Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spirit (and hijinks) of holidays past

Front page of the campus paper, The View, December 17, 1946.

AS THE CHALON CAMPUS closes for the holidays, I thought we'd wish everyone a Merry Christmas and farewell to 2011 with a look back at The View, the campus newspaper that published its first edition in April, 1945.

First, some verse from the first Christmas edition, the winner of the 1945 Christmas Poem Contest (Vol. I, No. 8, December 13, 1945, p. 3):
Soliliquy [sic] of the Ox
The king of beasts strides in the tall brown grass,
And sees the stealthy, slithering cobra pass;
The sheepdog on the hillside in the night
Watches the browsing flocks all fleecy white.
Many creatures of the Lord, I know,
Have features finer than I can show,
But with no other would I change my place
For I have seen the Christ-Child, face to face.
--Marjorie O'Hanlon '49
The picture above is the front page of second Christmas edition of The View, Vol. II, No. 9, December 17, 1946. Even then the Mount was proud of its diversity, publishing a roundup of short articles by its international students about Christmas traditions in their home countries -- Mexico, Japan, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador. The illustration is by student Barbara Lichtenberg '47.

And lest we think The View was all piety and poetry, there's an article in the 1945 Christmas edition about four Mount reporters chasing down the local movie stars. "View Attempts to Visit Van" describes their mad rush to follow Van Johnson in his blue sports car to the home of fellow star Keenan Wynn on nearby Saltair Avenue, where the two actors were rehearsing a Christmas program for the U.S. Navy. They tried and failed to talk their way past Wynn's maid, but, nothing daunted, they decided instead to stalk handsome Peter Lawford the following weekend.

Hijinks at the holidays! A blessed Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody -- see you here in 2012.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas, 1940

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE 1,000-word pictures, and I will only expend a few. It's the eve of Christmas vacation in 1940 and students are enjoying the annual banquet in their formal gowns. The school is still very small. The table (in what is now the Faculty & Staff Dining Room) seats not only the entire Class of 1941 but all the resident students as well. In accord with 10 years of Mount tradition, dinner will be served by the faculty.

It merits a little reflection, this picture. Six months later, many of these young women will be graduated into a world still struggling with the Great Depression. A year later, Pearl Harbor has just been attacked, and the United States is entering World War II. The women in this picture from the classes of 1942, '43, and '44 will come to know the Mount in wartime, with rationing stamps, blackouts, and blood drives; their brothers, fathers, boyfriends and fiancés gone to fight (and even die) in Europe and the Pacific.

Most members of the Mount community have encountered this picture already. A print hangs in the Faculty & Staff Dining Room, and it has been reproduced a number of times in brochures and whatnot. But take a look at it again, and try to see it as a moment in history, a reflection on what was to come. And remember, too, those among us whose loved ones are separated this season by conflict and war.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Finals Week

THE CRANIAL VAPOR PRESSURE is hitting the danger zone... Heads are exploding... It must be Finals Week.

While the students crowding the Porch cram for dear life, I thought I'd post a memento from Finals Week in December 1929, a little grade slip that shows one Mary O'Connor cruising to a C in Liturgy. Was she disappointed? Relieved?

I'm inclined to go with relieved. Miss O'Connor was actually a member of the charter class of the Mount and thus received her B.A. along with her 9 classmates in June, 1929. Why was she taking a class the following fall? The report card doesn't indicate the number of credits, so I'm wondering whether she wasn't a couple credits shy of her degree and took a class in the fall to make up.

Liturgy was one of the 1-credit classes under the heading Divine Worship offered by the Philosophy Department. If ever a class triggered a case of senioritis, I bet that would be it.

The instructor, Sister Agnes Bernard, might be considered the Mount's first archivist. In addition to serving as professor and Trustee, she also kept the College scrapbooks. They're in the archives, very fragile but more or less intact, and they're treasures of minutia -- just like Miss O'Connor's grade slip.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Whom to believe

THE NEWLY UNEARTHED trove of historic miscellany includes a carbon of a 9-page, double-spaced typewritten document titled simply, "Mount St. Mary's College."

In pencil at the top are three notes:
  • 1954?
  • Sr. Dolorosa Mannix
  • Contains many inaccuracies
It's a short history of the first few years of the College, 1925-1931, from the first idea to moving into the Chalon Campus, and it was written by someone who was here throughout -- Mother Dolorosa Mannix, CSJ, a founding faculty member who served as president and provincial from 1937 to 1943.

Some of the "inaccuracies" seem to be corrected in additional pencil by the same hand, although I counted only a few and they're quite minor -- misspellings, an added date, an amended roster.

I wonder who edited Mother Dolorosa -- was it Sister Germaine McNeil, one of my predecessors in the Archives and author of the "official" history of the College? Sister Germaine's book, Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, 1925-1975, has also been described to me as "full of inaccuracies." And yet she relied heavily on Mother Dolorosa's journals from the early years (and both sisters taught in the same department, Classics). Did another Mount founder take exception to written history?

This should give all bloggers pause. I rely heavily on Sister Germaine. Like Mother Dolorosa, she's the authoritative source.

Let me close with my sincere apologies in advance for any inaccuracies I may be introducing in my poor attempts to recreate a little Mount history. I can well imagine the comments: "Oh, that blog. It contained many inaccuracies."


SISTER IGNATIA CORDIS, CSJ, served as chairman of the Art Department for more than three decades, from the founding of the Mount in 1925 until 1961. She passed away in 1986 at the age of 100.

A few of Sister Ignatia's works grace the college walls, including a watercolor hanging in Hannon Parlor that depicts the ruins of Rossiter Hall after the Bel Air Fire. Many of her works, sad to say, were lost in that same fire, which destroyed her rooms in Rossiter as well as the studios in the Marian Hall of Fine Arts.

The image above is "The Annunciation," an oil painting done in 1946 and probably Sister's best-known and most unusual work. Her surviving works are all landscapes, but this modernistic treatment of a classic theme is unique. The original is hanging in the Chalon office of President Ann McElaney-Johnson and makes a nice welcome to the Advent season.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Uniforms aloft!

FOUND SOME OLD BINDERS in the back of a drawer -- about which more in a minute -- and among the contents of #2 were a couple of clippings from the Los Angeles Times and Santa Monica Evening Outlook. There are no dates to be seen, but it was easy enough to figure out that it's shortly before graduation in 1954.

