“Charles Brooks: Four Decades of Political Cartooning” on Display


As we approach Election Day 2016 and the atmosphere is fraught with charges, counter-charges, debates, and Twitter, The Wiregrass Archives hosts a display of works by Alabama’s master editorial cartoonist Charles Brooks that cover presidential elections from 1960 through 1984.

Brooks became the Birmingham News’s first editorial cartoonist in 1948 after attending Birmingham-Southern College and the Chicagojfk-nixon-al-visit-1960-charles-brooks Academy of Fine Arts, serving in World War II, and drawing gag cartoons for a Chicago ad agency.  He retired from the News in 1985, and in 1998 donated four thousand original drawings to the Birmingham Public Library.

The BPL Department of Archives and Manuscripts chose 42 images for a free traveling display, thanks to the generosity of Tom Sketritt and The Birmingham News.  This sample image shows JFK nervous over Richard Nixon’s visit to Alabama in search of votes in the neck-and-neck 1960 campaign.  Nixon lost, but ran again in 1968 and 1972, when he broke “The Solid South” by winning more than 72 percent of Alabama’s votes.

The cartoons and their explanatory panels will remain on display until November 11, 2016, in the Gallery of Everett Hall on the Troy Dothan Campus.  The exhibition is FREE and OPEN to the public.   Thanks to Jim Baggett and the staff of the Department of Archives and Manuscripts at the Birmingham Public Archives for making this available, and to Dean Christopher Shaffer of the Troy University Libraries for facilitating its transport to Dothan.

Selection of Brooks cartoons for the 1980 and 1984 elections.


Tom Solomon Photographs, RG 146

This post continues our concentration on railroads and the collections concerning them at the Wiregrass Archives.  The Tom Solomon Photograph Collection, RG 146, is one of our favorites.

To call Tom Solomon a “well-known artist and train enthusiast” as his 1988 obituary did is an understatement.  Twenty-eight years after his passing, those who knew him and his work in the Wiregrass still talk about him, and there is an ongoing discussion about this missing paintings.


Solomon was a draftsman by trade, working for the Atlantic Coast Line and the Florida East Coast Railway.  But he was a painter and photographer whose collection at the Wiregrass Archives (all photos, even of his paintings) was the basis for Railroading in and Around Dothan and the Wiregrass Region (Arcadia Press, 2004).

Solomon’s photographs record depots up and down the ACL  line.  They capture vignettes of economic and social life of the Wiregrass, like this 1963 image of the  massive stack of agricultural freight awaiting transshipment from Iron City, GA.

Freight depot at Iron City, GA.
And this March 15, 1942, photo of Grimes, AL, residents posing before their tiny depot.  Ms. Julia Smith, Library Director at Troy State University Dothan until she retired in 2005, identified these folks as Chelle Vann Horne, Presley Dasinger, and Kathleen Brookins Smith (her mother).  It’s unclear whether all of the Solomon photos are original (some go back to the early 20th century) of if there are many copy negatives.  But no matter.

Whistlestop station at Grimes, AL, just north of Dothan
This black-and-white photo of his painting of the “Jody” taking on water at Capps Station is certainly original.

Freight depot at Iron City, GA.
He even captured the slow fade of the railroad system as in this 1960s shot of a four-car train on a milk run.  The conductor captures the mail hoop from the stationmaster.  In earlier days, trains passed stations with enough speed that hand-to-hand transfers were dangerous.  Station workers hung the mail ring from a steel pivot arm turned toward the track so the passing train’s own ring-catching arm could grab it.

ACL Conductor McIntosh catching order hoop from Agent H.H. McAilily
In all, the Solomon collection contains 257 scanned images of all things train-related:  depots, people, engines, more engines, wrecks, bridges, and general scenes, all black-and-white (with one exception).  These are available for viewing and use by anyone by visiting the archives of following this link to our online finding aid:  http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/146.html.

“J. Marion Sims: Carolina Lineage, Alabama Fame”

Dr. Horton

On September 13, 2016, Dr. Tom Horton of Charleston, South Carolina will make a presentation on the role J. Marion Sims and other Carolinians in the settlement of Alabama.


Date:  Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Time:  7 – 8 pm CDT
Place:  Harrison Room, Malone Hall, Troy University Dothan Campus


Dr. Horton says this about Dr. Sims

J. Marion Sims

Long before the state of Alabama was famous for its two-legged exports such as Percy Sledge, Mia Hamm, and Kenny, the Snake, Stabler,  a 35 year-old fellow, slight of build and strikingly handsome, traveled from antebellum Montgomery to New York, and from there to Paris. When he returned briefly 20 years later to visit his many friends, this amazing man was one of the most renown doctors in the world.

James Marion Sims, originally from Heath Springs, South Carolina, grew up in a log cabin with his Scots-Irish parents and grandparents. His birthplace was an easy morning’s horseback ride to the Old Waxhaws region where Andrew Jackson had been born just a half century earlier.

