Mort Weisinger: Superman’s Superman

Among the American Heritage Center’s comic book industry collections are evidence of the way in which industry insiders attempted to legitimize their business following the comic book moral panic of the 1950s. Fredric Wertham’s 1954 monograph, Seduction of the Innocent – which linked comic books with juvenile crime and perversion – and the 1954 United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings led to the denigration of comic books as a form of media. In order to save their business, six publishers, including National Comics (DC), formed the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) to self-censor their work.

The records in the Mort Weisinger papers demonstrate how the editor worked to reclaim a cultural space for his medium after this public castigation. As the editor of DC’s Superman titles, Mort Weisinger was in frequent contact with politicians, writers, and others to promote the comics under his purview. His efforts helped both to keep DC’s characters in the spotlight and to rehabilitate the image of comic books following the panic of the 1950s.

In 1963, DC planned to include a story in Superman no. 168 in which Superman worked on behalf of President John F. Kennedy to inspire children to work on physical fitness. It later appeared in issue 170 (cover date July 1964). According to the story’s introductory text, “White House officials… informed [DC] that President Johnson wanted it published, as a tribute to his great predecessor.”[1] Weisinger wrote to the late President’s brother, bringing both the story and a letter from Robert F. Kennedy’s son to his attention. Kennedy’s reply, indication of his appreciation for Weisinger’s thoughtfulness in writing, helps show the way in which Weisinger sought official approval of DC’s work.[2]

Kennedy letter

Letter from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to Mort Weisinger about Superman 170 that was published as a tribute to John F. Kennedy, June 4, 1964. Box 13, Folder 8, Mort Weisinger papers.

Weisinger further courted official support of DC’s characters by gifting Batman posters to Lester L. Wolff, Representative of New York’s 3rd District. Wolff wrote of the posters, “My staff is convinced they can be a great campaign aid. ‘Batman’ is such a phenomenon. I wish I had his touch.”[3] A decade prior, following Fredric Wertham’s accusation that Batman represented gay propaganda, no politician would have joked about using the character as a campaign aid. By 1966, with the success of the ABC series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, it made sense for a politician to jump on the bandwagon.

Wolff letter

Letter from Representative Lester Wolff of New York to Mort Weisinger thanking him for sending “Batman” TV show posters to his New York campaign office, June 17, 1966. Box 13, Folder 12, Mort Weisinger papers.

As an editor at a member company of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Weisinger’s papers include the CMAA’s newsletter. The June 1966 issue details accounts of comics “in use as teaching aids” in the Bronx, Texas, Mexico, and England, thereby arguing that comics play a role as educational tools much like other media, such as film.[4] A second story discusses the Library of Congress’s growing comics collection, at the time including “more than 12,000 copies of some 2,500 titles that have been published since the 1930’s.”[5]

CMAA newsletter

Second page of the June 1966 Comics Magazine Association of America newsletter. Box 24, Folder 1, Mort Weisinger papers.

By 1969, Mort Weisinger received a letter from John C. Baker, the Public Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce, reporting that “others in the Census Bureau are enthusiastic about [Weisinger’s] proposal that Superman become a champion of the 1970 census, through two issues of the monthly Superman comic book and a special 16-page Superman book.”[6] The letter builds upon the use of comics as an educational tool, outlining ways in which a Superman story can explain the function of the census and get children involved with their parents in participating. Baker further invites Weisinger to have the artist and writer of a possible story visit the Census Bureau office, thereby granting more official sanction to comics as a medium capable of contributing to society.

The Mort Weisinger papers capture a critical moment in comic book history in which he used his position as an editor at one of the largest publishers to validate the comic book medium after the public shaming of the 1950s. Mort Weisinger sought official approval from members of the government to demonstrate the educational value of comic books and their ability to comment on critical events like any other form of media. As a result of his actions and those of others in the industry, comic book writers and artists currently enjoy greater creative freedom while the comics themselves now influence other forms of media, generating multi-billion dollar profits for their corporate parents.

[1] E. Nelson Bridwell, “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” Superman 170 (July 1964).

