Category Archives: Rose Library

The Carlos Museum, from Tibet to Niagara Falls and Beyond

By the time Maxwell Anderson left the directorship of the Carlos Museum in 1995, he had brought the museum into the Internet age and had built the museum staff to twenty-two full-time and twenty part-time professionals. One of those professionals, Catherine Howett Smith—who had grown up on the Emory campus as the daughter of art history professor John Howett, and who had earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Emory—agreed to serve as acting director while Emory searched for a new director.

The search took two years, but meanwhile Howett Smith guided an initiative that would leave Emory’s stamp on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. This was the renovation of part of the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue (at that time dubbed City Hall East) for the installation of works by self-taught African American artists. Called “Souls Grown Deep,” the exhibit was paired with a showing of Thornton Dial’s art at the Carlos as a signature part of the Cultural Olympiad.

In 1997, the two-year search for the new director led at last to the Bayley Art Museum at the University of Virginia and Anthony Hirschel, who had earned a reputation for understanding what Emory provost Billy Frye called “the dual nature of the [university] museum as both an arm of the academic community and a public museum.”

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Anthony Hirschel

When Hirschel arrived at Emory in the spring of 1997, he immediately began planning an exhibition of artwork about the Buddha that built on some of his experience at Virginia. The aim was to have the exhibit up in time for Commencement in 1998, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be the keynote speaker. The exhibit included a rare nineteenth-century copy of The Blue Beryl, borrowed from monks in the Buryatia region of Russia, and exhibited for the first time in the West.

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Catalog from 1998 exhibition of Tibetan medical paintings. From Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

The exhibition was also the occasion for the first sand mandala at Emory — a kind of performance art whose week-long completion has become an annual tradition during Emory–Tibet Week in March.

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Monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery create a sand mandala at the Carlos Museum.

The next year, in 1999, the reputation of Emory for housing mummies gained renewed stature when Hirschel seized on an opportunity in Canada. The Niagara Falls Museum, which had opened almost a decade before the founding of Emory College, was going out of business and selling off its collections, which in some ways resembled those of the Emory museum before 1982—stuffed animals and birds, a collection of eggs, a humpback whale skeleton, mastodon bones, and relics from China and Japan. Peter Lacovara, the curator of Egyptian collections at the Carlos at the time, called Hirschel’s attention to the Niagara museum’s ten Egyptian mummies and scores of Egyptian artifacts, many of which had been brought from Egypt in the 1850s. They were now available at the fire sale price of $2 million.

With seven days to raise the money, Emory turned to the Atlanta community for help. Carlos advisory board chairman James Miller and his wife, Karina, put up half the funds, and donors ranging from schoolchildren to Emory staff members contributed another $750,000—enough to secure a commitment from the museum to sell all of the collection to Emory.

Among the mummies that arrived on campus later that year was one that had lain in the Niagara Falls museum since 1860. The profile of the mummy resembled those of two others resting in a museum in Cairo, Egypt—Seti I and Ramesses II. These were the son and grandson of Ramesses I, whose mummy had gone missing. Could this mummy at the Carlos be the missing Ramesses I? Off to Emory Hospital went the patient for CT scans, X-rays, and radiocarbon dating. Experts from Egypt arrived to study the remains. In the end, while the evidence proved inconclusive, the head of Egyptian Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, pronounced that he felt certain that the mummy had royal bones; whether those were the bones of Ramesses or not, it was impossible to say with a hundred percent certainty.

In 2003, to the delight of many and the consternation of a few, Emory officials decided that after a period on view in the Carlos Museum, the mummy would return to Egypt, where he now lies in state in the Luxor Museum. Hawass said, “Children in Atlanta will learn that, once upon a time, there was a king at the museum there.”

Beyond the Deer and the Pharaoh

By the time Ramesses, or whoever he was, made his way back to the Middle East, Tony Hirschel had decamped, in 2001, to the Middle West as director of the Indianapolis Art Museum. In the fall of 2002 the new director, Bonnie Speed, arrived from Dallas, where she had been director of the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art. She brought stellar marketing chops along with a graduate degree in art history and experience as a printmaker, designer, and businesswoman.

