives, Providence, R.I. for helping me with research and being a great friend.


Delight in the Mundane: Rehousing the Plastics Artifacts Collection

By Sabrina Unrein, Plastics Processing Intern

A completed new box I constructed, part of the process of rehousing many pairs of glasses

I like to describe my internship as a quotidian treasure hunt. Not all of the items I find are very exciting in isolation, but part of the thrill comes from not knowing what I am going to find next. When going through a box, there is an exciting feeling of discovery, even though logically I know I am not the first person finding these objects. Even knowing that, there is still an air of mystery surrounding what I might uncover next.

I am a second year Library and Information Science student doing an internship in SCRC’s Plastics Artifacts Collection. The Plastics Artifacts Collection is a unique body of objects that capture the history and versatility of plastic. It launched in 2007, and expanded greatly in 2008 when the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Massachusetts closed and Syracuse University received its collection. The collection includes many everyday items, including many pieces of Tupperware, but it also features a number of unexpected items, such as Chinese IUDs.

Of the many pairs of glasses I have found, this one is probably my favorite

My main responsibility as a processing intern is rehousing objects in the collection. This process involves retrieving a Bankers Box of items, seeing what is inside, making sure all of the items that are supposed to be there are present, and rehousing the items if necessary. In rehousing the items, I am ensuring that SCRC has documented where all of the items are, as well as making sure the items are properly preserved and protected. Some items were previously stored in bubble wrap or Ziploc bags, which are not preservation-friendly materials. I remove items from these types of original storage and re-wrap artifacts in acid-free tissue paper to provide cushioning in the new boxes.

Card game markers from 1874, including the original box they came in

As I’m working in the stacks, I can picture the people that likely owned these objects, and what their lives might have been like. This makes the collection actually quite grounding and informative in terms of history, because it provides a glimpse into more of the commonplace elements of past lives. I think this is one of the most valuable parts of archives and special collections, and a large reason why I am so interested in these spaces. For example, one of my favorite items I have found so far are card game markers from 1874. When I first encountered these game markers, I did not know that plastic was produced so long ago, let alone that it was available in such an accessible way. Without the box, I would not have been able to tell how old they are.

Some of the many new boxes I have assembled in the rehousing process

I have always loved going through boxes and reorganizing clutter, so this is an ideal internship for me. I was really excited about this position because it is incredibly hands-on. Although I have already completed my required internship for my graduate program, I opted to do a second one in place of an elective course because I wanted the opportunity to work with objects and build my archival processing skills.

My internship is already over halfway done, and I will miss working at SCRC when it ends. I am proud of the work I have done so far. There is a unique satisfaction that comes with looking at a box that took a long time to fill completely, or looking at the number of new boxes I have constructed and completed sitting on a shelf together.


The Plastics Artifacts Collection (Plastics Artifacts Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections. 

“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror…”

Happy Halloween from SCRC!

In anticipation of the upcoming holiday, here are some staff selected spooky materials from SCRC’s collections:

Paul Barfoot, Library Technician

Phobia by John Vassos.

The illustration for Necrophobia, or “fear of the dead” in Phobia.

The cover of Vassos’ Phobia.

John Vassos (1898-1985) was an American illustrator and industrial designer whose style influenced cinema, theater and advertising. He also wrote and illustrated several books. Phobia, produced in a limited edition of 1500 copies, is a study of some of the fears that affect modern life. The gouache illustrations are in black and white. Vassos wrote in the introduction to the book, “A phobia is essentially graphic. The victim creates in his mind a realistic picture of what he fears, a mental image of a physical thing.”

Phobia by John Vassos (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

Jim Meade, Audio Preservation Engineer

Transformation scene from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

The wax cylinders for the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” recording.

The transformation scene from R. L. Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, by famous recording artist Len Spencer, 1904. Len Spencer died in 1914. His funeral was particularly spooky in that he himself was the speaker! Spencer recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd psalm to assembled mourners from beyond the grave, having recorded them earlier specifically for that purpose.

Transformation scene from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”(Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s Belfer Audio Archive.


Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel, 1493.

five skeletons dancing

Dance of Death, Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. 

Hatto II was the archbishop of Mainz from 968 to 970 and some legends say he was eaten by rats.

Hatto II was the archbishop of Mainz from 968 to 970 and some legends say he was eaten by rats.

My go-to book for spooky content is the Nuremburg Chronicle. Since it attempts to depict all of history from the creation of the world to contemporary events in Germany in the 1490s, history is full of destruction, decay, deformity, and death.




The Nuremburg Chronicle (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

Bradbury’s “Homecoming,” published with some spooky illustrations, in Mademoiselle.

Homecoming by Ray Bradbury, published in the October 1947 issue of Mademoiselle.

Ray Bradbury began his career as a writer by contributing stories to fanzines and pulp serials, including the Street & Smith publication, Super Science Stories. Mademoiselle, another Street & Smith publication, published Bradbury’s short story “Homecoming” in October 1947 after Truman Capote, who was working as an editor for the magazine at the time, rescued it from the submission pile.

Bradbury received an O. Henry Award for the story about a normal boy’s feelings of estrangement from his family of supernatural beings.

The October 1947 cover of Mademoiselle.

An author index card for Bradbury from Street & Smith.









Mademoiselle (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection. The Street & Smith Records (Street & Smith Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.

The main image for this post comes from the cover of Teatr “Letuchai︠a︡ myshʹ” (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) in the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.