[2] Robert F. Kennedy, Letter to Mort Weisinger (1964), Box 13, Folder 8, Mort Weisinger Papers, Collection Number 07958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[3] Lester W. Wolff, Letter to Mort Weisinger (1966), Box 13, Folder 12, Mort Weisinger Papers, Collection Number 07958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[4] CMAA Newsletter (1966), Box 24, Folder 1, Mort Weisinger Papers, Collection Number 07958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, pg. 2.

[5] CMAA Newsletter (1966), Box 24, Folder 1, Mort Weisinger Papers, Collection Number 07958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, pg. 2.

[6] John C. Baker, Letter to Mort Weisinger (1969), Box 14, Folder 3, Mort Weisinger Papers, Collection Number 07958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Blog contribution by: Richard D. Deverell, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, State University of New York at Buffalo

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Archives Rewind Vol. 3

Round three of our “Archives Rewind” series finds us deep in the AHC collections once again. Did you know we’ve produced 150 episodes of Archives on the Air to date?

The purpose of the Archives Rewind is to highlight episodes from our “Archives on the Air” segment that airs on Wyoming Public Media.

“Archives on the Air” can be heard on Wyoming Public Radio Monday through Friday at 8:50 am, 11:50 am, and 6:50 pm or online on Wyoming Public Media’s website.

black and white image of studio microphone with computer screen faded in background. image text includes UW and American Heritage Center logo and "Archive on the Air" over mic.

Let’s rewind the archives for Volume 3…

Episode 30: “Flying Saucers, Like Girls Are Here to Stay” – Frank Scully Papers

Like something out of the X-Files…we want to believe. We’d like to think that Fox Mulder would have gotten along with Frank, and perhaps there’s some unintended relation to Dana?

frank_scully_3

Cover of The Saucerian, billed as the “world’s largest flying saucer publication,” January 1955. Box 6, Frank Scully papers.

Episode 37: Sweaty Documents – Climate Change in the American Heritage Center

Here’s something a little different for this program — how about a behind the scenes look at the process of letting received materials acclimate to Wyoming’s climate?

pallet with document boxes shrink wrapped.

A wrapped pallet containing historical documents about to be shipped from Utah to the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming, July 2016. Credit Molly Marcusse

Episode 39: “For All of Large Animals Found in the Sea, Man is the Easiest Prey”

We probably should have saved this highlight for Shark Week. Did you know the release of “Jaws” led to an increase in shark hunting in the United States?

paper document with 14 shark facts with written text.

Sharkfacts promotional material for the release of Jaws II, 1975. David Brown Papers.

Episode 42: The Ram Snuffbox – The Colket Collection; Toppan Library

Did you know Laramie has it’s own “Cabinet of Wonder“?

wooden cabinet, with lots of trinkets, photos, and collectibles.

Image of illustrated Wunderkammer (not in Wyoming) from the home of a music collecting aristocrat. Undated. “ACRONYM: Wunderkammer” New Focus Recordings.com, Accessed April, 2018.

That’s a wrap for Volume three of our Archives Rewind. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Volume 3.

#AlwaysArchiving

Posted in Archives on the Air, behind the scenes, found in the archive, Hollywood history, Laramie, Local history, motion picture history, popular culture, science fiction, Toppan Rare Books Library | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Finding Aids: May 2019

Welcome to the second round of our Finding Aids updates! As a reminder, Finding Aids act as a table of contents for our collections. These aids help you find information about specific collections we have, and the information contained in the collections. We create these aids so it’s easier for researchers to figure out if collection is relevant to their work.

The strengths of our collections include Wyoming and the American West, politics and public policy, ranching and energy, entertainment and popular culture, industry, transportation, and military history. The documents and archives we hold serve as raw data for scholarship and heritage work, and support thriving communities of place, identity, and interest in Wyoming and beyond.

stacks of AHC collections from our storage space. Image features AHC logo and "finding aids" text

Finding Aid Updates (from collections processed 2/1/19 – 3/22/19)


Troma Entertainment Inc. Troma was a movie production company best known for horror and sex comedies.

Laramie citizen William E. Bennett. Bennett was active in overseeing the construction of the Laramie Community Recreation Center.

Albany County Selective Service. The collection includes instructions and other material from the national Selective Service Board.

Tie hack Martin Olson. Olson’s career as a tie hack started in 1898 in Wyoming.