During the past seventeen years, the full-time museum staff has grown to number thirty-eight, a modest size considering the level of activity inside and outside the walls of the museum. Some seventy-five to eighty thousand visitors come through the portals annually, including twenty-five thousand Atlanta school children and six thousand Emory students. For some exhibitions, the numbers reach 160,000, and for the 2009 Tut exhibition that the Carlos helped organize at the Atlanta Civic Center, the numbers were stratospheric.

Curators and educators at the museum continue their collaborations with Emory departments, including environmental studies and chemistry as well as the usual suspects. Exhibits and programs make the ancient world relevant to moderns, whether that means a showing of Romare Beardon’s twentieth-century prints that use Homer’s Odyssey to reflect on the Great Migration of African Americans, or an exhibition of Fahamou Pecou’s contemporary art, which pulls from history and traditions in its own way. The workhorse attitude of the talented team pulling in harness together has brought the Carlos Museum to a place of distinction that in every way fulfills the dreams of a hundred years ago.

Over the next quarter-century, we can expect that successors to the Candlers, Sheltons, and Bakers will continue to open new doors of discovery, and we can hope that the university and the public will reward those efforts with the resources and recognition they so richly deserve.

Girl and statue

Gary S. Hauk

 

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Carlos Museum—the transformation

This is part five of a seven-part history of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, in celebration of the museum’s centennial, drawing on the archives of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library and the office of the museum registrar.

When James Laney became dean of the theology school in 1969, he had ambitious plans, and he needed the 5,000 square feet of museum space in the basement of Bishops Hall for offices for his growing faculty. Happily, in 1972 the law school moved out of its original home on the Quadrangle and into Gambrell Hall; the old law building thus became the new home for the museum.

And yet, without a clear sense of mission and direction, the museum seemed threatened to remain a backwater. A 1971 study of the museum by professor of English Frank Manley acknowledged that the museum had “enjoyed a slow, leisurely growth like the collection in the attic of a large family that has lived in the same place for a number of generations.” Manley concludes by recommending that the University determine its commitment to the museum and clarify the museum’s mission.

That clarification and commitment came in the early 1980s. By then, Laney had moved to the presidency of Emory. Following the boon of the Woodruff gift in 1979, Emory was renovating all of the old Quadrangle buildings. Henry Bowden, the retired chair of the board of trustees, told Laney that his friend Michael Carlos, chairman and CEO of the National Distributing Company, might help. Laney called Carlos one day in 1981 and invited him to meet.

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Michael C. Carlos

As they talked, Laney commented that Emory needed to renovate the old History Building. In view of Henry Bowden’s historic role in helping to dismantle the segregation of private higher education in Georgia, it would be appropriate to rename the building for him. A $1 million gift would help cover the renovation. Would Mr. Carlos be interested in helping?

Carlos thought about it but wondered what else Emory needed. Well, said Laney, Emory needed to renovate the old Law Building, which had been housing the museum for the past seven years. This would require $1.5 million. Carlos said, “You have a deal.” And that was the beginning of the Carlos family’s enormous generosity to the museum.

Laney credits Monique Seefried for calling his attention to the diamond in the rough that was then the museum. She had moved to Atlanta with her husband in 1977, while finishing her PhD at the Sorbonne in ancient art. A friend took her to the Emory museum, where she was stunned by the mishmash of things—valuable archaeological treasures next to dead starfish and snake skins and an ancient Maytag washing machine. Her immediate impression was that she would have to move back to Europe. How was such an enfeebled state of culture possible? But her husband persuaded her that she should try to change things rather than move away.

Discussions with friends followed, and one of them arranged a dinner and seated Seefried next to Laney for the opportunity to tell him what needed to be done. She told him that if Emory truly wanted to stand among the best, it could no longer have a laughingstock of a museum. Shortly after that dinner, Michael Carlos met with Laney to talk about a possible gift, and change was set in motion.

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Current museum director Bonnie Speed (left) with Monique Seefried.

In 1982, the University announced that the newly renamed Emory University Museum of Art and Archaeology would focus on art, archaeology, and ethnology, and that everything else in the collections would be disbursed. After twenty-eight years as part-time director of the Emory museum, a role he had taken on in retirement, Dr. Woolford Baker retired again at the age of eighty-nine, but he would live for another eleven years to see the dedication of an entire new museum building.