Sims completed his surgical training at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia and practiced briefly in Lancaster, S.C. His first two patients died and the distraught young practitioner uprooted and moved west where so many of his kin had already gone due to family squabbles and depleted soil. Settling in Mount Meigs, Sims quickly established himself as somewhat of a miracle worker with the life-saving surgeries that he performed.

Sims pioneered numerous operating techniques, instruments, and medical protocols. He devised successful ways to treat cleft palate, ruptures in males, and vaginal fistulas that sometimes accompany difficult, prolonged labor in pregnancy. Hundreds of scientific articles, countless demonstrations and speeches, and at least one textbook made Sims a name known across the Western World.

J. Marion Sims, M.D., as he was professionally known, has been labeled as “the father of Gynecology,” and his creation, The Woman’s Hospital of New York has been copied around the globe. As surgeon to Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas’s consort, Alexandra, Sims’ place in history is firmly established.

Alabama gave him is professional start.

The Dixie Depot Records, RG 145

Many Wiregrass Archives collections are rich resources for historical research.  This post features one of our favorites, The Dixie Depot Records, RG 145.

Dixie Depot in its later years. Doug Snellgrove Photographs, RG 99

In 1908, the Atlantic Coast Line / Seaboard Atlantic Line built its passenger and freight depot in Dothan, Alabama’s Dixie neighborhood a few blocks north of downtown.  During its heyday first as the ACL/SAL depot then as the Southern Railway (CSX) depot, this was the headquarters for the yards from Waycross, Georgia, to Montgomery, Alabama.  Copies of all contracts, compacts, and reports from other stations along the line ended up in the records collected at the Dixie Depot.

Most of those contracts are for rights of way and other small real estate transactions, but some are for private rental of sections of depot warehouses, like the 1943 contract for storage space in the Jakin, Georgia, depot, pictured here.  Almost all contracts come with a blueprint on legal-sized paper (blueprinting was one of the only ways to make multiple copies before the advent of photocopying).

Depot blueprints are particularly interesting because they show the racial segregation of waiting rooms:  “C.W.R.” in the upper left denotes that space is the “Colored Waiting Room,” and below it is the “W.W.R.,” the “White Waiting Room.”

Depot floor plan, Jakin, GA, 1943

In 2004, Dothan Landmarks Foundation (Landmark Park) prepared to return the abandoned depot (ca. 1985) back to the City of Dothan to become the HQ for the Wiregrass Transit Authority.  The Wiregrass Archives pulled over 30 cubic feet of records – along with the evidence of insect and rodent infestation as well as coal dust – then cleaned and organized the collection into 4 subgroups containing 18 series, with an artifact and miscellaneous series:

Dixie Depot in its later years. Doug Snellgrove Photographs, RG 99

Subgroup–Station Master 1926-1985 (Bulk 1954-1985); [350 Files]: The Station Master was the senior official in charge of the railroad station’s physical plant, office, and station employees. He was responsible for running the station safely and efficiently.  One series consists of labor agreements, 1964-1978, including contracts between the unions and the SCL.

Subgroup– Property Protection 1946-1984, [94 Files] Railroad police ensured the safety of both passengers and freight and investigated any accident, injury or theft that occurred on railroad property. This division was really the railroad police.

Dixie Depot, from the Snellgrove Photo Collection, RG 99

Subgroup– Train Master 1955-1985, [84 Files & 7 Items]: Train masters were responsible for the trains that passed through terminals under their control and ensured that trains arrived and departed safely. Trainmasters kept close contact with personnel. The most interesting series in this subgroup is the Conductors’ Reports, 1981-1985.

Subgroup– Road Master 1954-1985, [202 Total Files (142 Files & 60 Oversized Files]: Road masters were responsible for an assigned territory of track and saw that it was kept up to established standards. They were responsible for maintenance personnel in the assigned territory.This subgroup contains 72 files of contracts, 1908 – 1964, a rich source of information about the towns along the line and the business of the railroad itself.

This collection is open for research.  You can find an online finding aid for it here:  http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/145.html

Wiregrass Archives staff members Tina Bernath and Diane Sowell created and displayed this poster about the Dixie Depot Collection at the Alabama Historical Association meeting in 2013 and the Society of Alabama Archivists meeting in 2015.

Dixie Depot _USE




The Irene and J. R. Godwin Collection

The Irene and J. R. Godwin Collection at The Wiregrass Archives, Troy University Dothan (AL) Campus (Record Group 090) consists of photographs, postcards, and letters about World War I. Originals remain with the donor, but the digital images are online.  See the collection at http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/090.html

Irene Pierce was seventeen years old when America entered World War I. She had worked in the Tallassee, Alabama, cotton mill — a good job at the time — since she was twelve.

Irene Pierce
Tallassee Mill (Burned May 5, 2016)

From the Alabama Historic Commission “Places in Peril Report,” July-August, 2010, pg 6 (link to PDF)

By early 1918, many of Tallassee’s young men had volunteered or were drafted into the US Army, and a number served in the American Expeditionary Force in France until mid-1919.

