Monthly Archives: October 2013

(Digital Collections) A Double Inspiration: The Tragic and Triumphant Lives of Judge Quentin Corley and Frank G. Coleman

As the work to post the audio of the final years of Dr. George W. Truett’s long career continues apace, I was generating a transcript for his sermon of January 3, 1943 when a story caught my attention. Truett uses a fair number of what I privately call his “modern day parables” to help illustrate his points. Often taking the form of inspirational (or, at times, admonishing) tales drawn from his years in the ministry, they tend to recount stories of anonymous people he’s encountered over the years (“a prominent business man,” or “one of the leading citizens of this state” and the like) whose circumstances illustrate a point he’s driving home in the message.

The wording of this particular story was so striking as to seem outlandish; I admit, for a moment I wondered if Dr. Truett was inserting a tale woven from whole cloth just to see if his audience was paying sufficient attention. The transcript of this story will illustrate the basis for my skepticism:

“We’re to make the best of a so-called accident. A man in this city, years ago, had his arms ground off in a mill. But the young fellow, undaunted, fixed him up some steel arms and went on with his studies and his work, diligently, and became one of the most prodigious toilers of our community, and came to a great judgeship and set a great example of fortitude and high behavior, enough to thrill any man capable of being thrilled by heroic behavior.”

“Sweet creamery butter!” I said to myself. “This has all the makings of a direct-to-cable inspirational movie of the week! Gruesome accident? Check! Hardworking young man refuses to give up, stays focused on his goals? Check! Man acquires high position, inspires humanity? Check and check! How is it that I’ve never heard of this man before?”

It turns out that while Dr. Truett may have gotten a (fairly major) detail about the story wrong, the actual story of Quentin Durward Corley was certainly remarkable enough to inspire both Truett’s use of his life story in a sermon and, later, the life of one of Baylor’s most remarkable graduates.

The “Armless Wonder” of Dallas

Corley was born in 1884 in the town of Mexia, Texas, a rough-and-tumble oilfield town about 45 minutes’ drive from Waco. According to this well-written blog post about Corley’s life, he worked as a bookkeeper and stenographer after graduating from high school before striking out for a career in civil engineering.

His life made a major shift in 1905, however, when he fell off of a train in Utica, New York. The accident left him without his entire right arm and the left arm from the elbow down. What could have been a life-ending circumstance instead served as a source of inspiration for Corley, whose amazing life was only just beginning.

Displaying a strength of will – and cleverness – rarely seen in this or any other decade, Corley set about finding a way to overcome his limitations. He invented – and later patented – an artificial limb for his left arm that featured interchangeable elements such as eating implements (a knife), a simple hook and a pincer.

Judge Quentin D. Corley drives his automobile with the aid of his self-designed prosthesis. Courtesy the Library of Congress via Wikipedia.

If all of this seems far-fetched to modern readers accustomed to our medical wizardry springing forth from laboratories, clinical studies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, it is helpful to remember that Corley came of age only a generation or so removed from the end of the most catastrophic conflict in American history: the Civil War, in which thousands of men returned to their homes maimed and scarred, many missing limbs following gruesome battlefield amputations. It is reasonable to assume that during his childhood in Mexia, Corley would have been exposed to such men at least once a year during the annual Confederate reunions held there between 1889-1946. These gatherings of former Rebel soldiers were major events for the city, and it would seem likely that Corley would have seen and even interacted with amputees at these events, so his experience with artificial limbs may have been more frequent than that of an average citizen.

After studying law at the firm of Muse & Allen in Dallas, Corley was elected justice of the peace in 1908 and was rewarded for his work by being elected county judge in 1912. Corley proved himself a capable administrator and arbiter of the law, earning accolades from his voters and the nickname “Armless Wonder,” a shockingly un-PC moniker to modern audiences but no doubt offered in a spirit of respect by those he served in the 1910s.

Corley’s story would be inspiring enough if it stopped at this point, and, in fact, that is probably how Dr. Truett would have known it to end. What he might not have known – despite a relationship with Baylor University that stretched back to the late 1800s and a lifelong closeness with the school – was how Judge Corley’s life would directly impact that of another young man who faced similar challenges and dreamed of similar successes.

“Baylor Students Complain Over Nothing … How Would They Do If They Were Hindered as Frank Coleman?”

Frank G. Coleman was born without arms and only one leg. This fact opens a rather blunt – but no less inspiring – piece in the January 26, 1926 issue of the Baylor Daily Lariat. The reason for the piece is Coleman’s place on the ballot for judge in Bell County, Texas, where he practices law in the city of Temple. Coleman was a 1925 graduate of the Baylor Law School and, by all accounts, led a remarkable life prior to finding himself in the running for county office.

A look into previous coverage of Coleman’s story in the Lariat fills in some of the details. A “Freshman” edition of the Lariat from March 3, 1921 – which was edited by Coleman, incidentally – includes a write-up of his life captioned, “Frank Coleman First Armless Person in Baylor.” It goes on to detail his early life and disposition – “one of the happiest and best-liked fellows around the University,” who apparently gave himself the nickname the “Finless Fish” during his first year – and tells of his first encounter with Judge Corley.

