Scarlet Yarns – now a Big Bash tradition….

As we approach the first of June things get very busy around Wabash. Big Bash is on its way and all over campus folks are working to make this the best ‘Bash ever! Much like commencement week, there are dozens of tasks to be done. Here in the Archives we are busy getting ready for the next Scarlet Yarns sessions.

If you are not familiar with the Scarlet Yarns project – let me explain it…Scarlet Yarns is the brainchild of Marilyn Smith from the Advancement Office. It is based on the amazing “Story Corps” project as heard on National Public Radio. Folks record their stories, some are selected for airing and all are archived at the Library of Congress. Here at the Big Bash, we use video cameras and all of the raw tapes come to the Archives. Some are selected and edited into a commemorative DVD.

There are always amazing stories to be heard at the Big Bash and this is one attempt to preserve them for the future. Here is link to a Steve Charles story about the Scarlet Yarns project:

Here is another link to a Tom Runge posting about the project:

This last link is to a page on the Wabash magazine, at the very bottom is a link that you can click on for the 2008 Scarlet Yarns. The link will take you to I-Tunes U where you can watch all or a part of a movie of selected Scarlet Yarns.

For the first time, the Archives is hosting the Scarlet Yarns. When the coffee shop moved into the old library director’s office, we were faced with a decision…where to record the Scarlet Yarns? Adam Bowen, the Director of the Media Center has created a studio here in the lower level of the Lilly Library. Alums will be directed to the Archives where they can peruse old yearbooks, copies of the Bachelor and other historic items. Each alumnus will then be directed to the studio next door to the Archives for their recording session.

It is neat to be able to bring alums to the Archives during Big Bash, after all this is where the history they have created lives on for the future. The Scarlet Yarns will be recording from 1-5 pm on Friday and from 9-10:45am and 1-5pm on Saturday. Stop by the Lilly Library and we will direct to the Archives.

I hope to see you here for Scarlet Yarns this next weekend.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Garner’s gas mask

James Bert Garner W1893

Like so many of the men who have attended Wabash College over the last 175+ years, James Bert Garner [W1893] was a Hoosier. Born in Lebanon, Indiana in 1870, Garner attended the local high school before coming to Wabash. For those not familiar with west-central Indiana geography, Boone County is just east of Crawfordsville and Lebanon is just about a 25 minute drive.

Garner entered Wabash in September of 1889 and graduated with his B.S. degree in 1893. While a student at Wabash, Garner was a Phi Delt and a member of the Calliopean Literary Society. Following his graduation, Garner took a small post at Wabash as an assistant in chemistry and mineralogy.

When Garner left Wabash in 1895, he had his master’s degree. Awarded a fellowship in chemistry at the University of Chicago, for the next two years Garner was a lecture assistant there. Garner graduated from Chicago in 1897, Magna Cum Laude, with his Ph.D.

In one of those interesting asides that happen all of the time here in the Archives, Garner’s major professor, Dr. Alexander Smith, had just left Wabash to teach at the same institution. Smith was an amazing teacher and his chemistry texts are classics in the field.

In 1897 Professor Garner went to Bradley Polytechnic in Peoria, Illinois. Five years later, in 1901, Garner returned to Wabash and taught here for 14 years.  Remembered as a great teacher, the students who went through Wabash under his tutelage were forever after known as Garner’s men.

One of the articles that I read said that Dr. Garner had a large family and needed more of an income. He left Wabash and accepted a fellowship at the Mellon Institute and moved his family to Pittsburgh. In his obituary from the Wabash Magazine, it notes that he was survived by his widow and 12 children.

The idea for his greatest achievement came as Garner was reading a newspaper account of the gas attacks on the British forces in WWI. The year was 1915 and while reading the article he recalled an experiment from his University of Chicago days…As a lecture assistant, Garner was charged with setting up demonstrations. The demonstration involved mercury in a test tube. When ammonia was added the mercury rose…when wood charcoal was then added, the mercury returned to its previous level. Garner supposed that activated charcoal might be used to absorb the gases used on the British troops. Following a successful test of the charcoal absorption principle, he turned this information over to the British who used the technology to fabricate gas masks which saved the lives of many soldiers. When America entered the war, thousands of American troops wore the Garner mask.

Garner was clearly an innovator and had several other patents. Among these were a procedure to obtain gasoline from natural gas and one to extract nicotine from tobacco. In 1950 Wabash honored Dr. Garner’s lifelong achievements in chemistry with an honorary doctorate of science degree.  James Bert Garner died in Pittsburgh on November 23, 1960. He was 90 years old.

What a life in the science of chemistry and what a legacy he left!

Beth Swift
Wabash College

LaFollette lecture, LaFollette professor, LaFollette the man…

Just this week I had a request for a scanned copy of Bob Petty’s 1982 LaFollette Lecture, “The Margins of Knowledge”  and another request for a copy of a later lecture in this series. These two requests caused me to think about all of the other LaFollette lectures over the years. This series is a source of deep, engaged thinking. Each year one speaker is chosen from the faculty to present a lecture. It is an honor and, based on those who have spoken in prior years, I would think it might be a bit intimidating…These requests also caused me to think more about the man whose name is on the series…Charles DeVon LaFollette.