The Times photo shows four ASB officers, left, hoisting their discarded uniform skirts up the flagpole in the center of the Circle. The Outlook picture, taken from further away, shows more skirts pinned to a "halyard" running the length of the flagpole. A big crowd is gathered around. The captions explain that the College was observing the annual "hoisting" of the skirts to celebrate the seniors' freedom from their navy-blue uniforms.

Uniforms, part of life at the Mount from the beginning, finally went away in the mid-1950s, not long after these photos would have been taken.
It's always fun to discover a long-lost tradition (did they want "hoisting the skirts" to sound a little naughty?) that I can pass along to Betty Jiminez for next year's "Did You Know?" posters for Homecoming.

These binders are fascinating. They're a mishmash of documents spanning five decades starting in the 1930s. There's everything from handwritten notes to old mimeographed questionnaires. They document some pretty significant histories, though, like a rundown of college costs in the 1930s to a typed draft seeking permanent accreditation for the secondary teaching credential in 1946. There are handwritten highlights of 1953 or 1954, as if for a speech or report.

Some of the papers may have originated with a Sister pretty high up in administration, because there is CSJ memorabilia in #3. They accumulated in folders and at some point, probably about 1975, they ended up in the binders, where they've lain forgotten for almost another 40 years. It's my turn to take the next step -- acid-free folders and Mylar sleeves -- and hope to give them another 40.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is that Mary Chapel?

LOOKING FOR BEL AIR FIRE IMAGES to add to our online photo archive, I came across a photocopy of a remarkable newspaper article describing a painting. In the fuzzy photo is Mary Chapel in flames.

The clipping, headlined "Bel Air Flames Again in Massive 'Firescape,'" with the "kicker" headline, "Chief Relives Battle." It describes a massive, 16-foot painting providing an eyewitness remembrance of the firefight at the Mount.

The photocopy and this scan are poor quality, but there's no mistaking the contours of the chapel and the steps leading to the arched door. A silhouetted figure aims a thin stream of water into the raging flames. In the foreground a firefighter renders aid to one of his teammates stretched out on the pavement.

I've read numerous accounts of the disaster, but never one that mentions Mary Chapel fully engulfed. Apparently the fire did start burning through the big wooden front doors and may have melted some of the leading in the stained glass before it was stopped. But unlike Rossiter Hall and the fine arts building, the chapel was saved.

The archives photocopy identifies neither the newspaper nor the date, unfortunately. Publication was definitely some years after the 1961 fire, because it mentions that the painter, Charles W. Bahme, took two years to finish the work, and that he had retired in 1967. Perhaps it was 1971, on the 10th anniversary .

Bahme wasn't just any eyewitness. He was deputy chief of the LAFD and the field commander for the fire. He was at the Mount on November 6, 1961, as cinders ignited buildings on all sides of the College, as the wind was gusting close to 100 miles an hour, and as the water supply started to fail.

The huge painting is a composite of his recollections of the entire disaster, which blazed through Bel Air and Brentwood for three days and at one point had a 154-mile fireline. "I tried to condense into this [work] the whole scope of the fire," Bahme said, adding that doing it was a way to "get it out of my system." The battle to save the Mount is clearly front and center in his memories.

Maddeningly, the clipping is cut off in the middle of his description of saving a college building that had caught fire. Ack! Which one? And then what happened?

Another day, another set of archival mysteries. The article is an great find, but not as great as the questions it raises: Where's the rest of it? Where was it published? Most of all, what became of that 16-foot painting? Will we ever find out?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bible binding

NINETEENTH-CENTURY BIBLES are neither rare nor worth a fortune, but some of them are certainly beautiful. This is a close-up of the restored cover of our 1884 Douai Bible that was wrecked in the rain leak and brought back to life by Kater-Crafts, the bindery in Pico Rivera. My colleague Samantha Silver took care of entering it in the college online catalogue.

The tooled-leather covers look almost new. This detail shows the Eye of God and the Christogram "IHS" (traditionally standing for Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Savior of Men). Both of the book's metal clasps are intact, and have proved really helpful in compressing the cockled text block back to its original size.

Deciding whether books warrant the cost of repair is as much art as it is science. This one looked so horrible that I considered writing it off as a total loss. But then I happened to visit the St. Bernardine of Siena Library at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai (ironically, to look at their mold outbreak), and noticed that a similar Bible was treated to museum display in the vestibule.

This repair job was worth the expense. It's a beautiful exemplar of Bible publishing of the era, it's good to last another couple hundred years at least, and it's part of the legacy of the college. It may be time for a display here in our own library.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Friends in high places

YESTERDAY BEING ALL SAINTS, I found myself wondering how many books on saints we hold in the two Mount libraries. The answer: Lots.

I did a quick search in the libraries' online catalog and found 233 titles under the subject "Christian Saints." Of those, only 15 are for children ("Juvenile Literature"), which leaves 318 college-level volumes on some of Christianity's all-time greats.

Of these, about half are straight biography. These aren't all pious, 19th Century hagiographies, either. There's a 2007 book on the contemporary saints and martyrs of Africa and a 2005 biography of St. Mary Magdalene.

You can do your reading in your choice of languages -- Therese of Lisieux in French, Teresa of Avila in Spanish, and if you read German in gothic print, there's Alban Stolz's three-volume Legende, a calendar of saints' days printed between 1859 and 1861.

For pure joy, you can't go wrong with Francis: the Poor Man of Assisi by children's illustrator and author Tomie dePaola (above). His appealing illustration style lends itself beautifully to the story and mysticism of the great saint, and our copy in Special Collections is signed by dePaola to his "friends at the Mount with love," 1982.

I thought I'd find a CSJ saint in there somewhere, but no -- there aren't any. It's not that the Sisters of St. Joseph have lacked candidates among the generations of heroic women. It's just that the Order has always been way too busy to go to the trouble of a cause for sainthood. For living saints, there is always more important work to be done.

POSTSCRIPT: Campus Ministry held a "Vote for Your Favorite Saint" event after the All Saints mass yesterday and the results are in. Claiming first place: St. Francis of Assisi.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Our Sr. Eloise Therese

ALPHA MU GAMMA, the national college foreign-language honor society, is holding its annual convention over the next couple of days and marking its 80th anniversary. Unbeknownst to us at the Mount, the group is also honoring the founder of National Foreign Language Week, the Mount's Sister Eloise Therese Mescall, CSJ. There was an unusual instance of archives-on-deadline as I pulled together a batch of photos to send to convention organizers at L.A. City College.