Clark Poling, professor of art history and a specialist in twentieth-century art, was named director of the museum and set about guiding its reorganization. The five years of Poling’s directorship brought extraordinary activity and achievement. Fossils, rocks, minerals, and animals all returned to Oxford, while sea shells, marine specimens, birds, insects, and dental office equipment were packed off to the Fernbank Science Center, and reptile skeletons and specimens were shipped to the Savannah Science Museum. The Art History Department collection was merged with those in the museum.

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Clark Poling

With the gift from Michael Carlos in hand, the University sought out the renowned postmodernist architect Michael Graves to design a renovation, and the rededicated building, now called Carlos Hall, opened in March 1985. In its first five years in the new space, the museum mounted twenty-nine exhibitions and organized and hosted international symposia around some of these exhibitions. When Poling announced his desire to return to teaching in 1987, a search got underway for the museum’s first full-time director. Emory found that person in a thirty-one-year old assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Maxwell Anderson (left) with President James Laney (center) and museum board chair Charles Ackerman.

Manhattan-born and -bred, Ivy-educated, and bearing the name of his Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright grandfather, Maxwell Anderson arrived in Atlanta in the fall of 1987 with a truckload of ambition. Within months, he had laid out a packed agenda that would build the scholarly eminence and the popular appeal of the museum. In July 1988, the museum mounted the first of a series of exhibitions through the innovative Emory University Museum International Loan Project, as Anderson persuaded renowned museums like the Louvre and the Museo Nazionale Romano to reach into their basements and lend Emory some of their treasures that the public rarely sees.

The following spring brought two more initiatives that began to build enthusiasm among Atlantans. The first would become a staple of fund raising for the museum. It was Veneralia, celebrated under a huge tent on the Quadrangle on April 1 that year. As a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted, the gala “celebrated the ancient festival of Venus, when Roman women asked the goddess of love for fulfilling sex lives.” Live mannequins, spray-painted to resemble marble statues, stood in various poses around the elaborately decorated banquet tent as Peter Duchin and his band entertained the guests. The Emory Museum was moving up in the world.

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It was also moving out, into the metropolitan area through educational programs, as the spring of 1989 inaugurated B.C. Fest!. Over the next half-decade this series of annual festivals brought hundreds of Atlanta schoolchildren and their families to the Emory Quadrangle to explore the history and cultures of ancient civilizations.

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Meanwhile, the collections continued to grow. The museum acquired large collections of art of the ancient Americas, and Michael and Thalia Carlos began to develop the Carlos Collection of Ancient Greek Art. The museum once again needed more space, and once again Michael Carlos came forward. Just six years after the rededication of Carlos Hall, Carlos offered $3.5 million toward a whole new building that would more than quadruple the size of the museum. Breaking ground in November 1991, the museum moved into its new Michael Graves-designed building in May 1993.

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Within another two years, though, Anderson was gone, seeking new challenges. By the time he left, he had helped guide the museum into the Internet age and had built the museum staff to include twenty-two full-time and twenty part-time professionals. One of those professionals, Catherine Howett Smith—who had grown up on the Emory campus as the daughter of art history professor John Howett, and who had earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Emory—would step in as acting director while the University searched for a new director.

Next: From Tibet to Niagara Falls

Gary S. Hauk

 

Where the deer and the mummies play

The evolution of the Emory museum toward its current eminence had no missing links, thanks to the diligence of biologist Woolford B. Baker. When Baker took up the work of part-time director of the museum in 1954, he had already enjoyed more than three decades on the faculty. He would have nearly another three decades in his new role.

One story from the Baker era comes from an Emory alumna, whom I met through email thanks to Elizabeth Hornor, the Ingram Senior Director of Education at the museum. Sheramy Bundrick graduated from Emory College in 1992 with a BA in art history, then stayed to earn MA and PhD degrees and now teaches art history at the University of South Florida. Here’s the story in her own words:

“[In] 1981 . . . I was in sixth grade. My dad took me to the museum to see the mummies after we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark . . . and I became totally obsessed with ancient Egypt. Dr. Baker was there and . . . took us to his office, where he pulled this from a desk drawer and gave it to me as a memento of the visit. I think it’s a safe bet that I wanted to go to Emory because of that day.”

