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From JFK to Salvador Dali

Posted 11:44 a.m. Thursday, May 23, 2024

A stereoscope is used to view stereoviews, images that were traded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, much like today’s Pokémon cards. Photo courtesy of Teri Holford, Murphy Library.

Top 15 historic treasures inside UWL’s Special Collections/Area Research Center

The original hand-drawn University of Wisconsin-La Crosse seal. Recorded interviews with pioneering women from American professional baseball history. An original note signed by President John F. Kennedy. 

UWL Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center is home to some one-of-a-kind items that demonstrate the rich heritage and diverse narratives that have shaped the local community and country. This section of Murphy Library also houses thousands of rare books, photographs, UWL publications and records. Many are also available for viewing online

Laura Godden, UWL assistant professor at Murphy Library, shares some of the most interesting finds in the collection below — all open for public viewing. Special Collections posts regular hours during the academic year and is open by appointment during the summer. Learn more on the Special Collections website.  

Unsure how to use Special Collections/Area Research Center? View this video about the location and use of the facility. 

No. 1. The original, hand-drawn university seal 

The university's original seal, created in 1928 by Tony Lee, a UWL student artist.

Nearly 100 years ago, Wisconsin State College La Crosse student artist Tony Lee carefully designed an image that encapsulated the identity of his college, featuring a sunrise shining over bluffs with a wavy line below depicting the Mississippi River. Below the picture are the words “Mens Corpusque,” Latin for mind and body, represented by a scroll and an athletic figure. This rendering, created in 1928, was adopted by faculty as the official university seal for the college that same year. It has remained the university seal ever since. 

The only change to the seal since its inception has been the name of the school around the outside. A faint white out or white paint covers the previous words written around the seal, “Wisconsin State College La Crosse.” Lee went on to become a well-known restaurant interior designer. Learn more about the university seal.

No. 2. Recorded interviews with the women’s league that kept baseball alive in the U.S. during WWII

UWL Oral History Program recordings with members of the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League are housed in UWL Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center. Photo by Laura Godden, Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center.

During World War II an unprecedented number of women entered the workforce, filling professional positions traditionally held by men who were serving in the military overseas. The All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League, a professional, all-women baseball league, was created to keep professional baseball alive during this period. Existing from 1943 to 1954, the league inspired the 1992 hit movie, “A League of Their Own.”  

While the players were defying societal norms as female professional athletes, they were also proving their ability to quickly acquire the skills to play professional baseball. Their league served as a forerunner to women's professional league sports in the U.S. 

UWL student Clement “Chip” GrawOzburn interviewed some of the players in 2003 and 2004 as part of his research, which was published in the UWL Journal of Undergraduate Research. One of the players was his grandmother, which led to connections with others in the league. These UWL Oral History Program recordings are housed in UWL Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center. 



No. 3. An Olympic torch from the 1996 Olympics

This 1996 Olympic torch was donated by UWL Alumnus Sharon Evers.

The torch was donated by UWL Alumnus Sharon Evers who ran with it as part of the ceremony for the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Olympic torch announces the Games and spreads a message of peace and friendship between people. The flame is carried for weeks to the host city for the Olympic Games, mainly by runners. 

After her run, Evers has continued to share her Olympics experience with the public including what the Games represent — enduring athleticism, the struggle to reach goals and coming together despite differences. Read her full story. 

No. 4. Entertainment before radio and TV: Stereoscope 

Megan Moeller, student archivist holds a stereoscope, part of the collection at UWL Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center

Looking at stereoviews was an especially popular activity from 1870 to 1920, a time before TV and radio became mainstream forms of home entertainment. Collected and traded just like today’s Pokémon cards, these double photographs or printed images were used with a stereoscope, making the combined images appear to be one, three-dimensional image.  

Stereoview image from the 400 block of Main Street in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center.

