“I’m Sorry Mother, For This Lousy Letter…”: Viewpoints on the Vietnam War

January 27, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which signaled the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. It’s an especially appropriate time to remember the sentiments and experiences of those involved in and impacted by the Vietnam War. Though millions of people fit this criteria, I have chosen to highlight portions of letters written by Charles J. V. Murphy and James Mitchell Swan as they embody the divide of attitudes in the U.S. during the war.

Murphy (1904-1987) was a prominent U.S. journalist and former Air Force Reserve officer who corresponded frequently about Nguyễn Cao Kỳ with Colonel George Budway, who served as Commander of the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam from April 1965 to May 1966. Kỳ was commander of South Vietnam’s air force when, through a military junta, became Vietnam’s prime minister for two years beginning in 1965. Although flamboyant, brash, and autocratic, Kỳ was able to end a cycle of leadership coups, and the U.S. backed him. Murphy, a war hawk, saw an opportunity to invigorate U.S. sentiment towards the war by writing a book about Kỳ. Although photographs of and interviews with Kỳ were gathered, the book never materialized. By 1971, Kỳ was largely sidelined politically. Nonetheless, the letters between Murphy and Budway provide valuable insight into the “pro-war” mentality. Budway donated the material gathered about Kỳ to the AHC between 1986 and 1987.

Kỳ and American President Lyndon B. Johnson confer privately at the 1966 Honolulu Conference on the Vietnam War. Photo taken February 8, 1966, by a member of the White House Photograph Office. Public domain image accessed through Wikipedia.

James Mitchell Swan was from Worland, Wyoming, and was drafted in 1968. An unpublished set of letters compiled by his mother detail his largely negative experiences and feelings on the war. He returned home in 1969 but died two years later in a car accident while attending the University of Wyoming.

James Swan headed to Army Induction in Butte, Montana, 1968. Box 1, James Mitchell Swan manuscript, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

I’m not sure whether to go hide again or go serve my country by picking up cigarette butts. – James Mitchell Swan, 1968

In much of the American press, in the “liberal” wings of both parties, in much of the assertive centers of the so-called intellectual world, the opposition to the Vietnam War has turned savage. Now the Negro leaders are shouting that white Americans must choose between them and the war, and the pacifists and neutralist liberals have joined in the shout. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1967

I don’t believe in war at all. I don’t even want to think violence exists. All I want to do is go home, take a hot shower, forget this place, and go to bed. – James Mitchell Swan, 1969

The American public has wearied of the war. People don’t pretend to understand the political and military values––it’s all too complex, most say––all they care about now is ending the drain somehow. That means getting out. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1969

I’m sorry Mother, for this lousy letter, but all I want to do is get out of this place, forget every involvement, and never let them do this to me again. – James Mitchell Swan, 1969

Where is our man Ky? Doesn’t the situation call for a hero? The man of indomitable will? Why do we not hear from him a clarion call to action. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1972

A fishing boat with 162 Vietnamese refugees on board sinks near shore in 1978. Photo from PBS “The Boat People’s Journey.”

Although the Paris Peace Accords marked the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the humanitarian crisis persisted. It would be a mistake to neglect the stories of the people of Southeast Asia who did and continue to bear the greatest cost of this war. 

Post contributed by University of Wyoming student Cody Akin.


Posted in American history, International relations, military history, Political history, Southeast Asia, Uncategorized, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Black 14: Protests and Reactions

Martin Luther King Jr. Day—observed yearly on the third Monday of January—honors the achievements of Dr. King, a prominent civil rights leader who played a vital role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and employment. He also launched a campaign of civil disobedience in Selma, Alabama, to bring national attention to disenfranchisement of Black voters in the South, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His assassination in 1968, like the killing of another civil rights leader, Malcolm X, in 1965, radicalized many Black activists, fueling the growth of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

During this time, marked not only by civil rights protests but anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, Wyoming seemed to avoid the turbulence occurring around the U.S. Much of the state’s attention was instead focused on the University of Wyoming (UW) football team, which, by 1969, had produced three Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championships and a close loss in the 1968 Sugar Bowl. But unrest finally caught up with Wyoming in October 1969.

WAC schools had begun protesting policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which ran Brigham Young University (BYU), because of its policy of denying priesthood to Black men. The newly formed Black Student Alliance (BSA) at UW, in anticipation of the October 18th home game against BYU, issued a letter encouraging the campus community to protest this policy of the LDS church. The letter stated that the LDS policy was “clearly racist,” and that “all people of good will” should wear black armbands to protest the racial policies of the church during the game against BYU.

The day before the game, fourteen Black football players for UW approached their head coach, Lloyd Eaton, to ask if they could wear black armbands during the game to support the BSA’s call for protest. Eaton, known as a strict disciplinarian, immediately dismissed the players with angry and racist language. Shocked, the players emptied their lockers and walked across campus to ask if UW President William Carlson could arrange a meeting with Coach Eaton at Old Main. The players sought a resolution to the issue. As noted by Black 14 member Mel Hamilton in 2009, if Eaton had declined their request, the 14 still would have played the BYU game. The meeting was arranged for that afternoon. The 14 were there, as were Carlson, Athletic Director Red Jacoby and student leaders, but Eaton refused to appear.

That evening, the coaches and players met separately with the UW Board of Trustees and even Wyoming’s governor, Stanley Hathaway, during a special meeting lasting from 8 p.m. until 3:15 a.m. Game Day morning. Still, Eaton declined to appear. The university’s decision: The dismissals result from a violation of a football coaching rule Friday morning. In essence, the summary dismissal of the players was justified. The full brunt of UW and Wyoming officials were against the 14.

The dismissal of the 14 players put UW and Laramie into the national spotlight as camera crews from the three big TV networks and news crews from media outlets across the country came to Laramie. Reactions soon poured into the UW President’s Office. Through the President’s records—housed and digitized by the UW American Heritage Center—one can view firsthand those reactions on campus, state, and national levels. Here we provide a glimpse of the hundreds of letters that President Carlson received.

Support for the Decision

Letters, like the ones shown below, were sent to the UW President’s Office from all over the country, in support of UW’s stance. In many instances, the decision to dismiss the football players was applauded as one of principal.

Letter from a future student supporting UW’s support for Coach Eaton. UW President’s Office Records, Accession No. 510000, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Letter of support from the president of a large plastic manufacturing company. The writer asserts that losing football games means nothing compared to sticking by the “good principles” of the institution. UW President’s Office Records, Accession No. 510000, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Letter of support from a UW faculty member. UW President’s Office Records, Accession No. 510000, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Disapproval of the Decision

Although not as abundant, a number of letters of condemnation against UW’s action came into the President’s Office. Included in that number was a letter from U.S. Representative Donald W. Riegle, Jr., of Michigan, who was at the beginning of his political career. He would go on to serve five terms as a Representative and three terms as a U.S. Senator.

Chapters of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) around the country were quite vocal in their criticism. Two examples are letters below sent by AAUP at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Iowa. Both correspondents write of their concern about violation of the student protestors’ First Amendment rights.