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“This” was a square inch of wrapping that Dr. Baker had snipped from one of the mummies. The mummy was, in fact, from the Old Kingdom, the oldest mummy in the Western Hemisphere and one of only six Old Kingdom mummies in museums anywhere. One is in Turin, and the other four are in Egypt. Ours is likely the only one that was a source of souvenirs for school kids.

Finally, here’s where the deer comes into the title of this history, “The Deer and the Pharaoh.” Dr. Baker kept up a steady stream of correspondence with people who thought, with good reason, that the museum would accept nearly anything of interest. For instance, in September 1968, he wrote to a Mrs. Edmund Francis Cook to thank her for her many gifts, including a spittoon, a rolling pin, Korean bridal shoes, Japanese stools, a glove stretcher, a button box with buttons, 29 dolls, and a silver jewelry container “Given to Miss Willie Clover Creagle by Mr. Stephenson of England who built the first dam across the Nile.”

But my favorite of Dr. Baker’s letters is from 1973, to Jeffrey R. Geis of Decatur. Dr. Baker thanks Mr. Geis for the skull of a white tail deer: “I did not have a deer skull but needed one to compare with the goat and the cow which I have on exhibit. If you have any of the leg bones of this deer, I would appreciate them very much.”

During his tenure, Dr. Baker struggled to raise the museum as a priority for the university. In a history that he compiled with geology professor James Lester in 1974, Baker recounted the nomadic existence of the museum after its move from Oxford, first into the theology building; then into a wing of Candler Library in 1926; then into the basement of the Old Theology Building during World War II; then in 1950 to the wooden Annex B; then, in 1955, into the first floor of the Administration Building; then from 1958 to 1972 into the basement of Bishops Hall—a building which itself is now gone.

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Baker’s annual reports to the president tell the story of hope and frustration. After the move into Bishops Hall, the museum mounted its first special exhibition and attracted over three thousand visitors through the year. Seven years later, attendance jumped to 16,355. Emory students made more use of the collections for study, especially the classes of Boone Bowen and Immanuel Ben-Dor, theology faculty members helping to excavate Old Jerusalem. Baker noted that the museum was for many people the first point of contact with the university, and by 1970–71, attendance had risen to nearly 23,000 annually.

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Professors Boone Bowen (left) and Immanuel Ben-Dor examine artifacts from Israel.

Yet the lack of adequate space for storage and exhibitions continued to pose a problem, and the museum now restricted its acquisitions to avoid becoming what Baker called “a cluttered mass.” To make room, the university transferred the Fattig insect collection to the University of Georgia in 1961 and donated duplicate bird skins to the Fernbank Science Center in 1970. Henceforth, the biggest emphasis would be on archaeology and ancient history.

The final report from the Baker years still in the archives, for 1975–76, recommended that the museum be on a par with the university’s libraries and have a central location, with a large exhibition room, space for preparing exhibits, a shop, storage, an auditorium, accessibility, and parking: “A three-story building . . . would be adequate,” says the report. The budget should support a director, an associate director, four curators, a cataloger, clerical staff, a custodian, and programs. It would be a long while before all this materialized.

Next: How a Maytag washing machine led to transformation of the museum.

Gary S. Hauk

Snakes and Hollywood: Part 3 of the Carlos Museum history

Chapter 3 of this history of the Carlos Museum at Emory opens in 1926, just a decade after Emory established its new campus in Druid Hills. About to launch a major fund-raising campaign to continue its campus building program, Emory also appointed the first full-time director of the museum. He was Perry Wilbur Fattig, and he would continue in that role until his death in 1953.

Forty-five years old, Fattig had taught biology and agriculture here and there, including a stint at the University of Florida, where he met Harvey Cox, the dean of education. Cox was appointed president of Emory in 1920, and six years later he brought this natural scientist to Atlanta as director of the museum.

