Category Archives: Columbia University Archives

A Ghost in Philosophy Hall

The Columbia University Archive’s spookiest (and only) documented ghost story begins on a dark and dusty evening in 1945, when Professor Jeffery related to Columbiana curator Milton Halsey Thomas a harrowing tale that he had heard nearly a decade earlier from John D. Prince, a professor of East European Languages. Thomas took notes on the story, and later attempted to sleuth out the details as Jeffery had narrated them:

Philosophy Hall, Early 20th Century

On the night of May 22, 1936, Prince was walking the lonely corridors of Philosophy Hall, en route to a meeting with President Butler. While descending a darkened stairway he experienced a distinctive but familiar feeling — “a smart pat on his kidneys” — that he associated with Richard Gottheil, a professor of Semitic Languages, who had long occupied the office next door to his, and who “used to deliver” that exact sort of friendly nudge “from time to time.” When Prince turned to look for his colleague, he found only an empty staircase.

A few minutes later, during Prince’s meeting with the president, secretary Frank Fackenthal entered the office to inform them of some sad, and — in the context — spooky news: Professor Gottheil had just died at his home on the Upper West Side.

An Obituary for Professor Gottheil

Returning, shaken and saddened, to his office, Prince encountered a graduate student, Harriet Levy, “in hysterics.” She too had just had a spectral encounter with the deceased professor. She had been sitting at a desk that evening, and had seen him in the hallway. Since she had the key to his office, she got up and followed after him. As she went to unlock his door, Gottheil had glided by her in silence, “passed through the closed door, and disappeared.”

In the days after hearing Professor Jeffery’s dramatic narrative, the Columbiana curator worked to authenticate the story. He interviewed Frank Fackenthal, who would soon be named university president, about his memories of the incident. His terse summary of their conversation says only that “Mr. Fackenthal cannot confirm any part of this.”

But this non-denial denial only raises more questions about the “Ghost in Philosophy Hall.”

 

 

Lorenzo Da Ponte returns to Columbia

etching of white man

Lorenzo Da Ponte from the Columbia Record, 10 May 1991, article announcing the exhibition “Lorenzo Da Ponte: A Vision of Italy from Columbia College” at Low Library.

On October 15 and 17, the Cagliari Opera House will present the first modern rendering of the opera L’Ape Musicale (The Musical Bee) in the Rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, at 7:30pm. The performance is part of a symposium, Lorenzo Da Ponte and the Birth of Italian Opera in New York. Both events are free, ticketed and open to the public.

L’Ape Musicale is Lorenzo Da Ponte’s final libretto and the first Italian opera conceived and staged in the United States. Da Ponte, author of Mozart’s best known librettos (The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Cosi fan tutte (1790)), was the first Professor of Italian at Columbia.

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Old-school Columbia freshman fashion

young white men in beanies on college campus

Freshmen students in beanies leaving a building on campus. Source: Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives.

“Never neglect to say ‘hello’ to a man who wears a Freshman cap, whether you know his name or not.” – Columbia Blue Book, 1917-18

Proudly worn as symbols of a freshman’s distinctive but lowly position on campus, these caps helped the new classmates forge a close allegiance amongst themselves and against their greatest detractors: the sophomores. The wearing of the beanies was mandatory and a bareheaded freshman was an outrage to sophomores. The 1927-28 Columbia Blue Book (a handbook for first year students) contained freshman rules – including the requirement to wear your freshman cap at all times – and noted that rule-breakers would be “summarily dealt with.”

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Alice was here

Tomorrow, October 6th, is Mad Hatter Day! University Archivist Jocelyn Wilk shares a Columbia connection to the day, which celebrates the Hatter, a key character in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.
Bronze statue of the Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, Llandudno.

 

Did you know that Alice in Wonderland came to visit Columbia and was awarded an honorary degree?

You may think us mad to suggest such a thing, but, indeed, this actually happened!

In May 1932 Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, the “Alice” of Lewis Carroll’s works, came to New York City and Columbia University, in particular, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s birth. Festivities at the University included an exhibition held in the Avery Library of “Carrolliana” assembled from collectors throughout the country.