A letter from the University of California, Berkeley, voicing their disapproval of the dismissal of the Black 14. UW President’s Office Records, Accession No. 510000, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
A letter from the University of Iowa, also voicing their disapproval. UW President’s Office Records, Accession No. 510000, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The letter below is from a former UW faculty member who had taken a position at Kent State University. The letter reads: “Dear President Carlson: As a former faculty member of the University of Wyoming, I have always loved the school and been thankful for the opportunities it gave me. Now, however, I am no longer proud to have been associated with an institution which has been branded ‘racist’ throughout the country. Although Life reported that you support Eaton, I have read other accounts (New York Times) which report that you do not. I sincerely hope the latter source is true. To deny individuals a voice, even though they may be members of a team, is to deny the individuality of man – the most important thing any teacher or educator should realize.”

This letter, along with others from the AAUP, were critical of Coach Eaton and the UW President’s Office for their decision to dismiss the team members. This former professor’s letter also refers to two national publications that reported on the issue, showing that it was a hot topic in the national media. It is also interesting to note that six months after this letter was written, Kent State University would become the center of national scrutiny after students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard while protesting the Vietnam War. This incident, just like the Black 14, influenced protests around the country.

The decision to support Eaton’s dismissal of the players continued to haunt UW for decades. The once winning football team went on to have many losing seasons over the next decade. UW had trouble recruiting Black student-athletes. The dismissed players struggled for years after they were labeled members of the Black 14. Finally, in 2019, the University of Wyoming issued an official apology to the surviving players, 50 years after their controversial dismissal from the team.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener with assistance from a Virmuze exhibit created in 2020 for the AHC by student intern Annie Stratton.


Posted in Athletics, Interns' projects, Political history, Racism, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Towards a Definition of Backcountry Skiing

Recently while researching at the American Heritage Center, I discovered the papers of a living legend who, nearly fifty years ago, attempted to describe one of the more significant modern developments in outdoor recreation.

I am referring to William Morse “Bill” Briggs and backcountry skiing. Briggs is famous for his first ski descent of the Grand Teton on June 15, 1971, and for many years he served as Director of the ski school at Snow King Resort in Jackson, Wyoming.

One day after Bill Briggs’ famous descent of the Grand Teton, Virginia Huidekoper, founder and owner of the Jackson Hole News, and photographer Roger LaVake, flew around the iconic peak and took this photo of Briggs’ tracks. Photo courtesy Jackson Hole News & Guide.

In 1953 Briggs left Dartmouth College to become a professional skier and mountain guide. He led the first alpine group packing into the Bugaboo Range, British Columbia, was the director of the ski school at Sugarloaf, Maine (1956), and the director of the ski school at Suicide Six in Woodstock, Vermont (1958). He also made the first verified ski descent of Mount Rainier (1961).

In 1966 he bought Snow King for three thousand dollars and founded The Snow King Great American Ski School, where he required his ski instructors to study a ski instruction manual fashioned on the principles of Scientology.

Briggs’ papers include his “Orders of the Day” from several winters in the late seventies and early eighties, along with a two-part ski manual and a thorough dictionary of skiing.

Parsing through his often brilliant and occasionally rash theorizing on everything from teaching small children the snowplow to countering the pharmaceutical industry gave me plenty to consider. What most struck me was to see—unfolding over the days, the weeks and the years—Briggs’ efforts to understand competence in skiing and how “Alpine Touring” fit his conception of excellence.

Morton Lund was a prolific ski writer and was inducted into the US Ski Hall of Fame in 1997. He was one of Briggs’ great admirers and one of his most ardent critics. Lund penned this article in 1980 after participating in one of Briggs’ advanced ski instruction courses. Box 1, Bill Briggs papers, Collection No. 10794, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In American history, backcountry refers to a remote place, often undeveloped, wild or simply beyond the full control of the state. In Briggs’ prime, the term “backcountry skiing” was unknown, and it was rarely done.

However, from his experience as a pioneering ski mountaineer and ski instructor, Briggs developed a nuanced view of the possibilities and the challenges that backcountry offered individual skiers. According to him, skiing safely and skillfully outside of ski resort boundaries was ultimately not something that could be taught. Yet, he intentionally included “Alpine Tours” as an integral component of advanced ski instruction.

Seeing this, I crafted this working definition of backcountry skiing: “advanced skiing where there are few external controls and where there is maximum potential for individual skiers to experience something for themselves.”

I am researching the history of backcountry skiing in the United States as a means to understand the connections between recreation, commerce, and risk. Most backcountry skiers sought mild adventure, and risk mitigation systems have, to a great degree, supported the sport’s growth. Advanced avalanche awareness training, expertly-staffed regional avalanche centers, and sophisticated mountain search and rescue networks are all prime examples.

Nevertheless, as with other mountain sports in recent decades, a cadre of professional risk-takers has emerged, widely known as “extreme skiers.” The risks involved in this sport were recently highlighted by the death of ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson on September 26, 2022, as she attempted a ski descent from the summit of Nepal’s Mount Manaslu (8,163 meters (26,781 ft.). This tragic event lends credence to the idea that the lure of extreme skiing has only increased along with the massive growth of societal risk mitigation systems, which points to a cultural paradox: has mainstream society grown risk-averse, even as a subculture of backcountry skiers embraced extreme risk taking?

Post contributed by Matt Green, 2022 AHC Travel Grant awardee and a Doctoral Candidate in History at the University of Utah.


Posted in Mountaineering, outdoor recreation, Sports and Recreation, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Room for the Year: The University of Wyoming’s Early Attempts to Provide Student Housing

When the University of Wyoming opened its doors to students on September 6, 1887, university officials had to consider housing for the students arriving from outside Laramie. Due to low enrollment and the fact that most students were from Laramie, the urgency of student housing and dining was not an immediate consideration.

Workers pause for a photograph during construction late in 1886 of what would become Old Main at the University of Wyoming. Upon completion, Old Main literally was the university. This collodion print panel card was taken by the photography studio of Silas M. Hartwell in Laramie. From photo file: Colleges and Universities – University of Wyoming – Buildings – Old Main, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

University officials turned to the local community to provide necessary room and board for the few students arriving from other areas. Prospective students and their parents were provided contact information for Laramie residents who might have rooms available for rent. The annual University of Wyoming Catalogue from the early decades, as well as newspapers across the state provided the information. The early University Catalogue publications include a statement about housing options, including this entry from the 1891-92 University Catalogue: “The President and Faculty of the University will endeavor to furnish all students with good homes with the citizens of Laramie. We have a list also of accredited boarding houses, where students can find good homes at reasonable cost. A letter to the President, asking for information, or to secure a boarding place, will receive prompt attention.”

Though university administrators relied on the community for student housing, they voiced a desire for official UW housing immediately. The 1887 University Catalogue states that, “It is expected that there will soon be built a University Club House, where any who prefer such an arrangement can have excellent board at cost, under the general superintendence of some officer of the institution.” The Laramie Boomerang reported in its August 18, 1887, edition that the University Club House could also “become the home of even some of the professors, who would thereby gain a closer acquaintance and greater influence with their students.”

