AHC Welcomes New Director, Bridget Burke

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Photo Courtesy of Bridget Burke

Bridget Burke has been named director of the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center. She begins the position July 1.

“She has a passion for fostering collaborative scholarship, and she will continue to promote the accessibility of the AHC’s internationally recognized archival collections to the people of Wyoming and to researchers of national and international prominence,” says David Jones, UW vice president for academic affairs.

Burke comes to UW from North Dakota State University, where she has been dean of libraries since 2014. She began her career in the New York Public Library and the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Burke was an assistant curator at Yale University with the Western Americana Collection of the prestigious Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, a premier collection internationally recognized for its significance regarding study of the American West. Additionally, Burke curated the Art of the Book Collection of the Sterling Library at Yale, and directed the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

“The American Heritage Center has been a compass point in my professional landscape for as long as I can remember. As a center of excellence, with collections of distinction and exceptional programs serving citizens and scholars, the impact and range of the AHC cannot be overstated. The breadth of activity is impressive, from AHC’s leadership role in archival theory and practice, to it’s coordination of History Day events directly touching the lives of children around the state. I’m excited to become a part of that, and look forward to reconnecting with some familiar faces, as well as getting to know the many new faculty and staff at the Center.  Finally, I’m delighted to be joining the University of Wyoming community at a time when opportunities for collaboration are especially rich. My visit made it clear that support for the American Heritage Center is pervasive on campus, and that many points of engagement already exist. I’m honored to be selected as the next director of the AHC.” – Bridget Burke

Burke is recognized for bringing people together with archival collections for memorable public events. At Boston College, for example, she brought archival specialists together with musicians to perform and record a piece of choral music that had been identified in her archival collection.

“Our success is gauged not only by the metrics of what we hold (in collections), but by the conversations we prompt, the stories we elicit, and how we model ways to think about the past and live in the present,” Burke says.

Burke received her B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1984, an M.L.S. in library and information studies from the University of Wisconsin in 1986, and an M.A. in liberal studies (American history) from Wesleyan University in 2001.

 

 

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A Very Short History of Drag Queens in Laramie, Wyoming – Part One

On February 13th the United Multicultural Council of the University of Wyoming will be hosting its first Drag Show. However, the history of drag performance in Laramie can be traced to the Cowboy Saloon on October 22, 2005. On that day Laramie’s homegrown drag troupe, the Stilettos, took the stage and entertained Laramie audiences for the first time.

Although drag in Wyoming has only been popular since the 1990’s the practice of men dressing up as women has been a performance tradition for over three hundred years.  Traces of this practice can be seen in ancient Roman and Chinese theater productions. At that time, men would appear as women in theater productions because women were not allowed to perform on stage. To be an actress was seen as crude and un-lady like. The etymology and application of the term drag queen is uncertain, but scholars believe that it derives from the usage of hoop skirts, by men dressing as women, in the late 1800s. It is believed that the term emerged because these hoop skirts dragged along the floor.

Modern day drag shows, like the one performed in Laramie on that October day, most often consist of a variety show that include performances and sketches. This particular aesthetic can be traced to the early 20th century with vaudeville artists like Julian Eltinge. These types of vaudevillian performances were quite popular, so much so that by the 1920s drag balls were being hosted by theaters and local establishments.

In the 1930s and 40s a double standard emerged in American and British society. On the one hand, if a drag queen was perceived to be a homosexual, or was seen as dressing as a woman for enjoyment, she was shunned and could face retaliation resulting in arrest and violence. However, if a man was seen as wearing drag for the sole purpose of entertainment, then it was possible to maintain an audience and make a living as a drag performer. The public was comfortable with men in women’s clothing, as long as the sole purpose was entertainment that did not radically subvert gender roles.

In the 1950s the stigma of drag performance heightened due to an increase in conservative values brought about by the era of McCarthyism and fear of subversion of the postwar American national identity. Although some drag performers continued to be popular in the mainstream limelight, trans women like Marsha Johnson, gay men who impersonated women, or who enjoyed presenting as female for pleasure, suffered great discrimination. By the late 50s and early 60s safe spaces such as the Casa Susanna, Stonewall Inn, and Compton’s Cafeteria we established as violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community became prominent. These safe spaces functioned through obscurity, attempting to be ignored by the largely intolerant mainstream communities they inhabited.

During the 1960s drag queens became more prominent in the public eye, due to evolving social and moral standards. Locations like Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn in New York City were the epicenters of LGBT activism and visibility, in part due to being targeted for police violence for their acceptance of drag performers, trans men and women, and sex workers. It should be noted that although these spaces began to emerge and be established, the LGBTQ community itself still faced immense amount of discrimination in societal and lawful settings that persists to this day.