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Dr. Perry Wilbur Fattig

Despite the literally groundbreaking contributions of Professor Shelton, the Emory Museum remained in the 1920s essentially a natural history collection. As Fattig remarked in a WSB radio interview in 1936, Emory then had 3,000 beetles and what he called a “pretty fair collection of Georgia’s poisonous snakes,” as well as 250 varieties of Georgia birds, 210 species of bird eggs, and an extensive collection of moths and butterflies. Fattig himself would leave the museum “one of the most complete private collections of insects in the entire Southeast.”

During his tenure, the museum established a publication series to produce his scholarly contributions in entomology. He did concede, in that 1936 interview, that “the most interesting exhibit is our Egyptian collection.”

Fattig maintained regular hours Monday through Friday, and for a while, he kept poisonous snakes in cages in the museum to teach visitors how to recognize them. But, says one account, he discontinued this practice “after he received his second and almost fatal bite from one of the copperheads.” The same article called him modest and somewhat shy, and as proof of this it noted that he only reluctantly would demonstrate his ability to “stick pins in himself and through a part of an arm or leg without bleeding or apparent pain. . . He is not a lover of the spectacular and is rarely persuaded to demonstrate this peculiar phenomenon.”

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During the twenty-seven years of his stewardship of the museum, Perry Fattig seems to have established all the requisite qualities for the men and women who would succeed him in building up the museum: a passion for collecting and preserving, an awareness of the value of collections for teaching, and, shall we say, some unique ways of leaving their mark.

New Life for the Museum and the Second Career of Woolford Baker

After Fattig’s death, in 1953, some question arose whether the university had any real need or use for a museum. President Goodrich White appointed a committee to study the matter and make recommendations. When the committee completed their study the next year, fortunately they gave a thumbs-up. At the same time, Charles Howard Candler Sr., the builder of Callanwolde, the oldest son of Asa Candler, and successor to his father as chair of Emory’s board of trustees, gave funds to build the Administration Building, and he suggested that half of the first floor of the building should be set aside for the museum.

As it turned out, the designated space in the Administration Building was too small, and after a brief sojourn there, the collection was moved in 1957 to Bishops Hall, the new home of the theology school. Five thousand square feet in the basement provided adequate room for the museum for the first time. This new lease on life meant that the museum would require another director. President White asked Emory College biology professor Woolford Bales Baker to step into this new role.

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Woolford Baker pointing out curiosities with a branch from one of the many ginkgo trees he planted on the campus.

The choice of a biologist may seem unusual in view of today’s museum, but in retrospect, given the nature of the museum then, so to speak, it made eminent sense. Baker had arrived at Emory to teach biology the same year that Emory College and the Emory museum moved to Druid Hills. After earning his MS degree from Emory in 1920, he continued on the faculty until his retirement in 1961, with the exception of a year at Columbia University, where he earned his PhD degree. Baker was especially keen about the natural resources on the campus, and he became something of a nag to the administration about preserving certain spaces and planting appropriate greenery; the Baker Woodlands behind the museum are named appropriately in his memory. So it was largely as a naturalist that he assumed the role of part-time director of the museum in 1954, a post that he would fill for almost thirty years.

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Woolford Baker (right) examining Middle Eastern pottery with professor of geology James Lester (left) and professor of Old Testament studies Max Miller (center)

Many amusing stories emerge from Dr. Baker’s years at the museum. One comes by way of Hollywood, when John Huston turned Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood into a movie. Anyone familiar with the movie will recall the moment when its protagonist, Hazel Motes, is dragged by his unwanted sidekick, Enoch Emery, to the museum in the fictional city of Taulkingham. I’m uncertain where the exterior of the museum was filmed, but its Latin inscription evokes from the intellectually challenged Enoch Emery the pronunciation, “muvseevum.”

Enoch Emery can’t contain his excitement at showing Hazel the mummified little man in the museum. As the two interlopers sneak past the sleeping guard, viewers are treated to the best visual archive of what the Emory museum looked like in the Sociology Building of the late 1970s, now Carlos Hall—the Samurai armor on display at the entrance; the cramped arrangement of the display cases; the portable walls with their array of photos, labels, and maps; the general sense of having strolled into someone’s unusually desperate garage sale.

