Wading into Broadside’s Snapshots of the Smoky ’70s

This post was written by Greg Campbell, a former newspaper journalist and GAO analysts. He is nearing completion of a master’s degree in history with a focus on military history and the western United States at George Mason University. He is rounding out his skills as a historian through work at the Special Collections Research Center. Greg joined SCRC in March and has been working on digitizing images from our Broadside Photograph collection.

One of the striking things captured in the Broadside photo collection is that there used to be whole lot of smoking going on around here. In the 1970s, before second-hand smoke was harmful, photos of meetings sometimes show an ashtray in the center of the table and lots of people lighting up indoors. Striking, too, is a cigarette brand’s sponsorship of a women’s tennis tournament on campus. As the ad slogan said, we really have come a long way, baby.  The photo collection also includes a couple shots of tennis champion Billie Jean King practicing at GMU; she is a subject of the new movie, “Battle of the Sexes.”

The era of ashtrays on the table and indoor smoking. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 19, Image 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

In addition to capturing evidence of the unlamented demise of gargantuan lapels and ties three times the current width, the photos show a variety of ancient technologies. For example, a Broadside photographer shot students, one smoking, playing the new computer game Pong, which was encased in a massive cabinet befitting such a wondrous miracle of modern technology.  Other shots show a story being written on an IBM Selectric typewriter for the campus newspaper, and class registration being carried out via the exchange of paperwork. No fun there.

A miracle of modern technology–the computer game Pong hits campus. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 03, Image 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The technology that produced the photo images is also a throwback to a different time—the laborious pre-digital photography era. The photo process used to go something like this for student photographers:  Buy 50 feet of black-and-white Tri-X film. Place it (in total darkness) in a bulk loader. Load each roll of film. Trim with scissors. Shoot the film, hoping you’d hit the right exposure and shutter speed. Develop the film by (in total darkness) cracking open each roll of film and winding it onto a stainless steel reel. Place that in a stainless steel canister with a lid. Add chemicals. Agitate at timed intervals. Dry the negatives. Cut up the negatives into groups of five and insert them in plastic sleeves. Print a contact sheet of positive images. Study with a magnifying loupe.  Pick an image. Place the negative in an enlarger. Pluck out photo paper (in total darkness) and place it in an enlarger.  Project the image on paper, sometimes dodging and burning to lighten or darken the image. Put photo paper in developing solution for a timed bath and then in fixing solution. Dry the print, and voila! The raw material has been produced for another multi-step process leading to publication.

A man playing the guitar and harmonica. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 30, Image 33, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The Special Collections Research Center is digitizing what are mostly masses of black and white negatives held in plastic sleeves in three-ring clamshell albums.  These include what were essentially the outtakes of the photographers’ efforts—the shots that never made it into the newspaper. For some of the students, it is clear the learning experience is underway.  There are some technical hiccups in the body of work—things a student photographer might not know until that moment of truth came in the darkroom. Others clearly had a photographer’s eye combined with technical skills and produced some excellent photos. All of them provide a snapshot of the past.

Our exhibition will be up until mid-August. Stop by anytime to view our materials on display. Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Travel Series: The Americas

This post was written by Tiffany Kajer Wright. “I am a grad student in the English department’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric program. If I’m not cooking, I’m probably watching a historical documentary on Netflix. I also love traveling with my husband – I’ve been to 19 countries and counting. I’m brand new to the SCRC, but I look forward to contributing more blogs in the future!”

This post is the first in a series of blogs coordinated with our Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days exhibit. We’re highlighting some of our collections and books that focus on travel and can be accessed here at the Special Collections Research Center. In this article, we’re taking a look at North and South America.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see far-flung parts of the world? Two of our collections can take you virtually anywhere. The first is the extensive Edith McChesney Ker collection of slides, scrapbooks, and other documents covering her global adventures. The second is the largely insect-focused Kjell Sandved collection, of Butterfly Alphabet fame. Both photographers are notable for capturing animal and plant life, as well as striking landscapes.

Reviewing these collections can bring the distant and exotic corners of the planet a little closer to home. This is especially true for areas of the world that are difficult to access, such as Easter Island or Angel Falls. Other places, like the Galapagos Islands or Nova Scotia, have well-traveled routes but are no less fascinating. We’ll begin this week’s journey with Easter Island.

