Saturday, May 20, 2017

Grinnell's Beatrix Potter...

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is justifiably famous for a series of delightful tales of tiny animals whose stories she illustrated with marvelous paintings of the heroes dressed in outfits borrowed from their human analogs. Peter Rabbit, first published in 1902, is probably the best-known story in which Potter's artistic skills depict a rabbit's encounter with Mr. McGregor. Other tales featured mice, cats, a squirrel, a hedge-hog and a duck, among others, all suitably attired in down-sized men's and women's clothes. Readers followed these stories in Tailor of Gloucester (1903), Squirrel Nutkin (1903), Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (1905), Tom Kitten (1907) and another nineteen books.

Few Grinnellians are aware of our own Beatrix Potter, Cornelia Clarke (1884-1936), who produced similar tales with her own cats, using a camera instead of an artist's brush to illustrate the story. Like Potter, Clarke kept a small menagerie of pets upon whom she focused her imagination. Clarke trained her pets to wear the miniature suits and dresses she provided, posed them with remarkable small-scale furniture, and then photographed them to tell a story. And, just as Potter applied her artistic skills to scientific illustration, Clarke, too, having attracted attention for her skills with the camera, went on to a career as a widely-published nature photographer whose photographs appeared frequently in scientific journals, newspapers, and popular science magazines. Her fame cannot compare with Potter's, but was nevertheless enormous, reaching far beyond the boundaries of Grinnell. The remarkable life of Cornelia Clarke is the subject of this Grinnell Story.
"Polly Made a Fine Housekeeper"
Cornelia Clarke, , "Peter and Polly," Country Life in America, v. 19 (Jan 1911):213.
Cornelia was the only child born to Ray Alonzo Clarke and the former Cornelia Shepard, July 4, 1884. Sadly, her mother died within a few hours of the baby's birth, so Cornelia was "baptized over the coffin with her mother's name," as her mother's obituary described it. At the time, her father was farming north of Grinnell, and, except for her father's mother, who came to Iowa to keep house and care for the baby, Cornelia lived a fairly lonely life, occupying herself with the animals and plants she found around the farmstead. Because her father practiced photography as a hobby, a camera was familiar to her from an early age, and she soon developed great skill in using it.

Cornelia attended Grinnell schools, graduating from Grinnell High School in 1904, then enrolling at Grinnell College. Originally part of the class of 1908, Cornelia spent most of 1906-7 traveling in Europe with her father, all the while putting her camera to use. After returning to Iowa, she completed her Grinnell degree, graduating in June, 1909. Soon she and her father moved into town, occupying the four-square at 1322 West Street. Here Cornelia did most of her later photography.
Cornelia Clarke, 1909 Grinnell College Cyclone
When her photographs of Peter and Polly first appeared in print in early 1911, there was tremendous response among readers. Country Life in America, a journal then widely read in middle America, devoted two pages to Clarke's Potter-like photographs. Brief captions outlined a tale of two kittens, who grew up together, fell in love, married, had kittens of their own, did adult-like chores, and grew old together.
Cornelia Clarke, "Peter and Polly," Country Life in America, v. 19(Jan 1911):213.
Interest in Clarke's photographs was instantaneous, so that already in March of that year the journal, remarking on how many readers had expressed pleasure at seeing Clarke's images, published another handful of similar photographs that had not been used in the January issue.

Because of the favorable reception of Peter and Polly, Clarke soon made contact with Elizabeth Hays Wilkinson, a Pittsburgh college teacher who authored several children's books, and the two women collaborated to produce a book version of the story, published in New York in 1912 by Doubleday and Co. under the title Peter and Polly. Just 97 pages long and priced at 50 cents, the beautiful little volume told the story of "two cats who lived most interesting lives and did things just like humans," as Publishers Weekly described it.