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Scenes from John Huston’s film Wise Blood (1979).

Next Post: Mummies and Raiders of the Lost Ark

Gary S. Hauk

The Deer and the Pharaoh: Part 2

My previous post introduced the history of the museum at Emory University and brought the story to the eve of the replanting of Emory in Atlanta. The second chapter of this history begins when the museum moved with Emory College, in 1919.

To give you a sense of that move, consider that the biology department loaded up all of its instructional equipment in Professor Robert C. Rhodes’s car for the forty-mile drive along the old, two-lane Covington Highway. We can only imagine how the University carted the birds, beetles, and boulders of the museum to their new place in the Theology Building. That building, now called Convocation Hall, was also the academic home of a professor who wrote the first pages of the next chapter of this history.

The front page of the Atlanta Journal for February 11, 1923, carried an article written by the future author of Gone with the Wind, whose byline on that Sunday was Peggy Mitchell. The article recounted the adventures of a kind of Indiana Jones in the Valley of the Kings. “Theology Professor Just Missed Tutankhamen,” the headline proclaimed.

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Indeed, William A. Shelton, one of the first faculty members in Emory’s Candler School of Theology, had gone in 1920 to what was then called the Near East at the invitation of James H. Breasted, the founding director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Breasted was among the preeminent archaeologists of his day, and Shelton was one of his former students. Shelton in fact was the only scholar not from the University of Chicago on the trip.

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William Shelton stands in the middle; expedition leader James Henry Breasted is wearing a hat at left.

 

Newly liberated from the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the region was open to Western scholars for the first time in centuries, and with relatively few restrictions on recovering and exporting antiquities at the time, Breasted’s team could send home crates of materials. And they did.

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“William Shelton came to Egypt, riding on a donkey.”

The treasures Shelton discovered included a lipstick holder that had belonged to the grandmother of King Tut’s wife. But while Shelton stood in the tomb of Ramesses III, directly over Tut’s as-yet-undiscovered tomb in 1920, he never dreamed of what lay beneath his feet. Imagine what that collection would have done for the Emory Museum and the endowment of the University.

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Prof. Shelton sent home this obelisk of Shalmaneser III, king of the Assyrians.

Still, Shelton found something almost as valuable—a seed. That seed was the materials he shipped back to Atlanta for planting on the Quadrangle. The bill of lading for his shipment lists some 250 artifacts, from Egyptian mummies and coffins to Babylonian stamps and Palestinian potsherds—all purchased with the financial help of an Atlanta cotton merchant named James Manget.

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The statue of Ramesses II acquired by William Shelton in 1920.

Besides gathering all these materials, Shelton helped shape a vision for the role of the museum in the university. As he put it in an interview in 1926, “One of the greatest features of contact with the outside world that any university can have is a fine museum. . . My notion for the museum I want to have is that it should be started with a $100,000 fund for purchases, and an endowment of $1,000,000” to support further archeological expeditions.

Let me just note that the million-dollar endowment that Shelton desired would today be worth about $14 million. Sadly, it would take until 2002 for the museum endowment to reach $1 million.

Next post: The museum acquires a director in one of the more colorful characters to grace the Emory campus.

Gary S. Hauk

The Deer and the Pharaoh: The Emory Museum Celebrates a Hundred Years

In 1919, the trustees of Emory College were preparing to move their small but thriving school from its cradle in Oxford, Georgia, to the booming, bustling city of Atlanta, where the college would become the school of liberal arts in Emory University, newly chartered in 1915 and beginning life in the suburb of Druid Hills. The leaders in this enterprise were the brothers Asa Candler, chair of the board, and Warren Candler, the chancellor. Older brother Asa was the Coca-Cola magnate who had put up a million dollars and seventy-five acres to jump-start the new university. Warren was an Emory alumnus and former president of the college, now a leading bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Both men were resolute in their high ambitions for their university.

That year, 1919, would bring the move of not only Emory College but also the collection of odds and ends that the college called a museum. Perhaps seeking to preserve the eclectic collection from an uncertain fate while the university was still taking shape, Chancellor Candler had asked the trustees formally to establish the Emory University Museum. Its aim, he said, would be to display what he called the “ethnic, biological, geological, archaeological, and historical” artifacts of human culture. A hundred years later, here we are.

