Category Archives: On this Day

West Florida Seminary Cadets at the Battle of Natural Bridge

In honor of the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, we are re-posting an entry that was originally published on March 6th, 2013 by Eddie Woodward.

Almost from its inception, there had been a military and cadet component at West Florida Seminary (1851-1901), predecessor to Florida State University. With the commencement of the Civil War in 1861, this aspect of the school’s curriculum increased in importance, so much so that the State Legislature proposed changing the name of the institution to the Florida Collegiate and Military Institute. Throughout the War, the students served as something of a home guard, occasionally guarding Union prisoners of war and always on call in the event of a Federal threat to the capitol. In early March 1865, that threat was realized when word came that a Union fleet had landed troops on the Gulf coast at the St. Marks lighthouse with the probable intention of capturing the capitol in Tallahassee.

West Florida Seminary Cadet Corps, circa 1880s
West Florida Seminary Cadet Corps, circa 1880s

The invading forces, commanded by Brigadier General John Newton, moved northward from the coast, hoping to cross the St. Marks River at Newport and attack St. Marks from the rear. Local militia was called out to delay the Union advance, and among those were cadets from West Florida Seminary. At noon on March 5, the cadet corps assembled at the school and marched to the state capitol where they were enlisted and sworn into Confederate service. The cadet’s principal, Captain Valentine M. Johnson then led them to the Tallahassee train station for their journey southward to meet the invaders. Johnson was a veteran and had served honorably in the Confederate Army until 1863 when he was forced to resign for health reasons. It is nearly impossible to accurately determine the number of cadets that participated in the campaign. However, reasonable estimates put the number at around twenty-five, with their known ages ranging from eleven to eighteen. At the train station, Johnson filtered out those cadets, mostly the youngest of the corps, that would not participate. Others were left behind to continue their home guard duties and to man fortifications as a last line of the capitol’s defense.

VMI Cadet Photograph of Valentine Mason Johnson, circa 1860
VMI Cadet Photograph of Valentine Mason Johnson, circa 1860

The cadets and other Confederate troops boarded a train in Tallahassee which carried them south to Wakulla Station on the St. Marks Railroad. From there, they marched six miles to the small village of Newport. There, in the late afternoon on March 5, they joined forces with a portion of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington Scott’s 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion and a small contingent of Confederate marines and militia. Scott’s men had skirmished with the Federal troops the previous day, gradually falling back from the East River Bridge toward Newport. It was at that bridge that the Union forces hoped to cross the St. Marks River, enabling them to move against St. Marks and perhaps Tallahassee. At Newport, the cadets occupied a line of breastworks running parallel to the river along its west bank. From there, they commanded the approaches to the East River Bridge, which Scott’s men had partially burned. Federal troops on the opposite side of the river still hoped to force their way across and a skirmish soon developed. By nightfall, the firing diminished, and everyone waited in their positions to see if the Federals would resume the conflict the next morning. It was in those trenches on the banks of the St. Marks River that the young cadets from the West Florida Seminary received their baptism of fire.

Map of Natural Bridge from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/143922)
Map of Natural Bridge from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/143922)

Newton, frustrated in his efforts to cross the St. Marks River at Newport, learned of another crossing upriver at Natural Bridge. At that location, the St. Marks River ran underground for a short distance, creating a natural crossing point. In anticipation of such a move, the Confederate General William Miller positioned Scott’s cavalry at Natural Bridge with orders to delay a crossing until reinforcements could arrive. At dawn on March 6, a battle erupted with the Federal forces unable to force their way across the span. The cadets were soon ordered out of their entrenchments at the East River Bridge and marched along the Old Plank Road to reinforce Scott’s men at Natural Bridge. One mile from the battlefield, two cadets peeled off to aid the wounded at a field hospital. The rest continued on, all the while the sounds of cannon and musket fire growing louder.

When they reached the battlefield, the cadets were positioned near the center of the Confederate line, a giant crescent enveloping the Natural Bridge. There they immediately dug trenches to protect them from enemy fire and were instructed not to fire unless a charge was made on an adjoining Confederate battery. In these early stages, the battle was primarily an artillery engagement and the cadets could do little more than wait it out with the rest of the defenders. All attempts by the Federal troops to cross at Natural Bridge were stymied with heavy losses. The worst fighting occurred in front of the Confederate line in a dense hammock that covered the crossing. The cadets were not heavily involved in this action but remained under constant artillery and musket fire. Cadet Lieutenant Byrd Coles credits the Seminary’s teachers on the battlefield with the safety of the cadets: “no doubt many of the cadets would have been struck if our teachers had not watched us constantly and made us keep behind cover.”