By this time Clarke was using her camera to record many other images, including, for example, photographs that Grinnell College commissioned of the campus and its buildings. But the broader public was fascinated with Clarke's ability to lure animals into poses that seemed very human, if most unlikely. In September, 1922 the Des Moines Register gave a full page of its Sunday magazine to explaining how "the wonder woman of the camera...gets animals to pose."
Des Moines Register, September 10, 1922, p. 13
The Register's correspondent noted that Clarke's success depended upon many factors, not least her brain. Explaining one of her most famous photographs, "Two cats kissing," Clarke observed that there was really no way to train cats to kiss, for cats feel no natural desire to kiss. However, cats do enjoy milk, a dab of which she put on the nose of one cat—voila! Clarke had her picture.
Cornelia Clarke, "Kissing Cats," Des Moines Register, September 10, 1922
By this time Clarke's photography had reached well beyond her pets, increasingly depicting the natural world. Nevertheless, to produce the images she wanted, Clarke routinely brought her subjects back home—often inside her West Street home. As she pointed out to the Register's correspondent, "It is impossible to get a good flower picture out of doors, because there is bound to be some motion, and the petals are so delicate that they move with the slightest breeze." Therefore, Clarke regularly removed the objects of her camera's gaze from their natural  habitat, and, with the assistance of her careful study of their natural environment, she reconstructed the context on her living room rug, where she could photograph the flowers without fear of any movement. Her success in this endeavor brought her to publish an entire essay on the subject for The Guide to Nature in May, 1924.

Wild animals proved less easy to pose than flowers, but Clarke explained that patience and careful planning could overcome most difficulties. To illustrate, she told the background of another of her well-known photographs, "Twenty froggies at school." The idea of such a picture must come first, of course, and Clarke explained that she had conceived of the photograph long before she began preparations. She then set about finding tadpoles whose progress she watched carefully until she thought them ready for her experiment. She brought the tadpoles and one bull frog home, sank a dishpan into the back yard, and provided nearby rushes. But this is where patience proved decisive.
This picture caused me more trouble than any picture I ever made, [she told the Des Moines Register]. Just as soon as I would get them all lined up nicely, they would play leap-frog and jump off into the rushes. Or the old frog would jump down and they would climb on his back.... But finally I got the picture.
As she confessed when showing this image to a 1927 audience at Grinnell College, it took her four hours to achieve the picture she wanted (Scarlet and Black, December 14, 1927).
Cornelia Clarke, "Twenty Froggies Went to School," Photo-Era Magazine, vol. 50(1923):247
But if many of Clarke's early photographs required an imaginative story as context, over time she became a serious nature photographer whose pictures appeared regularly in publications like Nature magazine (at least 62 photographs between 1925 and 1939) and Science News-Letter, the latter often using Clarke photos for its covers (at least 24 cover photos between 1930 and 1937). No longer relying upon clever or cute photographs, Clarke used her growing camera skills to reveal the secrets of biological process, as when she documented the life history of the mosquito or the stages of butterfly generation. Collaborating with Grinnell College professors like Henry Conard gave her occasion to produce images—often enlarged many times over natural scale—of great scientific accuracy and value, confirmed by the Grinnell College herbarium of local plants of which she became the volunteer curator (Scarlet and Black, February 4, 1928).

Without demeaning in any way the scientific importance of Clarke's photography, even a casual observer recognizes that some of these photographs went well beyond the boundaries of science, and still today strike the eye powerfully, invoking art as much as science.
Cornelia Clarke "Dandelion Fruits," in Bertha Stevens, Child and Universe (NY: John Day Company, 1931), p. 64

Cornelia Clarke, "Land Snail Shell," in Bertha Stevens, Nature: The Child Goes Forth (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936), p. 255.
At the  height of her talents, Clarke was publishing photographs regularly in the Des Moines Register (by my count more than 100 photos between 1921 and 1933), and periodically in the Detroit Free Press, Los Angeles Times, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among other newspapers. Specialty journals such as American Photography regularly published her images in the 1920s. She also provided photographs for a series of children's books written by Edith M. PatchHoliday Meadow (1930); Holiday Pond (1930)and Holiday Hill (1931)—and did the same for three of Bertha Stevens's nature books aimed at children (Child and Universe [1931], The Child Goes Forth [1936], and How Miracles Abound [1941]). For Insect People, an introduction to insects written by Eleanor King and Wellmer Pessels (1937), Clarke authored nine photographs of grasshoppers, bees, dung beetles and other bugs. William Morton Barrows included seventeen of  Clarke's pictures in his Science of Animal Life: An Introduction to Zoology (1927), and Robert William Hegner, who published several zoology textbooks, used 76 Clarke photos in his Parade of the Animal Kingdom (1935).

