Not sure what to do with those papers, photos and digital files?

It’s Preservation Week, folks. So, even more than ever, the AHC is celebrating our favorite thing in the world – archives, of course.

Preservation Week is from April 22 to 28 and promotes the role of archives, libraries and other institutions in preserving personal and public collections and treasures.

So, you may be wondering how to preserve your own treasures. We may not have an app for that, but, being document-oriented, we have documents for that.

Check out these links for instructions on
Posted in announcements, Preservation Week, resources, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Spotlighting Communism & Hollywood in the papers of Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper

One of the most recognizable figures of the first thirteen years (1969-1982) of PBS’s Sesame Street was Mr. Hooper the grocer, played by veteran actor Will Lee. He was one of the four original human characters on the show.

Before appearing in Sesame Street, Lee had a long career in theater and movies, although his career was interrupted during the 1950s because of being blacklisted during the “Red Scare” of that time. So, why would this innocuous grocer be blacklisted?

Let’s start from the beginning. In 1908, William Lubovsky was born in Brooklyn, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father, a bookbinder, lost his job due to economic changes. Will Lee came to adulthood during the Great Depression. He worked odd jobs in New York City and absorbed the intellectual atmosphere of Greenwich Village, an enclave of avant-garde culture where small presses, art galleries, and experimental theater thrived.

Young Will Lee

A young Will Lee, ca. 1935. Will Lee Papers, UW American Heritage Center

It was a chance event that led Will Lee to become an actor. He recalled eating in a New York restaurant when a regular invited him upstairs to join a theater company. Intrigued, but not serious, he sat down with the group. He was asked to improvise, “It’s raining, you’re hungry, you’re cold, you’re walking on Third Avenue and you pass by a bakery.” Since he was always broke and hungry, the part came easy to him. “I did it,” Lee remembered. “They were shocked. They said, ‘Is this the first time you ever did anything like this?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ I sat down… As my ass hit the floor, I said to myself, ‘This is the work I want to do.’”

By 1930 he was a full-fledged member of the Worker’s Laboratory Theater, a collective that performed experimental works, often with communist or other political overtones. Later in the 1930s, Lee co-founded the “Theatre of Action,” a socially-conscious mobile theater that performed in every conceivable type of arena, indoor or outdoor.

Red Stage

The Worker’s Theatre Movement in the U.S. was radical and strongly pro-communist, and many of its interwar participants, like Will Lee, suffered during the height of government anti-communist hysteria in the early to mid-1950s. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Why this attraction to communism? During the Depression, it appeared that capitalism had failed. Some in the U.S. began looking elsewhere to ease the economic misery. The Communist party took on fights not just for better wages and working conditions but also in social justice issues. For example, in the Deep South, the battle for freedom for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape in 1931, was led by the International Labor Defense, a legal arm of the Communist Party U.S.A. The Communist party was seen by some Americans as defenders of the working-class and the downtrodden.

Scottsboro Blues

The protest movement defending the Scottsboro Boys, initiated by members of the Communist Party, became a focal point for anti-racist organizing in the 1930s. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration established the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration, Will Lee signed up, excitedly declaring the program as a “national theatre renascence in America.” The FTP employed out-of-work artists, writers, directors, and theater workers. Lee was part of its most well-known program, Living Newspaper, which were plays based on current events, often hot button issues like farm policy, syphilis testing, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. FTP ended in 1939 when Congress canceled its funding due to the left-wing political tone of some of its productions.


“Pink Slips on Parade,” 1937, a Federal Theatre Project production. Will Lee is third from the left. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Around 1936, Lee also became a member of the Group Theater, a New York collective of actors and dramatists who pushed for naturalism in acting. With the onset of World War II, the Group ended and, like many of the young men of his day, Lee served in the war. He was a “non-com” (non-combatant) assigned to the Army Special Services Section in Australia and the Philippines, for which he directed and staged shows for troops overseas. Although he held an anti-war philosophy, he proudly kept the flyers from his productions, as well as the commendations received for his work.

Army production

Flyer for a musical directed and staged by U.S. Army Corporal Will Lee, 1944. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center

After the war, Lee taught at the Hollywood-based Actors’ Laboratory Theatre, a racially diverse, politically active theater company and acting school founded in 1941 that was influenced by the Group Theatre.

Actors lab

Members of the Actor’s Lab fine-tuning their craft. Will Lee is shown bottom left. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center.

The company’s left-leaning productions led to accusations of it being a communist front. In early 1948, as the investigations of U.S. Senator Joseph M. McCarthy and the tribunals of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) were gaining speed, Will Lee was one of four Actor’s Lab members called to testify before the HUAC. All refused to say whether they had ever been Communist party members, and all were blacklisted.


Wisconsin Senator Joseph M. McCarthy. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society.

Lee now found himself unemployable by most major studios, networks, and commercial theater groups. He returned to New York and took off-Broadway work as it became available. By 1956 America’s Red Scare had subsided and Lee resumed his career, this time in television, with a role on the soap opera As the World Turns, and then received film roles as well.

In 1969, he was offered the part of Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street. In a November 1970 Time magazine article, Lee recalled, “I was delighted to take the role of Mr. Hooper, the gruff grocer with the warm heart. It’s a big part, and it allows a lot of latitude. But the show has something extra, that sense you sometimes get from great theater, the feeling that its influence never stops.”

Mr Hooper

Will Lee as Mr. Hooper on the set of Sesame Street. Will Lee papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Outside of Sesame Street, Lee’s later work included television movies, including a supporting role in Sidney Lumet’s film Daniel. Lumet cast Lee as a judge presiding over a case loosely based on alleged communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; ironically, considering the actor’s own past, Lee’s character rules that even tenuous communist affiliations should be explored as potential motives for any crime. Lee’s work in television and magazine ads was also during this period. The fires of anti-capitalism had apparently cooled at this stage in his life.

By 1982, Will Lee began showing signs of ill health on the set of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney, who as Big Bird worked very closely with Lee, remembered, “We could tell Will’s health was suffering…While we were standing around waiting for the set to be ready…I put my arm around his shoulder and said in the Bird’s voice, “I love you, Mr. Looper.” He looked at me and said, ‘And I love you, Caroll.’ He went home soon after that, and I never saw him again.”

Will Lee died on December 7, 1982, from a heart attack at age 74. The show’s writers struggled with how to approach the loss of a major cast member. They initially toyed with the idea of having Mr. Hooper move to Florida. In the end, they decided to tell the viewers the painful truth and have Mr. Hooper die as well. The following Thanksgiving, in episode 1839, Mr. Hooper’s death is explained to Big Bird, and to the children watching at home. The famous episode was remarkable in its direct treatment of death and helped shape the way its young viewers could cope with a delicate, painful topic.

The Will Lee papers contain a fascinating set of materials, including scripts written for the Workers Laboratory Theatre and Theatre of Action; film and theater stills; files related to his Army productions and military service; newspaper clippings; biographical materials; contracts; and playbills.

The American Heritage Center has the papers of a number of blacklisted actors, screenwriters, playwrights, and producers, including Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Larry Adler, Lester ColeJohn Randolph, Hugo Butler, and Herman Waldman. The Nancy Schwartz papers include audio cassettes of interviews with blacklisted Hollywood writers.

Posted in Blacklisting, Cold War, Communism, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, Politics, popular culture, Social justice, television history, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged | Leave a comment

Transitioning to Her True Self: S.J. Moffat’s Story

Shannon Moffat, born Samuel Johnston Moffat and known professionally as S. J. Moffat, transitioned in her 50s and had a long and storied career in her 82 years.

She was born on August 23, 1927 in a small suburb of Pittsburgh. Her parents separated in 1930 and mother and child moved to New York. She graduated high school in 1945, enlisted in the US Navy, where she trained as an electronics technician, and then, for two years, attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Beginning in 1948, Shannon attended Amherst College, graduating in 1950. In December 1949, Sam, as she was known before she transitioned, became engaged to Mary Kirkpatrick, a Wisconsin native, and, in August 1950, the couple married.

Shannon’s first job out of college was as the assistant science editor for Henry Holt and Company, publishers in New York City, until 1952. Also, from 1950 to 1952, she served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

The couple’s first son, Samuel Bruce Moffat, was born in February 1953. In a diary entry from March 20, 1954, Shannon/Sam, proudly remarks that Bruce took his first steps alone on March 14.

In late 1954 the family moved to Palo Alto, California, where Shannon worked as a reporter for the Palo Alto Times. Another son, Bennett, called “Ben,” was born in 1956 in Palo Alto. The next year, their third child, a girl, was stillborn.

The first time Shannon/Sam tried on a dress was in 1959 in a New York apartment, possibly her mother’s or her Aunt Mildred’s. She later recalled that her emotions ranged from “compulsive desire to erotic high to anxiety about putting it back in the box to avoid discovery.” Cross-dressing was done at home when possible. Lingerie was especially attractive to Shannon/Sam, but there was much fear of being found out.

After years of growing distance from wife Mary, and despite couple’s therapy in a sincere attempt to keep their marriage intact, the couple separated and were divorced in 1962. Shannon/Sam admitted to a neediness for mental and physical affection that appeared to grow tiresome to Mary over the years. She noted in a journal entry dated Feb. 4, 1962, “…I had not been given much love as a boy [and] I want it most urgently now.”

Shannon's journals beginning in 1954

Shannon Moffat’s journals. S.J. Moffat papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Shannon/Sam continued to look for loving relationships with women and sought to marry again. Soon a woman named Kay Cranston began to appear frequently in her diary entries, and the two married in 1966. She thought, due to satisfaction in this new marriage, that the impulse to cross-dress would end and she threw the feminine garments and other items away with a sense of regret but also relief that she “had solved the TA problem.”

But the urge to cross-dress was insurmountable. Shannon/Sam found it wasn’t easy to purchase clothes as there wasn’t an opportunity to try them on before buying. She used mail order under the name of “Mrs. Sam Moffat” to buy, exchange, and return items.

Shannon/Sam kept up relationships with sons Bruce and Ben, who were not yet aware of her inner struggle. Shannon/Sam wrote lovingly in diary entries of times spent with them on vacations or just simply seeing a movie. In the mid-1970s, she wrote of seeing the boys off one-by-one to Vassar and later of visits to the campus.

Shannon/Sam had been an information officer at Stanford Medical Center since 1959, but in 1966 established a freelance career as a technical and science writer for general audiences. Working from home, Sam could be Shannon more comfortably while wife Kay was at work. It took a number of years, but by the 1970s Shannon/Sam had worked up the courage to make forays into the world dressed as a woman, although being careful not to be noticed by anyone she knew.

It would take Shannon/Sam three hours to prepare for these forays. Initially, she felt clumsy and awkward with store clerks. She remembered later how “unattractive” she must have been at that stage due to her lack of sophistication with make-up and dress. But she kept at it and grew more confident. She later recalled, “I never had any trouble, but I got scared a lot.” By 1979, she no longer feared discovery in public.

Subject files on gender and trans issues, organized by Shannon Moffat

Subject files on gender and trans issues, organized by Shannon Moffat. S.J. Moffat papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Soon after the second marriage, Kay found women’s clothes in Shannon/Sam’s closet hidden in a box. Shannon/Sam explained the situation away as best as possible without revealing the real reason. By 1973, Shannon/Sam was shaving her legs, which gave her a sense of satisfaction but also guilt. Kay noticed and her calm reaction, Shannon later recalled, was to say, “Oh, you shaved your legs” with no other comment. They were both hiding their feelings.

In 1974, Shannon/Sam read a newly published book, Conundrum, about James Morris’ transition to Jan Morris. After reading the book, Shannon/Sam decided she must be a cross-dresser, not transsexual. About this time, Kay asked Shannon/Sam, “Do you want to be a woman?” The reply was, “No,” but there was real hesitation.

Four years later, Shannon/Sam heard a lecture by Dr. Donald Laub who had performed pioneering work in sex reassignment surgery. The lecture was liberating for Shannon/Sam, who realized that she indeed identified as female. She thought to herself, “You can make it as a woman.”

But Kay couldn’t handle such a transition, saying “I don’t like you as a woman.” Shannon/Sam realized the marriage to Kay was disintegrating, and was devastated. By 1978, Shannon/Sam saw that Kay was drifting towards a relationship with another man. In 1981, the couple divorced. Shannon felt a great loss about this even years later, noting, “…when you separate, divorce, and then embark on a new life in the same gender as the person you still love, your loneliness is multiplied many times over.”


In 1981, Shannon began working for Stanford University again, this time as a technical writer. 1981 was also a signature year because she began sex reassignment surgery, a process completed in 1985. Stanford University’s health care at the time paid for much of the transition.

Pamphlets and zine on trans issues in the 1970s

Pamphlets and zine on trans issues in the 1970s gathered by Shannon Moffat. S.J. Moffat papers, UW American Heritage Center

This doesn’t mean life was all of a sudden a cake walk for Shannon. During the external adjustment to her new life, she remembered that there was not much time or inclination to think about intimacy with another person. But, after that, she wanted intimacy and found herself struggling to find a partner. Her relationship with sons Bruce and Ben was greatly impacted. Although her sons didn’t avoid her altogether, they stayed away more often than before. Times spent with them were not so easy and carefree as they had been.

But Shannon now felt comfortable in her own skin. As she grew older and then retired, she found time to indulge her love of music, theater and dance by volunteering for many California-based organizations, including TheatreWorks, Foothills Park, and the Stanford Library Associates.

On January 23, 2009, Shannon passed away peacefully in Palo Alto, California. Her obituary described her as a “loving friend and parent.” In looking through her papers, especially her diaries, her warmth and generosity come through in abundance.

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.

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 beginning in the 1950s.

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.

Posted in Authors and literature, Collection donor, LGBTQIA+, Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, Transgender people, Uncategorized, Under-documented communities | Tagged | Leave a comment

Commemorative Display about Matthew Shepard at the American Heritage Center

The Shepard Symposium for Social Justice begins tomorrow, April 11, at the Wyoming Union on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.

According to the symposium’s website, the Shepard Symposium, an annual event at the University of Wyoming since 1997, has evolved into a major national conference, seeking to engage participants in discussion and analyses of strategies and actions that can eliminate social inequality.

Honoring the work of the Shepard family and the memory of their son, Matthew Shepard, a UW student and social activist, the symposium changed its name in 2002.

Matthew Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming, on December 1, 1976, to Judy and Dennis Shepard. In 1998, two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, drove Matthew to a remote area where he was tied to a split-rail fence, beaten severely, and left to die in the cold of the night. He died just a few days later on October 12, 1998 at the age of 21. His brutal and gruesome death has become one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history and eventually led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009).


Matthew Shepard

To commemorate the life of Matthew Shepard as well as the 2018 Shepard Symposium, the American Heritage Center has created a display from our collections related to Matthew and LGBTQIA+ at UW and Wyoming. The display is in the AHC’s reading room (4th floor of the Centennial Complex) from April 11 through 13. The reading room is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm each of those days. Access is free and open to all.

The Shepard Symposium’s schedule of events can be found at For information on keynote speakers, please see


Posted in announcements, Centennial Complex, events, exhibits, found in the archive, LGBTQIA+, Politics, Social justice, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Last Open Attack in the Wyoming Range Wars: Spring Creek Raid of 1909

The Spring Creek Raid of April 2, 1909 marks the last open attack in a long-running range war in Wyoming and concludes the era of private warfare in the state.

In the Spring Creek Raid, a collection of Big Horn cattlemen attacked sheep man Joe Allemand, killed him, and then burned his sheep wagon.


Typical sheep wagon in 1909. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Accession Number 598, Box 9, Item 733

This was one of a series of raids that had occurred since sheep were introduced into Wyoming in the 1890s.

The brutality of the assault shocked area residents who for the first time supported legal efforts to prosecute the perpetrators in the Big Horn Basin, which previously had not been the case.

As part of the Wyoming Pioneers Oral History Project housed at the American Heritage Center, an interview was conducted in 1955 with 76-year old Herbert Brink, a local cowboy and one of the participants in the raid.


Defendants in the Spring Creek Raid case. Clockwise from top left: Herbert Brink, Ed Eaton, George Saban, Tommy Dixon and Milton Alexander. Courtesy

A jury convicted Brink of first-degree murder and sentenced him to hang. Brink’s death sentence was commuted, but five of the seven Spring Creek raiders were sentenced to serve prison terms. The two who testified for the prosecution were provided immunity.


Fearing trouble from cattlemen, Wyoming Gov. B.B. Brooks authorized a guard of Wyoming militia at the Big Horn County Courthouse in Basin, Wyo., during the trial of Spring Creek raider Herbert Brink, 1909. Photo courtesy Washakie Museum and Cultural Center.

The tide had effectively shifted some years earlier in the state as the willingness to prosecute and execute assassin Tom Horn in 1903 had demonstrated.

Later in life prosecuting attorney Percy Metz (1883-1964) considered writing a book about the Spring Creek Raid. In addition to his insider knowledge of the case, he held highly important written materials, including, for example, notes setting out the entire strategy of the prosecution and a transcript of the grand jury testimony. But he sickened before he could write his book.

He turned over all his materials to his niece, Lola Homsher, longtime director of the Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department. Metz’s materials are now housed at the American Heritage Center in Lola Homsher’s papers, providing a rich source of materials for researchers about the Spring Creek Raid.


Excerpts of text courtesy of On This Day in Wyoming History by Patrick T. Holscher and the article “Percy Metz: Prosecutor and Judge” by John W. Davis on

Posted in found in the archive, Livestock industry, Range wars, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Privy to Scandal: The Ralph O. Dietler Papers

One of the biggest scandals to ever rock the petroleum industry was the fraudulent leasing of United States oil reserves at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome, and the discovery of the Continental Trading Company, a Canadian corporation organized in 1921 to funnel the profits into untaxed Liberty Bonds.

Several prominent oilmen and government officials defrauded the government for significant personal gain. Henry M. Blackmer, head of Midwest Oil Company, was among them and was one of the key players in the organization of the Continental Trading Company.

Henry Blackmer

Studio portrait of oil tycoon Henry M Blackmer at time of Teapot Dome Scandal. Photo file: Blackmer, Henry, UW American Heritage Center

Ralph Dietler was Blackmer’s private secretary at the time and in that role attended the meeting in November 1921 at New York’s Vanderbilt Hotel during which plans were made to form the company.

Born in Denver, Colorado, on the last day of 1890, Dietler began his long career in the petroleum industry in 1919 when hired as stenographer and private secretary to Blackmer at Midwest Refining Company. In this capacity Dietler was privy to the inner workings of the Continental Trading Company as a vehicle for buying and selling oil while hiding the profits in Canada to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. He was present at the meetings between the principals in the Teapot Dome scandal.

Teapot Dome scandal cartoon

A 1924 cartoon depicting Washington officials racing down an oil-slicked road to the White House, trying to outpace the Teapot Dome Scandal. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.

Later, after the scandal broke, Blackmer fled to France and Dietler became the assistant to the new president, Tom Dines. Later, Standard Oil Company of Indiana purchased and dissolved Midwest Refining Company.

Dietler then transferred to Tulsa to become vice president of Stanolind Crude Oil Purchasing Company, which was affiliated with Standard Oil. He served Stanolind as vice president from 1931-1940, president from 1940-1948, and chairman of the board from 1948-1955.

Dietler retired in 1955 to work as a private consultant and independent oil producer. He died in September 1973.

The Ralph O. Dietler Papers contain biographical information, photographs of him and his wife Christabel, and memorials and resolutions given after his death by various groups in the oil industry.

Ralph and Christabel

Christabel and Ralph Dietler, ca. 1950. Ralph O. Dietler Collection, Accession Number 06374, Box 2, Folder 4, UW American Heritage Center

Of special note is a transcript of an interview conducted with Dietler in 1970, giving a first-hand account of his employment by Blackmer and his knowledge of the Continental Trading Company and the resulting Teapot Dome scandal. A personal scrapbook contains news clippings of Blackmer’s self-imposed exile to France to escape having to testify in the senate investigations and federal court trials of Albert Fall and Harry Sinclair, as well as his eventual return to the U.S.

The Dietlers had one son, Cortlandt S., who also enjoyed a long and admired career in the petroleum industry.

Posted in Economic Geology, energy resources, found in the archive, mining history, oral histories, Politics, Scandals, Teapot Dome scandal, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

C.J. Box book release and signing event today at noon at the American Heritage Center!

C.J. Box 2

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