With the arrival of reinforcements, the Confederate troops counterattacked, charging across the bridge and driving the Federal troops a short distance. At this instance, the Union General Newton, realizing that Natural Bridge, like the East River Bridge at Newport, was too heavily defended to cross, ordered a retreat back to the St. Marks lighthouse and the protection of the Federal fleet. The cadets were then ordered to return to Newport to guard against another attempted crossing there. However, the Federal forces had had enough, and the cadets’ active duty had come to an end.

Confederate General William Miller (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/28524)
Confederate General William Miller (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/28524)

The Confederate victory against the Federal invasion was complete. Confederate casualties numbered three killed and twenty-three wounded (three mortally), with Federal losses totaling 148. The cadets from West Florida Seminary suffered no casualties. With the battle won, some of the cadets returned to Tallahassee, while others remained at Newport where they guarded two Confederate deserters that had crossed over to the Federal army and had been captured during the campaign. After the cadets witnessed their trial and execution, they escorted a group of around twenty-five Federal prisoners of war back to Tallahassee. On their return to Tallahassee, the cadets were welcomed as conquering heroes. A ceremony was held in the State House of Representatives chamber of the state capitol, where the cadets were presented with a company flag. Cadet Hunter Pope accepted the flag in the name of his comrades. It is uncertain what became of the flag, and it is thought that it returned with the cadets to the Seminary and was probably taken by Federal troops when they occupied Tallahassee after the War.

The Confederate victory at the Battle of Natural Bridge had no effect on the outcome of the War, and in less than a month, Robert E. Lee would surrender the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The terms of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender of the Army of Tennessee seventeen days later, included the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida as well. On May 10, Federal troops under the command of Brigadier General Edward McCook took possession of Tallahassee. The Federal army captured and paroled approximately 8,000 Confederate soldiers, including twenty-four cadets. It is thought that some of the cadets simply returned home after the surrender and before being formally paroled.

Natural Bridge Battlefield State Monument (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/29939)
Natural Bridge Battlefield State Monument (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/29939)

Tallahasseeans fondly remembered the service provided by the West Florida Seminary cadets. Beginning in 1885, the state of Florida granted pensions to Confederate veterans, and two years later, they were also extended to home guard units, which included the cadets. Sixteen former cadets applied for pensions, while several others endorsed the applications of their comrades. The Tallahassee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy issued Southern Crosses of Honor to the former cadets who applied for the award, and they received tributes as “The Youngest of the Young Who Wore the Gray.” That phrase, forever associated with their participation in the battle, is inscribed on a monument at Natural Bridge Battlefield, which is today a state park.

As a result of the cadet/students participation in the engagement, on February 28, 1957, the FSU Army and Air Force ROTC units were officially presented with battle streamers by Governor LeRoy Collins in a ceremony at Doak Campbell stadium. Today the Florida State University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps detachment is permitted to fly a battle streamer as a result of the School’s participation in the action at Natural Bridge. It is one of only three colleges and universities in the United States which is permitted to do so. In the 1990s, the campus ROTC Building was renamed the Harper-Johnson Building in honor of Captain Valentine M. Johnson and a twentieth century Air Force ROTC graduate who rose to the rank of general.

 

For a full account of the battle, see David J. Coles,  “Florida’s Seed Corn: The History of the West Florida Seminary During the Civil War,” Florida Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3 (Winter 1999): 283-319.

Happy Birthday, FSU!

This blog post sources a timeline researched and compiled by Mary Kate Downing.

college hall
College Hall, the first building constructed for the Seminary West of the Suwannee River.

Happy birthday, Florida State! Can you believe that it’s only been 166 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed an act that led to our inception as an institution? We can’t either! …especially since only until fairly recently, it was widely accepted that FSU’s founding day was in 1857, and not 1851 as we now know. Why all the confusion? This isn’t a situation of FSU lying to get senior discount on movie tickets. Yes, FSU’s predecessor institution, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, didn’t open its doors until 1857, but there was a lot more going on for 6 years before its grand opening.