The university’s attempts to secure funding to build a dormitory continued to be delayed. Until such a boarding house or dormitory could be made available, students relied on private accommodations. Though these informal accommodations were suitable for some students, many parents desired housing that was more formally associated with the university. Fortunately, a recently constructed mansion, also a club house, became available a few years after the university opened.

Located at the present site of the Laramie Post Office, at the northwest corner of University Avenue (known as Centre Street at the time) and 5th Street, the Laramie Club opened in December 1886. Commercial opportunities, including land development and stock growing, gave rise to the club for investors and developers and their guests. The Laramie Club was organized on August 18, 1885, with the object of providing “a pleasure resort and place of recreation.” The original trustees included the owners of the manse, Robert Marsh and Frank Cooper, who had formed a large land and cattle company.

The land at 5th and University was purchased in August 1885, and groundbreaking for the mansion occurred that fall. The Laramie Boomerang reported that the building was completed in late November 1886. The new club house was described in the December 23, 1886, issue of the Boomerang. The main floor included a “magnificent apartment,” a wine room, and a butler’s pantry. In addition to the “handsome and commodious dining room,” there was a main gathering room, a coat room, billiard room, and a card room. The kitchen was in the basement along with a cook’s pantry, wine cellar, storeroom, and a cook’s living quarters. The upper floor of the structure included eight bedrooms.

The Laramie Club at the corner of University Avenue and 5th Street, circa 1890. Box 2, Isberg Family papers, Collection No. 215, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Laramie Club’s existence was short-lived. Cattle prices began to drop in 1886, and the harsh winter of 1887 lent a devastating blow to the state’s cattle industry. The Boomerang reported on August 15, 1890, that, “The Laramie Club has decided to disband, and their affairs will be wound up this week.”

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church expressed interest in the club house and by mid-February 1891, thanks to a large donation from a New York City resident, Mrs. Eva Cochran, Bishop Ethelbert Talbot was able to purchase the Laramie Club and “establish a school here for the education of boys and young men for the ministry and for missionary work.” An additional opportunity soon presented itself to Talbot. That same spring, the Board of Trustees, at its March 27 meeting, approved the creation of a School of Military Science and Tactics (later known as the Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC.) On June 10, 1891, the Board of Trustees reached an agreement with Bishop Talbot to rent the club house to be used as quarters for the military department and to be occupied by the young men who would attend the university that fall. Rooms were provided at no cost. Monthly fees totaled $1.50 for fuel and lights. Meals were an additional $15-$20 per month.

The university assigned Professor Justus Soule, who taught Greek and Latin, to oversee the University Club House, as the property became known. The Laramie Daily Boomerang reported on September 10, 1891, that, “Professor and Mrs. J.F. Soule and Mrs. E.P. Congdon, the matron, moved into the university club house today.” The next day, the paper reported that Sheridan student, F.A. Kueny, “arrived this morning. He is the first to take quarters at the university club house and military headquarters.” The following school year saw English Language and Literature Professor W.I. Smith in charge, and Mrs. J.W. Claxton was the matron. Students paid $22 per month for room, board, and fees.

In June 1893, the Episcopal Church resumed control of the club house, and the building became known as St. Matthew’s Hall, where private boarding for young men continued. Mrs. Claxton remained the matron. The warden was Oxford graduate and Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral, the Rev. Edward H. Parnell. He and his wife made their home there. Parnell offered students two hours a day to assist with their studies.

After the 1893-94 academic year, the operation of the hall was sporadic. On September 11, 1894, the Boomerang reported that “There are a number of boarders at St. Matthew’s Hall at present.” There is also conflicting information about its use. A Boomerang article from April 13, 1897, reports that the hall is for boys. According to the official University of Wyoming Catalogue and Announcements for the year 1896-97, St. Matthew’s Hall was described as now being a “young ladies’ dormitory…The intention has been to make of it a Christian home, not only for Episcopalians, but for young ladies of all denominations who may attend the University.” It is possible that the club did not operate as described in the Catalogue that year.

St. Matthew’s Hall, circa 1900. Box 17, Item 9, B. C. Buffum papers, Collection No. 400055, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In his June 21, 1899, report to the Board of Trustees, President Elmer Smiley noted that, “It seems a pity for St. Mathew’s [sic] Hall to stand idle when there is such a demand for some such a building as a young ladies’ hall and dormitory.” On June 22, the Board of Trustees met with Episcopal Bishop Anson R. Graves, who oversaw matters in several Western states, including Nebraska and Wyoming. The university once again reached an agreement with the Episcopal Church to use St. Matthew’s Hall as a dormitory for girls. The hall first needed attention. Again, Eva Cochran donated funds for repairs, upgrades, and new furnishings.

The updated St. Matthew’s Hall was ready for the 1900-1901 school year. Though the hall could accommodate up to 25 students, the church reported that it was occupied by 15 UW students and four other boarders. Mrs. E.A. May, of Oakland, CA, was hired as the matron. The University reported that the hall would be available again for the 1901-1902 academic year. It was used on occasion for university gatherings for several more years.

University students pose for a photograph on the porch of St. Matthew’s Hall, 1904. Box 86, Samuel H. Knight Collection, Collection No. 400044, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In May 1905, the Episcopal Church sold St. Matthew’s Hall to Laramie’s Fraternal Order of Eagles. Later, it became the home of the Woodmen of the World organization, which first occupied the building on January 2, 1917. Its history of various occupants concluded in March 1958, when the University Baptist Church vacated the building. The structure was condemned and demolition of the 72-year-old club house began in August 1958. In the December 7, 1960, issue of the Boomerang, the bold headline proclaimed that Laramie, “Will Get New Post Office.” Construction commenced in the spring of 1961, and the new post office at the corner of 5th and University was dedicated on June 21, 1962.

After St. Matthew’s Hall was sold, the university continued its struggle to provide adequate student housing. In his report to the trustees in 1906, President Tisdel noted that “The present custom of having our young women board and room in widely scattered boarding houses throughout town is not quite satisfactory, and that many mothers throughout the state hesitate to send their daughters to the University, since there is no place for them to live under the direct supervision of the University authorities.”

By 1907, the process to construct a women’s dormitory on campus began, and Women’s Hall (now Merica Hall) opened on October 1, 1908. And that’s another history to be told…

Post contributed by University Archivist and Historian John Waggener.


Posted in architectural history, Construction, Laramie, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Excelsior! – Honoring a Lifetime of Stan Lee’s Work

December 28, 2022, marks the 100th Anniversary of Stan Lee’s birth, so it is fitting that the last post of the year delves into his remarkable life and work.

