Research Ready: February 2015

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here are February’s finding aids:

    • BU records: Baylor Literacy Center, 1946-1988 (#BU/32): Contains the files of Baylor’s literacy center, which helped to teach members of the Waco community how to read. The collection contains brochures, subject files, and student work produced by the staff and students of the Literacy Center.
Tom Padgitt, 1870
Photograph of Tom Padgitt, owner and head of the Tom Padgitt Company, a noted Waco-based leatherworking company. Forest Edwin and Edna Lee Sedwick Goodman Family photographic collection, 1870-1918, undated (#3944), box 1, folder 3.
Jessie Brown Letter
Jessie Brown frequently wrote to her sister Lizzie while a student at Baylor, 1888-1891. In this letter, she mentions the local fair and a spat with the president’s wife and disciplinarian of Baylor women, Georgia Burleson, over the oft-discussed topic of fashion. Jesse Breland and Jessie Brown Johnson papers, 1888-1929 (#440), box 1, folder 1.

 

Exploring the Waco Jewish Community with the Texas Jewish Historical Society

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

Texas  Jewish Historical Society members exploring display in Texas Collection reading room, 2015
Texas Jewish Historical Society members exploring display in Texas Collection reading room. The materials on display for society members to view included representative items from over nineteen collections documenting the life and faith experience of Jewish people in Waco.

On January 24, The Texas Collection welcomed the Texas Jewish Historical Society to a special display of materials on Jewish life and faith in Central Texas. Members of the society viewed many different kinds of materials, including:

  • a letter to a German Jewish family by the German secret police, warning them to leave the country (they later came to Waco, Texas),
  • an elaborate green velvet scrapbook with photographs from the 1800s of the Goldstein family in Waco,
  • photographs of Jewish-owned businesses in Waco, such as the Goldstein-Migel and Sanger Brothers department stores,
  • membership cards and past meeting pamphlets from the Texas Jewish Historical Society, and
  • photographs of Temple Rodef Sholom and Congregation Agudath Jacob in Waco from the early 1900s.
Photographic scrapbook of the Goldstein Family in Waco, Texas, from the early 1900s
Photographic scrapbook of the Goldstein family in Waco, Texas, from the early 1900s.

All together, The Texas Collection has more than 20 Jewish-related collections available for researchers to explore. Most of these collections are unprocessed, meaning they are not yet described through a finding aid in BARD or housed in modern acid-free boxes and folders. However, two Jewish collections have been processed recently, the De Cordova Family papers 1845-1956 and the Waco Chapter of Hadassah records 1928-2009, and we hope to process the rest of them soon. Stay tuned for more news about our Jewish collections!

Research Ready: October 2012

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for October:

Mary and Oscar Du Congé at work
Mary and Oscar Du Congé at work. Their papers document their work, family, and social life in Waco, Texas.
Bolt Family Homestead and Legion Valley massacre scrapbook photo, 1985
Dr. Johnie Reeves at a vista overlooking the Colorado River and the Comanches’ route after the Legion Valley massacre of 1868. Legion Valley is on the other side of the Cedar Mountains in the distance.
  • William Carley Family Collection, 1834-1936, undated: Documenting the Carley family from 1836-1936, this collection includes records about William Carley’s experiences moving to Texas in 1836, his service in the United States-Mexican War, and other events in the life of the family.
  • Oscar “Doc” Norbert and Mary “Kitty” Jacques Du Congé Papers, 1908-1987: This archives consists of manuscripts pertaining to the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Du Congé. Oscar  was the first African-American Mayor of Waco, and his wife, Mary, was a schoolteacher and secretary who was a leader in the community, a socialite, and a volunteer member of many Catholic religious organizations.
  • Wilhelm Esch Collection, 1870-1943: This collection contains certificates of  appointment and of honorable discharge for German-American soldier Wilhelm Esch, photographs and books concerning military life in World War I, items related to the Order of the Elks and miscellaneous WWII items including ration books.
  • Guyler (Lydia Ann English) [Mrs. William] Papers, 1860:  A correspondence between
    Mrs. Lydia A. Guyler (Mrs. William) from General Sam Houston, in response to Mrs. Guyler’s request for Houston to name her daughter.
  • Adolf Hitler Papers, 1938-1943: Our Hitler Papers contain two documents signed by the Chancellor of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler.
  • Benjamin Judson Johnson Papers, 1942-1960: These papers include correspondence, legal documents, literary productions, and artifacts relating to Benjamin’s experience in the U.S. Naval Air Force during World War II.
  • Jones Family Papers, 1857-1867, 1920, undated: The Jones family records consist of correspondence, legal, and financial documents, including fourteen Civil War letters from family members in the 10th Texas Infantry.
  • Luper Family Papers, 1909-1990: The Luper Family Papers are comprised of correspondence, literary productions, and other materials pertaining to a Baptist missionary family and their experiences during the mid-1900s in Portugal, Brazil, and central Texas. (This finding aid is updated with additional materials that came to The Texas Collection after we initially announced the finding aid in June 2012.)
  • Harry Hall Womack, Jr. Papers, 1940-1948: Womack’s papers consist of correspondence and literary productions relating to his experiences in the 1940s. These include medical school, a tour as a doctor in the Army during World War II, and the beginnings of his marriage and family.

The Most Horrible Storm: A Firsthand Account of the 1953 Waco Tornado

If you have lived in Texas for any amount of time, you’ve experienced a tornado watch, and maybe even a tornado warning. The TV program you were watching is interrupted with dire weather maps, the radio DJ advises folks out in their cars to take shelter, the whole family huddles up in the bathtub—it’s all a little scary, especially when the sirens start to go off. And if you think your town is immune to tornados—as Huaco Native American legend said about Waco—well, an actual F5 storm striking your town is downright terrifying.