On January 24, 1851, the General Assembly of the State of Florida passed an act establishing two seminaries of learning, one to the east and one to the west of the Suwannee River. It wasn’t until 1854 when the Tallahassee City Council offered to pay $10,000 to finance a new school building on land owned by the city in an attempt to “bid on” being the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee, which the legislature had yet to decide. The $10,000 consisted of the value of the property, the yet-to-be-constructed building, and the remaining balance in cash. Approximately $6,000 was originally committed, with the Council promising to give the city the remaining balance if Tallahassee was determined as the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee. Later in 1854, construction on a school building began and Tallahassee’s city superintendent approached the state legislature to present the case for the seminary to be in Tallahassee. However, state officials failed to make a decision regarding the location of the seminary before the end of the legislative session.

By 1855, the newly constructed College Hall (in the area that is now Westcott Building) opens. Because of the state legislature’s lack of a decision on whether it would be one of the legislature-designated seminaries, it was not given an official name. Instead, it was alternately called “The City Seminary” and “Tallahassee Male Seminary.”

In 1856, the ball got rolling as the City Council of Tallahassee (hereafter referred to as the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute) met and designated “The City Seminary” as the “Florida Institute.” It also indicated that “government of the institution or seminary shall be under the direction of a president” and decided that “a preparatory school will be established in connection with the academic or collegiate department of the institute.” It is established that one of the president’s duties will be to publish a “Catalogue Course of Studies” for the institution. Later in 1856, William (W.Y.) Peyton, previously principal of The City Seminary, is unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute as first president of the Institute.

By late 1856, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring that “the Seminary to be located West of the Suwannee River be, and the same is hereby located at the City of Tallahassee in the County of Leon.” There were several conditions that must be granted for this to occur – “the proper and authorized conveyance of said Lot and College edifice thereon be made to the City of Tallahassee to the Board of Education,” that Tallahassee “guarantee to said Board of Education the payment of the sum of two thousand dollars per annum forever, to be expended in the education of the youth of said City, in such manner and on such terms as shall be agreed between the corporate authorities of said City and the Board of Education,” and that Tallahassee “shall pay to the Board of Education as much money in cash as shall be found necessary after a valuation of the Lot and College edifice aforesaid, to complete the sum of ten thousand dollars.”

With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors and so began FSU’s long history.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

Labor Day

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Special Collections & Archives is closed today, Monday, September 5th in observance of Labor Day. Please enjoy a safe and pleasant Labor Day weekend!

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

IMG_0849
The light-pink, paper-board cover of the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester published by Potter and printed in London in 1902

July 28, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Helen Beatrix Potter in Kensington, London. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is best known as the author and illustrator of children’s classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. These delightful stories, set in the English countryside, were originally drawn and written as greeting cards and letters to the children of Potter’s friends. Beginning in 1900, Potter started sending her stories to publishers, but after six rejected submissions, she published the books on her own. As part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection, FSU Special Collections has one of the original Beatrix Potter books: The Tailor of Gloucester printed in London by Strangeways and Sons in 1902.

IMG_0850
Letters to friend’s children were often the inspiration for Potter’s stories

After the success of her self-published children’s books, Beatrix Potter was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co, who had originally turned down her manuscripts. In addition to the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester, FSU Special Collections has over 100 works by Beatrix Potter in our rare book collections. The Gwen P. and Allan C. Reichert Beatrix Potter Collection contains biographies of Beatrix Potter and several editions of The Peter Rabbit stories, as well as adaptation pop-up books, cookbooks, coloring books, and more. A corresponding archival collection with Beatrix Potter related toys and ephemera will also soon be available to researchers.