Although not so well-known as her specialist, much-enlarged photographs of animals and plants, Clarke's images of natural vistas also won her praise. For example, Clarke won first prize in a 1922 competition hosted by Photo-Era Magazine for "After the Storm," which depicts lake and mountains caught in the dim light of evening.  Her skill in this genre of photography recommended her to authors like Seldon Lincoln Whitcomb (1866-1930), who, composing a volume devoted to Iowa's natural landscape (Autumn Notes in Iowa [1914]), had Clarke supply photographs of evocative scenes such as "The Skunk River at Lynnville" or "A Country Road Near Newburg."  Even long after her death, an early photograph of "Stacked Grain," evidently taken around 1910, appeared on the pages of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the photo having been rescued from the effects of Clarke's heir, C. J. Turner.
Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 1, 1965
Without the archive of Clarke's photography, it is impossible to know the exact dimensions of her work, but even with what can be known through the public record it is clear that Cornelia Clarke was prodigiously productive, her work valued at both a popular and scientific level.
Despite all her success, Clarke's last years were not happy. Difficulties began when in May, 1929, she and her father were involved in an automobile accident. Ray Clarke and his daughter were riding their Ford roadster about a mile east of Grinnell when they decided to turn around. Backing out onto the road, Clarke did not see another vehicle approaching over a slight rise. Mrs. Elmer Wolfe of LaSalle, IL, who was driving the other car, could not avoid Clarke's Ford, and the collision destroyed the Wolfes' Buick and instantly killed Mrs. Wolfe. Although the original newspaper story did not mention injuries to the Clarkes, both suffered from the collision, and Ray, who was also dogged by threats of litigation long after the accident, "slowly but steadily failed until the end came peacefully," March 21, 1932. Cornelia carried on, and continued to publish her photographs, but soon after her father's death she was diagnosed with cancer, for which she sought treatment at Iowa City, Newton, Rochester [MN], Grinnell and Iowa City. Death, attributed to breast cancer, came to Cornelia Clarke September 29, 1936,
Last Will and Testament of Cornelia Clarke, August 10, 1936
Poweshiek County Probate Court Records, 1850-1954, District Court Will Record, 1923-1954, Vol. F, p. 36
When she died, Clarke seemed almost as lonely as she had been as a child on her father's farm. Her will assigned small sums to several Grinnell women, the Grinnell Congregational Church, Professor Henry Conard (to whom she also willed her camera equipment and all her glass negatives and lantern slides), and a few others. "All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, both real and personal...I give, devise and bequeath, share and share alike, to Dr. and Mrs. C. J. Turner," her will announced to the surprise of some. As the 1930 U.S. Census confirms, the Turners lived in Clarke's house (as renters, perhaps?), and evidently proved themselves helpful during Clarke's last illness. But the fact that these people should inherit the bulk of Clarke's estate—which turned out to be $20,000, a sizable sum in 1936—seemed suspicious to Mildred Fuller, who claimed to be Clarke's cousin. In mid-October 1936, both the Grinnell newspaper and the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Fuller was filing suit to forestall probate, contending that Clarke, at the time she composed her will—August 10, about seven weeks before her death—had not been mentally competent. Whether the suit ever went to trial I cannot say, as I found no record of it. In any event, Fuller's objection was not sustained, as Clarke's will entered probate November 30, 1936, just two months after her death.
Grinnell Herald-Register, October 15, 1936, p. 1 
As news of her death traveled around Grinnell on the heels of her published obituary (Grinnell Herald-Register, October 1, 1936), the editor of the local newspaper added what he titled "A Belated Tribute." Regretting how little Grinnell knew of her fame, the editorial emphasized how much Clarke loved beauty, visible not only in her photography but also in the wonderful gardens she maintained at her West Street home. "Miss Clarke should be remembered here," the paper remarked, "not only as a photographer of superb attainments, but as a humble and unassuming lover of beauty...No more beautiful flower beds have existed anywhere. Her lawn was always lovely with fragrant blossoms and her greatest pleasure was in showing her treasures to those who came to admire." Like the flowers she loved and photographed so successfully, "hers was a shy and retiring nature, full of beauty and charm, ... ready to expand and spread its petals at every friendly touch...." Indeed, as surviving photographs confirm, Cornelia Clarke used her camera to share her love of nature and all its beauty, making us all beneficiaries of Grinnell's own Beatrix Potter.
"More Pictures of Peter and Polly," Country Life in America, March, 1911, p. cdxviii

Saturday, May 6, 2017

When the Liberty Bell Visited Grinnell...