“Easter Island-Ahu Nau Nau”, Edith McChesney Ker papers, #C0077, Box 12, Page 28, Image 4, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The six stand in silent judgement, backs to the ocean. Their eyes are gone, but most still have their topknots. One is missing his head, and only the base remains for another. They are the Anakena Moai of Rapa Nui – Easter Island, to those outside of the South Pacific. Since 1888, it’s been a territory of Chile, and the mystery surrounding the immense statues has attracted travelers since the island was discovered. More than 800 Moai can be found on the island today, and most are easily accessible to the 80,000 tourists that stop by every year.

 

“Waterfalls: Amgel Falls World’s Highest Venezuela,” in the Kjell Sandved nature photograph collection #C0020, Box 4, Page 24, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Water tumbles over the edge of a cliff nearly three-quarters of a mile high, often shrouded by clouds. Toward the bottom, the water dissipates into a fine mist before converging into the Rio Kerepacupai Meru. This is Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, and it sits deep in the Venezuelan jungle. Named after American pilot Jimmie Angel, the first to fly over it in 1933, the falls draw visitors from all over the world each year.

“Fernandina Marine Iguanas and Bluefoots”, Edith McChesney Ker papers, #C0077, Box 13, Page 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

Home to some of the most specialized wildlife in the world, the Galapagos Islands have been the location for numerous scientific surveys for centuries. When a young geologist called Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he was so inspired by the variations of birds and other animals that he wrote On the Origin of Species. Scientists and researchers continue to visit this volcanic archipelago to better understand our planet’s history and evolution. Ecuador governs the islands today and has declared them a national park, drawing over 220,000 tourists per year.

 

“Peggy’s Cover Near Halifax Nova Scotia” in the Kjell Sandved nature photograph collection #C0020, Box 4, Page 22, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Nova Scotia is a breathtaking province, with Bay of Fundy and its extreme tides on one side and the battering North Atlantic on the other. Fishermen have done very well in this part of Canada for centuries, though not without cost. More than 5,000 shipwrecks are documented in the region. Despite this historical precedent, well over 2 million tourists visit Nova Scotia each year, with the percentage of Americans steadily increasing.

Sources:

Easter Island History

Island Heritage

Easter Island Tourism

Angel Falls History

Galapagos History

Galapagos Tourism

Nova Scotia History

Nova Scotia Tourism

Our exhibition will be up until mid-August. Stop by anytime to view our materials on display. Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Around the World in (Almost) Eighty Days

Summer is approaching and travel plans have been made! Special Collections Research Center holds many images and books that represent great travel destinations in the United States and around the world. That is why we have planned a new exhibit – “Around the World in (Almost) Eighty Days: Traveling the Globe with Special Collections” to show off these wonderful pieces and maybe even help those who are still trying to figure out where to travel in the upcoming months. The exhibit will run from June 5 until mid-August and a reception will be held in Fenwick Library on June 15 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Hope to see you there – Bon Voyage!

The President and The King or Art Imitates Life

I was traveling on an airplane recently and stumbled across an interesting film while browsing the in-flight entertainment options at my seat. Elvis and Nixon is an eighty-six-minute history/comedy treatment of the infamous December 21, 1970 meeting between “The President and The King”.  The film features Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon, Michael Shannon as Elvis, and Johnny Knoxville and Alex Pettyfer as Memphis Mafia members Sonny West and Jerry Schilling. Having worked at two libraries holding materials created by the man who photographed the meeting, I am quite familiar with Presley’s visit to the White House. I had several hours remaining in my flight, the book I had been reading had become boring, and this movie seemed to scream “watch me!,” so I decided to view it.

Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, the most popular photograph in the history of the National Archives and Records Administration. From the Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, C0036, Box 21 Folder 8. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

The meeting between Nixon and Elvis was hastily arranged by both Presley, himself, and Special Assistant to the President, Egil “Bud” Kroh.  Elvis simply showed up at the White House gate on December 21, 1970 and asked that a letter he wrote to the president be delivered to him. Presley, an avid badge collector, wished to meet with Nixon to discuss America’s growing problem with dangerous drugs and volunteer to help out in the effort to stop it. He also hoped that Nixon might give him a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs for his efforts.  Krogh thought a meeting with the famous rock star would provide the opportunity for the president to earn a little “street cred” with America’s younger set.  Fifteen photographs of the meeting in which Elvis and Nixon exchanged gifts and compliments were captured by White House photographer Oliver “Ollie” Atkins.  At the conclusion Nixon instructed assistants to make certain the appropriate official secured the badge for Elvis.

Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon (left) and Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley (right) in Liza Johnson’s ELVIS & NIXON, an Amazon Studios / Bleecker Street release. Credit: Steve Dietl/Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street. In this still from the film Oliver Atkins, played by Gus Rhodes, is taking the infamous photograph while Egil Kroh, played by Colin Hanks, looks on. Used with permission.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum holds negatives to photographs Atkins took while serving as Nixon’s photographer (1968-1974). Included in this collection are all 15 images of the famous meeting between the two. The photo of the two in mid-handshake, smiling, and looking directly at the camera is regarded by NARA as it’s most requested photograph, ever.

The George Mason University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center maintains a collection of photographs personally donated by Atkins in 1977. Atkins was an early neighbor and long-time friend to George Mason University since the early 1960s. This collection features about 60,000 photographs he made between 1943 and 1974. The photographs document his work as a photographer for the American Red Cross, The Saturday Evening Post, and the White House.  The White House photographs, which comprise a selection of prints he made while he was White House Photographer, contain two different images from the Nixon-Elvis meeting. For more information on the Atkins Photograph Collection visit the finding aid at http://sca.gmu.edu/finding_aids/atkins.html.

A storage box from the the Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, C0036. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Photographer Olliver F. Atkins. Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, C0036, Box 27 Folder 4. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two films have been made and several articles and books, including one by Egil Kroh, himself, have been written about the very brief but intriguing meeting. Krogh’s 1994 work, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, is his personal recollection of the meeting from memory and notes he made while taking part in it.  Comparing the meeting as portrayed in Elvis and Nixon with Krogh’s written description of the actual meeting might lead one to the conclusion that a bit of artistic license was taken in parts of the 2016 film.  Of particular note is a sequence during which Elvis eats M&Ms belonging to Nixon and another where he teaches the president some karate moves. Each of these, while perhaps not historically accurate, is very funny!

Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley, December 21, 1970. Oliver F. Atkins Collection, C0036, Box 21 Folder 8. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

I found Elvis and Nixon to be a fast-moving and fun film.  Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon each did a fine job portraying their character’s unique posture, gesture, and speech.  The film succeeds in portraying an actual historical event while flavoring it with clever comedic moments. It is one of those films which can reach a broad audience and illustrate a moment in history, all while being entertaining in the process.

 

To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989-1990

In late December 1989 two young men, Page Chichester and Helmut Brinkmann, were drinking and watching a soccer match on television in the city of Bonn in what was then called West Germany.  Brinkmann suddenly suggested that they tour East Germany, beginning the next day.  The two stayed up all night planning their hastily-conceived trip.  At Noon on December 29th the two took off in a Volkswagen van carrying cameras, film, and very few provisions.

Photographers Page Chichester (left) and Helmut Brinkmann (right) at the Berlin Wall during their eight-day trip to East Germany. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Photographers Page Chichester (left) and Helmut Brinkmann (right) at the Berlin Wall during their eight-day trip to East Germany. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Just about a month earlier the Berlin Wall, the main symbol of the division of the two Germanys had begun to fall.  Ironically, this event came just a few short months after the German Democratic Republic celebrated its fortieth anniversary as a communist state.  The festivities included a guest appearance by none other than the leader of the communist world himself, Mikhail Gorbechev.  By late December, however, curious people began to move cautiously between the two countries, being extremely careful not to arouse the suspicion of the Stasi, the State Security Police of the crumbling, but still-functioning GDR.

A Stasi guard poses for a photo in Dresden. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

A Stasi guard poses for a photo in Dresden. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Chichester and Brinkmann spent eight days touring East Germany.  The two visited Erfurt, Jena, Dresden, Leipzig, Bitterfeld, Connewitz, Berlin, and other surrounding locales before returning west to Bonn on January 5, 1990.  Speaking to people and photographing the architecture, industry, transportation, and people of the east, they got a first-hand look at the conditions in that part of the Iron Curtain in the period between the fall of the Wall and reunification in October 1990.

A young boy plays in the rubble of a demolished housing project in Connewitz. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives,  George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

A young boy plays in the rubble of a demolished housing project in Connewitz. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

The “Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989/90” exhibit collection contains 53 framed photographs and supporting documentation for the exhibit “Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989/90” that traveled throughout Virginia as part of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Statewide Exhibition Program from 1995 through 2009.  The finding aid for this collection can be accessed here.   A digitized collection of the images can be found at this link.