Thermopolis, Wyoming, businessman Clifford Axtell. Axtell was active in developing Hot Springs County in the 20th century.

University of Wyoming head football coach Paul L. Roach. Roach began as Assistant Coach at UW in 1962.

Rawlins, Wyoming, newsman and politician Roscoe Alcorn. Alcorn was also State Auditor, 1929-1931.

Wyoming district judge Richard H. Scott. Scott presided at the divorce of Buffalo Bill Cody.

University of Wyoming supporter Jack Rosenthal. The papers document establishment of the Milward L. Simpson Professorship in Political Science.

Heart Mountain internee Andrew J. Mayeshiba. The collection contains correspondence sent to Mayeshiba while he was interned in Wyoming.

University of Wyoming Army ROTC. UW was one of the first seven institutions to establish a Reserve Officers Training Corps unit.

H.D. Del Monte papers on the Maverick Springs oil leases. The leases involved land on the Wind River Reservation.

Teva J. Scheer papers. Scheer wrote a biography of Wyoming governor Nellie Tayloe Ross.

University of Wyoming librarian Emmett D. Chisum. Chisum published a book of photographs documenting the university’s history.


These and other AHC collections can be discovered in the University of Wyoming Libraries catalog. We are open for walk-in research Mondays 10 am – 7 pm and Tuesdays through Fridays 8 am – 5 pm. For distance research assistance please contact our reference department at ahcref@uwyo.edu or 307-766-3756.

#AlwaysArchiving

Posted in energy resources, Finding Aids, Heart Mountain, Horror, Laramie, Local history, military history, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, Recreation, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming, University of Wyoming history, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Selenium: The Story of Orville A. Beath

Wyoming has often given rise to great ideas and new research, and one such man that succeeded in a major discovery, alongside a team of researchers, was Orville A. Beath. Orville A. Beath was born in Wisconsin in 1884, where he would obtain his degrees, a B. A. and M.A. in chemistry. He met his wife, Katherine H. Shepard, in 1912, and they had one daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Mrs. Katherine Beath sadly passed in 1949. Mary Beath would later become a teacher of the Arts and Fine Arts in Tucson, Arizona.

old family portrait of man and woman standing

Photo of Orville A. Beath and Katherine H. Shepard, Box 38, Folder 1 of 2, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Orville A. Beath was a professor of Chemistry at the University of Wyoming from 1914-1964. He and a team, which included Irene Rosenfeld, Carl S. Gilbert and Harold F. Eppson, researched seleniferous vegetation among other poisonous plants.[1] The work that Professor Beath and his associates would come to find about selenium would impact the next decades because of the precedence set by Beath and the team. In O. A. Beath’s book, The Story of Selenium in Wyoming, the foreword, written by Geologist, J. David Love, explains that Beath’s “two greatest contributions were the recognition of the geologic distribution of selenium in rocks and in the soils derived from them, and the role of converter plants that made selenium available to otherwise harmless plants.”[2]

canoe in foreground on lake in front of mountains

Glass Plate Negative of Scenic View, Box 27, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

mountainous area with aspen trees and snow

Glass Plate Negative of Larkspur, Box 25, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Beath’s daughter, Mary E. Beath, donated most of the collection to the American Heritage Center upon her death in the late 1990s. She dedicated much of her time with friends, family, and the acquaintances that her father had made through his work.

Between Orville Beath and his daughter Mary, they contributed a number of photographs, slides, and films to the collection. Much of the visual media in this collection is related to the work that Beath did with selenium and other poisonous plants. The other half of the visual materials is dedicated to family photos and home videos that include Beath’s cabin and their slight obsession with the privy and their local squirrels. The inside joke about the privy seems to be concerning that there was more than likely not a bathroom inside of the Beath cabin, therefore a privy, or better known as an outhouse, was built in order to suffice the need.

cabin and outhouse surrounded by aspens

Photograph of Beath’s Cabin and Privy, Box 30, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 05104, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Photograph of “The Privy”, Box 38, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the pictures below, Mary Beath is standing in the doorway, with a smile on her face, of this finished product: the privy.

mary-beath-and-the-privy

Photograph of Mary Beath and The Privy, Box 38, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The photo below also include that of a squirrel; squirrels are often found in the visual materials belonging to the Beath collection and seem to be of some interest to the Beath’s and their fascination with and respect of nature.

squirrel on a tree stump

Photograph of squirrel, Box 30, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

To learn more about Orville A. Beath and his work on selenium, see the Orville A. Beath papers at the American Heritage Center.