Sister Eloise Therese, who joined the Mount faculty in 1948, chaired the Foreign Languages department off and on for more than a quarter century. In the "off" years she was traveling and studying in the French- and Spanish-speaking worlds, receiving a pile of honorary degrees and even a medal from the French government. Back at the Mount, she worked in the classroom and as an administrator, launching the study abroad program in the 1950s and directing the opening of the Downtown (Doheny) Campus in 1962.

She was president of Alpha Mu Gamma (headquartered at Los Angeles City College, where it remains) when she got the idea to start National Foreign Language Week. With the encouragement of educators, legislators, and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alpha Mu Gamma launched the festivities in February, 1957. In the photo above, Sister is pointing to the inaugural poster, and given the expression on both their faces, she has probably told her hapless student to give an impromptu endorsement in French.

It's funny that this tidbit about Sister Eloise Therese had to come from Alpha Mu Gamma. An extensive obituary for Sister after her death in May 2001 ran in The Mount magazine. It enumerates many of Sister's accomplishments and suggests many more besides, but overlooks her National Foreign Language Week role.

The next NFLW runs March 5-11, 2012, at L.A. City College. The theme, which Sister would have appreciated, is "You're connected... Now communicate!" That's exactly what she was all about.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Images of the Bel Air Fire

Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux on the eastern
edge of the Chalon Campus sustained damage.
THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE EPIC DISASTER is coming up on November 6. Using the Mount's new image repository software SimpleDL, I've created a gallery of photographs from the Mount Archives. Here's the link.

Running through the end of the year, there is also an exhibit of Archives artifacts from the collection, including photographs, news coverage and the 1962 yearbook.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

So, so close

IT'S WELL KNOWN THAT THE BEL AIR FIRE of Nov. 6, 1961, came very, very close to the Mount. What may not be quite as well known is how close -- and how close the College came to being lost.

In fact, the 6 o'clock news that night had Mount St. Mary's College burned to the ground. When they were finally evacuated around noon on that terrifying Monday, resident students were told that the firefighters had given up the College for lost. They gathered that evening in their homes or with friends and listened to the reports, tears streaming down their cheeks.

A dramatic nighttime photo transmitted by United Press International showed the blazing ruins of the Marian Hall of Fine Arts on the west. Rossiter Hall, on the east, had already burned. Surrounded by fire in the smoky, lightless night on the Mount, it was easy to conclude there was nothing left.

Two of the CSJs, away at Notre Dame University working on their doctorates, endured two days of agony, fearing the worst. Local newspapers and national television reported the College's loss but didn't get the name right. Then one of the Sisters got a phone call. Most of the campus had been spared. The letter Sister Mary Brigid Fitzpatrick wrote to Sister Rebecca Doan, telling her of the prayers of the community in South Bend, is in the College Archives, dated Nov. 8, 1961.

We have scores of photos, mostly snapshots, from the days after the fire, but only two or three from the day of the fire. The College community had evacuated by early afternoon, so there were no students or faculty to take pictures at the peak of the disaster. However, I did come across the photo above, taken by person unknown in the late afternoon. The smoke towering just behind Brady Hall tells the story of how close the flames really were.

There are many riveting stories in the jumble of records in the Archives; the Bel Air Fire artifacts are listed in four separate locations in the files. Pulling them all together is a fascinating but sobering process, especially when you see that nice, lush, 50-year-old chaparral just over there in the next canyon. The word miracle was used more than once in 1961, and now, seeing these pictures for the first time, I understand why.

Some of the photographs and other artifacts relating to the Bel Air Fire are on display in the Reading Room of the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library at Chalon, with additional items in the College Archives. The exhibit will run through December.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Help on high

A TRIO OF MARCHING LADDERS greeted me this morning. Gregorio Garcia and Felix Miguel are wrapping up work on a system of catch pans, pipes and drains that will, I am assured, keep the leaks away from Special Collections.

This is such good news I celebrated with an extra cup of coffee. There are at least four sources of H2O above me - bathrooms, rain gutters, air ducts and HVAC pipes - and all four have dripped, dribbled or poured down water in the past three years.

Meanwhile, there are a couple dozen newly rebound or repaired books ready for reshelving. Having spent thousands of dollars on them, I've hesitated to put them back. Gregorio tells me I don't have to worry. Well, let's say I don't have to worry as much. This is still the low point of a four-story building!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Postscript: the Vujovich family

MARY IRENE'S SON, JEFF OHLFS, helped me out by writing a short bio of his mother for the collection finding aid. His notes connect a couple dots in Mount history.

According to legend, the Sisters enlisted a friend to help them look for a permanent site for the College in 1928. The friend is never named in the written or oral histories, and the story of Mother Margaret Mary Brady slogging up the steep chaparral in full habit sounds a bit embellished. But Jeff's narrative identifies this friend as Michael Vujovich, Mary Irene's father.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Mr. Vujovich was a rancher in Ventura County, and would have known a thing or two about California real estate. The CSJs would have needed a smart guide if they were going to get involved in land deals with oilmen.

In archives, it's always gratifying to put a name with an event, to find a real person taking part in real history. Somehow the old story seems less myth and more genuine. There is also the remarkable continuity of one family, the Vujovich-Ohlfs clan, staying involved with this college for more than 80 years.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Scrapbooks and Facebook

THE COLLEGE ARCHIVES ACQUIRED (the official term is accessioned) four scrapbooks today from the estate of Mary Irene Vujovich Ohlfs '46. Mary Irene, who passed away a decade ago, was a dedicated picture-taker and scrapbooker, and her son, Jeff, has been gradually handing off her Mount mementos.

The daughter of a Ventura County rancher, Mary Irene faithfully documented 50 years of the Chicks of '46, photographing every reunion, captioning the photos and including invitations and programs from each event. (She's on the right in this photo, with classmate Helen Crane.)

Scrapbook No. 1 of today's acquisition also has an unexpected trove of photos of Mary Irene as a Mount student in 1942 or -43, posing and clowning with her sorority sisters in Tau Alpha Zeta (TAZ).

Having seen innumerable pictures of my daughter and her CSUN sorority friends on Facebook, I'm struck by how some things don't change. Mary Irene was certainly the social networker of her day, in the media of handwritten notes, mimeographed invitations and a Kodak Instamatic. She would have loved Facebook.