400 Years of Shakespeare

secondFolio
A page from Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632)

April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Although the exact dates of his birth and death are disputed, they are both known to have occurred in late April. In honor of 400 years of Shakespeare, libraries and museums throughout the world are putting on exhibits to celebrate his life and works. The Folger Shakespeare Library, partnering with the Cincinnati Museum Center and American Library Association, is hosting a First Folio Tour, which will bring the famous first edition of Shakespeare’s plays to universities and museums in every state.

shakspearianTales
An illustrated adaptation of Shakespeare (circa 1895)

While FSU Special Collections & Archives is not fortunate enough to have one of the 234 known extant first folios (out of the approximately 750 printed), there are over 350 volumes by and about Shakespeare available through our research center, including facsimiles of the first folio and extracts from the fourth folio, published in 1685. As Shakespeare’s genius and influence have firmly entrenched him in the canon of English literature, his works have been constantly published, republished, edited, re-edited, repackaged, illustrated, and re-illustrated ever since his death in 1616. Many famous authors, printers, and illustrators have tried their hands at Shakespeare over the years, from Laura Valentine’s Shakspearian Tales in Verse (PR2877.V3 1899) to the Kelmscott edition of Shakespeare’s poems (PR2842.E4).

One of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made in the stacks lately is an uncatalogued leaf from Shakespeare’s second folio, printed in 1632, nine years after the first folio and sixteen years after Shakespeare’s death. Our leaf is pages 195-196 from The Taming of the Shrew and includes Pettruchio’s famous lines to Katerina:

For I am he am born to tame you Kate,

And bring you from a wild Kat to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates …

I must, and will have Katherine to my wife.

This page from the second folio and other editions of Shakespeare’s works will be on display in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the first floor of Strozier from Friday, April 22nd until the end of May. Stop by and see it Monday-Friday 10am-6pm!

Happy Birthday LeRoy Collins

Happy Birthday Governor Collins!

On March 10, 1909 Thomas LeRoy Collins was born in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1955, he was elected 33rd Governor of Florida and held that position until 1961. Collins attended Leon High School in Tallahassee, and earned his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1932, he married Mary Call Darby a great-granddaughter of two time territorial governor of Florida, Richard Kieth Call. Today LeRoy Collins is remembered as a voice for civil rights and on March 20, 1960 he delivered a speech wherein he declared that, as governor, he represented all Floridians “whether that person is black or white, whether that person is rich or poor, or whether that person is influential or not influential.”

The Thomas LeRoy Collins papers are housed at the Claude Pepper Library and are available to researchers Monday through Friday 9AM-5PM.

L_Collins_B1F5001
LeRoy Collins (who served in the US Navy from 1942-46) is pictured here with his son Thomas LeRoy Collins Jr. and wife Mary Call Collins on their visit to the US Naval Academy where Thomas was a cadet, ca. 1953

Happy Birthday, George Washington!

We here at Special Collections and Archives would like to wish George Washington a happy birthday. Though President’s Day was originally created to honor our nation’s first Commander in Chief, many states have since adapted it into a joint celebration which includes Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays.

President’s day, federally known as Washington’s Day, originally fell on George Washington’s birthday, February 22 but in 1971 was moved to the 3rd Monday of February under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Montana, Minnesota, Utah and Colorado all recognize today as an official holiday honoring both Washington and Lincoln, whose birthday was on February 12th. With election season in full swing, we’d like to take the time to honor all of the United States’ presidents.

resolver
Portrait of Washington in his colonel’s uniform – The Story of Washington
New York Herald newspaper from the day of President Lincoln's assassination.
Profile of President Abraham Lincoln from the New York Herald Newspaper – April 15, 1965

Happy Birthday Senator

Today we would like to wish a happy 115th Birthday to Senator Claude Denson Pepper. Claude was born on September 8, 1900 in Camp Hill Alabama, to sharecropper parents Joseph and Lena Pepper, to whom he would remain a devoted son. After graduating with his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama in 1921, Pepper applied and was accepted to the Harvard Law School Class of 1924. From his youth, Pepper nourished a desire to serve in public office, and after a brief stint as a law professor at the University of Arkansas, he moved to Perry, Florida in 1925 where he established his first law practice. Pepper was a devoted public servant who served the state of Florida for over 40 years as a member of the Florida House of Representatives (1926-27), the US Senate (1936-1950) and the US House of Representatives (1963-1989). During his time in the Senate, he was a proponent of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation and was instrumental in the passing of the Wage and Hour Bill as well as the Lend Lease Act.

In the House of Representatives, Pepper served as an impassioned advocate for elder rights, health care and for strengthening and protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other government sponsored programs on behalf of millions of Americans. He died in Washington D.C. on May 30, 1989 and was the 26th individual to have lain in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Bob Hope speaking at Claude Pepper's 84th Birthday. Tip O'Neill can be seen to the right.
Bob Hope speaking at Claude Pepper’s 84th Birthday. Tip O’Neill can be seen to the right.