[1] Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[2] The Story of Selenium in Wyoming, Box 6, Folder 5, Orville A. Beath Papers, Collection Number 400096, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Blog contribution by MaKayla Garnica, William D. Carlson Endowment Intern

#AlwaysArchiving

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Archives Rewind Vol. 2

We’re back for round two of our “Archives Rewind” series. The purpose of the Archives Rewind is to highlight episodes from our “Archives on the Air” segment that airs on Wyoming Public Media.

“Archives on the Air” can be heard on Wyoming Public Radio Monday through Friday at 8:50 am, 11:50 am, and 6:50 pm or online on Wyoming Public Media’s website.

arhives

Let’s rewind the archives for Volume 2…

Episode 16: Snow Chi Minh Trail

Driving on Interstate 80 can be cumbersome for travel…particularly this time of year.

Interstate 70 with semi truck, snow plows and lots of snow

Stretch of I-80 getting plowed, from Ronald Tabler papers

Episode 21: Jack Benny’s “Magic” Violin

Before Jack Benny became famous as a comedian and performer, he got his start as a violinist in vaudeville theaters at the age of 17. And he actually wasn’t as bad at the violin as he may have led us to believe.

portrait of a man in a suit holding a cigar and violin

Portrait for MGM studios from Jack Benny papers


Episode 23: The Monarch of the Plains – The Design of Wyoming’s Flag

What’s the story and meaning behind the design of our state flag? How did our flag come to be? And what’s a Monarch of the Plains?

Wyoming state flag

Wyoming state flag from Verna Keyes papers

Episode 29: Has This Student Newspaper Gone Too Far? – Joe Jacobucci Papers

Why did tow UW students get suspended from school for publishing the annual parody version of the Branding Iron — once aptly called the Curling Iron?

old newspaper articles with text

News articles about the students’ suspension. From the Joe Jacobucci papers

That’s a wrap for Volume two of our Archives Rewind. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Volume 3.

#AlwaysArchiving

Posted in Archives on the Air, Hollywood history, Journalism, Motion picture actors and actresses, popular culture, Wyoming, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman: the protection of our planet before Earth day

April 22nd is a day to think about, celebrate, and remember the importance of our planet and its conservation. It is called Earth day. This celebration started in 1970, following the oil blowout near Santa Barbara, in January 1969.  Its foundation came about when Senator Gaylord Nelson, of Wisconsin, witnessed the oil slick from the air. That disaster brought a surge of environmental efforts, most importantly by the government of Richard Nixon, who, in 1970 passed the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

map of oil spill near Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands

Source: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969-20150520-htmlstory.html

Man and woman in film room with projector in foreground

Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman in their studio, Santa Fean Magazine, June 1974, p.12, Box 37. Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers, Collection #6225, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

But efforts to bring public awareness about the environment and wildlife were already initiated in the early 1960s by husband and wife team Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman, respectively a photographer and a writer. The Grossmans published books on birds of prey, but also ecology as a whole. In 1969, their book “Our Vanishing Wilderness” brought attention to the importance of the protection of all of nature’s species. It surveyed plants and animals in the United States and showed the impact of human behavior on their ecosystem.

book cover

Source: https://www.iberlibro.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=16909102350&cm_sp=collectionsRGWqwoLj7CrqJh5um87FS_item_1_41-_-bdp

Soon followed a documentary TV series, also entitled “Our Vanishing Wilderness.” One episode talked about the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, another about the effects of pesticides on reproduction of pelicans, and yet other episodes focused on the flooding of the Everglades, and the poaching of alligators.  The series aired on PBS in October 1970 and was the first environmental TV series in the US.

image of letter

Press Release for “Our Vanishing Wilderness” TV Series, Box 37, Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers, 6225, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The television series caught the government’s attention, especially the pesticide episode that exposed its devastating effects on wildlife. In 1971, Shelly and Mary Louise were asked to act as consultants on a Senate bill that involved research to find an alternative to pesticides.

consulting

Pest Control Research. Hearings before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 1971, US Senate, 92nd Congress, s. 1794, box 37, Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers, #6225, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Always seeking to expand their exploration of nature, Shelly and Mary Louise spent the early 1970s traveling across Europe and the U.S. to sample, research, and study wild flower evolution and pollination. Unfortunately, while in the Swiss Alps, Shelly died unexpectedly, putting their research to a halt.  A few years later, Mary used the research to write the synopsis, chapter outlines and three chapters of “Our Flowering World”, but the book was never published.