But you have to wonder what will become of the Class of 2012's digital "scrapbooks" on their Facebook pages. For example, the Mount's oldest sorority, Kappa Delta Chi (est. 1929), has a Facebook page with lots of photos not unlike Mary Irene's (although I'm sure the TAZ and KDX girls wouldn't be caught dead in each other's fashions).

In the archives there is stuff about KDX going back 86 years -- even further back than the Chicks of '46. Where are the Mary Irenes of the Class of 2012, and how do you keep a Facebook page anyway? The Library of Congress is wondering the same thing...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11

HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED the way history has of creating time warps?

While looking for some background on an alumna this afternoon, I stumbled on a copy of The Mount for Fall/Winter 2001. On the magazine cover was a small group of people holding candles. The headline said, "Prayers for Peace: The Mount Responds to the Events of Sept. 11."

I'm having as much trouble as the next person (over the age of 25, anyway) grasping that 9/11 happened 10 years ago. It seemed even harder to believe when I looked at the photograph and noticed Laura Gomez, assistant Campus Ministry director, among the group photographed in Mercy Chapel ten years ago this week. (Back row, center.)

At noon today, I attended the short prayer service in the Circle remembering the victims of 9/11. One of the leaders was none other than Laura Gomez. It was a convergence, a flash-forward that seemed to make the last decade disappear.

Like many archivists I tend to focus on the old stuff. The 2000s don't seem like history yet. But they are. Archives are able to enshrine events in a way that brings them to life in a rush, as a 10-year-old copy of a magazine will attest.

The Mount Archives has a complete run of The Mount magazine from 1982-present.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guides to the Mount Archives

IT'S A MILESTONE OF SORTS. I've uploaded to the MSMC intranet site all the more-or-less finished "finding aids" to various collections in the Mount Archives.

There are 23 in all, the latest addition being the accreditation documents for the Physical Therapy Assistant program, 1978-2002. They're a fraction of what we've got in the files here, but they provide some basic description of what's in these filing cabinets and shelves.

There's an inventory of the papers of the college's legendary president Sr. Magdalen Coughlin (1976-1989), lists of obsolete media, guides to Beverly Carrigan's scrapbooks, along with the more prosaic -- like the PT accreditation.

If you're seeing this on the public internet, contact me if you're interested. Happy to send you an overall inventory.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sink or swim

BEVERLY HALPIN CARRIGAN '52, a regular Archives pen pal, did some reminiscing this week in an email about Freshman Orientation in the late 1940s when she came to the Mount.

There was no Welcome Week, Orientation or much else to get students into the campus groove. Orientation in 1948 consisted of being assigned to a Big Sister who showed you the ropes: answering questions, describing courses and teaching the finer points of Mount etiquette. The word crap was not to be used, Bev discovered. "My response was that my mom used it all the time," Bev remembers. "Needless to say I expunged it from my language."

Freshmen were required to study together in the Coe Library four nights a week "under those dreadful chandeliers," she recalls. (Evidently they cast as little light then as they do today.) The Associated Student Body and club representatives made presentations in the Little Theater (now the Hannon Theater) and you were on your own. "No, we 50 or so first-year students had to sink or swim!" Bev writes.

No problems for Bev Halpin -- from what we can see in her scrapbooks in the Archives (available for viewing), she took to college like like a duck to water. She won a scholarship to graduate school in social work, married a lawyer who is now a retired Colorado Supreme Court judge, and is very generous with her alma mater.

In 2005 Bev and her husband, Jim, created the Beverly Halpin Carrigan '52 Endowed Scholarship to promote study in social work or social science. Bev wanted to help other young women achieve what she did, to get them into the swim, so to speak, at MSMC.

Thanks for the email, Bev, and thanks for all you do for the Mount.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hello, Ladies (and Gentlemen)

ON THE THRESHOLD of the 2011-2012 academic year, Chalon is buzzing -- although you can't hear it. People are moving a lot faster, lingering projects are finally being wrapped up (like the new 24-hour study room), the desks that got cleaned out in July (and the contents sent to the Archives) are filled with new staples and pens, and Office Depot is delivering printer paper practically by the forklift. Time to get going!

For the freshmen who might see this, here is a photo of your academic ancestors, the Class of 1929, the ones who started the school you're now attending. Things were different when they started college...
  • The student body numbered 25, and it would be decades before a male student was accepted.
  • There was just one degree -- bachelor's -- and a handful of majors.
  • The faculty, staff and administration were almost all nuns, and they wore habits.
  • Nuns did the cooking and housekeeping, served the sit-down meals and did the resident students' laundry.
  • Almost everybody was Catholic. Students went to Mass (in Latin) every morning wearing academic garb over their uniforms.
  • Los Angeles was a small town (pop. 650,000), and MSMC's first Westside location was thought to be practically in the boondocks.
  • Almost no one had a car, although some dreamed of having their own airplanes.
Welcome to the Mount, ladies and gentlemen. Remember that, like these young women in the picture, you'll get out of the College whatever you decide to put into it. I hope you'll make some history of your own. And aren't you glad you don't have to wear a uniform?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Exploring the Casa

I got a look yesterday at "the Casa," the ground floor of Carondelet Hall that houses the Mount's male nursing students. I'd read that it once functioned as a real "home" and had found these pictures taken in 1959 shortly after it was built.

Home Economics was a big major in the 1950s and 1960s. The Casa Marguerita, named for department founder Sister Marguerite Ellard, CSJ, was built into the new Carondelet Hall as a state-of-the-art laboratory. Teams of a half-dozen upper-division Home Ec majors would live as a family in the eight-room apartment for six weeks, responsible for putting theory into practice: household budgeting, meal planning, shopping, cooking, laundry and sewing. The Casa had (and still has) its own entrance and can't be accessed from the rest of the building, so it really had a set-apart quality that enhanced the lab experience.

These photos from The Mount 1960 show that the living room had a fireplace (at left in the upper picture) and was decorated with the sleek Danish Modern furniture popular at the time. A wall of glass sliders opened onto an ocean-view terrace and patio -- perfect for sunset soirées in keeping with the Brentwood Heights locale. Students cooked in an ultramodern "all-electric" kitchen with built-in appliances, just like the new subdivisions going up all over Southern California. Roomier-than-usual bedrooms (it was, after all, a dorm) and a vibrantly green-tiled bathroom completed the "home."