The emergence of drag in Wyoming in the 1960s and 70s is quite uncertain, because of lack of documentation. However, Jim Osborn believes that drag queens did exist here in Wyoming in the 1970s because, as he chuckled in an interview, “the 70s happened here in Wyoming too.” Jim Osborn, also known as Martina Gras, has been a drag performer in the Laramie community for over a decade, and is a founding member of the drag troupe the Stilettos.  He is one of the brainchildren behind the first drag show in Laramie, Wyoming; and he gave us the pleasure of allowing AHC archivists to interview him for the Out West in the Rockies collecting initiative.

The idea to have the first drag show in Laramie emerged out of the annual AIDS walk. In 2001, Laramie hosted that annual event for the first time. As a means of promotion, a group of Laramie residents including Osborn went down to Tri City Shots, one of the popular lesbian bars in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was at Tri City Shots that they encountered a group of drag queens, and it was this meeting that sprung the now known, and beloved, annual Laramie event of Drag Queen Bingo.  The first few years Drag Queen Bingo was hosted by drag queens, from Denver, Colorado, that would drive up to Laramie to participate in the event. However, in 2005 Osborn and two of his friends decided that they could, and wanted to, partake in the art of performing in drag.  The idea was to host a drag show that would serve as a fundraiser for the Rainbow Resource Center at the University of Wyoming.

The show was held at the Cowboy Saloon on 2nd street on October 22, 2005.  According to Osborn, the crowd was such that it only allowed for standing room and featured one of “the most gay and diverse audiences the Saloon has ever seen.” The Stilettos opened the performance with a video which told the story of how the queens had gotten to Laramie and it featured, among other acts, a version of “You Don’t Own Me” from the film the First Wives Club.

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Image courtesy Jim Osborn

Prior to 2005 and the AIDS walk, drag queens had had an appearance in Osborn’s life. The first drag queens that he remembers hearing about in Wyoming were involved in an incident in the mid-1990s at the Ranger Bar. It was an otherwise ordinary day in Laramie, Wyoming. The local movie theater was playing The Adventures of Prisicilla Queen of the Desert (1994), one of the prominent films about drags queen released that year. Apparently, a group of drag queens had gone to see the film, in drag, and afterwards headed to the Ranger Bar. At that time the Ranger was regarded and seen as the safe place for members of the LGBTQ community. At some point during the drag queens visit at the Ranger there was an altercation. This resulted in the drag queens being asked to leave, and told that they were not welcomed at the Ranger any longer.

In the mid-nineties the Ranger was regarded as one of the de facto gay bar of Laramie; the others being Club Retro (now Shocktoberfest) and the Fireside (now the Library). Laramie has never had a bar, bookstore, or location (outside the University) that has been regarded as an official space for members of the LGBTQ community. Meaning, that there has never been a space claimed by the LGBTQ community in spoken and institutionalized policy, in Laramie or Wyoming for that matter. When asked to comment about why that is, Osborn states that he believes it is the lack of population “there just isn’t enough people to sustain something.”

The issue of creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community has been taken up by members of the LGBTQ community in Laramie, including Osborn. The University of Wyoming Rainbow Resource Center and Safe Zone training are examples of the initiatives that have been put in place due to the lack of community safe spaces. It was one of the reasons why the fundraiser for the Rainbow Resource Center resonated with the Laramie community, and why the presence of drag queen in Laramie is so astonishing, yet necessary and important.

The community of drag queens in Laramie is small but strong. The Stilettos take their art quite seriously to the point of ensuring that their performance, their imitation of women, is empowering to females in body and mind. They use their stage time to educate and entertain individuals about the issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. They include the trans community and ensure that people understand the difference between performing femininity and living womanhood.

Jim Osborn and the Stilettos will not be taking the stage on February 13th at the University of Wyoming, but their contribution to the show cannot go unnoticed. They are the first home grown drag troupe of Laramie, Wyoming, and they can be credited for bringing drag to Wyoming. The Stilettos broke down barriers that have allowed for the show that will be hosted Saturday night to happen. Although they will not grace the stage with their presence, they will grace it with their historical contribution, and later in the year with the fantastic Drag Queen Bingo.

We here at the American Heritage Center Out West in the Rockies, are extremely lucky to  now have a tiny piece of the Stilettos history and hope to continue to document the incredible history of Wyoming and the West LGBTQ community.  If you or someone you know has information about drag queens and/or drag history in Wyoming please contact us!

