Tag Archives: VCU Libraries

An elephant in the archives

Today’s post is from VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives.

Holding out the hope of a ride on the back of P.T. Barnum’s recently purchased Jumbo, this 19th century trade card, printed by J. H. Bufford’s Sons, advertises “Prospective fun for the children” along with the Richmond Stove Company.

M439 B3r Richmond Stove Co Elephant crop resz

Jumbo was an African bush elephant captured as an infant in French Sudan. Sold first to a German menagerie, he was imported to France, then transferred to England. He became famous for giving rides to children at the London Zoo until he was sold to the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1881. When the prospective sale became public knowledge 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell the elephant. Jumbo did come to America where he was a great sensation and where, unfortunately, he died in a railway accident in 1885. His skeleton was given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and his stuffed hide was donated to Tufts University where it resided in P.T. Barnum Hall for many years. Today, Jumbo is the official mascot of Tufts.

This card is one of many fascinating items in the Charles E. Brownell Collection of Architectural and Decorative Arts Ephemera (M 439 Special Collections and Archives) which you can see in person on the 4th floor of VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library.

Today’s post is by Alice W. Campbell, Digital Initiatives Archivist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Explore. Discover. Share.

A new gallery has opened at Virginia Commonwealth University, but this time the exhibit space is virtual and not physical. VCU Libraries Gallery gives the public an opportunity to discover some of the rare and intriguing materials held in Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library and Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. The Gallery will feature exhibits of book art, comic arts, manuscripts, rare books, medical artifacts and VCU university archives, and each item shown can easily be shared on social media. VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives hope to reach new and potentially broader audiences by sharing collections online.

Home page of the new VCU Libraries Gallery.

Home page of the new VCU Libraries Gallery.

Three inaugural exhibits opened the Gallery. “Remembering Theresa Pollak: An Exhibition on the Founder of VCUarts” includes photographs and manuscripts from the collection of an exceptional artist and educator of great importance to VCU. Another exhibit, “From the Library of Dr. Herman J. Flax: Physician, Poet, Collector,” gives viewers a look into a collection of rare books related to physical medicine. “Through the Looking Glass” displays microscopic images created by VCU students, faculty and staff and selected on the basis of their aesthetic appeal, technical skill and scientific significance.

Theresa Pollak exhibit, one of the inaugural exhibits done by James Branch Cabell Special Collections and Archives.

Theresa Pollak exhibit, one of the inaugural exhibits by James Branch Cabell Special Collections and Archives.

Future exhibits will present interactive artists’ books, and traces of previous ownership found in library volumes. You can visit the VCU Libraries Gallery at https://gallery.library.vcu.edu/ and keep up to date with Gallery news by following @VCUExhibits on Twitter.

Book talk at VCU – Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

When: March 18, 7:00-10:00 pm
Where: W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Avenue, Richmond, VA 23284

VCU Libraries celebrates the release of the autobiography of noted civil-rights activist Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr., with an evening panel discussion featuring Dr. Peeples in a conversation on his life’s mission with his book contributors, Dr. Nancy MacLean and Dr. James H. Hershman, Jr., moderated by Dr. John Kneebone. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. A book signing and reception will follow.

This event is free and open to the public, but please register. Parking is available for a fee in the West Broad StreetWest Main Street and West Cary Street parking decks. If special accommodations are needed, or to register offline, please call (804) 828-0593 prior to March 14, 2014.

Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library is home to the Edward H. Peeples, Jr. papers. For additional information about Peeples and his paper please see the finding aid found on Virginia Heritage.

About the book

Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism is the autobiography of Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr. It tells the story of a white working-class youth who became an unlikely civil-rights activist. Born in 1935 in Richmond, where he was taken to segregated churches and sent to segregated schools, Peeples was taught the ethos and lore of white supremacy by the white adults around him. But by age nineteen, he had become what the these people called a “traitor to the race.”

At Richmond Professional Institute (the forerunner to VCU on the Monroe Park Campus), Peeples was encouraged by a lone teacher to think critically. Peeples found his way to the black freedom struggle and began a long career of activism. He challenged racism in his U.S. Navy unit and engaged in sit-ins and community organizing. Later, as a VCU professor, he agitated for good jobs, health care and decent housing for all; pushed for the creation of courses in African American studies at VCU in the early 1970s; and worked toward equal treatment for women, prison reform and more.

Covering fifty years’ participation in the civil-rights movement, Peeples’s gripping story brings to life an unsung activist culture to which countless forgotten individuals contributed, over time expanding their commitment from civil rights to other causes.

Scalawag Book Launch - Book Jacket

A Wartime Thanksgiving

Do you ever wonder what Thanksgiving is like for those in the midst of war far away from their loved ones? Sometimes we can catch a glimpse of these holidays spent away from home via the collections in our archives. For instance, tucked among the papers of Dr. James Thomson is a 1944 Thanksgiving dinner menu for the 45th General Hospital located in Naples, Italy. Thomson was a surgeon at this hospital and thanks to his saving this menu we know that they were treated to a proper Thanksgiving meal. The staff feasted on traditional fare such as roast turkey, chestnut dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. This meal provided the medical staff with a little slice of home in the midst of treating the wounded soldiers. They certainly earned a good meal as the daily patient average for the hospital in November 1944 was 2,253.1  Below are images of the menu, photographs of the mess halls for the hospital, and a photograph of Dr. Thomson.

These and many more fascinating items are found in the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library, Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University. For more information about the James L. and Dorothy Knowles Thomson papers please view the finding aid located in the Virginia Heritage database. To learn more about the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library please visit our website.


Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945


Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Dr. James L. Thompson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944

Dr. James L. Thomson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944.

Brashear, Alton D. From Lee to Bari: The History of the Forty-Fifth General Hospital, 1940-1945. Whittet & Shepperson (Richmond, Va.) 1957.