Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Benjamin R. Hanby and his Paper Trail

My adopted hometown of Westerville, Ohio has a nationally prominent, nineteenth century composer as its hometown hero.  Benjamin R. Hanby (1833-1867) died very young, but in his short life he composed simple songs that became worldwide favorites.  His Christmas songs, Up on the Housetop and Who is He in Yonder Stall? are still performed annually and widely.  And while his Civil War era classic Darling Nelly Gray is no longer quite as well known was it was in the century after the war, it is an important historical artifact.  It was sung universally during the war, North and South, and was once so popular that it was mistaken for the work of Stephen Foster, another balladeer of the antebellum Union.

I am neither musicologist nor expert on Hanby, but as a librarian/ historian living in Westerville, I could not keep from noticing when Hanby’s name crossed my line of inquiry.  Hanby is, perhaps, not quite famous enough to attract the attention of our scholarly pinnacles such as the Library of Congress of the National Archives.  Only one print biography, Choose You This Day: The Legacy of the Hanbys by Dacia Custer Shoemaker (Westerville, 1983), has been published.  The archives of Otterbein University, Hanby’s alma mater (Class of 1858), has an interesting collection.  But manuscripts in Hanby’s own hand are as scarce as hen’s teeth.  Almost all surviving letters of Benjamin Hanby are in newspaper articles and journals.

Thus I was all the more surprised when I spotted this in an online auction of rare manuscripts:

“146     Hanby, B. R. (1833-67)
Autographed Letter Signed

American composer of the famous anti-slavery song  “Darling Nelly Gray” and some 80 other songs.  John Tasker Howard writes, in “Our American Music” (1954):  “One song, written before the outbreak of the war…achieved a tremendous circulation.”  Partial ALS, 2 pp., 5” X 5 ½”,np, nd.  Fair.  Verso contains old archival tape.  Consists of three closely cropped, irregular portions of an ALS affixed together, with the front side reading in full:  “When I saw my first song, “Darling Nelly Gray” in sheet form for the piano, I was fairly nervous with delight, but, believing that a man likes his own club footed child better than his neighbors perfectly formed one, I did not pose that others would feel much interest in it.  But I have friends who have felt a deeper interest in that song than ever I did.  Most Sincerely B. R. Hanby.”  Extremely scarce – possibly one of the few samples of Hanby’s handwriting in existence.  Although damaged, its content could hardly be improved.  Accompanied by sheet music for Hanby’s popular (among Northern troops) “ ’Ole Shady’ or the Song of the Contraband,” 6 pp, 10 X 13 1/4",” Boston, MA, 1861.  Fair to good.  A scarce first printing of the Northern favorite.  Bookseller Inventory #autograph – 423.
Price:  US $500.00
Bookseller: Main Street Fine Books & MSS, ABAA
Galena, IL USA 61036 ”

                This advertisement, which appeared around 2004, was way out of pocketbook range for me.  I contacted the seller awhile back, who could only tell me that it was sold to a private collector.  I am posting it now only to make the contents available to future scholars, if any, who might wish to read such text by Hanby as survives. 

                I am not sure what the moral of this story is.  It may be that collectors should make documents available to scholars if asked.  Or, it may be that those of us in the library business should keep up with papers in private hands, if only to print them (or put them online, like this one) in ways that are searchable, online or off.  Or, do not be in a hurry to toss out that old pile of letters.  You never know who might want or need them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Big Disconnect: A Small Review

The Big Disconnect: A Small Review 

If a parent has mixed feelings about the endless parade of video games, apps, ipods, ipads, to say nothing of Facebook, Twitter and the like, I’d like to recommend an excellent book (yes, an old fashioned book of paper, ink, and cloth).  The Big Disconnect:  Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age is a wise, informative peroration on the tricky task of raising a child in an age of “tech” marvels and the benefits and dangers they offer to young children.

We all know that children are drawn like flies to computers and computer gaming.  And like flies to a lamp, they are often addicted before parents realize what is happening.   Author Catherine Steiner-Adair (with Teresa H. Barker) points out that brightly lit, ever moving images stimulate the human brain to produce dopamine, the chemical that provides pleasure.  Not surprisingly, dopamine is highly addictive.  Your brain gets hooked on the rush and wants more, more, MORE. 

And what diet do we feed this thirsting brain?  Pornography, violence, and pop-up advertising.  And if we are honest with ourselves, it is not just our children.  Do we set a good example by constantly checking out Facebook accounts, texting our friends, and surfing the web for gewgaws?  The book warns us that children’s brains are still growing, still in flux.  Be very careful to what we expose them online.  Remember when one of our favorite villains was “Madison Avenue?”  We should be more worried now, I think, about “Silicon Valley.”

Being old enough to remember the emergence of this online world, from the punched cards and Commodore Pets we used in the late 1970s to today’s smartphones and pocket computers, I am amazed at what a cauldron of filth, hate, and lies can be found online today.  Not surprised; I learned very early that sex sells and that mass murder can be infantilized.   But I never dreamed that they would become the objects of children’s games.