UWL Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center has thousands of stereoview images from the La Crosse area and around the world. See images from the World’s Fair in St. Louis, early images of downtown La Crosse or scenic shots of area bluffs. 

No. 5. John F. Kennedy's portrait and signature from a campaign visit to La Crosse  

John F. Kennedy's portrait

When John F. Kennedy was campaigning for president, he visited La Crosse, staying overnight at Hotel Stoddard, which was formerly located on 4th Street in downtown La Crosse. Kennedy spoke at the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium during his visit. The backside of his photo includes a handwritten note from Kennedy to the hotel's owner and manager, John Elliott.

The note reads: “It was a pleasure meeting with you. Many thanks for the hospitality.”  

The note is signed, Mr. Kennedy.  

No. 6. The oldest book in Murphy Library 

This revised edition of the work of Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, is the oldest book in Murphy Library or Special Collections/Area Research Center. Photo by Laura Godden, Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center.

This book was around more than 300 years before Wisconsin became a state. The book, from 1520, is the oldest book found in either Murphy Library or Special Collections/Area Research Center. It is a revised edition of the work of Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who was born around 295 and died in 373 AD. But, to know exactly what it’s about, you’ll need to learn Latin first.  

No. 7. The oldest type of photographic image 

Daguerreotypes are the oldest mass photography format. Image courtesy of Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center.

Made with a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver, daguerreotypes are the oldest mass photography format. Murphy Library Special Collections has various types of photo formats, including daguerreotypes, which date back to 1839 and were most popular in the 1840s and early 1850s. They were invented and named after Louis Daguerre. The images are silver and mirror-like in appearance, and both a positive and negative image can be seen depending on the angle it is viewed at. Daguerreotypes were overtaken in popularity by a faster and less expensive photographic process, the ambrotype. Viewing the daguerreotypes in Special Collections was long a part of UWL photography classes. 

No. 8. Civil War-era diaries and letters

Civil War-era letters open a window into the past.

Learn about the history of the Civil War directly from settlers and landowners of this region through Civil War-era diaries and letters, like the Benjamin Franklin Heuston Papers. Heuston was one of the first settlers of Trempealeau County and served in the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His letters and diaries recount the surroundings of the regiment, Sherman’s march through Georgia, his wounding and subsequent stays in army hospitals, abolitionist perspectives and considerations, and more. They are also valuable for their comments on black soldiers in the U.S. military during the war.  

Read more on the letters and diaries.  

No. 9. UWL printed yearbooks from 1911-1990, plus online versions 

Special Collections/Area Research Center has printed yearbooks from 1911-1990, as well as online versions. Photo by Laura Godden, Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center

If you lost your UWL yearbook, come and take a look in Special Collections/Area Research Center. Copies of all of the yearbooks from 1911-1990 are available. The collection also includes video yearbooks from 1992 and 1993. UWL stopped producing paper yearbooks in 1990. And all paper yearbooks have been digitized and are accessible online

Library Catalog.  

No. 10. A rare, hand-etched Salvador Dali book

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” illustrated by Salvador Dali

This large, 18 x 27 inch, 1969 edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” illustrated by Salvador Dali is rare with only 2,500 copies produced worldwide. The limited copies were sold throughout regions of the U.S. to ensure diverse distribution. Most books are now in private hands.  

The book includes a signed front piece etching by Dali, as well as twelve full-color heliogravure plates located throughout the text. View the book in the library catalog.

No. 11. Historic maps with a bird’s eye view of local buildings 

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the La Crosse State Normal School gymnasium.

Did you know that Graff Main Hall originally had four light wells surrounding the main auditorium? These wells, situated in the interior of the building, opened to the sky over several floors. They provided natural light to interior parts of the building at a time in the early 1900s when electricity was unreliable.  