-Irlanda Jacinto, University Archivist

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Holy half century, Batman! Celebrating 50 years of the Batman TV show

“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!”

Fifty years ago today, January 13, 1966, Batman and Robin faced off against the Riddler in the televised premiere of Batman on ABC. The day after the first episode, the New York Times stated “Bob Kane’s heroes of the comic strip came to television last night as real people, and it looks as if the American Broadcasting Company has something going for it.”  The Los Angeles Times wrote that Batman and Robin “have become new high priests of Camp.”  Many Hollywood actors wanted to become villains for the show.  The most well-known and most used villains in the program were Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.

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Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

The papers of William Dozier, the executive producer of the Batman television series, are held at the American Heritage Center. Born 1908 in Omaha Nebraska, Dozier started out as a writer in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s.  In the 1950s he worked for CBS and produced shows such as Danger, a dramatic anthology show which ran from 1950 to 1955, and which starred such luminaries as James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Carroll Baker, Grace Kelly, and Paul Newman.

In 1964, Dozier founded Greenway Productions, which went on to produce such shows as The Loner starring Lloyd Bridges and The Tammy Grimes Show.  Of course, Dozier’s best known show is Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  The show ran for two-and-one-half years and became a cultural phenomenon.

In November 2014 all 120 episodes of the television series were finally released on remastered Blu-ray and DVD.  The long delay was due to the split ownership of the series.   Rights were held by the creator and producer of the series William Dozier, DC Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Brothers.  It wasn’t until John Stacks, who began selling model kits of the characters in Batman in 1998 and was then told by DC to stop and desist with his efforts, that he began researching the William Dozier Papers here at the American Heritage Center which then led to what wired.com described as the series escaping “legal purgatory.”

Stacks began researching the Dozier papers for own reasons, but the documents he uncovered and passed along to the Dozier family proved “to be pivotal to bring Batman to home video.”  Eventually, Fox became sole owner of the series and agreed that Warner Home Video would be the distributor of the DVD and Blu-ray set.  Stacks did not benefit in any way from the release of the video.

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Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

William Dozier donated his papers to the AHC during the 1980s.  The collection includes materials relating to Dozier’s production of television programs with Greenway Productions and other television studios and companies. There are scripts, budgets, cast lists, fan mail, photographs, posters, production reports, shooting schedules, story outlines, titles and credits for mainly “Batman” and for other television programs. Also included is correspondence with actors and others involved in Dozier’s productions, with Lorenzo Semple (Batman writer) and Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason writer). There are related legal documents, memos, notebooks, speeches and articles by Dozier.  The inventory of the collection is available here.

The 50th anniversary of the premiere of Batman on the air has not gone unnoticed by the media. Both CNN and Smithsonian Magazine have covered the occasion, and toymaker Lego has even released a set of the 1966 Batcave and Batmobile in honor of the anniversary.

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Rockwell Polar Flight

Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight

Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

On November 14, 1965, the Rockwell Polar Flight began what has often been described as the last of the great firsts in polar travel. It was the first round-the-world flight to pass over both the North and South Pole, establishing eight world records for jet transports along the way. The American Heritage Center houses the Anderson Bakewell papers which contain many documents about the Polar Flight.

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Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Anderson Bakewell (1913-1999) was a Jesuit priest who served communities in India, Maryland, Alaska and New Mexico. During his life, Bakewell gained fame as an explorer. Before joining the Society of Jesus, he lived in South America for several years collecting specimens of rare reptiles, mammals and flora. The “adventure priest” took part in many expeditions, many of them documented in photographs and film in his papers including slides taken during trips to Alaska and Yukon Territory, and a film of “Trek to Everest”. He had advanced degrees in astronomy, mathematics and philosophy, and these studies fed his exploration trips.

He was listed as an official observer on the Polar Flight, saying a prayer at the beginning and end of each flight and a special world prayer as the plane flew over the South Pole and each of these prayers is documented in the papers. Also included are details about the flight including the navigation record, maps of the journey and newspaper clippings about the expedition. The flight began in Honolulu, flying over the North Pole to London. After an unscheduled fueling stop in Lisbon, they flew to Buenos Aires before passing over the South Pole on the way to Christchurch and the final leg back to Honolulu. Total flying time clocked in at 51 hours and 20 minutes.

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Map of the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Upon completion of the trip, Anderson Bakewell sent a crucifix that he had carried with him throughout the trip with a prayer that “truly the world may resound from Pole to Pole with one cry, “Praise to the heart that wrought our salvation.”” An inventory of the Anderson Bakewell Papers can be found here.