A few paragraph headings reveal some of the objects of this book:
Tech is Eroding the Capacity for Sustained Attention.
Kids Can’t Pull the Plug on a Good Time  -  It’s Our Job to Show them How
When Hanging Out Turns to Zoning Out
And a quote.  This one (metaphorically) was like a punch in the gut:
            The other way parents are clueless is when they have abdicated their parental authority in favor of keeping the peace, being friends with their kids, or rescuing their kids from consequences.  Essentially, the put on blinders to avoid what they don’t ant to see.  [p. 238]
Have I abdicated?  Maybe, but it is an important question to ask oneself.

            It depends, I suppose, on what you want your family life to be.  This book is not for Luddites, or technophobes.  The authors clearly state that technology is useful, although when it is put to lurid use, it will become an evil presence in our lives.  The last chapter of the book does make a plea for more family time disconnected from technology – more time just being quiet, sitting on the porch together, sharing a family meal, “slow time no time always enough time.”  As Steiner-Adair puts it,
When we all get caught in our screens, caught in the World Wide Web, and we disconnect from an ethical culture, the humanistic values that all religions share, we forget about the other forces that connect and ground us.  We forget to be grateful…. [p. 294]
            So don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting we all throw away our digital goodies.  But keep them in perspective.  Turn them off when they try to engulf us.  Set limits.  Keep an eye on your children’s use of them.  Teach them to hear silence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Friday, September 26, 2014

Walter G. Clippinger and Warren G. Harding: Did the “G” stand for “Grumble”?

[Above:  Warren G. Harding at his desk;  Otterbein President Walter G. Clippinger in 1919.]

Walter G. Clippinger and Warren G. Harding: Did the “G” stand for “Grumble”?


            1920 was a presidential election year that pitted two Ohioans against each other.  Republican Senator Warren G. Harding of Marion and Democrat Governor James Cox of Cincinnati faced off in a battle that hinged on the entry of the U.S. into the League of Nations and the legacy of retiring president Woodrow Wilson.

            In Westerville, as in many other Ohio towns, there was much discussion over the two relatively unknown Buckeyes.  An interesting exchange of letters between Otterbein College President Walter G. Clippinger and college trustee Hamilton Holt survives to show that, while many Ohioans were excited, some were markedly unenthusiastic about their choices.

            President Clippinger, in a letter to Holt dated October 1, 1920, wrote that he had many contacts over the years with Cox.  A devout churchman, Clippinger approved of editorials questioning Cox’s suitability as a divorced man.  But Harding was not a man he knew much about:

I shall vote for Harding for president, but with no enthusiasm or zeal.  I do not know Harding personally.  All I can gather leads me to believe that he is a passive diplomat…[1]

Not surprisingly, Clippinger was looking for a college educated man.  Of Harding and Cox:

Their souls have not been expanded and their ability to think great things and to promote great ideals is restricted to the narrow business sphere in which they have operated.[2]

            When Holt replied, he seconded Clippinger’s distaste for the candidates:

I see exactly how you feel.  I hope the best man will win.  Personally I am for Cox, tho I shall vote for him with as many misgivings as you shall vote for Harding.  I size it up that Harding is a fourth rate man and Cox is a second.[3]

            When Harding was elected the next month, Clippinger had to keep his doubts to himself.  Having a President of the United States practically from the neighborhood forced Clippinger to play the part of a warm supporter of Harding whether he wanted to or not. 

            In 1922, when Otterbein was preparing to celebrate its 75th Anniversary,
Clippinger called in a favor.  In his own words, he asked Harding’s help for a pet project:

            … I am asking a number of public men to state their appreciation of the denominational college as a training agency for church and national leadership…. Would you be kind enough to dictate two or three sentences touching these points?[4]

            President Harding happily reciprocated:

It is always a pleasure to extend encouragement to efforts to strengthen this department of our educational system, and I trust that the effort in behalf of Otterbein College…may be crowned with the success which your excellent institution so well deserves.[5]

            That did not mean that Harding was at the beck and call of Clippinger.  When Clippinger forwarded a booklet to the White House regarding an appeal for funds, Florence Harding, the First Lady, had her secretary send their thanks, but no more than that.[6]  This probably was no slap at Westerville, Otterbein, or Clippinger.  The First Lady was ill, at the time, and the President was already in failing health, which led to his untimely death on August 2, 1923.

            The story ends there.  It is tempting to read into this that Dr. Clippinger was being a little two-faced.  He was not a fervent Harding supporter in 1920, and was not present at the dinner party for Harding when he visited Westerville in December of that year.[7] Two years later he was obsequious when asking Harding for a small favor.  More likely, Clippinger was making use of the symbolic change in Warren G. Harding, who in those same two years changed from a second rate Ohio senator to the Chief Executive of the whole United States.  Clippinger, with his dedication to Otterbein, could not help but take advantage of that change.

[1] Walter G. Clippinger to Hamilton Holt, October 1, 1920.  Presidents Papers, Otterbein University, Westerville, Ohio.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Hamilton Holt to Walter G. Clippinger, October 5, 1920.  Presidents Papers, Otterbein University, Westerville, Ohio.
[4] Walter G. Clippinger to Warren G. Harding, January 3, 1922, Ibid.
[5] Warren G. Harding to Walter G. Clippinger, January 6, 1922.  Ibid.
[6] Laura Harlan, Secretary to Mrs. Harding, to Walter G. Clippinger, October 11, 1922.  Ibid.
[7] Westerville Public Opinion, December 23, 1920.