Like everyone else, I first saw the Liberty Bell in person when I visited Independence Hall—in my case, on a school visit in the 1950s. Nowadays the Liberty Bell can only be viewed at Independence Mall, but it may surprise some readers to learn that it was not always this way. Several times in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the famous bell went on long journeys: to New Orleans in 1885, Chicago in 1893, Atlanta in 1895, Charleston in 1902, Boston in 1903, and to St. Louis in 1904.  In 1915 the Bell made one last journey, this time going the farthest west ever, reaching San Francisco in July, 1915 to help mark the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. When the Liberty Bell made its epic trip across the country, Grinnell was one of the lucky cities where the special train bearing the bell stopped long enough for citizens to admire—and perhaps even touch—this famous symbol of American independence. And it is that 1915 visit that forms the subject of this Grinnell Story.
The route west of the Liberty Bell, July, 1915 (
Proposals to send the Liberty Bell across the continent appeared even before the Panama Exposition opened in San Francisco in February, 1915, but fears about potential damage to the cracked bell frustrated most early efforts. Only after the May 7 sinking of the liner Lusitania and the vocal support from President Woodrow Wilson and former President Theodore Roosevelt did the proposed adventure become a reality. The loss of American lives in the sinking—the United States had not yet entered the war—aroused patriotic sentiment, and made the proposed trip of the Liberty Bell across the country almost inevitable.

