Brown University Library Special Collections

Archive for April, 2012

John Hay Library Closing at 4pm on April 26th

Posted by Ann Morgan Dodge on April 19, 2012

Due to a special event, the John Hay Library will close at 4PM on Thursday April 26th. The Library will re-open at 10AM on Friday April 27th. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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Time Capsule

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 18, 2012

A recent blog post titled Baptist Churches announced the arrival of the records for 4 Baptist Churches in Rhode Island.  This week brings a glimpse into the life of one of them – the Roger Williams Baptist Church of Providence, RI.

How often have you walked past the cornerstone of a building and wished you could look inside the time capsule housed within?  What do people put in them?  Do the contents survive the journey through time?

The members of the Roger Williams Baptist Church built a chapel in 1889 to accommodate their growing community.  On September 14, 1889 they celebrated the new building with a service to lay the new cornerstone.  Underneath the stone they enclosed a time capsule in a copper box.  When the membership swelled to over 400 members they built an addition to the church in 1906. The time capsule was moved and placed underneath the new cornerstone.  The photo below shows the stone suspended on a pulley.  The man standing in the middle is Manton Metcalf holding the copper box in his left hand.

Laying the cornerstone for the new addition on the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI, June 2, 1906.

David Dobson opening the copper time capsule box, October 1, 2011.

Starting in the 1950s, the membership of the church steadily declined until weekly attendance dwindling to less than twenty in 2010.  The remaining members voted to close the church with the last service on November 20, 2011.  But before they closed their doors they opened the cornerstone and retrieved the time capsule.

What they found inside were mementos from 1889 documenting the church, Rhode Island, and the world including: a list of all the members of the church, constitution and by-laws of the church, publications relating to the Baptist Church in RI, 2 newspapers, money, and 35 small flags from most of the countries in the world at the time.

Contents of the 1889 time capsule of the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI.

The most curious object is a small American flag with 36 stars.  There were 38 states in September, 1889 when the time capsule was created (4 more states were admitted in November 1889) and the inscription reads “God Bless the Commonwealth of Rhode Island, Loyalty to Ceasar.”  The flag probably dates to 1865-1867, the only years during which there were 36 states.  Rhode Island is generally not called a Commonwealth. Only 4 states use that term in their official names: Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  And why is someone, who doesn’t know how to spell Caesar, pledging their loyalty to him?  The reason it was included may simply be because it was the smallest flag available and the inscription was written years prior by someone else.  It is nonetheless a curious item.

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Focus On Special Collections: Titanic

Posted by Ann Morgan Dodge on April 12, 2012

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the staff of the John Hay Library will display several news accounts of the disaster, including articles from the 1912 Providence Journal. Additional items related to the ship (sheet music, poetry and plays) will be on display. RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg; over 1500 people perished.

Please join us at noon on Tuesday April 17th in the Lownes Room to relive history.

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Baptist Churches

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 11, 2012

The records for 4 Baptist churches have been donated to the John Hay Library during the past year to augment the Baptist Collection.

1.  Shawomet Baptist Church, Warwick, RI, 1842-2011

2.  Meshanticut Baptist Church, Cranston, RI, 1899-2011

3.  Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI, 1867-2011

4.  Niantic Baptist Church, Westerly, RI, 1851-2012

The records of these churches provide documentation related to the debate over the vitality of religious organizations in the United States.  All four churches served as vital centers of worship for their communities for 100-160 years.  They all survived the tumult of the economic, social and political upheavals and changing neighborhood demographics of the past 160+ years.  The reason for their closure may be linked to a larger societal trend or may simply be the natural life cycle of an organization.  They are now available for use by researchers interested in that topic or many others involving the role of religion in the life of a community.

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The Itinerant Actor

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 5, 2012

Edwin Scribner, c.1908

The papers of playwright Edwin Scribner (Ms.2012.005) arrived recently to complement a large collection of his published plays in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays.

Edwin Scribner was born in Logansport, IN in 1879.  On 27 July 1898, he quit his job in the Master Mechanics office of the Pan Handle Railroad in Logansport and, as he states in the first volume of his diary, “From that date the theater has been my interest and occupation in life.” He was an itinerant actor and a playwright, writing at least 50 plays.  He died in Waterville, ME in 1964.

His papers contain 18 typescripts for his unpublished plays which complement the 33 published plays already owned by Brown.  Of particular interest is the diary he kept  from 1898-1921 which provides an intimate view into the life of a traveling theater troupe actor.  It was not meant as a place to bear his soul but rather as a record of his work.  And work he did.  Every page documents the unrelenting travel schedule of an itinerant actor.

Diary of Edwin Scribner, Oct 4-Nov 3, 1900

In the fall of 1900, from September 19 to December 15 (88 days) he visited 77 cities and gave 79 performances.  The tour ended on December 15 this way: “Before meeting our leading man John Fry Palmer, drunk picked a fight with Griffith – which got him a good licking and landed him in jail.  Closed with John Griffith Co. – they beat me out of my last weeks salary.”  Two days later Edwin was working for another theater troupe in yet another city and so it went for the next 20 years.

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