Two of 34 leaves in Irene Pierce Godwin’s Photo Album

Some of the local boys were close to Irene. They sent her sentimental postcards that barely hid their intentions . . .

But two soldiers were more serious: Chester Schrum (hometown unknown), 328th IR, courted Irene by mail until April 15, 1919 . We don’t know if she answered, but the tone of his last letter to her is self-explanatory.

Chester Schrum to Irene Pierce, April 15, 1918

John R. Godwin of Tallassee was luckier. Wanting to see more of the world than Central Alabama after finishing school (Tallassee schools only went through 8th grade), Godwin went to New Orleans, where he worked aboard ship and made the trip to China at least twice.

He worked in the Tallassee mill until May 24, 1918, when he enlisted in the 81st Infantry Division. He was immediately sent to Signal Corps school (Co. C, 306 Field Signal Battalion, 81st Infantry Division). His official enrollment declaration lists his occupation as a “Telephone Lineman” at which he worked seven years for weekly wages of $21 .

He also had a number of tattoos (of which his grandson, our donor and informant, was unaware).

John R. Godwin

Godwin embarked to France on August 1, 1918, was hospitalized in Camp Hospital 64 for influenza, April 5-10, 1919, then served in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on the last two days of the war, November 9-11, 1918.

He shipped back to the States on the USS Roanoke, arriving in Charleston, SC, on June 21, 1919. He mustered out from Camp Gordon, GA, June 30, 1919. He and Irene married in May 1920 .

Godwin’s return ticket

See the promotional video on YouTube, and research the collection at http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/090.html


Need a Cheap Document Camera ?

By Marty Olliff

On Twitter, @CharlesKRoberts asked for suggestions for a cheap camera suitable for digitally photographing documents.  I use my smart phone or iPad to do this, but without a stand I get shaky images and am unable to take more than 20 or 30 shots before tiring.  Also, if I’m photographing pages from a book like the Code of Alabama or a House or Senate journal (my life is incredibly rich and exciting), I have to make the best of having only 2 hands.  You can imagine the quality of my copied sources.

So a camera stand is the only way to go.  State-of-the-art stands are really nice, but they’re expensive.  Well, they’re expensive to me because I’m miserly.  I’m also kind of a do-it-yourselfer and hate to see perfectly good re-purposable stuff go to waste.  So off to Teh Google I went, and found a number of intriguing stands to turn your tablet or smart phone into a stable document camera.

Searching for “document camera stand diy” led me to this guy and his PVC pipe:

That seemed a bit complex, so I found this idea on Pinterest

and this one at Green Upgrader

Camera Scanner Stand

I remembered we were discarding a gooseneck lamp, so I beheaded it and attached  my smart phone to the neck with an electrical tie.  Not pretty, in fact, it’s a Franken-camera.  I’m considering using a giant clothes pin as a clamp (with all the problems that entails) or some other method of attaching my phone to the gooseneck, but I did this beast in less than 2 minutes with stuff near my desk.  So if you visit the Wiregrass Archives and forget your document camera set up, we’ve got you covered!

What to Expect on a Research Visit

Everett Reading Room view#1

Although most of our research requests come via email or telephone call, many come from visitors to our Congressman Terry Everett Reading Room, pictured above.  If you plan to visit us, what should you expect to encounter?

The first thing to know is that archival materials are unique and cannot be replaced if lost.  Consequently, we take great care to prevent archival items from walking out the door or getting damaged.  We also want to make sure you find everything on your subject, even if it’s not in the Wiregrass Archives.

Tina Bernath, our reference archivist, lays out these steps to the on-site reference visit:

After greeting the patron, we determine what specifically they are looking for.  If no material on the subject is in our holdings, we try to help locate where that information may be.  In many cases, the researcher has too narrow of a search parameter and we try to assist with broader search areas.

For materials in our holdings, we ask visitors to complete a User Registration Form (or pull their form is they have completed one in the last year) and advise then of the Collection Use Policy.    We then ask that any items except cell phone or camera, laptop, and/or pencils be removed from the Reading Room and placed in a locker in our processing area, a secure location.

We then find out the specific box/folder they are interested in.  This may be information they obtained from the Archives website, http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives , or it may be from looking at the in-house finding aid for a collection.

We pull the requested items one box at a time, and bring them to the Reading Room for the patron to work at their own pace.  Pencils and blank paper are proved to take notes.  Some patrons prefer to take pictures with their cell phone or camera, and others enter data directly into a laptop or notebook.

When patrons are finished with the current box, that box is taken back to the shelf and the next box is brought out, if necessary.  If the patron is finished for the day, after removing the archive materials, we allow the patron to retrieve their belongings from the secure location.  We answer any remaining questions, if we can, and then “Thank” them for using our archives.

We look forward to your visit.  Reading Room hours are M-Th 8am – 5:30pm, Friday 8am – 12 noon, or by appointment.