The light wells are visible on Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps, housed in Murphy Library Special Collections/ Area Research Center are from 1884, 1910, 1944, and 1951. They were produced for insurance agents to ascertain fire risks and set rates. The maps show detailed aerial views of cities, noting construction materials and other physical attributes of structures, like the number of stories, firewalls, windows, doors, and sprinkler systems. Today, they are used for various research purposes, like the historic preservation of older buildings and city planning. View in the library catalog

No. 12. Mini collections on many subjects — from local businesses to local people 

A vertical file on La Crosse music.

Learn more about local people, local businesses, government and other topics that make up La Crosse and UWL history. The library is home to many file folders containing a variety of loose materials on a single subject, such as a person, event, business or other topic. Items commonly found in vertical files include newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, programs, receipts, and other items generally too small to be cataloged on their own. For example, the World War II vertical file contains newspaper articles, antiwar pamphlets, La Crosse V-Day souvenirs, and ration stamps for resources like flour, gas, and sugar. See the vertical file in the library catalog.  

No. 13. Handmade artist’s books  

Artist book, “Enough!” created by Michael Koppa. Photo by Laura Godden, Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center.

Handmade and individually-numbered artist's books provide a unique look at art and literature. One book, “Enough!” created by Michael Koppa, was published in 2005 as one of only four copies. This book was shot eight times by a .22 rifle, but that was critiqued as “too polite,” so it was then shot five more times with a shotgun. View the book in the library catalog.

No. 14. Plants with history: Murgatroyd and Medusa

Operation booklift in 1957. Photo courtesy of Murphy Library Special Collections

Murgatroyd, a rubber tree plant, was given to UWL in 1957 as a gift from La Crosse Floral for the opening of Wing Library. In 1957, all library books were moved from the Main Hall library to the new library via Operation Booklift, where students and staff passed stacks of books to one another in a long line. La Crosse Floral has been in business since 1908 and is located not far from UWL at the base of the bluffs.

Medusa, another plant sunning in the windows of the library, was donated by Retired Librarian Bonnie Daines who received the original cutting of the plant from her great grandmother. Medusa is estimated to be at least 100 years old. The cactus plant continues to propagate, providing many UWL students who have worked in Special Collections/Area Research Center over the years their own mini-Medusa to take home.  

No. 15. Books of all sorts 

Science-fiction books in Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center. Photo by Laura Godden.

In Special Collections/Area Research Center there are 1,000 volumes of early science-fiction, horror, and fantasy novels, including some by famous authors and publishers, such as H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, and Arkham House. View in the catalog.    

What is the Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center (SC/ARC) archives?

Special Collections/Area Research Center is a unit within Murphy Library that collects, organizes, describes, and preserves material of long-term, enduring historical significance and makes it accessible to researchers. Much of what it houses is unique, rare, fragile, valuable, and one-of-a-kind. There are many primary sources within its holdings.  

Its collection is non-circulating, which means nothing can be checked out. Instead, materials are viewed in its reading room. Many people go there to study local and regional history, but items of interest to many disciplines are also housed there.  

Within this part of the library are thousands of rare books, photographs, and UWL publications and records. Some categories of what is housed in this library unit are fine and private press publications, maps, regional poetry, newspaper clippings and ephemera files, and an early science-fiction collection, as well as the university’s Oral History Program interviews.  

SC/ARC welcomes the general public, as well as university students, staff, and faculty. It also routinely partners with media outlets, businesses, community organizations, and government entities to preserve and promote the area’s history. 

Additionally, this library unit is part of the statewide Area Research Center (ARC) Network. Founded in 1962, a partnership between the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) and Universities of Wisconsin campuses created a network to preserve and make available world-class historical records throughout the state. Not only does this fourteen-member network ensure that collections are housed in their appropriate region, but most records can also temporarily be transferred to other facilities for greater public access. Accessible through this system are county-level government records and manuscript collections, which include primary sources like letters, diaries, newsletters, scrapbooks, business ledgers, and more. The UWL ARC houses materials for five counties: La Crosse, Trempealeau, Vernon, Monroe, and Jackson.  


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