Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Capote Memory

Truman Capote, one of the leading American authors of the second half of the twentieth century, gave us such literary gems as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. He is also famous for his short fiction, published in the New Yorker and other magazines, and his collections of stories.

1956 copy in Rare Book Room.

1956 copy in Rare Book Room.

One of those short pieces, A Christmas Memory, is told by an adult narrator about a Christmas when he was seven. He is living with an elderly cousin, and other people they are “not too much aware of.” It is late November and the woman declares it fruitcake weather. So she and the boy, Buddy, must go and gather pecans and buy moonshine whiskey. The woman makes these cakes every year and distributes them to friends she has met and those she hasn’t, like Franklin Roosevelt.

The story takes place in a town like Monroeville, Alabama, where Capote grew up with three elderly female cousins. And, like Buddy, he attended a military school up north. How much of this story actually happened has been fodder for many literary essays.

You can read this bittersweet story at Boatwright. But if you would like to read the presentation copy signed by the author, drop by the Galvin Rare Book Room.capote2

Kitty Hawk

Still I must have known,
Something in me told me,
Flight would first be flown….
Off these sands of time.

~ Robert Frost, “Kitty Hawk”

Kitty Hawk cover

Kitty Hawk, by Robert Frost

On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers achieved success in their desire to fly. The Wright Flyer was the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled sustained flight with a pilot aboard. Having moved to Richmond from Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers, I was delighted to discover “Kitty Hawk” by Robert Frost tucked away in our rare book collection.

This little gem of a book was published as one in a series of Christmas keepsake booklets produced by the publishing firm of Henry Holt and Company. Using Frost’s poem, “Christmas Trees,” in 1934, Holt began an annual custom of sending Robert Frost Christmas booklets. With the exception of the war years of 1939-1944, the Frost/Holt holiday booklet tradition lasted from 1937 until 1962. Although sometimes they used poems which had been previously published, Frost frequently created a new piece especially for the occasion. In 1956, Frost and Holt decided to use a previously unpublished work, “Kitty Hawk,” for the booklet.

Four distinct versions of the poem are known to exist. The first one, at only 128 lines, was published as the 1956 holiday booklet. In November 1957, Frost published a much longer version, at 432 lines. The third version, which incorporated lines from each of the previous versions, appeared in the March 21, 1959, The Saturday Review. The final version, wedding old and new material, was added to his 1962 work, In The Clearing.

Frost was only 29 years old when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, and his interest in flying appeared periodically in his work, often referring to the brothers as “the Columbuses of the air.” In his 1936 book, A Further Range, one poem was titled, “The Wrights’ Biplane.” Frost and Orville Wright were friends until Wright’s death in 1948.

The poem itself actually documents an earlier visit to Kitty Hawk made by Frost in 1894, which is listed inside as a subtitle on the piece. Kitty Hawk Frost described the poem in a 1959 interview published, along with the poem, in the 1959 The Saturday Review:

I’ve been gathering together the poems for the book. The main one is “Kitty Hawk,” which is a longish poem in two parts. Part One is a sort of personal story, an adventure of my boyhood. I was down there once when I was about 19. Alone, just wandering. Then I was invited back sixty years later. That return after so long a time suggested the poem to me. I used my own story of the place to take off into the story of the airplane. I make a figure of speech of it: How I might have taken off from my experience of Kitty Hawk and written an immortal poem, but how, instead, the Wright brothers took off from there to commit an immortality….

With Frost’s charming poem and woodcuts by Antonio Frasconi, the Holt booklet is simply charming. “Kitty Hawk” is housed in the Galvin Rare Book Room, and we hope you’ll come and explore this unexpected and beautiful piece.

Christmas with the Washingtons

George Washington saw more than 60 Christmas’s in his lifetime—some joyful and some not so much. We know of some of the darker Christmases such as Valley Forge. But before that, in 1751, when George was only 19, he sailed to Barbadoes with his half-brother Lawrence hoping the warm weather would cure his tuberculosis. Lawrence did not recover and George spent much of the time sick himself. He returned to Virginia by ship and celebrated that Christmas with an Irish goose and many toasts—a far cry from his Virginia celebrations.

Mount Vernon in setting of snow by Worth Bailey.

Mount Vernon in setting of snow by Worth Bailey.

Many of his Christmases were spent on military maneuvers and in the midst of war. But in 1758 he met the widow Martha Dandridge Parke Custis at a friend’s house. The two wasted no time and planned their wedding for Twelfth Night, January 6, 1759. Eggnog was a common drink at weddings and Washington’s recipe included a pint of brandy, some rye whisky and Jamaica rum. To this mixture he added a healthy dose of mellow sherry to provide the drink with “good fumes.”

The holidays brought friends and family to Mount Vernon as well as admirers from abroad. Washington called Mount Vernon a “well resorted tavern.” A typical holiday menu would consist of Martha’s capon stuffed with oysters, her roast veal stuffed with herbed dressing, pies rich with various meats and savory with herbs grown and cured on the farm. But Martha’s Great Cake took center stage.

Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth start work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Youlks of eggs & 5 pounds of flower & 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace 1 nutmeg half a pint of wine & some frensh brandy.

To read more about the Washington’s and celebrations check out Christmas with the Washingtons: being a special account of traditional rites observed in Virginia and historic Yuletides of one First Family, the Washingtons of Mount Vernon by Olive Bailey in Boatwright’s Special Colllections.

On This Day ~ December 12: A New King

The highest of distinctions is service to others. ~ King George VI

Accession proclamation King George VI

Proclamation of Accession to the Throne of King George VI [Special Collections, DA584 .P6 1936]

On December 12, 1936, the official proclamation of a new King of England, George VI, was announced formally.  His story is a well-known one, most recently the subject of the 2010 film, The King’s Speech, which dramatized the events that made him king as well as the personal obstacles he faced.

Born on December 14, 1895, the second son of King George V, young Albert never expected to become king.  Early in 1936, when his father passed away, Albert’s brother, Edward, ascended the British throne as King Edward VIII.  In less than a year, however, Edward abdicated the throne on December 10, to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving the crown to his younger brother.  Edward’s radio broadcast the following day led to the official proclamation of the new king on December 12.

The coronation of King George VI took place on May 12, 1937, and he went on to lead Britain during the years of World War II and beyond, until his death in February 1952.

Our holdings include the official proclamation, pictured above, as well as two copies of the official souvenir program of the 1937 coronation [Galvin Rare Book Room, DA584 .K52].

‘Twas the night before…

One of the most iconic poems of the holiday season is “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” by Clement Clarke Moore, also known as “The Night Before Christmas.” And while it is his only notable poem, it is one that has changed the American image of Santa Claus from his appearance to his actions.

Moore was born in New York City, the only child of Reverend Benjamin and Charity Moore. He was educated at home, and attended Columbia College where he received his BA and MA, and finally his LL.D. A deeply religious man he donated a large part of his property to the General Theological Seminary where he taught Oriental and Greek Literature. He wrote on many subjects including, a two volume treatise on the Hebrew language, A Complete Treatise on Merinos and Other Sheep, and a biography George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania. Throughout his life he wMoorerote poetry which was printed in journals and in the New-York Book of Poetry in 1837. This volume included his “A Visit from St. Nicholas” but it was attributed to anonymous.

Moore had written the verses to entertain his six (eventually nine) children on Christmas Eve. The model for St. Nicholas was apparently a local Dutch villager, with a nod to Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker tales. He cleverly has the “jolly old elf” arrive on Christmas Eve to shift the focus away from the religious observances.

He never meant it to be published, but a well-meaning friend sent it to Troy (NY) Sentinel. The poem was picked up by other papers and journals and widely reprinted. It was not until 1844, when Moore published his own collection of Poems and included “A Visit from St. Nicholas” did the world know the true author. Many had tried to claim it before.

The Galvin Rare Book Room has three of Moore’s works including a lovely stylized edition of “The Night Before Christmas.”


The Man Who Invented Christmas


Scrooge and Marley illustration by Arthur Rackham.

Dubbed “the man who invented Christmas” by the London Times Supplement, Charles Dickens certainly captured the hearts and imagination of many generations with his wonderful novella, A Christmas Carol. Few people are not familiar with the story of the bitter old miser who through ghostly intervention comes to understand the joy of the season. You can find examples of this work in the Galvin Rare Book Room, illustrated by either Gustav Dore or Arthur Rackham.

In 1850, Dickens started his own publication—Household Words. The title was taken from Shakespeare’s Henry V’s speech, “Familiar in their Mouths as household words”. The thin publication cost two pennies with no advertisements or illustrations. With the running header, “Conducted by Charles Dickens”, the journal printed original stories and crusading social journalism. Dickens published Hard Times and A Child’s History of England in the journal along with almost 200 solo articles, stories, poems and “chips” (short satirical pieces). There were also more than 380 other contributors, 90 of whom were women like Elizabeth Gaskell. Wilke Collins, Henry Morley, and a host of unnamed writers writing in a Dickensian style filled the pages of the journal every Saturday from 1850 to 1859.

Copies of Christmas Numbers in Galvin Rare Book Room.

Copies of Christmas Numbers in Galvin Rare Book Room.

And come December, there was always a Christmas Edition with special stories and articles just for the season. Dickens contributed “The Christmas Tree” to the first “Christmas Number” followed by unattributed stories such as “Christmas in Lodgings” or “Christmas in the Navy”. By 1852, the Christmas number became “A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire” and finally the number carried the name of the leading story in the journal. Each story and poem chronicled Victorian life with all its light and dark moments, as so much of Dickens work did.

Come by the Galvin Rare Book Room and take a look at our collection of Christmas numbers of Household Words. We guarantee it’s no humbug.