Lee’s papers are among the American Heritage Center’s most popular collections. Stan Lee was born Stanley M. Lieber on December 28, 1922, in Manhattan, New York. As a young boy, Lee was a voracious reader, enchanted with everything from pulp magazines to Shakespeare. Lee’s father was a dress cutter but had trouble finding work during the Great Depression. Consequently, as a teenager, Lee helped to support his family with a number of odd jobs. He sold newspaper subscriptions and worked as a movie theater usher. He delivered sandwiches in the Rockefeller Center and worked as an office boy for a trouser manufacturing company. But Lee’s true loves were writing and acting. He wrote for his high school magazine, The Magpie and won essay contests run by the New York Herald Tribune. He had dreams of becoming a great American novelist. Then, after graduating from high school, he joined the Works Progress Administration Federal Theater Project as an amateur actor – but acting didn’t pay the bills.

By 1939, Lee had found a job at Timely Comics, where he worked as an office boy, tasked with running errands, sweeping floors, filling inkwells and proofreading. He was paid $12 a week and, according to Lee “it seemed like a fortune.” Before long, he was acting as editor for Timely and contributing captions to artists’ drawings. His first credited work was dialog for “The Traitor’s Revenge,” a Captain America No. 3 comic, in 1941. Embarrassed to be writing low-brow comic books, he adopted the pen name “Stan Lee,” a play on his first name. His real name was to be saved for more important work.

Caught up in the spirit of patriotism during World War II, he volunteered for the Army in 1942. Lee was first assigned to the Signal Corps and trained in stringing up telecommunications wires and climbing telephone poles. Then the Army discovered his creative talents and reassigned him to a division that produced Army training films and publications.

Stan Lee inking a cartoon while serving in the U.S. Army, 1943. Box 7, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

While the war raged on, Lee was never deployed overseas. He continued to work for Timely Comics on the weekends, receiving writing assignments by mail. Much to his relief, he was released from military service in 1945. He was so delighted to be out of the Army that he burned his uniform.

In 1947, Lee met Joan Boocock, an English hat model, in New York City. For Stan, it was love at first sight. But there was a complication – Joan was already married. Stan convinced her to fly to Reno, Nevada for a quickie divorce. Stan and Joan were married in Reno the same day that the divorce was finalized.

During the remainder of the 1940s and through the 1950s, Lee churned out dozens of comic books a month. There were westerns, war stories, monster, and romance comics. Lee wrote them all but chafed at the guidance he was receiving from his publisher to limit dialogue and avoid words that were more than two syllables long. Most comic books were written for readers under the age of fifteen. Stan was on the verge of quitting the comics business. But Joan, who wasn’t a comics fan herself, advised him to write the sort of dialog he was longing for. She said, “So what’ll they do, fire you?”

Her advice couldn’t have been more prescient. Timely Comics was facing competition from DC Comics which had just introduced the Justice League of America. In response, Lee and artist Jack Kirby worked together to create the Fantastic Four in 1961. The Fantastic Four, comprised of Mister Fantastic (alter ego of Dr. Reed Richards), Invisible Girl (alter ego of Susan Storm), Human Torch (alter ego of Johnny Storm), and The Thing (alter ego of Ben Grimm), were an immediate success. Fan letters poured in.

First page of the first issue of The Fantastic Four comic book, 1961. Box 113, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Fantastic Four spoke with the kind of dialog Lee found interesting and, initially, dressed in street clothes. Fans loved the more sophisticated writing but objected to the lack of superhero costumes. So, in the second issue Lee relented and created a storyline in which the Invisible Girl designed costumes for the Fantastic Four. As Lee wrote succeeding issues of the Fantastic Four, each character became fully developed, with human traits and believable reactions. They fought, had neuroses and foibles and were sarcastic. It was a comic book industry breakthrough.

Lee followed up with the creation of the Incredible Hulk in May 1962 and, in collaboration with artist Steve Ditko, penned Spider-Man just one month later. Spider-Man represented even more of a departure from traditional superheroes. Lee decided to give Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, the attributes of an average guy. Taking inspiration from his own life as a teenager, Lee explained, “He’s a guy who wears glasses, he’s not strong, he’s a bookworm, he’s not that popular with girls, he has acne.” Lee faced opposition from his publisher, who said it was the worst idea he had ever heard. “People hate spiders, and it sounds too much like Superman,” his publisher said. Lee persevered and Spider-Man went on to become the world’s most popular comics superhero.

Cover of a Spider-Man DVD. Box 127, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Before long, Timely Comics had rebranded itself as Marvel Comics. Readership doubled and soon doubled again. Suddenly college students and older adults were reading Spider-Man and other Marvel comic books. While younger readers still enjoyed the colorful costumes, action and excitement Marvel comics offered, older readers appreciated the satire, storylines, subplots, and college-level vocabulary that Lee included.

By the mid 1960s, Stan and Joan had moved from New York City to Long Island, New York, to raise their daughter. Stan worked from home on a regular basis, often poolside in the back yard and sometimes dressed only in his swimming trunks. He was concerned about developing a pot belly like some of his writer friends, so he fashioned a standing desk for himself by stacking two tables together and propping his portable Remington typewriter on top. Using a two-finger typing method, he pecked out storylines and dialog and created more than two dozen superheroes and nearly a dozen new villains.

Stan Lee posing with some of his comics. Box 7, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

About writing, Lee said, “I love to dream up stories, but I hate to write – writing them is a bore – so because of that I write very, very quickly because I want to get through with it fast!” The speed with which Lee wrote sometimes contributed to mistakes that ultimately appeared in Marvel comics, but Lee wasn’t fazed by the misprints. He encouraged fans to write-in to report errors, make complaints or just to ask questions. Marvel didn’t have a budget for prizes so in Lee’s tongue-in-cheek fashion, he created a “no-prize” prize for a lucky letter writer each month. The “no-prize” was, as promised, not a prize – instead it was a specially designed empty envelope Lee sent out to fans. Lee called it “the most sought-after item in Comicdom, because it’s one of the few things that is totally valueless and without one redeeming feature!”

“No-prize” envelope from Marvel Entertainment Group, 1996. Box 127, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Lee developed what is now known as the Marvel method of comic book writing. After brainstorming with an artist, he composed a few paragraphs describing the storyline. Using Lee’s storyline, the artists created drawings to tell the story visually. Finally, Lee added in the text for the speech and thought bubbles to complete the comic. Thought bubbles were integral to his work, as they helped readers understand the inner life of his many characters.

Stan Lee became Marvel Comic’s “master-mind writer and editor.” He partnered with artists in the creation of now legendary characters such as Black Panther, Thor, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, the X-Men and more. Lee injected humor into his comic books and was eager to have a connection with his fans. He added a credits section to Marvel comic books, where he wrote things like, “Written with passion by Stan Lee! Drawn with enthusiasm by Jack Kirby!” And he created a “Stan’s Soapbox” column, where he addressed fans directly and signed off with his trademark slogan “Excelsior!” In an interview Stan, whose marriage to Joan had further solidified his love of all things English, explained that excelsior was an old English word meaning upward and onward to greater glory. It was fitting. Stan’s star was rising. He became a regularly featured speaker on college campuses.