"Evidence of the might of a tornado"
Some structures were flattened, some remained standing. Their fates were determined both by structural supports and the tornado's whim.

Harry Gillett’s letter to his mother, started on May 11, 1953, and continued the next day, brings to life that experience of waiting for the Waco tornado and then witnessing its aftermath. Sent home early from the school where he taught, Gillett put pen to paper to describe the storm as it escalated. First he writes of a driving rain, and then of hailstones the size of half dollars. “It has gotten so dark outside that it is practically night and it is only about 4:25.”

Then the hailstones increase to the size of baseballs, and one breaks a shingle of his roof. His father calls and tells him the hail downtown is the size of his fist. The phone lines go down shortly after their conversation. “I have never seen anything like this before. No telling how much damage will be done. There go the lights.”

How much damage will be done, indeed.  In the next paragraph, Gillett writes, “I am continuing this letter at 5:00 the morning after I started writing it. Waco had the most horrible storm you can imagine.” The tornado entered the Waco city limits at 4:32 pm, and the funnel cloud was downtown by 4:36. Gillett’s North Waco home is unscathed, apart from the broken shingle. He’s lucky. His letter describes the damage done to the homes of relatives and friends—from a flooded home to a house blown off its foundation, moved a few feet, and “simply ruined.”

Harry Gillett letter describing the 1953 Waco tornado, page 4
Harry Gillett's letter to his mother gives us insight into the before and after of the 1953 Waco tornado.

But other parts of Waco saw much greater devastation. Some houses were blown to bits. Gillett’s school in East Waco was destroyed, with his classroom the only one left standing on the top floor. And in downtown Waco, the toll, both property and human, was enormous. “R.T. Dennis [building] fell in completely and most of the buildings from there to the river were completely blown apart. Hundreds of people were killed…Downtown Waco has been put under martial law and Daddy will not be able to get to work. Many gas lines are broken down town and everyone is afraid of a terrible explosion.”

The Waco tornado is tied with the 1902 Goliad tornado as the deadliest in Texas history, and is one of the most deadly in US history. 114 people were killed, and property damage was in excess of $50 million—with inflation, that would be about $400 million today. The Waco tornado helped incite the development of a nationwide severe weather warning system. On this week of the 59th year since the tornado, we remember those who were lost.

You can read the complete letter at The Texas Collection in the Harry Gillett papers. Gillett also saved a few postcards depicting the 1953 tornado’s impact, which we’ve featured in the slide show below. If you’re interested in reading, watching, or listening to more accounts of the storm, check out Waco Tornado 1953: Force that Changed the Face of Waco (an oral history project by the Waco-McLennan County Library and the Baylor Institute for Oral History), “Living Stories: Radio and the 1953 Waco Tornado,” a collaboration of the Institute for Oral History and KWBU-FM, and the “Waco Tornado: Tragedy and Triumph” video at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. The Portal to Texas History and Waco Tribune-Herald also have compelling images and contemporary news coverage of the storm.

Believe me your own: letters from the battlefield to Fanny from Alex

In November, 1861, Dr. Alex Morgan enlisted for a one-year term of service with the 19th Louisiana Infantry of the Confederate Army. He left behind his wife Fanny and their four children, and, though the couple expected to reunite at the end of his year of service, in fact they would not see each other again for nearly four years.

Two days after the Battle of Shiloh,  Alex wrote his beloved wife to share “not an account of the battle, that you will see in the paper, but…my own impressions of things, as they passed before me.” His frank, poignant, and often wryly humorous letters tell a powerful story of enduring love during the war that would determine the future of a young nation.

Join us in waiting for news from the battlefield: each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from January 9 to March 9, 2012.

Alex Morgan’s letters to Fanny were preserved by their granddaughter, Maggie Scott Logue (1884-1985).  In 2007, the children and grandchildren of Maggie Logue decided that the letters should be kept together, donated to the Texas Collection, and be available to the public.  The Texas Collection is pleased to share the Morgan Letters through this exhibit.

 

Dear Lera…

smoke girl

Dear Lera—How are you these hot days? Electric light man is here and will study by new lights tonight. Everything is in a tumble. Every one is well. Baby has three teeth now. How do you like this card?  Miss H. didn’t say a word it was me will tell you later. May go to Dallas tomorrow after a hat. Will write soon. Perle B.

Like the artist’s sketch dashed off to capture a moment, a few words and a picture on a postcard can open a much larger world to the imagination.  Mailed in 1911 to Miss Lera Brown at Baylor, this postcard shows a young man envisioning a beautiful woman in his cigarette smoke.  Along with her face and hair there is a ring—perhaps an engagement ring—signaling that he imagines his beloved, or a yet-unmet future wife.  The couple’s red lips and eyes mirror each other, and the shape and angle of the ring echo the man’s collar.  It’s a dreamy picture that creates a fantasy for the viewer, that of the dashing young man who longs for love and marriage.

The note on the back is also full of revealing details conveyed with great economy.  The card was mailed in October but it’s still hot in Texas!  And “everything is in a tumble” as the new electric lights are installed.  How delightful it will be to study tonight by the light of this relatively recent home improvement.

We read about the baby who is growing, and a possible trip to the big city to shop for a new hat. We sense that Perle B. found this postcard interesting or fitting, as she wonders, “How do you like this card?”  There is a hint of mystery and a need for discretion regarding a Miss H. (“will tell you later”), and like Lera, we can’t wait to hear all the details.

But by this time, there is no more space for writing, so the postcard ends with the promise we all hope to hear when we are away from home: “Will write soon.”   I like to imagine that Perle kept her promise and sent other cards and letters to Baylor that year, knowing, as John Donne did that  “more than kisses, letters mingle souls, for thus friends absent speak.”

smoke girl postcard back