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I think of the museum’s biography as having seven chapters, like the days of creation, although day seven in this case is hardly a day of rest. These seven chapters include one about ancestry, as many life stories do. A biography of Winston Churchill must say something about his socially prominent parents, just as a biography of Lincoln must climb up out of the unpromising bleakness of his early years. So it is with the museum at Emory, whose origins echo the modest circumstances of Lincoln’s youth and some of the grandeur of Churchill’s maturity. So first some notes on the museum’s antecedents.

The first history of Emory University was published in 1936, on the centennial of Emory College. The author, Henry Morton Bullock, dates the earliest stirrings toward a museum to 1839. In that year, the College purchased from a Dr. I. J. Cohen “a mineral cabinet containing a collection of 500 gems.” By the opening volleys of the Civil War, in 1861, that collection had grown to number 20,500 rocks of various shapes, sizes, and types.

This rock collection may seem to be the Neanderthal ancestor of the sleek and cerebral homo sapiens that is the current museum. In fact, that’s true. But in at least one important way, this mineral collection resonated with the later mission of the Emory museum. For the purpose of the mineral collection was not simply for people to view a lot of pretty things; it was a tool for teaching. Today’s professors of art history, classics, religion, Middle Eastern studies, and other departments who send their students to the museum would understand the desire of their forebears to have their students see the actual artifacts in their three-dimensional reality, which is more instructive than a classroom description.

The Civil War, unfortunately, wrought havoc on the Oxford campus, as Emory College closed for the duration. When the college reopened in January 1866, the mineral collection and other valuables had vanished. It took President Atticus Haygood to sow new seeds for a museum. In 1876, he commissioned John Fletcher Bonnell, professor of natural science, to communicate with “scientific gentlemen in all parts of the country with the view of exchanging mineral species and thus increasing our own.”

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Emory College faculty, 1877; Haygood seated third from left; Bonnell standing on right.

For historian Bullock, this mineral collection marks the beginning of the Emory museum, which would live in various places on the Oxford campus for the next forty years.

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The “mineralogical museum,” as it was called, probably located in what was then Science Hall, now Humanities Hall, on the Oxford campus of Emory. Photo from 1893 Zodiac yearbook of Emory College, from the collections of the Stuart A. Rose Library, Emory University.

The museum at Oxford gained new direction when a Methodist missionary named William Pattillo Turner, Emory College class of 1889, sent from Japan a trunk full of “Japanese costumes, trinkets, and antiques.” These became the nucleus of an Asian collection that would come to include Thai pottery, a Korean wine pot, a brick from the Great Wall of China, Japanese samurai armor, and—perhaps foreshadowing in some karmic way the future commitment of Emory to Tibetan Buddhist studies—a Tibetan prayer wheel. Significantly, the museum that had begun as a kind of natural sciences center now had a mission to exhibit the varieties of human experience.

A related area came into focus in 1911, when Bishop Warren Candler purchased a collection of Wesleyana from an Englishman named Robert Thursfield-Smith. The trove included some of the first Methodist hymnals, correspondence of the Wesley family, and odd personal items of early Methodist leaders, like Bishop Francis Asbury’s razor.

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The Wesleyana artifacts collection is housed in Pitts Theology Library of Emory’s Candler School of Theology. Papers of John and Charles Wesley and other prominent early Methodists are housed in the Stuart A. Rose Library.

In that same year, 1911, a flock of birds alighted at the museum, as the Reverend William H. LaPrade gave his alma mater a collection of stuffed Georgia birds, which were multiplied five years later when a Mrs. Robert Windsor Smith donated her late husband’s collection of four hundred specimens.

By the end of its first chapter of existence, then, the Emory museum had collected an assortment of objects that made the word “museum” a term of aspiration as much as a description. It was an omnium gatherum, a gathering of many things, all intended to help Emory students see firsthand the wonders of nature and the curiosities of human culture that they learned about in their classes. It would require the courage and imagination of a professor of the Hebrew Bible for the museum to take its first step toward eminence.

In chapter 2, the museum moves to Atlanta and becomes mummified.

Gary S. Hauk

Sources:

Michael C. Carlos Museum Records. Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

Archival collection. Office of the Registrar and Collections Manager. Michael C. Carlos Museum.

 

 

Remembering a hero nurse from World War I

In a fifteenth-century building in a quaint French town along the Loire River, about a hundred miles south of Paris, a young American woman gave up her life a century ago for the sake of men who had risked their own lives in the “war to end wars.” Her name was Camille Louise O’Brien, and for nearly a hundred years — until this month — she had lain in an unmarked grave in southwest Atlanta.

The granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, Camille O’Brien grew up near Madison, Georgia, but moved with her father and twelve siblings to Atlanta after her mother’s death. In time, she enrolled in a nurses training program at Crawford Long Hospital (now Emory Hospital Midtown), and then completed her training at St. Joseph’s Infirmary (now St. Joseph’s Hospital, part of the Emory Healthcare system).

When the United States entered World War I, Emory physicians and nurses responded to the call for volunteers to establish a base hospital. Inducted in early 1918 and trained at Fort Gordon, outside Atlanta, the unit arrived in Blois, France, in July and set up Base Hospital 43. There, until the end of January, the physicians and nurses treated every kind of wound, injury, and disease among the soldiers who came to their makeshift wards—more than nine thousand cases in seven months. Nurse O’Brien, admonished for overworking to the point of making herself ill, remarked, “I cannot rest while men are being brought in faster than their wounds can be dressed.”

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Part of the École Supérieure in Blois that dates from the 15th century, converted in 1914 to use as a hospital, where Camille O’Brien served with 27 other nurses.

At the end of January 1919, with the armistice three months old and demobilization underway, the Emory Unit decamped for home but left behind a few volunteers to tend to the soldiers who were still recovering. Nurse O’Brien was one of those volunteers. Two months later, as the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 swept through Blois for a second time, she became ill. Back in Georgia her former comrades were saying their goodbyes to each other at Camp Gordon and heading home to their families and friends. In Blois, Nurse O’Brien’s health continued to deteriorate, and on April 18, 1919, she died of spinal meningitis.

She was laid to rest in Blois with full military honors, in line with soldiers who had succumbed to their wounds.

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A row of American soldiers’ graves near where Camille O’Brien was buried in Blois.

Two years later, her body was exhumed and sent back home, where it once again was laid to rest, this time in historic Greenwood Cemetery. The VFW, the Red Cross, and other organizations paid tribute to the hero nurse. But no one thought to mark the grave. Or perhaps the family could not afford a stone. In any case, while the location was noted in cemetery records, there Nurse O’Brien lay, with only a patch of earth above her, until the hundredth anniversary of her death.

Members of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission became interested in Nurse O’Brien’s story and determined to mark her grave at last. Along the way, they learned that a memorial plaque had been created and installed at the Emory University Hospital in September 1919. Last May I received a series of emails asking me if I knew of this plaque. Indeed I did not, but along with archivists, Campus Services staff, and many others I began to search. Months went by with no luck.

Then, amazingly, my colleague Sally Wolff King, the official historian of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, happened to be walking past a bank of elevators on the basement floor of the hospital and looked up to see — the plaque to Camille O’Brien. Sally told me about the location, and I passed along the word to the commission, and before long the plaque had been removed, refurbished, and made ready for a display that will help to perpetuate the memory of this hero nurse.

On April 18, 2019, representatives of Emory,  the Red Cross, the VFW, the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission, Georgia Humanities, and Camille O’Brien’s family gathered to remember her and to mark her grave at last. The quiet, windswept hilltop with a view of the Atlanta skyline in the distance suggested that peace at last had come to Camille O’Brien.

For more information about the Emory Unit, see History of the Emory Unit, Base Hospital 43, U.S. Army American Expeditionary Forces, available at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

Gary Hauk

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Poster on display at the April 18. 2019, memorial service, with news articles from 1919.
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The newly installed marker over Camille O’Brien’s grave.
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Plaque retrieved from Emory Hospital and refurbished, on display during memorial service.