Our Flowering World Synopsis Box 3

“Our Flowering World” book synopsis, box 3, Shelly and Mary Louise papers, #6225, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

black and white image of flower and butterfly on an a flower

Orchid and Swallowtail butterfly, Shelly Grossman’s photographs, box 6, Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers, #6225, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

To learn more about the history of conservation and ecology, see the Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers at the American Heritage Center and explore other related collections in the guide to environmental and natural resources collections.

A digital exhibit will be on display at the American Heritage Center, in the loggia, located on the 2nd floor for the remainder of the month of April. Stop by and see it today.

Blog contribution by: Alexandra Cardin, Archival Processor at the AHC

#AlwaysArchiving

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Archives Rewind Vol. 1

In June of 2018, the AHC partnered with Wyoming Public Media to create “Archives on the Air,” a one minute look ‘behind the curtain’ of our archives. Each episode reveals a fun tidbit of history from our vault. The series is voiced by Assistant Archivist Molly Marcusse and to date we’ve aired over 100 episodes.

black and white close up of an old reel to reel player

Ironically enough, WPM actually archives our show on their website, so we thought we’d go back to highlight some for you in a new blog series, aptly titled “Archives Rewind.”

So without further ado, let’s rewind the archives…

Episode 1: Laramie Inventor Elmer Lovejoy

Local Laramie folks may be familiar with the name Elmer Lovejoy, but what they may not know is that he designed and built Wyoming’s first automobile in 1895.

man driving an old automobile

Elmer Lovejoy riding an 1897 Locomobile steamer. Box 1, Elmer Lovejoy papers.


Episode 7: Mary O’Hara—”My Heart Is In Wyoming”

How well could New York screenwriter socialite adjust to life in Wyoming? Once she arrived, not even wild horses could drag her away.

woman sitting at desk with typewriter, file folders, and paperes.

Portrait of Mary O’Hara sitting at a typewriter, undated. Mary O’Hara photo file.


Episode 10: Antelope Charlie

Why in the world did the pronghorn get loaded onto the Hindenburg in 1936?

two mean holding pronghorns in the foreground and an airship landing in the background with people watching.

Photograph by Charles Belden of antelope about to be loaded onto the Hindenburg and relocated to a German zoo, 1936. Box 3, Charles J. Belden photographs.


Episode 15: Brassy Barbara Stanwyck

Why did Barbara Stanwyck’s movie “Baby Face” get banned in several cities across the country?

woman sitting at a desk staring at a man in a suit.

Photograph of Barbara Stanwyck and Donald Cook from the set of “Baby Face,” 1933. Box 1, Barbara Stanwyck papers, American Heritage Center.

That wraps up our first round of our archives rewind. Stayed tuned in the coming weeks for more!

“Archives on the Air” can be heard on Wyoming Public Radio Monday through Friday at 8:50 am, 11:50 am, and 6:50 pm or online on Wyoming Public Media’s website.

#AlwaysArchiving

Posted in Archives on the Air, Authors and literature, Local history, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, popular culture, Western history, writers and poets, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Finding Aids: February 2019

Welcome to the first of what we hope to be a feature we’ll run on our blog every 4-6 weeks. Welcome to our Finding Aids! What is a finding aid you ask? Finding aids are like a table of contents for the boxes of an archival collection. Finding aids help folks find out information about specific collections we have and what materials are contained in the collection. Archivists create these aids so researchers can figure out if the collection is related to their work.

As archivists finish processing the collection, they create the aids. But our collections are ever growing and we’re always adding more ‘table of contents’. So we thought we’d use this space to showcase what’s getting added so you know what our archivists are working on.