Times and culture change. Home Economics fell out of popularity as an academic major in the 1970s as women entered the job market and sought equality in the workplace. (It lives on in some places, including CSUN, as "Family and Consumer Sciences"). The fireplace and kitchen went away just a few years ago to create more sleeping space.

All that's left of the upscale ambience is the green tile and the million-dollar view from the west-facing rooms.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

O ke aloha nui Nou, e Maria

THAT'S HOW YOU SAY IT in Hawaiian. In Latin, Ave Maria; in English, Hail Mary.

One of the small treasures in the Mount Libraries' Special Collections is Lira Katolika, a rare 1935 edition of Catholic hymns translated into Hawaiian.

(The full title is Lira Katolika : he mau himeni ma ka olelo Hawaii no na la hoano o ka Ekalesia, no ka mesa, no ka korona, etc., published by Zech et Fils of Braine-le-Comte, Belgium).

It's not clear how the College ended up with it. It's in neither the online catalog nor old card files, and it lacks the usual donor information in pencil on the title page. However, a small typewritten note from the benefactor is pasted on an endpaper: "This book is rare. Only a few copies were made. I was fortunate to secure one for you. Aloha."

It must have been a pretty big deal when the Mount acquired it, because I came across a black-and-white publicity photo of the head librarian, Sister Catherine Anita Fitzgerald (left), looking it over with another Sister. There's no date on the photo, but Sister Catherine Anita ran the library from the late 1940s until 1971, so the picture could have been taken any time over a 20-year span. The photo might have appeared in The Tidings, The View, or even the Los Angeles Times.

The hymnal (in English, Catholic Lyre) is almost entirely in Hawaiian so it's hard to recognize any Catholic classics. An 1886 version was found among the papers of St. Damien of Molokai, who no doubt sang Hawaiian hymns with his many parishioners all over the Islands before his heroic mission among the lepers.

As far as I can tell, the only other library copy in the world is in the rare books at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus.
O ke aloha nui Nou, e Maria
Ka mea i piha' i I ke garatia.
Noho pu ka Haku me oe
A, i kona aloha mau, I waena ona wahine,
Ooe no ka pakeu.
If you're a member of the Mount's Hawaiian/Polynesian club, Na Pua O'Ka Aina, and want to practice your Hawaiian, stop by the archives!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Red Cars and bookstores

I have a dim childhood memory of riding the Red Car with my mother. We boarded in San Pedro, I in a frilly dress and she in hat and gloves, to go shopping Downtown at the big department stores on 7th Street. I'm guessing it was about 1956, not long before the opening of the Harbor Freeway.

There's a second dim memory from around the same time, of gliding up the new freeway in my dad's used Mercury, on our way to visit my grandmother in Hollywood. The Four-Level Interchange was so beautifully landscaped that I remember thinking it must have been some kind of temple.

The received wisdom in Los Angeles is that the Pacific Electric Railway and its Red Cars were a marvelous public transit system that would be here today, were it not for greedy automakers, oil barons, tire manufacturers and their tame politicians in the 1950s. Insidious blight in the form of cars, freeways and gas stations put an end to enlightened mass transit from which we're still suffering.

What brought all this to mind the other day was the closing of the big Borders in Sherman Oaks, just a few months after the demise of Barnes & Noble in my Valley neighborhood. Unbelievably, there are no longer any mainstream bookstores in mine or the nearby zip codes. Corporate mismanagement, greedy landowners and savvy technology companies get the blame this time for replacing real books with Kindles and Nooks and iPads.

People aren't being forced into newer, better, cooler ways to read books. They're doing it willingly, in big numbers, just the way people flocked to cars and freeways in the 1950s. For two generations, Mount students could hop a shuttle to Westwood and the nearest Red Car stop. But when you can drive, why would you put up with the discomfort and noise of the railway or inconvenience of a shuttle schedule? And who thought about pollution?

I love books. I'm surrounded by them in the Mount library. I also love my iPad. Say, weren't bookstores great? But I wonder... were free wireless and a coffee bar next door a such a hot idea? It seems the same as handing out coupons for free tires and gasoline to people boarding the Red Car.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Splendid solitude

AMID ALL THE NEWS COVERAGE of this weekend's "Carmageddon" shutdown of the 405 have been historic pictures of the Sepulveda Pass. This impossibly busy thoroughfare didn't get a paved road until the 1920s, so the photos are fun to look at. If you know where to look, you can see Mount St. Mary's College.

The small picture at right from 1961 (before the Bel Air Fire) was reproduced in the Los Angeles Times, and I've marked the College in yellow. It really shows what a visible landmark the College was in the 70 years before the Getty Center was built.

The picture at top is taken from the west in 1956 or -57. Alone on its hill, the College could see -- and be seen from -- much of Los Angeles. It's astonishing to see how bare the canyon was in those days before the 405 pushed through.

Our oldest alumnae still long for the days when you could see the Mount from Santa Monica, the only light source in the otherwise black mountain front. The shrine to Our Lady of the Mount on the western slope was lit up all night and served as a beacon to boats out on the Bay.

As the college grew, so did its nighttime signature. One night early in World War II, a panicky neighbor called the college to demand that the spotlights illuminating Mary Chapel be doused immediately lest the Japanese home in on them and bomb the Westside. The College complied.

A few people express quiet regret about the loss of the Mount's landmark prominence in the shadow of the Getty. One of the CSJs told me last year that the community had always been told that their 180-degree view from Carondelet Center was to be "preserved in perpetuity," and that the entire canyon was part of some kind of "trust" that would prevent construction. The sisters were as surprised as anyone when the Getty Trust proved otherwise.

The college is closing for Carmageddon (as is the Getty). It's hard enough to get here on a normal day! For one weekend, though, the Sepulveda Pass will revert to impassable and the Mount will enjoy a bit of its old solitude.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fire on the mountain

PAUL MARTIN'S comment about preserving archives from fire is timely. This November 6 we'll mark the 50th anniversary of the Bel Air Fire.

Nothing makes a statement about the devastation more than this sad snapshot of the shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux on the eastern edge of the Chalon Campus. The shrine was built in 1946 and dedicated on October 3 that year, the feast day of the beloved Carmelite saint known as the Little Flower.

She watched over the Circle for the next 15 years until that Monday of midterms week, when a spark from a construction site turned into a raging orange hell of wind and flame. After the fire did the unexpected and jumped the new 405 freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, the Mount was directly in its path.