-Chido Muchemwa, Graduate Assistant

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Happy birthday Mark Twain

One of the greatest American writers was born today, November 30th, in 1835.  The American Heritage Center’s Toppan Rare Book Library not only contains one of the Great American Novels written by Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but other pieces of his writing as well (including, but not limited to):

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

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Front cover, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1889. Fitzhugh Collection, Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

Life on the Mississippi

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Front cover, Life on the Mississippi.

Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883. Fitzhugh Collection, Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

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Page with illustration from Life on the Mississippi.

Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883. Fitzhugh Collection, Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

Eve’s Diary

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First page from Eve’s Diary.

Eve’s Diary: Translated from the Original MS. London and New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.  Fitzhugh Collection, Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

The Toppan Rare Books Library has books from other influential American writers in addition to Mark Twain.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stephen Cane, Owen Wister, Willa Cather, Margaret Mitchell, and John Steinbeck are only a few of the vast number of American authors contained within Toppan Library.  For more information about Toppan Library please visit the website at uwyo.edu/ahc/about/departments/toppan/.

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Help us identify the scene – B. C. Buffum

Did you play with a Viewmaster as a child?  Maybe you’ve seen an old stereoscope at your local museum or historical society.  Here at the AHC, we recently digitized some stereocards taken by University of Wyoming professor of Agriculture and prolific photographer B. C. Buffum.

Buffum joined the UW faculty in 1893, and in 1902 he became director of the agricultural Experiment Stations.  He took photographs of UW, the Experiment Stations, his travels, and life in Laramie, and it’s this last category that we need your help with.

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“Children Having the Time of Their Lives in City Park Laramie, Wyo.” From the B. C. Buffum Collection (click for larger image)

At the AHC, we are digitizing slides and negatives from the Buffum collection, but these most recent two have stumped us. The stereocards depict a scene of children and adults in early 20th century clothing riding on a large see-saw contraption balanced on a strip of railroad tracks.  In the second image, a sign reads “Danger,” an understatement, given the precarious nature of this amusement.

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“Scene in the City Park Laramie, Wyo.” From the B.C. Buffum collection (click for larger image)

Now, we need your help to discover the story behind these stereocards.  What was this see-saw device?  Was it in use anywhere else in the U.S. at the time?  We can imagine why it didn’t take off nationally, given the potential for loss of limb.  Who invented it?  How long was it in use for?

Moreover, where was City Park located?  Anyone with the answers to these questions should email us at ahcref (at) uwyo.edu

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Technical Writer S.J. Moffat – Transgender Awareness Week

Today is the first day of Transgender Awareness week, and today we at the AHC remember Shannon Moffat.

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Shannon’s journals, 1954-1971

Shannon, known professionally as S. J. Moffat, transitioned later in life, and had a long and storied career in her 82 years. Born in 1927 in a small suburb of Pittsburgh, Shannon graduated high school in 1945, and enlisted in the US Navy, where she trained as an electronics technician and served for two years.

She then attended Amherst College, graduating in 1950, and was the assistant science editor for Henry Holt and Company, publishers in New York City, until 1952. From 1952 to 1954 she served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and in 1955 she moved to Palo Alto, California, and worked as a reporter for the Palo Alto Times.

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Pamphlets and zine on trans issues in the 1970s

From 1959 to 1966 she was an information officer at Stanford Medical Center, and from 1966 to 1981 she wrote freelance as a technical writer and science writer for general audiences.  One report she authored in 1974 was entitled “”A Comprehensive Medical Education System for Wyoming: The Governor’s Steering Committee on Medical Education Development.”

From 1981 to 1989 she worked as a technical writer at Stanford University, and from 1989 to 1997 she worked as a medical writer for Syntex Laboratories. From 1997 to 2006 she was an assistant to Dr. Carl Djerassi, a chemist and Professor Emeritus at Stanford.

Moffat passed away in Palo Alto in 2009. She donated her papers to the American Heritage Center over a period of years, initially in 1983, with a large amount in 2002, and again in 2008.

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Subject files on gender and trans issues, organized by Moffat

The collection, totaling 86 boxes, contains her research and publications as a reporter, medical writer, and science and technical writer, as well as personal diaries from the 1950s and 1960s.

Also included in the collection are her research subject files, pamphlets, and diaries before and during her transition, which provide a unique look at how gender transition was discussed and presented in the 1970s and 1980s.

The S. J. Moffat papers are part of “Out West in the Rockies,” the American Heritage Center’s new collecting initiative to preserve and highlight narratives of LGBT people and communities in the Rocky Mountain west. More LGBT collections at the AHC can be found at ahc.uwyo.edu/outwest.

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