Program cover for Stan Lee’s lecture at the University of Texas, October 29, 2003. Box 105, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

He was interviewed by dozens of magazines and newspapers and became a regular at comics conventions. By 1972, he was named publisher at Marvel and was the company’s very public face.

Lee delighted in discussing his creative process and answering fan questions. When asked why he gave so many of his characters’ alter-egos alliterative names (just a few examples include Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, and Susan Storm), Lee explained that he had “the world’s worst memory” and that the alliterative names aided his recall when he had so many characters to keep track of. Fans were eager to know how Lee came up with the idea for the Hulk. Lee revealed that he had been inspired by both the movie Frankenstein and the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Originally the Hulk was to have had grey skin. But grey printed inconsistently in comic book form – sometimes it appeared as black, other times as light blue. Lee wanted to make the Hulk distinctive and realized that no other comic book character had green skin. So, working with artist Jack Kirby, the green-skinned Hulk was born.

Cover of The Incredible Hulk DVD. Box 127, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1980, as Marvel Comics characters made their way into movies and television, Stan and Joan relocated from New York to West Hollywood, California. Stan had given up on writing the great American novel and was instead a tycoon of the comic book industry. Ironically, in the end, it was Joan who became the novelist, writing The Pleasure Palace, a modern romance, in 1987. Stan eventually left Marvel and formed Stan Lee Media and then POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment. He evolved with the times, launching StanLee.net in 1999, a one-stop on-line community hub for comic book fans. And he finally returned to his love of acting, making cameo appearances in more than 40 films featuring Marvel characters.

In 2008 his work took a non-partisan political turn. He wrote the satirical Election Daze, which Lee billed as “a light-hearted look at our lovable laughable leaders.” He captioned photos of politicians of the day for a 96-page book. With thought and dialog bubbles, he poked fun at everyone from George W. Bush to Hilary Clinton. Stan got a kick out of putting words into politicians’ mouths. He said it was the easiest book he had ever written.

Cover of Stan Lee’s Election Daze, 2008. Box 127, Stan Lee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 2011 Lee was awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. His life’s work has been lauded by fans around the world. He has been granted honorary degrees, given the keys to cities, and received letters from presidents. He even coined expressions that have entered the popular vernacular like Spider-Man’s famous line, “with great power must also come great responsibility.” After a long, full life, Stan Lee passed away on November 12, 2018, less than two years after the death of his beloved wife Joan.

Comprised of nearly 200 boxes, Stan Lee’s papers give insights into the personality of the man behind many of Marvel’s best loved comic book heroes and villains. Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stan Lee’s birth and learn more about the life of the writer who “humanized” superheroes by reading the Stan Lee papers at the American Heritage Center.

Lee’s papers are also featured on the Wyoming History Day (WHD) website under “Theme and Topics.” WHD, administered by the AHC, occurs every year in April or May. It is part of National History Day, which is a year-long education program that engages students in grades 6-12 in the process of discovery and interpretation of historical topics. The national contest occurs in June.

In 2020, the AHC received funding from the IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museums and Libraries for a two-year project to digitize the Center’s primary sources related to each year’s History Day theme. Since that time, the AHC has provided resources from 61 collections on 16 topics with more on the way. And the website’s uses go beyond History Day. You may see valuable information on a topic you’re researching. Check it out!

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Comic book history, Fantasy, Hollywood history, popular culture, Superheroes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas from the Boones!

Donna Clausen Boone and Robert “Bob” Boone took writing their annual Christmas letter seriously. The couple were known for their elaborate Christmas cards and letters. Bob designed the cards and drew the illustrations while Donna wrote the accompanying text. Bob and Donna married in 1965.

Donna Claussen Boone and Robert Boone at their wedding, 1965. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boon and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Donna was a graduate of Laramie High School and the University of Wyoming, where she majored in zoology and physiology. She went on to become a pioneer in the field of physical therapy, specializing in the treatment of patients with hemophilia. Bob was a World War II veteran and aeronautical engineer. He founded an advertising and public relations firm and was a musician in a community jazz band. He was also a gifted artist.

In 1966, the Boone’s first Christmas letter started off typically enough. It was a newsy one-page summary of the highlights of their year. They reported on harvesting grapefruit and avocados from their Pasadena, California, garden and on their vacation travels across the Southwest and Rocky Mountains with their miniature Schnauzer, Degen. And they bought their first classic car, a fire engine red 1957 Thunderbird. It was the beginning of their hobby as vintage car aficionados.

First page of Donna Claussen Boone and Robert Boone’s Christmas letter, 1966. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boon and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By 1967, their letter had evolved into an 8-page travelogue, complete with Bob’s illustrations. Donna had been invited to speak at the World Congress for Physical Therapy, that was held in Melbourne, Australia. Bob and Donna relished the opportunity to explore Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii. Recipients of their Christmas letter were able to travel vicariously with the couple as they took sixteen different aircraft and eight different airlines zigzagging around the South Pacific. Donna wrote of the trip, it was “30 days of the most fabulous travel experience of our lives…Somewhere in Australia we made the resolve that every three years or so, we’ll plan a major trip to a foreign county, and if it’s possible, we’ll go!”

First page of Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas letter, 1967. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boon and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By 1970, Bob and Donna’s plan to travel every three years was realized. And their Christmas card that year offered up 20 pages of a “Holiday Sketchbook – Three Wonderful Months in Europe!” Once again Donna was invited to speak at the World Congress for Physical Therapy, this time held in Amsterdam. The couple capitalized on the trip and extended their visit, spending time in more than 30 European cities and capitals from London and Paris to Amsterdam and Oslo. Bob’s sketches became even more elaborate.

Pages 6 and 7 from Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas card, 1970. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boon and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1973, Bob and Donna returned to Europe once again, so that Donna could lecture at a hemophilia conference in Heidelberg and the Blood Transfusion Center of Hungary. As was their habit, the couple had a year rich with new experiences, including wine tasting in Bordeaux and sipping Tokaji in Budapest. Then, in 1976, Bob’s sketches took an interdenominational turn. Their card that year highlighted symbols of faith from some of the world’s best-known religions.

Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas card, with Bob’s illustrations of world religions, 1976. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Boone’s 1979 Christmas card featured what was perhaps Bob’s most elaborate and detailed drawing yet, of the Washington Cathedral. Donna referenced their frequent travels to Washington, D.C., and noted that, when finished, the Cathedral would be the sixth largest in the world. Their card wished their friends and family “moments of tranquility as you pursue your daily life. And may the Washington Cathedral serve as a beacon of hope for world peace and understanding.” Bob shared his Christmas card with Cathedral administrators, who remarked both on his excellent calligraphy and his amazing drawing.

Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas card, with Bob’s drawing of the Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C., 1979. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Over the years, Donna and Bob’s Christmas cards reflected both their travels and events of the day. In 1984, swept up in the fervor of the festivities, Bob drew a tribute to the Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles. In 1988, they visited Madrid, Spain so that Donna could participate in the World Federation of Hemophilia. Their card read “Feliz Navidad de Espana,” with a beautifully detailed drawing of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial – the most important architectural monument of the Spanish Renaissance.

