Manuscripts Bring History to Life

Historians involved in research on a unique subject, historical period or particular historical figure rely heavily on original manuscripts for their information. What better way is there to penetrate into the underlying causes, small events, and other factors that could have influenced the unfolding history, or which describe the people and events in a direct and accessible manner?

Anyone interested in American history, especially if he is focused on learning more about Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, or the Civil War Period, would do well to visit the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. In this ever-expanding collection a person would never tire of the discoveries made there.

One recently added item in the Shapel Manuscript Foundation collection is a letter in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand, which, in a straightforward and almost mundane way, testifies to the strength of Lincoln’s character and the degree of his honesty. The letter, penned and sent by President Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, and dated April 5, 1861, corrects the mistake which the treasury had made that resulted in Lincoln receiving four days of pay on  days in which he did not actually work.

Another delightful treasure in the collection of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is Lincoln’s second photo taken during the time when he first began to grow his beard. It is the first photo of then president–elect Lincoln with a full beard, and was taken on January 13, 1861 in Springfield, Illinois. The photo is signed by Lincoln with the date, January 26, 1861, the date on which it was given as a gift to Lincoln’s dear friend, the sculptor Thomas D. Jones.

Other manuscript collections abound. As one more example, if you wanted to learn something, or even a lot, about the growth of Jazz in Chicago, all you would need to do is turn to the Chicago Jazz Archive. This repository for manuscripts relating to the birth and early growth of Chicago Jazz began  in 1976, is housed in the Library of the University of Chicago, and has expanded to include recordings, publications, photos, posters, articles, ticket stubs and many other relevant materials which bring the world of early Jazz to life.

Anyone with a penchant for history, whether it is of the more traditional kind, or the more original, can easily turn to such valuable collections like the Shapell Manuscript Foundation or the Chicago Jazz Archive, and experience the past coming  alive.


Hunley Project Celebrates Ten Years of Research

For the past 10 years the “Hunley Project” has brought together mystery, history, science and technology, creating interest that is not just regional, or national, but international. What is this project of which I speak? It is the story of the world’s first successful combat submarine, which was raised from the bottom of the sea four miles from Charleston Harbour in South Carolina in the year 2000.

The H.L. Hunley was a top secret, private project built in Mobile, Alabama in 1863. It was designed by an engineer from New Orleans named James McClintock, who was hired privately by a group of investors who believed they could make a fortune getting through the blockade which the North had imposed on the South during the Civil War of the United States. On February 17, 1864 the Hunley detonated an explosive charge into the hull of the USS Housatonic, which created a hole in the ship  large enough for a train to pass through. The ship sank within minutes, killing five crewmen and leaving over 100 stranded in the sea. Shortly after that the Hunley disappeared. Its whereabouts were not known for 131 years, until a diving team discovered it four miles off the coast of Charleston in 1995.

At the time of its discovery the sub was buried under five feet of sand and 27 feet of water. It took five years to recover the sub, coming to the surface after 136 years underwater, on August 8, 2000.

Today, ten years later, the Hunley has so far earned about $120 million for the state of South Carolina as thousands of tourists from all over the world flock to gaze at it every year. As scientists and researchers continue to examine and learn from the Hunley and find ways to better preserve it, this amazing bit of history continues to reveal more about itself and the times from which it came.