Once the decision was made, officials had to address the very real problem of how to transport the bell safely. Critics complained that previous journeys had harmed the bell, perhaps even enlarging its famous crack. Consequently, officials at the Pennsylvania Railroad felt pressure to provide maximum security to the independence icon. The result, rushed because of the delay in deciding on the trip, was a "Liberty Bell Special" train, which, according to Stephen Fried, "would be a private, all-steel train with luxurious Pullman cars—sleepers, a dining car and a sitting car—the very best the 'Pennsy' had to offer." The Bell itself would occupy a specially-built gondola car, upon which was constructed a wooden yoke with the inscription, "Proclaim Liberty—1776," visible atop the bell. Fears that the Bell's famous crack would open wider obliged experts to replace the clapper with a metal "spider" to improve stability. The car also included lights that would make the Bell visible even as the train continued its trek through the night-time darkness of the American land mass.
The Liberty Bell arrives at unidentified city, July, 1915 (
When word of the Bell's proposed journey went public, politicians all across the country engaged in a noisy scrum as localities and rail lines campaigned to get a place on the itinerary. Grinnell joined the conversation at the initiative of M. J. Douglas, Grinnell agent of the Rock Island Railroad. In late April Douglas circulated around Grinnell a petition addressed to the Philadelphia mayor, asking that the Rock Island line carry the bell beyond Chicago. Telegrams from the Grinnell Commercial Club, the mayor and city council, the principal and faculty of both the high school and the college, and state Senator H. W. Spaulding all urged "that the famous bell be routed through Grinnell and time allowed for a short stop here." Numerous other localities also pressed their cases, but within a month good news appeared in the Grinnell Herald: "Liberty Bell Will Stop Ten Minutes" in Grinnell, the newspaper announced. According to the Chicago Tribune, whose reporting the Herald borrowed, the Liberty Bell Special would depart Chicago early in the morning of July 7, stop at Peoria for an hour, then on to Rock Island for 15 minutes, Davenport for 30 minutes, Iowa City for 15 minutes, Marengo for 15 minutes (later reduced to 5 minutes), and reach Grinnell at 3:50 PM, stopping for ten minutes before moving on to Des Moines for a five-hour visit.
Grinnell Herald May 21, 1915
The weather on the appointed day was less than wonderful. According to a newspaper report, the previous day's heavy rains and the continuing damp cast an unwelcome and dim light over the town. Nevertheless, the special train arrived in Grinnell right on time (3:47 on the new schedule). The Grinnell Herald observed that "the station platform was crowded as the Liberty Bell special came thundering in. The train pulled past the station and stopped with the car bearing the bell right across the Broad Street crossing." With all Grinnell businesses closed at 4:30 PM to allow everyone to view the spectacle, the crowd that gathered around the train was impressive. The Des Moines Register reported that some 3,000 people turned out in Grinnell, which would mean most of the town's 1910 population of 5,036. Of course there were plenty of visitors from other towns, riding into Grinnell for what might amount to their only chance ever to view the famous bell; even so, no one in Grinnell on that day could have been unaware of the arrival of the Liberty Bell.
A Child Touches the Liberty Bell, Moline, IL, July 7, 1915
In the original plan, direct access to the bell was supposed to be rare, intended mainly for the blind and disabled. But in Grinnell, as elsewhere, "many people clambered aboard the gondola car to look more closely upon the bell and to touch it...Many children were handed up by their parents, in order that in years to come they might be able to say that their hands had touched the Liberty Bell." Philadelphia officials had prepared a printed brochure about the Liberty Bell which was to be distributed to visitors as the train made its way westward ("compliments of the City of Philadelphia"). According to newspaper reports, in Iowa City "each child was given a pamphlet with a history of the bell, an American flag, and a card and button with a picture of the bell." Perhaps some Grinnellians received such mementoes when the train stopped in Grinnell, but the newspaper made no mention of them, nor have I found any extant examples in local archives.
Liberty Bell brochure intended to be given out as a memento of the 1915 trip
Too soon the train was ready to depart, and, as the Grinnell band played, "the train moved out, and amid the waving of hats and final cheers the Liberty Bell slipped behind a box car and was lost to view" (Grinnell Herald July 9, 1915).
News of the Liberty Bell's journey attracted various causes that hoped to capitalize upon the publicity attaching to the event. One of the most famous appropriations of the event was the "Woman's Liberty Bell," a replica of the Liberty Bell which circulated through Pennsylvania in an effort to get women's suffrage enacted. Its clapper chained to the bell, the Woman's Liberty Bell would not ring, partisan literature proclaimed, until the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the vote was enacted.
Circular of the Woman's Liberty Bell (
In Grinnell it was not women's suffrage but pacifism that seized on the Liberty Bell's journey. In late June, the Grinnell Herald announced that a "Peace Pageant," originally planned as part of the July 4th celebrations, would now be hitched to the Liberty Bell visit to Grinnell. An article about the pageant in the Ottumwa newspaper attributed to Mrs. H. S. Conard (Laetitia Moon Conard) responsibility for overall direction of the peace pageant. But the Grinnell Herald did not mention Conard, even though the newspaper identified some fifteen women (mostly) as organizers and directors of the pageant. Among those identified by name in the Grinnell paper were Wilma Rayburn, a local attorney; Fannie Buchanan, widely known for her songs and musical pageants; and Mrs. Joel Stewart, whose husband was a generous supporter of Grinnell.
Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier, July 3, 1915, p. 8
Plans called for organizers to lead a march directly from the railroad, once the Liberty Bell train departed Grinnell. "From the station everyone is requested to go direct to Ward Field [at the College] for the Liberty and Peace Pageant, which will commence immediately after the Liberty Bell leaves," the newspaper reported. As it turned out, the previous day's rain had made Ward Field a muddy mess, and organizers therefore transferred proceedings to the Colonial Theater, to which destination the parade moved as soon as the train was out of sight.

