There’s No Time Like Snow Time

By , February 27, 2015
Capitol Feb 6 1979

February 6, 1979

As we experienced the icy weather of the last week, Megan (guest blogger) and I decided to dig up some memories of Nashville snowstorms of the past.  The following images and captions come from the Nashville Banner Archives in the Special Collections Division at the Main Library.





Horse Feb 21 1929

The heaviest fall of snow in more than ten years transformed Nashville overnight into a city of white. This attractive picture was taken in Centennial park early Thursday morning, Feb. 21, and with old Dobbin and the sleigh, it brings back memories of long ago.





Girls Snowball Jan 16 1948Choice target of students’ snowballs yesterday was Dr. Robert C. Provine, president of Ward-Belmont School.
(January 17, 1948)







Skiiers Jan 27 1963
Skiers enjoy the snow.
(January 27, 1963)








Snow Dino Jan 20 1978
Becky and John Mills (from left), Benny Pully and Rob Hatchett construct a prehistoric-type snow creature at 154 Brenda Lane – a lifesize dinosaur.
(January 20, 1978)






Silhouette Jan 24 1979

Solitary Sledding:
Holding his inner tube, William Hall prepares for another run down a snowy slope in Shelby Park.
(January 24, 1979)










Sledding Ashwood Ave Jan 19 1984Slick Snickers:
Kids have fun sledding down Ashwood Avenue.
(January 20, 1984)










Did you take any great shots of this year’s winter weather? Share your pictures with us on social media!

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And if you want to know more about Nashville’s past, make a visit to our Special Collections Division and explore the Nashville Banner on microfilm.

Christmas Tradition from Nashville’s Past

By , December 26, 2014

CentennialNativity001The Nativity scene at Centennial Park is a favorite Christmas memory for many Nashvillians.  I’m sorry I never got to see it.  The display began in 1953, a gift to the city of Nashville from the founder of Harveys Department Store, Fred Harvey, Sr.


According to articles in the Nashville Banner, Harvey got the idea for the display while on a tour of Europe a few years before.  He saw a permanent Nativity scene in a village in the Bavarian Alps and thought “how beautiful a larger replica of the scene would look on the mall beside the Parthenon in our own Centennial Park.”


Centennial Park Nativity Scene – December 3, 1956

The Centennial Park Nativity Scene was a popular sight in Nashville for about 15 years, attracting a hometown crowd as well as visitors from around the country.  The original cost was $150,000 for the sculptures created by Italian sculptor Guido Rebeccini.  There were a total of 123 figures (45 people and 78 animals), and the space covered by the display was 280 ft. wide and 75 ft. deep.  The amount invested by the Harvey family by 1967 was said to be close to $250,000.

Centennial Park Nativity Scene, Nashville Banner Archives December 5, 1955

Centennial Park Nativity Scene – December 5, 1955

Sadly, before the Christmas season of 1968, many of the figures were badly damaged in storage.  Fred Harvey, Jr. announced that the Nativity scene would not be installed that year and it was sold soon after to an advertising firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A crowd enjoys the Centennial Park Nativity Scene  December 3, 1956.

A crowd enjoys the Centennial Park Nativity Scene, 
December 3, 1956.

All photos courtesy of the Nashville Banner Archives, Special Collections Divison, Nashville Public Library.



The Roosevelts Visit Nashville

By , November 28, 2014

The city of Nashville hosted each of the Roosevelts, receiving a visit from Theodore Roosevelt and multiple visits from both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

OTSTRNashvilleTennessean2Theodore Roosevelt came to Nashville on October 22, 1907 (while he was president) for a very brief visit.  The image at left is the front page of the Nashville Tennessean from October 23, 1907, the day following President Roosevelt’s visit.OTSGerstBeerTR


According to legend, on this visit, after tasting locally-owned Maxwell House coffee, Roosevelt coined the phrase, “good to the last drop,” which became the brand’s long-running slogan.  Other local businesses capitalized on the president’s visit as well.  See the ad at right from local brewing company, Gerst House, which ran in the Nashville Banner on October 22, 1907, the same day as Roosevelt’s visit.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Nashville on multiple occasions.  In the photo at left, the president exits a train at Nashville’s Union Station on June 6th, 1936.  He is pictured with then-governor of Tennessee, Hill McAlister.

