by Beth Farwell, Associate Director for Central Libraries
It was a dark and stormy night.
Actually, it was a perfectly sunny day. A day clearly conjured up by our guest and chief weather anchor for KWTX News 10, Rusty Garrett. Traveling a short distance to Baylor campus, Mr. Garrett visited Moody Library and traveled a long distance back in time to the 18th century when weather news was packaged in small paper almanacs.
Rusty Garrett is the perfect host to introduce you to these fascinating historical and rare documents. I predict fair weather ahead.
Who is Rusty Garrett?
Rusty Garrett has been a member of the KWTX team since 1989 and a student of weather science and broadcasting since high school. His wife Ann is a local schoolteacher and they are the proud parents of a son, Will, who is an Air Force Dental Tech stationed in San Antonio at Lackland Air Force Base.
Mr. Garrett has worked tirelessly to better the Central Texas community through volunteer work, fund raising, and successful family weather safety programs. Rusty is also active in the Masonic fraternity. He holds a 32nd degree endowed membership in the Scottish and York Rites and in 2007 was installed as District Deputy Grand Master for The Grand Lodge of Texas. He is Past Master of Waco’s Fidelis Masonic Lodge #1127.
A few hundred years earlier, another Masonic member was busy in his Philadelphia print shop. Ben Franklin (1706-1790) began printing his famous “Poor Richard’s Almanack” in 1733.
Who is Poor Richard?
“Poor Richard” is a title used by Ben Franklin from his pseudonym Richard Saunders.
What is an almanac?
In addition to weather predictions, an 18th century almanac was a book or table that had a practical use as a calendar, church festivals, astrological notes, miscellaneous literary works, and weather guides with seasonal suggestions for farmers. These were the least expensive kinds of books to print and were often produced in large quantities. For many homes, the almanac was one of few printed books owned and these became highly influential and popular modes of communication.
The origins of almanacs could be traced back to 3000 B.C. with the pyramids, time tables and calendars with the beginnings of astronomy.
Throughout the Baylor Libraries’ collections, there are numerous forms of almanacs spanning centuries. Almanacs published in colonial America are particularly interesting containing statistics, proverbs, medical advice and remedies, and even poetry. While a very practical tool for farmers, it served as an information source and entertainment in homes where print owned materials were scarce.
What is Rusty looking at?
Baylor Libraries has original almanacs from two of the most famous almanac publishers during this time period.
Nathaniel Ames was a physician and student of astronomy. Living in Dedham Massachussetts, Ames published The Astronomical Diary and Almanack in 1725 until his death in 1764. While we don’t have direct evidence of quantity, paper companies have estimated that Ames’ almanacs printed no less than 60,000 copies annually. Baylor Libraries' original is dated 1741. You can view the original by making an appointment or see the entire almanac online in our Baylor Digital Collections Click here
Another original document is a 1761 Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard almanac. In addition to seeing the original here in the library, you can also view this one in our Digital Collections Click here
Franklin’s almanac has significant potential for researchers. This particular year in 1761 contains four introductory pages discussing the importance of small pox inoculations and other medical advice. Earlier, Franklin had dismissed the importance of inoculations but became an advocate following the loss of his son to small pox at age 4 in 1736. Other pages contain his well-known proverbs woven tightly into the chart. See if you can find this proverb found on page 20: “Fear can keep a Man out of Danger, but Courage only can support him in it.”
Even the title pages are interesting. Compare the Ames to the Franklin and you can see the political atmosphere and the lack of a “nod” to King George.
By the early 1800s there were approximately 500 various almanac titles published. Around this time, Robert Thomas established the Farmer’s Almanac which has changed very little since then.
As you can see, these almanacs are rich with history. Rusty and I hope you have enjoyed this spotlight on a few of Baylor’s treasures. Please stop by in person or stroll through our Digital Collections. I wonder what Ben would think of his almanac viewed on the internet?
For more information, please visit our webpage www.baylor.edu/lib/centrallib/index.php?id=97560
Many thanks to Mr. Garrett for taking time out of a busy schedule to help highlight these treasures. And a big thank you to Ben Johansen for his mad awesome photography skills!