The fire raced up the eastern canyon, turning a row of eucalyptus trees at the edge of campus into a wall of torches. Windborne cinders ignited the wooden eaves of Rossiter Hall and St. Therese's shrine as it headed south along the canyon wall.

Only Rossiter's walls were left standing. The fire mostly skipped St. Joseph Hall but renewed its fury on the Carondelets' House of Studies (now Carondelet Center), burning off portions of the pantiled roofs as it continued into the residential streets below. The fire also blew west, destroying the Mount Bowl, a beautiful outdoor amphitheater, and the Marian Hall of Fine Arts, which housed the music and art departments with all their instruments and equipment. At one point, the Chalon Campus was almost completely surrounded by fire. By all accounts, there was a lot of heroism in saving the campus.

Remarkably, the College was closed only one day, thanks to cleanup efforts by scores of students, faculty, staff and volunteers. St. Therese got a new shrine the following spring. Funds were raised, buildings rebuilt and one of the biggest disasters in California history faded into memory.

Could it happen again? Of course. In fact, the Bel Air Fire of 1961 was actually the second or third time the College was in imminent danger of destruction by brush fire, going right back to the beginning in the 1930s. The threat goes with being the last outpost before the chaparral begins. It goes with Chalon's spectacular location.

Yes, I worry about this room full of paper. I'm marking a little anniversary of my own this week. Two years ago, a brush crew from the Getty Center ignited the chaparral east of the campus. Returning from a trip to Doheny, I saw the fire as I drove up the hill. I raced up Bundy, hoping to get at least a few things out of the Archives before the campus was evacuated. But I was turned away at the gate.

Fortunately, it was a windless day, and fire crews were able to stop the flames at the ridgeline. The College Archives was safe.

But as 1961 showed us, it doesn't always work out that way. Archives preservation is a millennia-old story of almost complete loss, and all I have to do is smell a hint of smoke on the breeze to be reminded. St. Therese, pray for us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

More water from on high

WHAT WOULD THE ARCHIVIST DO without plastic? When I heard the steady drip, drip, drip on the ceiling tiles the other day, all I had to do was unfurl some of the plastic stashed in a convenient corner, the same stuff that covered the shelves and cabinets for three months earlier this year.

This is my fourth leak at the Mount since I started in 2008. The Coe Library has very special hydrophysics, in which all water from above ends up in this room.

This is not unexpected, but predictable doesn't mean it's not a serious problem. The public restroom next to the President's Conference Room two floors up has a toilet prone to overflowing. So prone, evidently, that few people bother to report it. It merrily gushes forth for an hour or so before the water reaches me.

I have hopes it'll be fixed -- mostly because there's a big electrical transformer between it and the Archives. If water can be stopped from reaching there, I'll be 'ome and dry, as the English say.

Then there's the temperature. I log the daily high and low along with relative humidity -- both crucial to not cooking the rare books too quickly. (The higher the temperature, the faster the chemical reaction.) Picture my surprise when I returned from vacation recently to see that in one week the local environment had soared to an unbelievable 126 degrees.

On the other end, 65 was much more like it. But that 6% humidity! Pity the poor leather bindings on these old fellows.

These problems are part of the quotidian challenges for archives. A little extreme, perhaps, but all in a day's work. However, the real problem is accepting material for the archives and knowing we may not be able to keep it safe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Deadlines and doorstops

GOT THIS PHOTO during a visit to the Drudis-Biada Gallery around finals week when the senior exhibits were being set up. It nicely sums up the atmosphere of crazy stress that was going on inside. We all have days like that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Women & Spirit

The opening this weekend of the Women & Spirit Exhibit at the College gave me an opportunity to gather some of our amazing historic photos of the religious faculty and students.

I created a small gallery here.

Hope you'll take a look.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Chalon Library

Dickens volumes in the Chalon stacks.
CHALON IN THE SUMMER is down to the few regulars, including the librarians and year-round staff. One of my favorite regulars is Paul Martin, who has been on the Porch near the College Archives doing some writing.

Paul has a wonderful blog, The Teacher's View, in which he ruminates on books, reading, literature, and the life of the mind. In the world of digital noise, he's virtually a throwback; his blog reminds me of my favorite senior honors seminars when I was a Lit. major in the last century.

I was delighted to find his post last month titled "Joy," about the very library I work in. Here's an excerpt that I hope will inspire others to read the whole:
The first floor is my destination. The stacks. Far side, a long narrow room of tables, shelves of art books, and windows with a view of the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away. This is where I belong, my home. Outside the window, a twisted pine stands sentinel. I am the monk at my wooden table dedicated to a life of study and reflection, staring out the window at the world. Here I can think, reconsider, revise. Here, there are no cell phones or computers. Here, paper and leather binding rule the world.
The photo is one I took in those same stacks. Thank you, Paul, for exactly capturing this wonderful place, and reminding me of why this job is such a gift. May I never take it for granted.

Speaking of monks, I'm off to St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo for a few days. Those Benedictines, the guys who saved civilization, know a thing or two about how paper and leather binding rule the world.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Found! The Brady Hall Chapel

BRADY HALL, BUILT IN 1930-31, was supposed to be the first of several College buildings constructed one after another in the early 1930s. Thanks to the Great Depression, it ended up the only building for quite awhile. From 1931 until Christmas Eve, 1939, Brady was everything to everybody, students and sisters alike, from dorms to dining hall, labs to library, classrooms to convent to chapel.

John Deeb of Chalon Facilities and I have spent a little time here and there looking around for the former chapel in Brady. The old blueprints showed a couple of small dorm rooms on the 2nd floor with the partition removed. A purple pebbled-glass window in the Student Lounge opposite the elevator was a hint that this was the place. Finally, a passing mention in an old article confirmed it. The room, it said, was too small for pews so they used a dozen or so padded kneelers. The altar was made of painted white wood, and overflow attendance left people out in the hallway on folding chairs. Everybody turned out for the daily 7 a.m. Mass in those days.

We even know about the tiny Stations of the Cross, because they were later photographed and enlarged, hand-tinted and placed in Mary Chapel, where they remain to this day. But what did the Brady Hall chapel actually look like?

I stumbled today on two tiny snapshots. I've posted them here. The handwriting on the back says that they were taken the day before the very last liturgy celebrated in the little temporary chapel. That must have been a few days before Christmas Eve in 1939, which is considered the inaugural Mass of the new Mary Chapel. (It was formally dedicated by Bishop Cantwell on the Feast of the Ascension in May, 1940.)