The occasion for Roosevelt’s visit was a somber one – he was in Nashville to attend the funeral of Speaker Joseph W. Byrns of the House of Representatives, Congressman from the Sixth District (Hermitage). See more photos of this event in Nashville Public Library’s digital collection.



Eleanor Roosevelt also made several visits to Nashville and the surrounding areas.  On October 4, 1938, Mrs. Roosevelt presented a lecture at the Ryman Auditorium to the Girl Scout Council of Nashville as the “Honorary President of the Girl Scouts.”  The topic of the lecture was “The Relationship of the Individual to the Community.”  The program  from this event is pictured at right.

In 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee to speak at a workshop about civil disobedience in relation to the Civil Rights movement. She was 73 years old.  Prior to this trip, Mrs. Roosevelt had been warned by the FBI that they could not guarantee her safety during the visit and that the Ku Klux Klan had made threats against her. Mrs. Roosevelt went ahead with the visit, regardless of the threats to her personal safety.

OTSERHighlanderAccording to historians, Mrs. Roosevelt was picked up secretly at the Nashville airport by another elderly woman and driven, with a gun between them on the front seat, in the dark to the Highlander School.  Eleanor Roosevelt is pictured at left with the school’s founder, Myles Horton. Other civil rights leaders who attended workshops at the school to discuss methods of social change and non-violent protest included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa L. Parks.

You can see more about the Roosevelts in displays located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Main library through the end of December.

To read more about your favorite Roosevelt, check out one of these recent titles from our collection:

The First Lady of Radio : Eleanor Roosevelt’s Historic Broadcasts

Heir to the Empire City : New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt

The Man He Became : How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History





Mrs. Roosevelt’s Page

By , October 24, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt steps off an airplane at Berry Field for a brief stop in Nashville.  Photo from the NPL Special Collections Division digital collection.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a prolific writer and published many newspaper and magazine articles throughout her life – before, during, and after her time as first lady.  Starting in August of 1933 – having been the first lady of the state of New York, and just after entering the White House as first lady of the United States – Eleanor Roosevelt began writing her first regular column for a popular magazine, Woman’s Home Companion. 

According to a statement by the editors in the August 1933 issue, the objective of the column, which ran for two years, through July of 1935, was “strengthening further the bond between the White House and women citizens everywhere.”  All these columns can be read in the Woman’s Home Companion, located in the Periodicals area on the 3rd floor at the Main library.


Eleanor began this series with an invitation to readers – the title of her August 1933 entry was “I Want You to Write to Me.”  Sometimes the column addressed personal issues that she received in letters, but more often, Eleanor addressed social issues, usually explaining why they would be of interest to women or what women could do about them.

Some examples with quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt:

photoFrom October 1933, “Setting Our House in Order” – Discusses how women can use their power as consumers to influence manufacturers to offer fair wages and adequate working conditions to their employees.  “Therefore, if groups of women will get together and agree that in shopping they will go to their local stores and ask under what conditions the things they are buying are produced, telling their shopkeepers that they would far prefer to buy goods that carried a label assuring them that these goods were made under conditions which precluded any sweat-shop work, that will help the manufacturers.  If this happens frequently enough in all communities, the storekeepers and manufacturers will listen to public opinion . . . We may sit at home and pathetically ask what we can do, but if we do nothing about the present conditions we shall be to blame.  Only as we take up our responsibilities can conditions improve.”

too oldFrom February 1934, “Too Old for the Job” – Addresses the difficulties of older people in the work force, women in particular.  “It is not because we are sorry for the people who are thrown out of a job at forty or forty-five that we are writing this article.  It is because we feel that industry, business and the professions are going to suffer a serious loss when they begin to deny themselves the valuable work which people can and should do at least up to the age of sixty, if their health is good.”


photo 1From November 1934, “Let Us Be Thankful” – “I often wonder if some of the things which we ought to be thankful for at Thanksgiving time are the possibilities which open up before us to help our fellow human beings.   We may feel that we ourselves are badly off, but when we discover that someone is in need of something that we have taken for granted, then our eyes are opened.  We realize that we have a new thing to be thankful for, that we can be of help in our community . . . Let each of us this Thanksgiving Day count over our unusual blessings wherever we may be living.”