Mrs. Hargreaves’ participation took two forms. On May 2, in a private ceremony, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library. In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Hargreaves said: “I shall remember it and prize it for the rest of my days, which may not be very long. I love to think, however unworthy I am, that Mr. Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – knows and rejoices with me.”

woman and man in graduation caps and gowns

Columbia University Honors the Original Alice of “Alice in Wonderland”. New York City.- Mrs. Reginald Liddell Hargreaves, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote the book which is now one of the world’s classics, with President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University after the private ceremony in which she was given the degree of Doctor of Letters. 5/3/32.
Source: Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives.

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New Resource | Notable Columbians

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg leading a seminar discussion at the School of Law, ca. 1975 (Scan 4330) Historical Photograph Collection (Box 46). University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

At the University Archives, working with researchers allows us to learn about a wide range of Columbians.

From a researcher, we learned about Otelia Cromwell, the first African American woman to receive a PhD at Yale. (Cromwell received a Master’s degree from Columbia in 1911.)

Another asked us about Anni Weiss-Frankl, one of the early researchers working on what is now known as autism. (Born Anni Babette Weiss, she was a student and an Associate of Child Guidance at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the late 1930s.)

But there are certain Columbians whom researchers frequently ask about.

In response to a recent flurry of requests about certain individuals associated with Columbia we’ve added a new section to our research guide: Notable Columbians. This guide provides information on what and how you can find materials related to these three amazing individuals: Bhimrao Ambedkar, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and V.K. Wellington Koo. We provide links to digitized resources (including PDFs of documents scanned for previous users) wherever possible and direct users to relevant analog collections across our holdings and those of the RBML.

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For your next playlist: Oggie and the Blue Lions

If you enjoy big band music, you should listen to the Columbia Blue Lions.

1940s band and leader; dancers in conga line

The Blue Lions featured in the 1943 Columbian on page 202.

C. Ogden Beresford, or Oggie, was a member of the Columbia College Class of 1943. A trumpet player, Beresford joined the University Band, played in the Symphony Orchestra, and was a member of the dance band, the Columbia Blue Lions, which included a tenor sax player from Julliard, Sid Caesar. He participated in three Varsity Show productions, twice as a member of the Pony Ballet (1940, 1941) and once as a second lead (1942). (There was no Varsity Show in 1943.) After graduation, Beresford joined the Midshipmen’s School at Columbia and even served as an instructor for a year. He married Mary Louise Meyer, Columbia Business School Class of 1943. A World War II Navy veteran, he served on the USS Baltimore in the Pacific.

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What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

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Summer travels with the University Archives            

Now that Commencement has passed and the campus has calmed, are you thinking summer about travel plans?

Here’s some inspiration from the University Archives: three travel diaries from three very different writers and from very different times and circumstances.

SS Bremen, Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-11081 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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CU summer housing: Lorca slept here

Welcome to the start of Columbia’s 2018 summer session!

We recently processed a collection of Columbia Men’s Residence Hall Registers and Ledger Books. The registers served as a directory of residents for each of the earliest dorms on the Morningside campus. Organized by last name and first initial, the books list the room number, mail box number, check-in and check-out dates, and a forwarding address. The “office boys” kept these registers at the front desk to note when residents arrived, when keys were returned, as well as for handling deliveries and other requests. On the inside pages, the books include contact information for area hospitals, cab companies and messenger services.

Columbia residence hall ledger with Lorca signature

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Kent State shootings reverberated on Columbia’s campus

On May 3, the editors of the college newspapers at Brown, Bryn Mawr, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Haverford, Princeton, Rutgers, Sarah Lawrence, and the University of Pennsylvania agreed to publish a joint editorial condemning the American invasion of Cambodia and calling for a nationwide university strike to demand “an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Southeast Asia.” The editorial said in part:

“We must cease business as usual in order to allow the universities to lead and join in a collective strike to protest America’s escalation of the war. We do not call for a strike by students against the university, but a strike by the entire university— faculty, students, staff, and administrators alike.”

 

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