I'm sure that both students and faculty had mixed emotions about the move. They were undoubtedly delighted with the beautiful new Mary Chapel, but the memories of crowding the entire Mount family into a tiny space for worship must have lingered for a long time. If you've ever wondered why Mary Chapel has such small Stations of the Cross in such a soaring space, that's why -- a little memento went with the community to the new church.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How bad was that mold?

Going through my photos for yesterday's post, I came across this one -- clearly the most disgusting book of all. Seldom in book mold do we get to see such rich texture, such vibrant hues. The pic doesn't really do justice to the black stuff, which looked like silk velvet and was probably an eighth of an inch thick. The white mold was more lacy while the greenish variety looked like old-fashioned penicillin. By the way, the Mount brought in experts to test it, and it was declared safe and nontoxic... which was good, considering how much of it we were dealing with (eventually, after this picture was taken, with rubber gloves).

Monday, June 6, 2011


NEARLY SIX MONTHS AFTER THE FLOOD in December, the formerly wet, disgustingly moldy books are trickling back into Special Collections from the book hospital -- Kater-Crafts Bookbinders of Pico Rivera.

First among the patients was St. Augustine of Hippo, whose Opera Omnia in eight big tomes took a direct hit when the ceiling collapsed in a rush of rainwater. The 17th Century paper rapidly developed mold (middle photos) and the bindings -- already pretty wrecked -- started to crumble. In the opinion of my friend Kristen St. John at UCLA, there was nothing to be gained by trying to keep the old bindings, which anyway weren't original. After their page by page vacuum job, I drove the books over to Kater-Crafts and waited for the results.

The fine binders at K-C matched the original raised-band spine and labeling, right down to the gold-leaf dingbats in red and black (top photo). To save on costs, the binding is partly synthetic

They're beautiful. Are they too beautiful? This is one of the knotty questions in library preservation. Should old books "look old"? If the old bindings aren't artifacts unto themselves -- and St. Augustine's weren't -- should they be kept, even if they're falling apart?

It's a matter of taste and policy. We're a library, not a museum, and the books are here to be used and looked at. But like the critics who disapproved of the Sistine Chapel restoration, some people think a bright and shiny new binding on an antique book is jarring.

The way I see it, one goal here is to ensure that the books are around for another 350 years. They were already rebound a couple of times, according to Kristen, so one more round isn't going to hurt. Neither does it mean binding them in standard library buckram, as someone suggested, and if you want to see some heartbreaking rebindings I've got plenty of buckram to show you.

In fact, I like the way the new bindings juxtapose with the old, water-stained pages (bottom photo), especially on St. Augustine. The bishop of Hippo wrote these works in the 4th and 5th Centuries, and yet they're as current as today, with new translations appearing regularly and e-book versions widely available. Shiny new bindings are a vote for the bright future of a timeless author.

They definitely liven up the place. And they're a pretty good reminder that rain gutters require annual maintenance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Together again for the first time

I'M WRITING UP A LITTLE TOUR-GUIDE NARRATIVE for our Doheny Docents, who are going to be giving Chalon Campus tours during the Women & Spirit Exhibit at the Mount this summer. Chalon, truly one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate in Los Angeles, has an interesting architectural history tied up with oil interests, developers, activist neighbors, booms and busts. (Some things never change.)

As I've noted before, the Mount's architect was Mark Daniels, a century ago one of the most prominent in California. Trained as a landscape engineer and something of a naturalist (he was superintendent of Yosemite National Park) he is credited with the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, Thousand Oaks area in Berkeley, and other ritzy Bay Area neighborhoods.

In the early 20th Century, L.A.'s oilmen were developing the former Spanish ranchos into new neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Pacific Palisades. In the mid-1920s Daniels came on as the signature architect for a new development called Miramar Estates, envisioned as a rich spread of European-style villas where Sunset Boulevard meets Pacific Coast Highway. (Contemporary photos of the land can be found at SMPL's Imagine Santa Monica.)

Daniels designed the model home for the subdivision. It was heavily publicized as the "Los Angeles Times Demonstration Home," meant to embody the classic Southern California lifestyle but featuring state of the art techniques -- "the last word in construction" -- and even ultramodern amenities like a dishwasher. Times readers were given weekly updates in breathless language as construction progressed.

What's interesting is that this happened to be the same time Daniels was enlisted to design a master plan for Mount St. Mary's College. There was a built-in connection: the Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the College property from the same oilmen who had sold the land for Miramar Estates and a big parcel down the hill from the Mount in a neighborhood called "Riviera."

From rooflines and archways to chimney tops, vents and wrought iron, the Demonstration Home and Brady Hall reveal a detailed and exquisite architectural vision. In fact, Daniels had traveled to Madrid in 1928 to design a palace for a Spanish nobleman, the Marquis de Portago, a tribute to an architect who could out-Spanish the Spaniards on their own turf.

Looking at the Miramar Estates area now, with its expensive homes and expansive views, it's almost impossible to believe that the development went bust. But it did, the victim of stock markets, gasoline prices and real estate bubbles. (Some things never change.) Daniels' vast plans for the Mount were only realized on a much smaller scale in the 1940s after a hiatus in building of nearly 10 years. Plans by some of the oilmen to build a cement plant between Miramar and the Mount were defeated by neighbors like Mary Pickford.

As for the Times Demonstration Home, it was abandoned and falling into ruin by the early 1940s when it was finally rescued and restored by a pair of German emigres. (Their interesting story and that of the current Villa Aurora are told here.)

Though few people know it, the Chalon Campus has an architectural pedigree that is rooted deeply in Los Angeles history. The Doheny Docents are in for a nice surprise -- another beautiful campus to introduce to history buffs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Occupational hazards

I AM LOOKING for a picture of a tree. One of the Sisters, lamenting the recent loss of a huge, hundred-year-old tree on the Doheny Campus, has asked for a memento. Trees are seldom the subject of a photo but often in the background, so looking for a specific one means sifting through a lot of photos. And therein lies today's theme.

Inevitably, when I'm researching something in the records I come across plenty of things I'm not looking for, tidbits and tantalizing references to situations and events of yesteryear. Most of the time I have to let them go and press on. And, of course, later on when I recall such a tidbit, for the life of me I can never find it again.