In 1997, the couple moved from Pasadena to a new home on California’s Central Coast. Bob had been taking watercolor classes for several years, and for their 1998 card, he used his new skills to create a colorful drawing of their local Episcopal church in Lompoc.

Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas card, with Bob’s watercolor illustration of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Lompoc, California, 1998. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By 1999, Bob and Donna had adapted with the times and were including color photos in their Christmas cards, annotated with Bob’s familiar calligraphy. In 2001, the Boone’s 34th home-made Christmas card was a departure Bob’s usual drawings. Reflecting on the shock of the terrorist attacks, Donna wrote “September 11, 2001, will go down in history with sharply etched memories that will remain with us forever. Our lives have been changed by the shocking realization that we are vulnerable to unseen evil existing within our borders. The challenge is to cherish and protect freedom, liberty, and justice.”

In 2004, Bob and Donna moved to Fort Collins, Colorado and their cards became computer generated. Then, happily in 2008, Bob’s distinctive watercolors made a reappearance in their firsthand drawn card in more than a decade.

Donna and Bob Boone’s Christmas card, with Bob’s watercolor, 2008. Box 1, Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

2011 marked the last Christmas letter from Bob and Donna together. They had both struggled with health challenges. Donna wrote, in rhyming verse:

For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you – It is because you’re on the list that I’m indebted to. For I am but the total of the many folks I’ve met; 
and you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget!

Bob passed away in 2012 and Donna passed away seven years later.

Get into the Christmas spirit by viewing their collected Christmas cards in the Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Artists, Family history, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Cowboy State Tour of “A Sissy in Wyoming”

Larry Goodwin was a man’s man in almost every respect – Vietnam War veteran, former rodeo cowboy, power plant operator, and aircraft mechanic. And he had the build of a linebacker. But one characteristic separated Goodwin from most other men in his hyper masculine home state of Wyoming. Amidst the big belt buckles, blue jeans, and cowboy boots, Goodwin donned frilly petticoats, peasant blouses, and colorful hair bows.

Sissy Goodwin – it takes a man to wear a skirt on a motorcycle. Photo courtesy Vickie Goodwin.

For much of his life, Goodwin was mystified by this need to dress in feminine clothing. All he knew was that it wasn’t a choice. It was essential to his mental health. Later in life, therapy sessions led him to attribute this compulsion to a turbulent childhood of physical and mental abuse by his stepfather and mother. Somehow women’s clothing created a better sense of security for him.

Sissy’s story became a family one when he married Vickie Jones in 1968. The couple settled in Douglas, Wyoming, where both were raised. Vickie knew her husband cross dressed. She had known it since he confessed it to her during their engagement. At first, he kept it private. But in 1972, severely depressed, he concluded that he must be true to himself and go public. It was a test for his relationship with Vickie and later their children. Yet his wife and kids stood by him. After all he was a “wonderful husband, a devoted father, and a loving grandfather and great grandfather” as his family described him upon his death from brain cancer on March 7, 2020.

Sissy with his grandchildren, ca. 2010. Photo courtesy Vickie Goodwin.

The anomaly of a cross-dressing man in the Cowboy State, attracted media both inside and outside of Wyoming. His story has been covered since the 1990s in news sources that include the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and the television series Dateline.

The national coverage brought Sissy to the attention of Los Angeles playwright Gregory Hinton, producer of the national education initiative, Out West and co-founder with the AHC of “Out West in the Rockies,” a regional LGBTQ+ archive of the American West. Gregory’s forte is crafting verbatim plays, meaning that he takes participant’s spoken and written words to weave together a story, many times related to an LGBTQ+ theme. Sissy’s story was one he knew he had to tell.

With other projects in the hopper, it took Gregory until 2020 to contact the Goodwin family. He was shocked to learn of Sissy’s death and considered abandoning the project. But talking to Vickie assured him there was plenty of material for a play. His relationship with the AHC led him to request that I conduct an oral history with Vickie. 22 hours of interview time later, Gregory had more than enough to write his play.

“A Sissy in Wyoming” debuted as a playwright’s reading in October 2021 as part of Casper’s Nicolaysen Art Museum public programming for the acclaimed exhibit “Larry Sissy Goodwin: The Fabric of His Life.” The success of the debut led Gregory, Vickie, and Leslie to realize the play’s message of courage and tolerance could resonate around Wyoming. Thus, a nine city tour of the Cowboy State was born.

The exhibit featuring Sissy’s clothing and personal items was displayed at the Nic from October 2021 to March 2022. Photo courtesy the Nic.

The “Sissy” tour was conducted from September 30to October 9 beginning at the University of Wyoming and then in Cheyenne, Sheridan, Cody, Jackson, Rock Springs, Riverton, Casper, and Douglas. Funding came not only from the AHC, but from the Wyoming Humanities, the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, the Wyoming Arts Council, and the Wyoming Historical Society. The tour was timed to coincide with National LGBT History Month in October. Performances were free or for a nominal charge to the public at each venue. A Q&A discussion between Gregory and Vickie and audience members about the play’s themes followed each reading.

Playwright’s reading of “A Sissy in Wyoming” by Gregory Hinton at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyoming, October 7, 2022. Photo courtesy Leslie Waggener.

I accompanied the play for seven of the nine stops. As I expected, the play moved audiences at every stop, to the point that Gregory typically received a standing ovation. Gregory did a wonderful job of humanizing the struggles Sissy faced as well as his love for friends, families, and humans in general as shown in his humanitarian efforts through Veterans for Peace.

Yet it was the post-performance audience discussions that were just as moving. Safe space was created for attendees to ask honest questions and to share their experiences. So many stories come to mind. A trans member of the audience declared that, inspired by the play, they planned to resume a degree in theatre. A father and his transgender child came in dresses to commemorate Sissy. Another father shared a heart-wrenching story of the suicide of his transgender child. A young person wept quietly during Gregory’s reading and later described the strain of helping a transgender partner acclimate to life in Wyoming. A retired power plant operator revealed he is gay and had his partner with him. It was gratifying to know that audience members felt safe to share their joy and pain with us. My hope is that we helped them feel accepted and valued. Vickie Goodwin said she felt Sissy was with the tour in spirit. If so, I think his was a calm and comforting presence.

Final rehearsal for University of Wyoming performance on September 30, 2022. Shown are Zachary McCulley, Gregory Hinton, and Jed Huntzinger. Shown too is one of Sissy’s favorite outfits on a mannequin behind the performers. Photo courtesy Matthew Greenberg, the play’s director.

Leslie Waggener at microphone for post-performance audience discussion at University of Wyoming, September 30, 2022. Pictured are Julio Brionez, Leslie Waggener, Vickie Goodwin, Gregory Hinton, Jed Huntzinger. Zachary McCulley, and Cecelia Aragón. An image of Sissy is projected in the background. Photo courtesy Matthew Greenberg.

The “Out West in the Rockies” initiative will continue to be a focus for the AHC in the years to come. We would love to hear from you if you are interested in contributing to the initiative with your personal papers or the records of your organization. Or if you have programming ideas. Please contact me at lwaggen2@uwyo.edu.   

Post contributed by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in LGBTQIA+, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Infamous Day

On December 8th, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the Congress of the United States with the following declaration: “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941– a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” This undeclared attack on military installations in Hawaii, particularly Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, left 2,403 American servicemembers dead, 160 aircraft destroyed, 21 vessels sunk or damaged and plunged the United States into World War II.

While the United States committed all of its tremendous resources toward first stopping and then defeating Japan and its allies, the U.S. government was also investigating the circumstances of the attack on Hawaii, and in particular how the U.S. military was caught so completely unawares.

U.S.S. Arizona after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. Photo Files, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The presidentially appointed Roberts Commission which investigated the attack on Hawaii focused most of its attention on the two officers who were commanding U.S. forces on that tragic day, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short. Ten days after the attack, both men were removed from command and the commission later found both commanders guilty of “dereliction of duty.” Since this was a commission and not a court-martial, neither man could appeal the conclusion.

Both Kimmel and Short argued that vital information had been withheld from them by their superiors and that, had they been more fully informed, their forces would have been in a better state of readiness for the attack. Admiral Kimmel went on to present his case to the American public in his book Admiral Kimmel’s Story which was published in January of 1954.

Husband E. Kimmel, Time Magazine Cover, December 15, 1941.
(Army and Navy Club Library Trust collection)

A 1995 Pentagon study concluded that the blame for the failures of Pearl Harbor went far beyond Kimmel and Short. In response, in 1998 (30 years after Kimmel’s death, and 49 years after Short’s death) a group of senators, including current U.S. President Joe Biden, proposed a non-binding resolution to clear Kimmel and Short. One of the measure’s supporters, World War II veteran Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), called them “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.”

The American Heritage Center proudly counts the personal papers of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel amongst its holdings. Anyone interested in the circumstances of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, or studying World War II in general, is welcome to examine the contents to learn more about this dark and bloody moment in U.S. military history.

Post contributed by AHC Assistant Director and Collections Manager Bill Hopkins.


Posted in American history, military history, Pearl Harbor Attack, Political history, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Serving UW for 70 years: A Brief History of Wyoming Hall

Wyoming Hall in its final months prior to demolition. November 25, 2019, UW Photo Services image, UW Buildings & Grounds Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

After World War II, the University of Wyoming experienced tremendous growth across campus. Construction projects were a response to the rapid increase in student numbers, which was heavily influenced by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill as it was commonly known, which provided veterans with financial assistance for educational and living expenses.

Initially, the university relied heavily on temporary housing, including butler huts, mobile trailers, and other prefabricated structures to house the students. Later, the trustees approved the expansion of Knight Hall, including the addition of a cafeteria. The focus then shifted to building a new men’s dormitory, which would be constructed at the northeast corner of campus. The new dormitory was part of a larger campus building program that was funded by the State Legislature after the War.

On March 2, 1947, the Board of Trustees approved funding for the construction of the new four-story men’s dormitory to be named Wyoming Hall. The building was designed by Porter & Bradley Architects, of Cheyenne, a firm that designed many buildings on campus. The project began in summer 1948, and a cornerstone ceremony occurred on December 5, 1949.

The view west toward the Athletic Dorm (later McWhinnie Hall) showing equipment operators continuing excavation work for Wyoming Hall, September 1948. Box 597, Folder 31, UW President’s Office Records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

With the influx of students utilizing the G.I. Bill, the timely completion of Wyoming Hall was critical. Somewhat ironically, another war would impede progress. Architect Frederic Porter contacted the general contractor, J.P. Steele Construction Company of Laramie, writing, “The speed and rate of accomplishment has been and is seriously lagging.” Mr. Steele responded, “Beginning with the Korean War situation, we started losing men from the project, whom we have not been able to replace.”

Still, progress continued and the new building, which contained quarters for 400 single men in 200 rooms that featured bunk beds, was mostly ready for occupancy when the school year started on September 22, 1950. The upper two floors were ready, but there were many other details yet to complete, and some rooms still lacked furnishings when students began to move in. Students were temporarily housed in Hudson Dormitory, which itself was temporary.

The new 200-room Wyoming Hall, located at the intersection of Willett Drive and 15th Street, prior to the start of the 1950 school year. The UW Tennis Courts later became a parking lot. Box 1, Charles Rue Photographs, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The first director of the new men’s dorm was Miss Janet Vicars. Problems with new buildings and maintaining order in a hall with 400 young men kept her very busy. Issues with windows breaking began to occur in the winter. It was determined that the “panes were improperly pressurized for this altitude and that the factory will assume full responsibility…” As for student behavior, the problems seemed severe enough that they made for considerable discussion at the December 12, 1952, trustees meeting. A.L. Keeney, dean of men, wrote to Hall Director Vicars to inquire about the problem of serious noise. She responded, “We naturally have many different types and temperaments among 400 fellows…There is the student who comes to college for an education and the one who comes to play.” By the late 1950s, problems in the residence hall, including “cherry bomb incidents and general rioting,” led the administration to hire a police officer to be stationed there during the night hours. One of those officers was former Laramie policeman Curt Grissom. In 1960, when a Branding Iron reporter asked him if he liked the job, he responded, “I enjoy the job. I get to see the good side of people whereas on the police force job I usually saw only their bad sides.” When asked about problematic times, he noticed an increase right before vacations. “The boys want to get home and tension mounts up.”

One of 200 rooms for 400 Wyoming Hall residents. A UW freshman beanie cap adorns the post of the bunk beds. Box 1, Charles Rue Photographs, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The Wyoming Hall lobby, September 1950. Box 1, Charles Rue Photographs, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In June 1965, the trustees approved the installation of a telephone in each room. Prior to that, a phone booth in the lobby could be used by students. But the use of phones in student’s private rooms would be short-lived. The more modern Washakie residence halls were completed to replace the older dormitories. Wyoming Hall served as a dormitory until the end of the 1967 school year, when the building began a multi-year transformation from dormitory to office spaces for several departments, including the Art Department, Atmospheric Science, and ROTC. In later years, the building was occupied by the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center, Human Resources, and Auxiliary Services.

The process to convert Wyoming Hall into an office building began in 1967. This sign shows the final occupants of Wyoming Hall before it was demolished. November 25, 2019, UW Photo Services photograph, UW Buildings & Grounds Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Like the other former residence halls, Wyoming Hall served other purposes much longer than it served its intended function. But history has a way of repeating itself. On December 11, 2019, 70 years after its cornerstone was placed, the trustees approved the demolition of Wyoming Hall – to make space for new student housing. Demolition was completed by spring 2021, and cleanup lasted into the summer. The new student housing project completion date is in March 2025.

The view looking southeast from McWhinnie Hall of the former site of Wyoming Hall. The location is the site of a new student housing project. November 2, 2022, American Heritage Center photograph, UW Buildings and Grounds Collection.

Sources: University of Wyoming Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes; President’s Office Records, Charles Rue Photographs Collection, UW Buildings and Grounds Collection, and the Branding Iron.

Post contributed by John Waggener, University Archivist & Historian.


Posted in Built environment, Laramie, Post World War II, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson

Thanksgiving is one of the quintessentially American holidays, so it is fitting that the all-American radio and television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet would include scenes related to the holiday. The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers at the American Heritage Center includes several photos and scripts from episodes with a Thanksgiving theme.

Ozzie Nelson carving a Thanksgiving turkey while wife Harriet and sons David and Ricky look on, 1956. Box 61, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the 1940s and 50s, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were one of radio and television’s favorite all-American couples. They starred in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet which was first broadcast on CBS radio on October 8, 1944. The Nelsons had risen to fame as regulars on Red Skelton’s radio show. Ozzie was Skelton’s band leader and Harriet was the band’s lead singer. When Red Skelton was drafted into the Army early in 1944, his radio program was discontinued. Ozzie and Harriet, finding themselves out of work, decided to launch their own radio show, a family situation comedy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie produced, directed, and wrote many of the scripts which revolved around the family life of Ozzie and Harriet and their two boys.

The real-life Nelsons had two sons, David, born in 1936, and Ricky, born in 1940. Initially too young to perform on radio, the boys’ roles were first voiced by professional actors. Then in February 1949, the Nelson’s real sons joined the radio cast. David was 12, Ricky was 8.

A partial “Thanksgiving Dinner” script from the radio show that aired November 24, 1946, featured the Nelson’s neighbor, Emmy Lou, enticing Ozzie to eat a piece of her mincemeat pie. At the time, mincemeat would have been a Thanksgiving favorite. But instead of soaking the mincemeat in brandy as the recipe called for, Emmy Lou had substituted vodka, giving the pie an extra kick. Ozzie was headed to his mother-in-law’s house to eat a second Thanksgiving dinner. He had just finished his own family’s Thanksgiving meal when he got the phone call from Harriet’s mother saying she was expecting them to come over for turkey dinner. Ozzie reasoned, “we can’t hurt her feelings and tell her we’ve already eaten.” Furthermore, Ozzie remarked, “I eat like a horse … and this afternoon I’m afraid I’m gonna have to!”

Page of the script “Thanksgiving Dinner” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 24, 1946. Box 82, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Just a year later, the November 23, 1947, script titled “The Spirit of Thanksgiving” offered up a humorous take on the concept of Thanksgiving sharing. That episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet saw Ozzie reminding his sons that Thanksgiving is a “priceless heritage handed down to us by the Pilgrim Fathers.” Ozzie, carried away by the spirit of Thanksgiving, invites his neighbor Mr. Dunkel as a weekend guest. Ozzie says to Harriet, “It’s the least we can do for a deserving neighbor – to share the comforts of our home with a lonely man as the time for Thanksgiving approaches.” Mr. Dunkel proves to be a peculiar visitor. To Ozzie’s chagrin, Dunkel is a health food nut and a regular shopper at the Sunny Jim Health Food Store, where he purchases things like yogurt, watercress, and figs – foods that would have been exotic in 1947. In an effort to make Dunkel feel at home, Ozzie stocks up on groceries from Sunny Jim’s. Then Harriet serves up a meal of shredded seaweed, spinach juice and peanut loaf for the whole family. Ozzie isn’t too impressed with the food, but David and Ricky eat heartily. Ricky even says, “I like it better than stuff that’s good for you!” Before long Dunkel has ingratiated himself with Harriet and the boys, to Ozzie’s irritation. Ozzie conspires to get Dunkel to leave the Nelson house but is ultimately unsuccessful and the episode ends with Ozzie hosting both Dunkel and yet another neighbor for the weekend. In 1947, the show was sponsored by the International Silver Company, which used the commercial breaks to advertise “1847 Rogers Brothers Silverplate – fine silverware for the discerning homemaker.”

Page of the script “The Spirit of Thanksgiving” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 23, 1947. Box 67, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1949, a Thanksgiving theme appears once again in the Nelsons’ radio show, this time in an episode titled “The Day After Thanksgiving.” Sponsored by Heinz, makers of “fifty-seven varieties of fine food,” it kicks off with Harriet remarking “It’s time … time to remind all the ladies listening in to be sure and ask their grocers about Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup – at the new lower prices.”

After spending Thanksgiving at Harriet’s mother’s, Ozzie and his two boys are so full of turkey and trimmings that they refuse their breakfast the next morning. Harriet worries about what they might have for dinner, with no Thanksgiving leftovers to serve. Ozzie bemoans the idea of more turkey saying, “We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner – but after every Thanksgiving we have nothing but turkey … turkey … turkey!” Ozzie’s neighbor, Thorny, claims that Thanksgiving kicks off his favorite week of the year, with “turkey salad, turkey hash and turkey fricassee.” Facetiously, Ozzie helpfully suggests “turkey upside down cake, turkey pudding, turkey surprise, and turkey with whipped cream on it.” But as the day continues, Ozzie and the boys develop a hankering for a turkey sandwich. And Ozzie’s neighbor Emmy Lou’s recitation of her favorite turkey leftovers “cold turkey, turkey a la king, creamed turkey, turkey croquettes, turkey hash and turkey soup” only makes them hungrier and hungrier. Eventually Harriet sends David over to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving leftovers. The episode ends with Ozzie raiding the refrigerator for some leftover turkey.

Page of the script “The Day After Thanksgiving” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 25, 1949. Box 72, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

With the success of the radio program in the 1940s, Ozzie Nelson was persuaded to have his family give on-screen acting a try, with the film Here Come the Nelsons which was released in February of 1952. Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky played themselves on the silver screen. The film served as a pilot for what was to become one of the longest running family-oriented live action television sitcoms in American history – the televised version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

In 1956, the Nelsons posed for some Thanksgiving promotional photos. The photo below shows them attired as pilgrims. Harriet is patting younger son Ricky on the back for bagging a Thanksgiving turkey with his bow and arrow, while David, armed with a blunderbuss, looks on chagrined. The sponsor of that year’s show was Eastman Kodak.

Harriet, Ricky and David Nelson posing with a Thanksgiving turkey, 1956. Box 61, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A total of 435 televised episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were broadcast from October 1952 to April 1966. Add to that the 402 radio episodes that aired, it’s no surprise that the American public was fascinated by the Nelsons. Over their careers in Hollywood, the perpetually cheerful family endeared themselves to listeners and viewers. David and Ricky had literally grown up in front of radio and television audiences. Radio Life magazine had even dubbed the boys “the crown princes of radio.” Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky Nelson each were honored with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If you are curious about how the Nelson family spent their Thanksgivings, you can see photos and scripts from some of the television shows and radio broadcasts of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers. Happy Thanksgiving from the American Heritage Center!

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


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