Profile on Coleman from the “Lariat” of March 3, 1921.

Coleman was a user of Corley’s patented prosthetic arms, and in the spring of 1918, Coleman joined him for a tour of government hospitals housing disabled veterans of the First World War. Intended to “[bring] new hope to disabled veterans by showing them how, though maimed[,] they could become useful, happy citizens,” the younger man discovered an interest in becoming a lawyer, perhaps due to Judge Corley’s own story of triumph over adversity. Coleman would enter Baylor Law School and graduate in 1925. He returned to Temple to practice law.

He appears in the pages of the Lariat again in 1926, with a story that details his appearance on the Democratic primary ballot for judge of Bell County. Unfortunately, his presence in the historical record, at least in terms of Internet-accessible materials, seems to end here. I have been unable to find any evidence of the results of the 1926 election or of Coleman’s later life, though I will document any future findings as updates to this post.

Coleman poses with members of the Bell County Club, from the 1922 “Round Up.”

Coleman and his fellow Law Club members, from the 1922 “Round Up.”

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The intertwining stories of Dr. Truett, Judge Corley and “Finless Fish” Coleman are an example of the ways in which a single twist of fate – a misstep from a train in Utica, NY – can affect the lives of countless others, even at a distance of more than a century. Corley’s early patents in prosthetics led to advances in the field that would bring us today’s carbon-fiber artificial legs and remarkably realistic prosthetic arms. Coleman’s inspirational story would bring comfort to wounded veterans and encourage his fellow Baylor Bears to greater heights of academic and personal achievement.

And the story of the judge with the “steel arms” told by Dr. Truett to his audience of parishioners on the first Sunday of a new year would be recorded for prosperity on a 16” transcription disc that would find its way to Baylor’s Texas Collection and, eventually, to the world via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

(Digital Collections) More Than the Sum of Its Parts: The JFK – Other Materials Collection

As we approach the 50th commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we will be highlighting a number of JFK-related collections here on the Digital Collections blog. The William R. “Bob” Poage Legislative Library has become a hub for materials related to the assassination and its fallout, and we look forward to exposing those collections to a wider audience via the blog, our Facebook page and other promotional avenues. Read part one of the series here and part two here.

 The impact of the Kennedy assassination can be measured in any number of ways, from changes in government policy to the stain it left on the reputation of Dallas, Texas. Accompanying these shifts in the cultural landscape were reams of documentation and artifacts that were preserved in quantities too small to justify the creation of entire digital collections but no less important for being less in number. For materials like these, we created a “JFK – Other Materials” collection.

“The Truth Letter” – Typewritten, Equal Opportunity Printer of News

Among the more interesting items in this collection are the “Truth Letter” newsletters. Published by Joachim Joesten between 1968-1971, the “Truth Letter” billed itself as “An Antidote to Official Mendacity and Newsfaking in the Press,” as well as a purveyor of “All the News That’s UNFIT to Print.” These typewritten, single-spaced publications were a platform for Joesten’s personal theories, responses to other publications and overall discourses on the subject of Kennedy’s assassination.

“Truth Letter” Vol. I, no. 14 – April 1, 1969

Representations of the “Mainstream” Media

There are several examples of materials drawn from the more prominent outlets of the media included in this collection. Two of particular note at the teletype transcripts of the assassination’s coverage, one from UPI and the other from the AP. These fragile artifacts were the forerunner to Twitter-style updates on a breaking news situation: short, declarative statements with “time stamps” provided a continuous stream of information for reporters across the country.

Excerpt from UPI teletype, November 22, 1963

Newspaper articles make an appearance in the collection via a notebook containing dozens of clipped and pasted articles that form a notebook donated by Robert Cutler. These annotated clippings document mainstream media coverage of the fallout from the assassination, as well as related events like the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to these materials, the JFK – Other Materials collection provides several one-off items related to the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy that did not fit easily into an existing collection, so we encourage you to explore them as you dive deeper into the multifaceted story of November 22, 1963.

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We will continue to highlight additional JFK-related collections throughout October and November as we participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. If you have any questions, please email us at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or visit the Poage Legislative Library’s JFK Materials Website for more information.

(Digital Collections) A View to a Kill: The Jack White Slide Collection Makes Its Case Through Visuals

As we approach the 50th commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we will be highlighting a number of JFK-related collections here on the Digital Collections blog. The William R. “Bob” Poage Legislative Library has become a hub for materials related to the assassination and its fallout, and we look forward to exposing those collections to a wider audience via the blog, our Facebook page and other promotional avenues. Read part one of the series here.

It would be easy to assume that an event as well-documented visually as the Kennedy assassination would be immune from multiple interpretations and ambiguities. But anyone who thinks that may change their mind after viewing the materials in the Jack White Slide Collection, part of the JFK-related collections held at the Poage Legislative Library. The result of decades of research by Jack White (1927-2012), the collection contains more than 2,200 slides and photos pertaining to the assassination, including many of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Ad Man’s Quest

Jack White was a native Texan who made his mark in the advertising business, working at several large firms in Fort Worth and opening his own shop in the 1980s. A Navy veteran (1945-1946) and erstwhile journalist, White had a lifelong interest in art, photography and design. During an assignment to write a centennial history of Fort Worth National Bank, White became interested in acquiring historical photos and the preservation of artifacts. This pushed his interest in photography into overdrive and he applied this focus to his acquisition of materials related to the Kennedy assassination.

White’s pursuit of materials and information surrounding the Kennedy assassination led to his producing videos on the photographic studies he created of the event, as well as an opportunity to serve as a consultant on Oliver Stone’s film JFK. White also developed a slide lecture – the images from which are featured in this collection – which he presented to students and gatherings related to the assassination.

What the Cameras Saw (Allegedly)

The slides featured in this collection run the gamut from stills derived from the Zapruder film to blurry images taken on cameras seconds after the shots were fired in Dealey Plaza. Also included are personal photographs of Oswald and numerous other personages involved in the investigation, as well as people long thought part of the “conspiracy” around the assassination. The cast of characters shown in this collection read like a “who’s who” of assassination-related men: The Umbrella Man, The Old Tramp, The Cuban and Frenchy all make appearances here.

“The Umbrella Man” and “the Cuban” on Dealey Plaza at time of first shots.

In all, there are 2,276 slides in the collection, drawn from ten carousels’ worth of materials. Major headings in the collection – the titles of which were assigned by White – include “Z [Zapruder] Film,” “Film Enlargements,” “Lee Harvey Oswald” and “The Oswald Problem: LHO2 The Power of Two.”

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We will continue to highlight additional JFK-related collections throughout October and November as we participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. If you have any questions, please email us at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or visit the Poage Legislative Library’s JFK Materials Website for more information. Biographical information on Jack White adapted from the Poage Library’s Jack D. White Materials web page.

(Digital Collections) The Architect, the Assassination and the Conspiracy Advocate: Robert Cutler’s “Grassy Knoll Gazette”

As we approach the 50th commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we will be highlighting a number of JFK-related collections here on the Digital Collections blog. The William R. “Bob” Poage Legislative Library has become a hub for materials related to the assassination and its fallout, and we look forward to exposing those collections to a wider audience via the blog, our Facebook page and other promotional avenues.

This week, we explore the Grassy Knoll Gazette, a newsletter written by Robert Cutler and dedicated, per its mission statement, to answering the question, “Who are the murderers of America’s leaders – its Presidents, its Presidential candidates, and who has forced others still not to run for President?”

Robert Cutler: Veteran, Architect, Seeker of Truth

By all accounts, Robert Cutler was a man who did nothing by half measures. A native of Massachusetts, he was a Harvard alum who became an accomplished rower. He served on a team with his brother and three Harvard crewmates in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games (the infamous “Nazi Games”) and remained an avid tennis player throughout his life. Following a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II – where he served in the Pacific Theater – Cutler practiced architecture in New York City, Boston and Manchester, Massachusetts.

Like many of his generation, Cutler became fascinated and deeply moved by the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Cutler became convinced that there was a conspiracy surrounding the assassination and he came to reject the “lone assassin” conclusion of the Warren Commission. He began publication of a newsletter, The Grassy Knoll Gazette, to serve as a showcase for his insights, research and opinions into the “real” events surrounding the assassination.

Cutler also put his architectural and drafting skills to use by creating numerous technical drawings of Dealey Plaza and the surrounding area. These drawings included information on where the principal players in the assassination were said to be located, the trajectories of the bullets that struck the president, and details about the event as related to individual frames of the famous Zapruder film.

One of Cutler’s technical drawings titled, “The Assassination of President Kennedy” / The Quest for Truth

The Grassy Knoll Gazette as Primary Resource

It should be disclosed at the outset that Cutler’s publication makes no bones about its disdain for – and lack of trust in – the findings of the Warren Commission. Cutler uses no-nonsense, at times confrontational language to address his audience of “truth seekers” and he openly questions the “official story” told by politicians in Washington and the American media. As such, it is categorized by some as a fringe publication, but it does contain a fascinating array of alternative theories, provocative questions and a bulldog tenacity for covering stories long after they had passed out of the mainstream media cycle.

The JFK-Cutler Collection contains a full run of The Grassy Knoll Gazette, dating from its first issue in 1977 to its last in 1996, as well as dozens of technical drawings and other illustrations. Each Gazette is keyword searchable but users are advised that the accuracy of the optical character recognition is lower in the issues that are not typeset.

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Visit the JFK: Cutler – Grassy Knoll Gazette Digital Collection for a full list of items.

We will continue to highlight additional JFK-related collections throughout October and November as we participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. If you have any questions, please email us at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or visit the Poage Legislative Library’s JFK Materials Website for more information. Biographical information on Robert Cutler adapted from the Poage Library’s Robert B. Cutler page