Senator Pepper’s collection resides within the Claude Pepper Library at Florida State University and reflects the many of the challenges and changes that took place in American life throughout his distinguished career. Topical strengths within the Pepper Collection include aging, Civil Rights, crime and drug prevention, National Health Care, New Deal Legislation, Lend-Lease, McCarthyism, U.S. foreign and domestic policy, welfare and worker’s rights.

During the summer of 2015, the Claude Pepper Library and the FSU Digital Library collaborated to bring the Senators personal diaries to researchers’ fingertips. Scanned by the staff of the digital library, Senator Pepper’s 1937 and 1938 diaries and transcripts are now available to view online in the FSU Digital Library. Over the coming months, the Digital Library will continue to add to the diary collection, one that spanned 48 years from 1937 to 1985. The diaries offer unique insight into one of the more active American politicians of the 20th Century and the 1937 and 1938 diaries are especially unique as they chronicle the young Senators first two years in office; the beginnings of a career that would span over 40 years.

Pepper Diaries on the shelf at the Pepper Library.
Pepper Diaries on the shelf at the Pepper Library.

The Claude Pepper Library is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Continue to follow our posts as we continue to bring you more interesting finds from the Pepper Papers as well as the Reubin Askew Papers and the National Organization for Women, Tallahassee Chapter Records.

Memorial Day Celebration Recitation

Memorial Day is a holiday that has changed over time. Today, we tend to associate it with barbeques, sales at the mall, a race on TV and a downtown parade. We often miss the original intention of the holiday, to remember and celebrate those brave men and women who’ve given their lives to protect the United States.

A book in our Shaw Childhood in Poetry collection, Dick’s Festival Reciter, by William B. Dick c1892, gives us a unique look at the holiday following the Civil War and its emphasis on re-uniting the country. Here are instructions for how to decorate and what should be on the schedule for a Memorial Day program circa 1892:

The hall or school assembly room should be profusely adorned with all the accessories emblematic of the occasion, the red, white, and blue being conspicuously represented by flags, shields, and other contrivances easily prepared with pasteboard and gilt and colored paper. Portraits of dead heroes, nicely draped, old military relics and accoutrements, and flowers lavishly displayed, add greatly to the appearance of the hall and the interest of the exercises. The platform for the speakers should especially be rendered as bright and attractive as possible, and to this end everything obtainable should be called into requisition for its adornment.
_________________________________________________________________________

Program

  1. Opening Chorus                     “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”
  2. Oration                                       “Decoration Day”
  3. Recitation                                  “Them Yankee Blankits”
  4. Solo and Chorus                     “Viva l’America”
  5. Oration                                        “Tribute to Our Honored Dead”
  6. Recitation                                   “Memorial Day”
  7. Solo and Chorus                      “Marching through Georgia”
  8. Recitation                                   “Brothers Once More”
  9. Oration                                         “Sherman on the Veterans”
  10. Solo and Chorus                      “John Brown’s Body”
  11. Recitation                                   “The Day’s Oration is in Flowers”
  12. Reading                                       “Patriotic Sentiments”
  13. Recitation                                   “For Decoration Day”
  14. Recitation                                   “Our Dead Heroes”
  15. Chorus                                          “God Save the State”

The book then very helpfully also provides the text for all the recommended songs, orations, recitations and readings. In case you feel the need to recite this Memorial Day, here is “The Day’s Oration is in Flowers” by E.L. Hall:

The day’s oration is in flowers;
Sing, ye gardens! Speak, ye bowers!
Let Flora’s rarest banners wave
And fold about the solder’s grave.
Lo! June in red, and May in white,
Their hands will clasp, their brows unite
Above the mounds spread far and wide;
In vales and on the mountain-side;
Round monuments that speak and breathe,
The floral paragraphs we wreathe,
Will emblem glories that entwine
About their brows in climes divine.
Then sing, ye bowers, ye gardens, vie–
In silent eloquence reply.
While incense floats from sea to sea
On winds that sigh, “Let all be free!

Special Collections & Archives will be closed today, May 25th, in observance of Memorial Day. We will resume our normal operating hours on Tuesday, May 26th.