Lafe, as he was known to his friends, was born in Thorntown, Indiana, a very small town in Boone County. He graduated from Thorntown High School in 1916. At Wabash he was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Managing Editor of the Bachelor, student director of the Glee Club and a leader in the Wabash Players, the forerunner of the Scarlet Masque theater group and elected to Phi Beta Kappa. LaFollette stayed a fifth year and earned his master’s degree at Wabash before heading to Harvard. At Harvard he earned his M.B.A. and was asked to stay, at first as a researcher. In 1925 was appointed Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration. Following his Harvard years, LaFollette worked as Assistant to the President of the Bobbs-Merrill publishing company in Indianapolis.

The scene changed from Indianapolis to Corning, NY where this smart young man quickly rose through the ranks at Corning. Starting as sales manager of the Pyrex division, he was elected Treasurer in 1939 and by 1943 was the Vice President and Director of Sales. By 1946 Lafe was a director of the company. When he retired in 1964 he continued on the Board of Directors of Dow-Corning. LaFollette served as President of the Corning Museum of Glass and was a Trustee of the Corning Glass Works Foundation.

Yet through all of his success, Wabash was always a part of his world. In 1952 Lafe became a Trustee of Wabash College. He served for 25 years and in 1977 stepped down from the Board. It was in this year that the first LaFollette lecture was presented at Wabash. He and his wife also established the Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities, first held by Eric Dean. It is a distinguished list as first Raymond Williams and then Bill Placher followed  Dean. Leslie Day  an archaeologist with significant excavations in Greece and professor in the Classics department served as the next LaFollette from 2009-2011.  This highly prized chair is currently held by theater professor Dwight Watson.

Lafe loved this place and Wabash rewarded him for his good work. In 1956 he received the Alumni Award of Merit and in 1967 he received the Doctor of Humane Letters degree from President Paul Cook. On his retirement from the Board in 1977, faculty member Bert Stern presented, “The Businessman as Poet.” The lecture was at 4pm and was followed by a dinner. Ben Rogge spoke after dinner and ended his remarks with this toast, “To our friend, Lafe LaFollette, then, I propose this toast: May those who teach and those who learn at this college and those who guide its destinies in the years ahead be forever mindful of your example, forever aware that the finest product of a liberal education is that rarest of creatures, a truly civilized human being.”

What a lovely thought!

A truly civilized human being as the finest product of liberal arts education…


Beth Swift, Archivist

Wabash College


Commencement thoughts

This handbill was printed for the 10th anniversary commencement at Wabash in 1848. That would make the first commencement in 1838. Although Wabash College was founded in 1832, classes did not start until 1833. Nearly five years later two men graduated as the Class of 1838. Archibald Cameron Allen and Silas Jessup completed their coursework and in July of that year walked into history. And to clarify – there was no commencement in 1839 – so that makes this truly the ninth actual commencement.

Commencements of today are really quite different from those of the past. The first difference is that now only two seniors speak at Commencement – in the past the entire class was required to deliver an oration.

As the college grew, so did Commencement activities. By 1895 Commencement started on Sunday and lasted through Wednesday evening.

The first event was the Baccalaureate sermon delivered Sunday morning by President Burroughs. Sunday evening featured a guest preacher for the Commencement Sermon.

Monday evening starting at 8pm was the Senior Class Day at the Music Hall downtown.

On Tuesday morning, the Board of Trustees met at 9 am in the Yandes Library building. At 3pm on Tuesday the class reunions began and at 7:30 the reunion dinner was held, again in Yandes. The speaker for the dinner was Harry J. Milligan [W1873].

(Brief aside: Milligan later served on the Board of Trustees, and in 1906 was its president. The Milligan Clock now between Center and Baxter was donated in his memory.)

Finally, bright and early on Wednesday morning, the Commencement exercises began. That evening it was the tradition that the President hosted a reception. As we see in this case, it was held in Yandes Hall – now named Detchon Hall. All of these activities made for quite a week here at Wabash in 1895.

Commencement is still quite a busy week, but now thankfully the reunions are later. This gives us all a chance to focus on the single event – either Commencement or the Big Bash. And while we don’t start on Monday and I can’t say how long has passed since the change to Sunday for commencement, these events still keep us all on our toes! Commencement 2010 will be no exception to the notion of a bustle of activity. Then just a few weeks later the campus comes alive in June for the Big Bash. I love both events for different reasons – but Commencement with its diplomas all in tidy rows, the faculty in their colorful regalia and the smiles on the faces of the graduates is still just the best. What a day, what a place!


Beth Swift

ps Here is another commencement image – pretty self explanatory but still neat to see…

This was a special small stamp created for the 100th Commencement in 1938.

Beth Swift
Wabash College