Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Got stuff? A visual

THE BIG SUMMER PROJECT is implementing archives management software, which (we hope!) will make it easier to describe, find and update our inventories of "stuff." One of the things that has to be done as part of this is figuring out what to call things. For example, the Doheny Mansion is frequently referred to as "No. 8" (its address on Chester Place). But which is correct? Humans understand they're the same, but computers aren't that smart. We have to agree on one expression.

Working on that, we decided to take all our inventories, extract the text descriptions and dump them together into a "word cloud" generator. The color blob at the top is the result.

It's interesting how it really does zero in on the the most important subjects in the Mount Archives. But where is Chalon?

It's just a given, something that is so obvious it doesn't require naming. Thus, there are few occurrences of the name "Chalon" for the word cloud algorithm to work with. Think of it as "everything that is not Doheny."

On the other hand, "Doheny" shows up a lot to differentiate it from what was called the "main campus" for a long time.

We're not sure why "Committee" is so prominent, except in almost 90 years of history there have been a whole lot of them. That tells us that describing meeting agendas and minutes are an important topic in planning our database.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Each "Chick" of 1946 is represented in the colorful brood.

HERE's A FUN FIND -- party decorations with photos of alumnae from nearly 70 years ago. They turned up in a long-forgotten box of "stuff" (official archival term) stored away for the last 15 years and unearthed yesterday.

The Mount Archives holds all kinds of interesting memorabilia from the late Mary Irene Vujovich Ohlfs '46, from her scrapbooks to her extensive collection of news clippings about the College. (Thanks go to Mary Irene herself for the donations, and to her family, who continued to send us stuff after she passed away in 1994.)

Mary Irene Vujovich
Ohlfs '46.
Mary Irene was truly devoted alumna of the Mount in general and of the Chicks of '46 in particular. The Class of 1946 was a close-knit group who had weathered the World War II years together at Chalon and got together regularly for the rest of their lives.

According to the envelope, these party decorations were used for the reunions of the Class of '46 in 1981 (35 years) and again in 1991 (45).  Each is a 2-inch, brightly colored baby chick with a small photo of the graduate pasted over the face and alumna's name on the back. It was a labor of love -- probably Mary Irene's -- to create each tiny cut-out and add a bit of purple curling ribbon.

Well into their 90s, the remaining Chicks of 46 are gradually dwindling in number. But thanks to Mary Irene, their well-documented memories live on in the Archives.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The rattlesnake, 'our dear neighbor'

A "modern-day St. Patrick" : Sister Mary Gerald Leahy, CSJ,
with facilities engineer Martin Bullinger in the early 1960s,
helps a visiting rattlesnake to find a safer location.

WE INTRODUCED SISTER MARY GERALD LEAHY the other day and described her impressive career as a biologist. Although insects were her specialty, disease-bearing mosquitoes in particular, she loved biology where she found it, and there was plenty at Chalon.

Take rattlesnakes, for instance. The Mount is planted right in the middle of snake country, surrounded on three sides by dense chaparral. And it's not as though the founders didn't know what they were getting into. Here is an excerpt from a history by one of them, Mother Dolorosa Mannix:
When the real estate agent took us to see the site, there was no road, and the climb had to be made through brush -- sage, mostly, chaparral and sumac. The guide sent his dog on ahead of us, saying, "If there is a rattlesnake in the brush, the dog will bark." We were grateful that the dog did not bark, though we did see rattlers coiled around the branches of the black walnut on the summit.*
That summit, of course, was where the College was built. In spite of 85 years of development in the area, there are still plenty of snakes roaming the hills.

As a biologist, Sister Mary Gerald knew that snakes play an important role in nature's cycles. Fewer snakes would mean more troublesome critters like rabbits nibbling on the landscaping and field mice in Brady Hall. Threatening as they seem, rattlers are good neighbors. When a snake paid a visit, Sr. Mary Gerald was summoned to greet him.

The picture above, found in her papers, shows Sister's technique for handling her reptilian visitor.  As she supervises, chief engineer Martin Bullinger has managed to get the rattlesnake -- which looks to be about 4 feet long -- to clamp his fangs into the end of a long stick. A big, empty glass jar stands ready.  Drop the snake into the jar, quickly pop on the lid, and carefully escort him off campus.

According to unwritten College lore, the only person ever bitten by a rattlesnake at Chalon was one of the Sisters, who was treated at a hospital and released with no ill effects. If it was Sister Mary Gerald, it's a good bet that she didn't mind. She certainly had enough exposure: The View from October 25, 1955, has a front-page picture of Sister handling a somewhat smaller snake by herself. In the caption, she is referred to as "a Modern-Day St. Patrick." 

We think the creature-loving St. Francis of Assisi may be a better comparison. No one will ever rid the Mount of snakes as St. Patrick did in Ireland, but Sister's legacy is at least to remember that they are God's creatures, or as a scientifically minded CSJ might say, our "dear neighbor." Next time you see our neighbor Mr. Snake, be nice -- and think of Sister Mary Gerald.

* Sister M. Dolorosa Mannix, Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles Provincialate Archives, 1927. Quoted in The History of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, California, 1925-1975 by Sister Mary Germaine McNeil, CSJ. New York: Vantage Press, 1985. Page 6.