photo 4From April 1935, “Woman’s Work is Never Done” – Offers some solutions for the problems encountered in domestic service, for employers and employees.  “I hope increased leisure and constantly new inventions are going to make housework for women as easy and as rapidly done as possible, but we shall still have to face the fact that a great many women do run establishments in which they employ a number of domestic servants and that many more are going to employ one maid or a part-time maid. the more we can educate ourselves to the point where we shall recognize the dignity of this labor and go into it from choice rather than from necessity, the easier it will be to raise it from the type of unsatisfactory work which it is now, where nobody knows exactly what her job is, either as employer or employee.”


treeFrom July 1935, “Tree Worship” - “Tree worship is as old as civilization itself and perhaps there was a good reason for this, for it you worship a thing you preserve it and the ancients knew well that trees were necessary to the lives of human beings . . . If we want to keep our water supply, prevent soil erosion and still have fertile land to cultivate, we shall have to reforest much of the land which we have denuded.  Every village will have to inculcate into its children a lot of the ancient tree worship in order that we may be wise husbandmen of one of the greatest assets of the future prosperity of our nation.”




Eleanor Roosevelt named honorary citizen of Nashville by Mayor Ben West. Photo belongs to the NPL Metro Archives digital collection.

Eleanor Roosevelt later went on to write a daily newspaper column called, “My Day,” that ran in papers across the country for many years.  She also contributed another monthly magazine column to Ladies’ Home Journal called “If You Ask Me.” To read more of Eleanor Roosevelt’s writing or learn more about her, check out these titles:

Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt (a collection of her newspaper columns)

You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

Tomorrow is Now by Eleanor Roosevelt

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt

Notable Nashville

By , September 26, 2014

Take a look at some notable Nashville residents from years past.  The articles featured can be found in the Periodicals section on the 3rd floor at the Main library.

PhilHarrisNashvillePhil Harris (1904-1995) grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and attended Hume-Fogg High School. PhilHarrisBalooHe was a bandleader, musician, movie and television actor, and popular radio personality – perhaps best known as a sidekick to Jack Benny before getting his own show alongside his wife, Alice Faye. He also recorded many popular novelty songs like “The Thing” and “That’s What I Like About the South.”

In the photo at left, from the Metro Archives digital collection, Phil Harris performs at Sulphur Dell ballpark on July 27, 1951. He received a “Phil Harris Day” proclamation from Nashville Mayor Ben West.

In the November 7, 1964 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, Harris (far right) is pictured along with Sebastian Cabot and Sterling Holloway, working on the voices for the animated Disney film The Jungle Book. Phil Harris performed the voice of Baloo the Bear and his song, “The Bare Necessities,” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Enjoy the talents of Phil Harris:


JacksonLillian-LittonLillian Jackson (1919-2003), from Nashville, Tennessee, was one of the founding members of the All-AmericanLillianJacksonTeam Girls Professional Baseball League. She attended Isaac Litton High School in Nashville, Tennessee – see her yearbook picture at left.

Lillian Jackson played in the AAGPBL for the Rockford Peaches, the Minneapolis Millerettes, and the Fort Wayne Daisies. The group photo at right from the June 4, 1945 issue of Life magazine includes all 6 teams.  Jackson is pictured in the center, with the Fort Wayne team.

Read more about the AAGPBL:


YostFielding H. “Hurry-Up” Yost (1871-1946) is famous for his contributions to college football, most notably as the extremely successful head football coach for the University of Michigan. For years, Yost only lived in Michigan during the football season, and made Nashville, Tennessee his home for the remainder of the year. He lived in the popular Whitland area neighborhood off West End Avenue.

He was a mentor to, and eventually became brothers-in-law and business partners with, Vanderbilt football coach Dan McGugin.

According to the article pictured at left, from the November, 1922 issue of American Magazine, Yost moved to Michigan year-round to become the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education for the University of Michigan.


For more on college football and Fielding H. Yost:


KittyCheathamKitty Cheatham (1865-1946) was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father, PlaytimeKittyCheathamRichard Boone Cheatham, was Nashville’s mayor for 2 years. Kitty Cheatham attended private schools in Nashville before beginning her musical career. She quickly became very popular as a singer and actress in musical theater productions in New York and across Europe, performing for thousands of people.

Kitty Cheatham reached the height of her popularity because of her performance of music and stories for children. She published books with her children’s music and began speaking and writing about the topics of children’s music, literature, and education. She also wrote pamphlets and articles about religion and patriotism.

The illustration above (left) appears in an article that Kitty Cheatham wrote for the September, 1916 issue of Craftsman magazine called “Reinforcing Democracy: How I Think it Can Be Accomplished Through the Children.”