This contact photo from a publicity shoot, not dated but probably 1962, shows Matt Doran, a member of the Mount's music faculty, with some children playing musical instruments. According to our written history he formed a youth orchestra that year.

But somewhere in the records I have seen a reference to a plan around the same time to create a prep school at the Doheny campus for school-age musicians. It was going to be called something like Mount St. Mary's Academy of Music. The plan was probably read into the administrative minutes in the early 1960s, which I spent a lot of time with last year trying to figure out how the Mount ended up with the Doheny Campus in the first place. Academy of Music? School children? Wow. But I had to let it go.

This kind of thing can drive you crazy if you're the kind of person who likes a good story. Was the youth orchestra a prelude to the academy that never happened? What did happen? And so on.

I have a lot more photos to go through in search of Sister's tree. I know I'm in for many more memory-jogging finds and frustrations. Like paper cuts, they go with the job in archives.


After all the posts about mold, I realize that I never concluded the saga of the Disaster of '10. Everything is more or less back in order: ceiling repaired, damaged tables and chairs refinished, most of the books back on the shelves and the water- and mold-damaged ones lined up for repair. Building improvements have been made, including diverting rain gutters away from the building. They got a big test in the deluge of March 20, but we survived. Deo gratias.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


SEEING THE MOUNT'S lush azaleas and camellias in springtime bloom reminds me of a story told by the late L.A. Times columnist and alumna Zan Thompson '40 about the grounds in the late 1930s when she was a student.

The campus was a bare hilltop when the Sisters took occupancy of the new college building in the spring of 1930. Landscaping got under way immediately, with redwoods and fruit trees and shrubs to stabilize the hillsides.

And flowers, of course. But the flowers had a particular purpose. Mother Marie de Lourdes Le May, head of the English Department and later president and Provincial superior, planted camellias, gardenias and roses near the front steps, blooms that would make a pretty corsage.

No Mount student, Zan wrote, would be without a corsage when her clueless blind date (usually a Loyola man) showed up without one. Mother Marie de Lourdes would take flowers and ribbon in hand and send her student off for an evening on the town with a classy corsage of home-grown posies. (P.S. -- The young lady had to be back in her dorm by 1 a.m.)

I don't know whether the flowering shrubs near Brady hall are the ones planted by Mother Marie de Lourdes, but it's nice to imagine that they are. Let the feminists take umbrage, but it's also fun to imagine a time when a young man on a date was expected to arrive with flowers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving up mold for Lent

IT'S ASH WEDNESDAY, a day or two shy of three months since the Big Leak. We're celebrating by moving an undamaged table and chairs into the Spearman Room. There is a lot more to do before we can close the book, so to speak, on the Disaster of '10, but at least I can say we're done with mold.

Green mold, black mold, white mold, and other interesting colors emanating from mold. I didn't know that the pastel hues we noticed on damaged endpapers -- pink, yellow, lavender and a delicate celandon -- were actually mold souvenirs, "excrement," in the pungent diagnosis of an expert.

Day after day, page after page, my volunteer Mary Marshall and I plied our little spore-trapping vacuum cleaner and had the satisfaction of watching thick layers of dried mold being sucked away. In the process we also cleaned up the dirt and debris of centuries, in some cases: Half the pages of Volume XI of the works St. Augustine (1689) were coated with fine, white sand, as if a seminarian had taken the big folio to the beach for some summer reading.

The colorful mold stains remain as reminders of what happens when an old building leaks. But these are merely the latest ones. Among our rare books are many ancient stains that tell the stories of other buildings, other leaks. I pity those poor librarians who didn't have HEPA vacuum cleaners.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science lab

LOS ANGELES' EPIC RAINS and consequent flood in the Archives were two months ago this week. Being tied up with one thing and another (like a presidential search committee), I'm finally getting the chance to get a good look at the damage.

Total number of books affected: about 50. Total volume of archives affected: about 4 linear feet. Total losses: about half a dozen old Bibles and a box of folders.

All in all, not too bad. Chatting with my friends in the profession, it's not all that unusual to hear about entire rooms that have developed mold. Many of our books just need a good once-over with a special spore-trapping vacuum cleaner and they can go back on the shelves. Others will require more extensive (and expensive) treatment, but this is the College's patrimony (better, matrimony) and worth every dime.

The science experiment aspect of it is pretty interesting, too. All that literature about the proverbial "cool, dry place" is correct: Once you venture out of the 68 degrees, 40% humidity ranges you're asking for a blooming garden of moldy trouble.

I knew we were in for it back on Dec. 29 when my little hygrometer recorded 99% relative humidity and a maximum temperature of 78 degrees. This lovely specimen, above, is on Vol. X of the works of St. Augustine, ca. 1685. Mold goes dormant stays that way for a long time. This stuff may be the lineal descendant of mold that was introduced centuries ago.

The triage continues. I'm deciding now which books are headed for the trash bin (the ones that can be replaced for less than $40), which get to go home soon, and which will get patched up in a book hospital somewhere. Along the way I've discovered a couple of certified treasures. All of it is part of the Mount's long heritage and worth preserving for future generations of students. Except for St. Augustine's mold, of course. That's really gotta go.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


BACK IN MY NEWSPAPER DAYS, the word triage applied to too much news, too many possibilities, too few resources and thus some painful decision making. What we "went after" had mostly to do with who was working that particular night and how much newsprint we had to work with.

I thought about that well-worn battlefield term this week as I returned to a freezing Coe Library and the part of the 1st Floor given over to storing the damp victims of the Dec. 20 flood. Which will survive, and which will end up in the Dumpster?

The French World War I doctors who coined the term knew from agonizing decision making. Sorting through wet, ruined and occasionally moldy books, and deciding how to spend meager restoration resources, is mostly art -- and if there's science involved we'll need to call someone more expert than I.

One of the resource we don't have is time. The students are back in a few days, and one of their favorite study areas, the Porch, is currently doing duty as a glum little book and paper hospital, although it's at least a bright and sunny one.

I'm starting with the easy triage, the wet unprocessed folders of would-be archives. For a Lone Arranger, their marginal value isn't equal to the effort of drying them out and putting them in fresh, expensive, acid-free folders. Not compared to everything else that needs to be evaluated. Into the Dumpster they go.

I cheerfully admit that sorting through the backfiles from a discontinued 1980s project delays the inevitable, difficult confrontation with the rare books. We'll let the patients dry out for a few more days and see if they don't improve a little on their own.