Costumed heralds led the way, followed by "James Ashing [dressed] as Uncle Sam, and Dorothy Fry and Julia Cratty as pennant bearers." The Grinnell band, the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic and its auxiliary, the Woman's Relief Corps, were next, after which a series of "symbolic groups" took their places in the march. "Children of the Nations," carrying flags of peace and national flags, were next, after which came "Peace...represented by Mrs. Homer Rivers with attendants: Joy [Miss Kate Rogers], Plenty [Miss Lillie Gove], Industry [Miss Nellie Fraser], [and] Health [Miss Helen Stewart]." The Boy Scouts, outfitted to represent William Penn (played by Roger Preston) and other Quakers, marched in the company of an "Indian Chief" (Carl Somers) and "other Indians" (Frank Almy; Donald Almy; Kenneth Ferguson; and Milton Donnelly).  Mrs. F. J. Kiesel was cast as "Liberty," surrounded by costumed representatives of America, Japan, Russia, Norway, France, Germany, Ireland and Holland. Gladys Cessna was set to the role of Columbia (a common name applied to the United States at the time), accompanied by 48 girls, each representing a state, the shield of which she carried. 

Once gathered at the theatre, the crowd witnessed the pageant program, which began with the band playing "Stars and Stripes Forever." Columbia was then crowned "Gem of the Ocean" while the children representing the 48 states sang. Each nation's representative then did reverence to Liberty, while Mrs. Kiesel sang a solo ("The Glad Land Song," according to the newspaper, but I could not find any record of such a song). The Boy Scouts then presented a series of tableaux devoted to "Signing of the Peace Treaty," featuring William Penn and Indians. The Camp Fire Girls also got into the act, singing a "Floral March," after which Mrs. Rivers sang "America the Beautiful," then still a new and relatively unknown song. A choir composed of high school students and members of the college Glee Club sang the newly-composed "Hear, Hear, Ye Nations," after which a final "March of the nations" was enacted while the audience sang "America," which was then the de facto national anthem (until the adoption of the Star Spangled Banner in 1931).
Lyrics to "Hear, hear, O ye nations," words by Frederick L. Hosmer (1913) (
Peace pageants appeared elsewhere in the US in these years, but the available records provide no clue to the origins of the Grinnell event. Clearly the pageant aimed to keep the United States out of World War I, by this date already a bloody quagmire. And perhaps the Grinnell demonstration contributed to the reluctance with which Americans viewed the war.

Certainly, both before and after the event, the Grinnell Herald provided plenty of coverage to the pageant, devoting more column inches to it than to the Liberty Bell visit itself. Indeed, as I investigated the appearance of the Liberty Bell in Grinnell, I was struck by how little evidence of its visit survives. Unlike many other stops along the journey, the local newspaper published no photograph of the bell or the citizens gathered around it. Of the oral histories touching this period and now available, not one mentions the Liberty Bell; of the dozen scrapbooks devoted to these years that I examined, none includes a photograph or news story about the Bell. And apparently no Liberty Bell mementoes survive in local archives.
Liberty Special Arrives at Ft. Wayne, IN, July 6, 1915
Allen County-Ft. Wayne Historical Society (
After Grinnell, the Liberty Bell Special continued its somewhat circuitous journey westward. Des Moines established a blocks-long queue for visitors, who numbered 75,000, according to the Des Moines Register. The train then moved west, continuing to attract crowds, and only once apparently encountered any sign of opposition when some youths in Walla Walla, Washington were reported to have thrown stones. Finally, the Bell arrived in San Francisco, where it attracted throngs, eager to see and touch this well-known symbol of American independence.
Denison Review, August 11, 1915
As the Panama Exposition drew to a close in late November, the Liberty Bell Special train embarked on the long trip home. Pursuing a different route, the train passed through New Mexico and Arizona (new to the Union in 1912), then across Texas. At El Paso, 25,000 people gathered to catch a glimpse of the relic. The bell moved across the plains, then began the trip north, reaching its Philadelphia home November 25. Having logged thousands of miles, the Liberty Bell had shown its face to millions, the last time the famous bell would travel beneath those spacious skies and through those amber waves of grain.
The return route of the Liberty Bell, December, 1915 (
PS. As I mentioned, Grinnell seems not to have any evidence of the 1915 visit of the Liberty Bell, so if readers of this blog have (or know of the existence of) any photographs of the event or any copies of the specially-prepared handout or any other memento of the visit, I hope that they will contribute that news, and perhaps make those materials available for scanning by the Poweshiek History Preservation Project. It's a moment in local history that deserves to be remembered and, if possible, better documented.