A Birthday Letter to John MacKay Shaw: Poet, Book Collector, Scholar, and Lover of Children

Hi Pop! Happy Birthday!! You’ll never guess what I’ve been up to since your 100th birthday. Imitating you, that’s what, or at least trying to. But there’s no way I will ever have your gift of gab, your great love of children, or your extraordinary management skills. You described your books; I’m describing your papers. That much I can do. I made descriptive lists of all those articles, photographs, correspondence, autographed materials and other things you collected that complement the books — over 120 boxes of items. Our archivist Burt and his students, you knew him, I think, they developed a finding aid based on my lists. As FSU’s catalog leads the scholar to the books, the finding aid leads him to these complementary materials.

Your collection has grown from the original 5000+ books you gave to Florida State University when you and the books moved to Tallahassee in 1960.   You added many more while you were here, and the library has continued to add books ever since you left us in 1984. You produced eleven volumes of a bibliography of your collection and a keyword index to the poems. We now have an estimated 22,000 books.

Remember how it started. You wrote by hand inscriptions in two books you gave Mom and me on our first Christmas together: Poems for Peter by Lysbeth Boyd Borie and The Little Mother Goose, collected and illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith:

To Mother and Cathmar

 For Christmas nineteen twenty eight
Rhymes for my sweethearts, small and great
Some old, the others up-to-date.

 Pledge to learn well, and I for mine,
For Christmas nineteen twenty-nine,
Will pledge a present much more fine.

 Father

After Christmas 1928, my brother Bruce joined us. Every evening, even before you arrived home after work, he and I were clamoring for your attention.

"Snow!"  A fabric picture designed and appliqued by your granddaughter Meg Prange in 2008. illustrating  your poem "Headlights Shine."
“Snow!” A fabric picture designed and appliqued by your granddaughter Meg Prange in 2008, illustrating your poem “Headlights Shine.”

You would pull us up onto your lap and our nightly poetry reading, reciting and singing, would begin. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses for a start, but those poems were about other children. We wanted poems about us. You promised to write them, but only if we told you what to write about. We could do that!

Connie, me and Bruce at Gramma’s house on Samson Street in Philadelphia, 1933
Connie, me and Bruce at Gramma’s house on Sanson Street in Philadelphia, 1933.

You gave each of us, and our cousin Connie too, a black leather binder to hold the copies you typed of the poems you wrote for the three of us between 1930 and 1937. In 1933, you began gathering the poems of each year to be printed in booklets that you sent to your friends as Christmas greetings. I recall how surprised and pleased you were years later when one of the The Friends of Florida State University Libraries told you the poems should be published. When you said you didn’t want anything to do with that process, she took it upon herself to select some of your poems and saw to it that they were published in 1967 as The Things I Want: Poems for Two Children. It was so popular that it went into a second printing, and then Zumpin’ followed with more poems a few years later. We still fill requests for those books every now and then.

By 1938 Bruce and I had lost interest in poetry. How very disappointed you must have been, but you never let on, and we had become too busy with our friends to notice. I did notice though that you were spending lots of time sitting in our big wing chair in the evenings, reading small pamphlets. Little did I know then that they were book dealers’ catalogs, or that the pencil you always held loosely cross-wise between your lips was being used to make checkmarks on the pages. The number of books in our den began to increase, then the number of shelves increased. More books kept appearing to fill the bookcases in our living room. Then I went away to college.

John MacKay Shaw in his study.
John MacKay Shaw in his study.

Within the next ten years, you and Mom moved into New York City. Then retirement from AT&T loomed for you. You had been frustrated in your search of libraries and universities around the country where you and your books would be happy.   You and Mom were visiting us one summer when my friend Jackie stopped by — remember? She suggested her alma mater FSU might be a good repository for your books. Then she followed up that suggestion by writing a letter to the head of the library recommending you and your collection. That did it.

And here you are. And I am here too. Every winter I am having the best of times living with Jackie in our Florida home and working in your collection with the special people here who administer it.

That pledge you made in 1928? You kept it your whole life and FSU Libraries continues to fulfill it. Thank you, Pop, with love and best wishes on your 118th birthday, from Cathmar.

Cathmar Prange is the daughter of John MacKay Shaw, the donor and curator for the childhood in poetry collection that bears his name in Special Collections & Archives. Every winter, Cathmar volunteers to continue organizing and curating her father’s collection and has been doing so for 18 years.