The strengths of our collections include Wyoming and the American West, politics and public policy, ranching and energy, entertainment and popular culture, industry, transportation, and military history. The documents and archives we hold serve as raw data for scholarship and heritage work, and support thriving communities of place, identity, and interest in Wyoming and beyond.

stacks of AHC collections from our storage space. Image features AHC logo and

Finding Aid Updates (from collections processed 12/14/18 – 1/31/19):


James Folger papers regarding the Cooksley sisters. The Cooksley sisters ranched and guided hunters near Kaycee, Wyoming.

Dale B. Fritz films about Afghanistan. Fritz was part of a University of Wyoming team that consulted on agriculture in Afghanistan.

Aviator Ernest E. Harmon. Harmon piloted the first airplane to fly around the rim of the continental United States in 1919.

Soil scientist Gerald Nielsen. Nielsen was part of the University of Wyoming team that worked in Afghanistan in the 1950s-1960s.

Agronomist Lee J. Fabricius and Patsy Fabricius. Patsy Fabricius was secretary for the University of Wyoming team that worked in Afghanistan in the 1950s-1960s.

Oil executive A.G. Setter. Setter was president of the New York Oil Company, which operated out of Casper, Wyoming, from 1918.

Petroleum industry executive W. Alton Jones. Jones was president of Cities Service Company.

Petroleum industry executive William H. Isom. Isom was president of Sinclair Refining Company.

Petroleum oil field worker J. Tom Wall. Wall’s nineteen-page narrative describes his experiences in the Salt Creek oilfields.

Oil prospector Leslie D. Welch. Welch was active in Wyoming and Montana in the 1910s and 1920s.

Martin G. Wenger’s Recollections of Robert Livermore. Wenger recalled a time of labor troubles in Telluride, Colorado, mines.

Oil promoter Robert S. Anderson. Anderson attempted to develop oil in Devil’s Basin, Montana, in 1916.

John H. Hull family papers (this collection has also been digitized and is available online). Correspondence, a memoir, and other documents of a soldier in the American Civil War and his Indiana family.


These and other AHC collections can be discovered in the University of Wyoming Libraries catalog. We are open for walk-in research Mondays 10 am – 7 pm and Tuesdays through Fridays 8 am – 5 pm. For distance research assistance please contact our reference department at ahcref@uwyo.edu or 307-766-3756.

The AHC is proud to offer travel grants to help defray the costs of travel to Laramie for research. More information about AHC grants and the travel grant application form are available here: https://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/grants/. Travel grant applications are due by April 15, 2019.

#AlwaysArchiving

 

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Black History Month Programs at UW

Thursday, January 31st kicked off a series of events taking place at the University of Wyoming in honor of Black History Month.  The day featured the Black History 101 Mobile Museum on display in the Wyoming Union breezeway, and later the AHC partnered with the Art Museum, the Black Student Alliance, and African American Diaspora Studies to host a Meet & Greet for Khalid el-Hakim, founder and curator of the Mobile Museum.

Several students walk down a row of tables in the hallway of the student union viewing an exhibit on display.

UW students engage with the Black History 101 Mobile Museum in the Union breezeway.

The events continue with a Black History Conference hosted at the College of Law on Friday, February 8th, along with a whole week of programs hosted by the Black Student Alliance. On Monday, February 18th, the AHC is happy to once again partner with AADS and BSA as they host their “Conversations with Elders” program at the Centennial Complex in the Stock Grower’s Room at 4 p.m.

The month of programs conclude with a panel on African American Women in Pageantry at the Ag Auditorium on Friday, March 1 at 4 p.m.

image with text listing Black History Month programs

Listing of programs for Black History month hosted by the Black Student Alliance and African American Diaspora Studies

We’d be remiss if we also didn’t give recognition to the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Days of Dialogue programs, which starts this Sunday. View the press release or visit their website for more information.