The column  pictured at right is from the June, 1912 issue of The Delineator (a popular women’s magazine) called “Playtime with Kitty Cheatham.” This column was a regular feature with suggestions for “amusement that stimulates the mind.”

Back to School

By , July 28, 2014

“The First Day of School” by Norman Rockwell
Sears Ad in Life magazine, August 14, 1964

Back-to-school fashions from Sears,
advertised in Life magazine from August 20, 1956.

For those of us with children in the Metro Nashville Public Schools, the first day of school is just around the corner (August 6th, to be exact).

Even if you don’t have children going to school, you probably went to school yourself and can remember all the excitement and nervousness you felt about the first day and everything that went along with it: school supplies, new school clothes, your new teacher and who would be in your class.

Some of these ads and articles from the past seem to prove the adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”




This sweet poem, “His First Day at School” by Mary Catherine Hews, is from the December 1901 issue of St. Nicholas, a children’s magazine. It reads:

“A pair of mittens, warm and red, New shoes that had shiny toes, A velvet cap for his curly head, And a tie of palest rose; A bag of books, a twelve-inch rule, And the daintiest hands in town–These were the things that went to school With William Herbert Brown.

A ragged mitten without a thumb, Two shoes that were scorched at the toes, A head that whirled with a dizzy hum Since the snowball hit his nose; A stringless bag, and a broken rule, And the dingiest hands in town–These were the things that came from school With happy ‘Billy’ Brown.”




This article, from the September 15th, 1947 issue of Life, recounts the summer activities of two school boys as they prepare to write the required “What I Did On My Vacation” composition.  The author calls this “one particularly dismal chore,” stating that “Recalling the summer is difficult as well as sad because in a schoolchild’s memory vacation is a warm and wonderful blank, spent mostly in just fooling around.”

These boys’ summer adventures included fishing, riding horses, swimming, frog gigging, practicing music, doing chores, and attending the town carnival.  There wasn’t a television or a video game to be found in this article, but if you add in a soccer game or two and eliminate the frog gigging, this summer vacation doesn’t seem terribly different from my kids’.



This Barcalounger ad from Life magazine of September 15, 1952 is fun, telling moms:

“It’s a great relief getting ‘em back to school . . . if you don’t drop dead in the process!  Time you get through washing, mending, sleeve-lengthening, and lunch-packing, you deserve a gold medal . . . or a Barcalounger!”

I don’t know of too many mothers, with or without a Barcalounger, who would (after getting their children off to school) pass up the opportunity to “Pour yourself a second cup of coffee.  Sit down, lean back, and relax.”




The little guy in this photo from Life magazine on October 5, 1962 seems to be staging a protest to the lesson, according to the caption, taught to all children on their very first day of school, “this is a regimented world.”

Check out some of  these education-related titles from our collection to help you prepare for the coming school year:

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character  by Paul Tough
What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know: Preparing Your Child for a Lifetime of Learning by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits  by Donalyn Miller
Help Your Kids with Math: A Unique Step-by-Step Visual Guide
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare  by Ken Ludwig

The Beautiful Game in America

By , June 16, 2014

This is the time soccer fans have been waiting for - the 2014 World Cup began on Thursday, June 12th.  The U.S. Men’s National Team plays their first game today against Ghana – a huge match since Ghana has beat our team in the last 2 World Cups – you can catch the game at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

The game of soccer has been developing rapidly in the U.S. in recent years, but it hasn’t always been that way.  This week, I uncovered some great articles from the past that demonstrate the growth of America’s enthusiasm for “The Beautiful Game” over the years.

First is a fabulous article by G. Herbert Daley in Collier’s magazine from April 16, 1910 called “The Charm of Soccer.”  Daley’s mission in this article is to educate and to persuade.  He explains how the game came to be known as soccer . . . ironically, the name came from an abbreviation of the British term “Association Football,”  although America is pretty much the only country to call the game “soccer.”

Some of my favorite quotes by Mr. Daley as he attempts to infect Americans with his enthusiasm for the sport of soccer:

“It is conducive to the acquirement of ruddy health; it makes for a sharpening of the wits, keen resourcefulness, and quick action; it tends to the development of a rough-and-ready sportsmanship.”

“The spirit of the game reaches the spectator as well as the player, and it makes soccer one of the prettiest of all sports to watch.”

“Every man must decide for himself; any moment may be the moment of destiny . . .”

“There is in soccer a constant, never-ceasing buoyancy, an ever-present excitement, and sense of motion.”


Next, check out this interesting contraption featured in the May 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.   Apparently this “catapult” device was developed by a British soccer player and, from the picture, looks like it was used to train goalkeepers.  According to the article, it could also be used to launch cricket balls and footballs.





 In the October 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics, soccer features again in an article titled “The World’s Favorite Sport,”  written by a long-time coach and former president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, John Wood.  In this article, Wood educates Americans with some fascinating facts on the history of the game, dating it back to A.D. 217.  Apparently Oliver Cromwell was known to play soccer in the 1600s. 

The growth of America’s interest in soccer is evident in this article, as Wood discusses the number of high schools and colleges fielding teams and the advent of the NSCAA.  He makes sure to mention the 1950 World Cup, also held in Brazil, in which the “U.S.A. team surprised sports fans by upsetting England.”

Coach Wood continues on to exhibit some of the standard skills used in soccer – these are good for a smile, although some are still in practice today, maybe with slightly different names.  See the photo at right, where he demonstrates the proper technique for kicking the ball – “with the instep, not the toe.”


If you’re interested in some good reads about soccer and the World Cup, check out these titles from our Non-Fiction collection:

Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer by David Goldblatt
Golazo: The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America by Andreas Campomar
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup by Nick Holt
Why Soccer Matters by Pele
SoccerNomics by Simon Kuper

Ladies’ Home Journal Comes to an End

By , April 26, 2014

You may have heard this week that the Ladies’ Home Journal will no longer be published as a monthly publication (it will be quarterly) as of July 2014, after over 130 years in existence.  This news sent me straight to the stacks of bound periodicals to indulge in a little nostalgia while looking at Nashville Public Library’s collection of Ladies’ Home Journal magazines.  In the 3rd floor Reference department at the Main library, we currently have Ladies’ Home Journal going back to December 1892, just 9 years after it started in 1883.

Volume 10 in our collection, with the December 1892-November 1893 issues, is chock full of stories (a serial by author William Dean Howells), poems, articles on topics like fashion, beauty, etiquette and entertaining, home-making, marriage and parenting.  Some interesting features in these issues include:


“A Christmas With Dickens” – December 1892.
Part of a series called “My Father as I Recall Him” by Mamie Dickens.


A series called “Clever Daughters of Clever Men.”
The January 1893 edition featured “Hawthorne’s Daughter.”


A fashion article titled “Dressing Without the Corset” from July 1893 - the magazine gives some attention to the dress reform movement and offers attractive and “decent” ways of dressing without the use of the corset.



Finally, in addition to the great articles and stories, the magazine is full of ads that give a great idea of what the lives and interests of the readers must have been at the time. In these issues,  there are ads for beauty and health aids, clothing,corsets (of course), housekeeping conveniences, gardening supplies, and more.

One thing not to be found advertised – patent medicinces.  In 1892, the Ladies’ Home Journal began refusing to print ads for patent medicines, a very popular source of advertising revenue at the time.



It would take many more posts to describe how integral the Ladies’ Home Journal was to women’s interests and lifestyles over the years.  Just to leave you with a taste, I’ve included some of the more iconic covers from its 130 years in publication:

  • October 1895, the first color cover.
  • February 1903, one of many by Charles Dana Gibson featuring the Gibson Girl.
  • February 1904, the first celebrity cover, featuring a sketch of Ethel Barrymore.
  • April 1932, one of many Norman Rockwell covers.
  • October 1946, the debut of the slogan that became synonymous with Ladies’ Home Journal.

To learn more about the history of women’s magazines, check out one of these books from the library:



In Memoriam: The Incandescent Light Bulb

By , February 28, 2014

2014 will bring many changes – one of these changes, if lawmakers and manufacturers get their way, will be the final phase-out of the traditional incandescent light bulb.  I don’t intend to argue the merits of the old-fashioned incandescent bulb over the new-fangled options.

Ad for GE lighting, Good Housekeeping, August 1924.

In fact, the incandescent light bulb has been in an almost constant state of improvement since it was invented, from changes in the material used for the filament to the type of gas placed in the bulb after removing the air.

This does seem like an appropriate time, however, to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing achievement that was the incandescent light bulb.  One could argue it was one of the most revolutionary inventions of the modern world.  It’s pretty much synonymous in our minds with a good idea – doesn’t the image of a light bulb appear when any cartoon character has one?  Don’t we say “the light bulb came on” when a person grasps a new concept?

This invention entered homes, lit up streets, and changed the way people lived. Details we take for granted today were labored over as people incorporated artificial light into their homes.  In the October 1924 issue of Good Housekeeping, an article titled “ABC of Electricity for the Housekeeper: The Incandescent Lamp” explained to women the history, technology, and manufacture of the light bulb, noting that in modern light bulb factories, the assembly was done almost exclusively by machines, except for the placing of the filament, which was “done by skilful [sic] women operators.”

The article goes on to instruct housewives in choosing the correct type of bulb for the intended use, emphasizing the need to shade or diffuse the light and to recognize the difference in the perception of colors between the artificial light of an incandescent bulb and natural light.

The availability of the light bulb in the home even led to the consideration of how to use electric light for decorative purposes in addition to its functional use.  The July 1906 issue of Craftsman magazine discusses the creation of fixtures that would  simultaneously address the utilitarian function of the light produced as well as the “character of the the light.” The design of these “shower light” fixtures (pictured) treats the light “so simply and freely that its true decorative value may be felt in the arrangement of the room.”

As these historic articles and advertisements (all of which can be found in the periodicals collection on the 3rd floor at the Main library)  demonstrate, the light bulb’s invention greatly influenced Americans’ daily lives – habits, home design and decoration, and even safety.  If you’re interested in reading more about  the history of the light bulb and electric lighting, check out these titles from our collection:


The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle You May Not Know

By , January 24, 2014

In honor of the beginning of the next series of Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery, I went to the periodicals stacks to dig up some original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and came across something that interested me even more.  I’m sure I had read at one time about his interest in spiritualism; however, when I discovered an interview with Sir Arthur in the September 1922 edition of The American Magazine titled, “You Start in There Where You Leave Off Here,” I realized the full extent of his belief in spiritualism and was a little shocked.

In this interview, Sir Arthur staunchly defends his position on spiritualism saying, “Would you pick me out as the kind of man who loses his critical faculties in a medium’s dark room? Do I look as if I would be easily swept off my feet?”  He asserts that he has carried on “sustained conversations” with his dead son, exclaiming “Why should I grieve when I know he lives?”  Doyle explains the origins of his interest in spiritualism (beginning with his early medical career), his gathering of evidence, and his eventual acceptance (coinciding with the grief and hardship of World War I) of spiritualism as “something tremendous; a breaking down of the walls between two worlds; a call of hope and of guidance to the human race in the time of its affliction.”

This interview is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the man who created Sherlock Holmes.  It includes a “spirit photo” (never before published in an American magazine) of Sir Arthur with the face of his deceased son.  The caption states, “Sir Arthur took his own photographic plates  . . . to the medium . . . placed the plates in the camera, then sat before it, as for an ordinary photograph.  Afterward he developed the plates with his own hands. The likeness is said by those who knew the son to be unmistakable.”

It is surprising to learn how sincerely Sir Arthur believed in spiritualism and how zealously he tried to convince those who doubted.  He lectured frequently on the topic, wrote many letters to the press along with articles like “Stranger Than Fiction” (published in Collier’s magazine November 27, 1915), and even penned a book titled The Coming of the Fairies in defense of the controversial Cottingley fairy photographs.  In fact, he tried (unsuccessfully) to convert Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist, who was himself on a crusade to debunk spiritualism.  H.L. Mencken states in his review of the book The Believing Mind: Houdini and Conan Doyle in the June 1932 issue of American Mercury that Sir Arthur went to his grave “thoroughly convinced that Houdini himself had been a medium” despite the fact that “Houdini, while they were both alive, protested against this nonsense with great earnestness, and offered the most solemn assurance that all of his tricks . . . were tricks and nothing more.”

This photo of Doyle and Houdini is from the article, “Houdini and the Sprits,” in the July 1928 issue of The American Magazine about Houdini’s personal quest to expose spiritualism as a “fraud that he conceived as a menace to society.”  The caption reads, “Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, warm personal friends, but antagonists on the question of spiritualism.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Sir Arthur, check out some of these titles from our non-fiction collection:

The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Reader: From Sherlock Holmes to Spiritualism edited by Jeffrey and Valerie Meyers

Letters to the Press by Arthur Conan Doyle

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower




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