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Wyoming Statesman Gale McGee Encounters a Bolivian Coup D’état

Between 1978 and 1980, the country of Bolivia was constantly in a state of crisis. There was a series of military governments that ruled briefly, each overthrown by the next. Rodger McDaniel’s 2018 book, The Man in the Arena: The Life and Times of U.S. Senator Gale McGee, relates a time when McGee, his wife Loraine, and aides found themselves in a dire situation on the cusp of a Bolivian coup in 1979. Recently American Heritage Center archivist Roger Simon discovered photographs related to the incident while processing portions of Gale McGee’s papers.

ah09800_000390

Gale and Loraine McGee, 1974. Gale McGee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Democrat Gale McGee served Wyoming as U.S. Senator from 1959 to 1977. After a defeat by Republican Malcolm Wallop, McGee was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to be U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS is a organization founded in 1948 to promote regional solidarity and cooperation among its 35 independent member states in the Americas. After approval by the Senate, McGee was sworn in as OAS ambassador on March 30, 1977. It was while McGee was in Bolivia for an OAS General Assembly that this harrowing experience occurred.

Here is an excerpt about the incident from McDaniel’s book, along with snapshots that Roger Simon found in McGee’s papers.

[On a trip to La Paz, Bolivia, on October 20, 1979,] Loraine and several OAS staff members accompanied [Ambassador McGee] to attend the General Assembly. Two were former members of his Senate staff, Liz Strannigan and Betty Cooper. They flew together with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance on the luxurious aircraft known as Air Force One when the president is aboard. Upon arrival, they noticed a contingent of U.S. Marines stationed around the plane, all standing “at-ease,” rifles resting at their sides.

The first few days were filled with sightseeing and important meetings with Latin American heads of state and others. The McGees awakened early one morning to find tanks and troops on the streets nine floors below the room in which they were staying in the La Paz Sheraton. It was the opening salvo of what came to be called “the cocaine coup” because it had been financed by the drug cartel out of its unhappiness with the current government’s enforcement of drug laws.

bolivia_coup_photo5

Soldiers on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, October 1979. Gale McGee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

With Marines posted at each end of his hallway to prevent secret documents from being captured, the ambassador attempted to call Washington, but the phones were down. Alejandro Orfila, who now served as secretary general to OAS, told McGee he could arrange for he and his wife to leave Bolivia immediately aboard Orfila’s personal plane. But there was not enough room on the plane for his staffers. While other ambassadors jumped at the chance to leave, McGee refused the offer, advising Orfila, “We came together.  We will leave together.”

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Tanks rolling into La Paz, October 1979. Gale McGee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Alexandra Watson, the deputy chief of the La Paz mission, recalled the tense situation they faced. On the streets were tanks and soldiers. Checkpoints were “manned by illiterate 16, 17, 18-year-old soldiers from the countryside who were scared to death and whose AK-47s trembled in their hands as they put their guns up to our ears.” As Liz Strannigan worked to arrange passport clearance to leave the country, there was gunfire in the downtown area not far from the hotel. “Bolivian troops opened fire on protesting crowds in the streets of La Paz.” Late that afternoon Strannigan was able to make arrangements for the McGees as well as staff members to fly out of the country on a plane that would have been formally designated Air Force Two had the vice president been aboard.

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The scene from the backseat of the McGee’s vehicle, October 1979. Gale McGee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

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An even more frightening scene from the backseat, October 1979. Gale McGee papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

They made their way slowly up the steep road to the airport aptly named El Alto, which sits atop a mountain 1,500 feet above La Paz. As when they landed a few days earlier, the Marine contingent surrounded the aircraft, not “at-ease” this time but with guns raised to an “at-ready” stance. Fully loaded, the plane started down the runway, necessarily one of the longest in the world to accommodate large airplanes trying to take off at the altitude. After rumbling down most of the runway’s 13,000 feet, the plane finally lifted off. After a brief stop in Lima, Peru, the group left for Washington.

Bolivian President Wálter Guevara Arze was deposed in a military coup on November 1, 1979, only days after the McGees were able to leave. At least 300 people were killed in the ensuring violence that lasted the week following the coup.

To learn more about Gale McGee’s interesting career, we recommend a look at Rodger McDaniel’s book. You can also view McGee’s papers at the American Heritage Center. No appointment needed. The AHC’s research room is open 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on Monday and 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Friday.

Posted in Alan K. Simpson Institute for Western Politics and Leadership, Bolivian history, found in the archive, Gale McGee, military history, Organization of American States, Politics, Uncategorized, Violence - history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment