Bennett Alfred Cerf

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bennett Alfred Cerf was born to lithographer, Gustav Cerf and heiress, Frederika Wise on May 25, 1898 in New York, New York. He grew up in Washington Heights, alongside future business partner, Donald Klopfer and famous playwright, Howard Dietz. Cerf received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1920. Shortly after graduation, he worked as a reporter for the New York Tribune and for a Wall Street brokerage firm.

In 1925, Cerf and childhood friend, Donald Klopfer, formed a business partnership, purchasing the rights to the American publishing company, Modern Library. In 1927, they changed the name of the company to Random House and began selling general trade books. Popular artist and college classmate, Rockwell Kent, designed the logo that exhibits a little house.

Cerf’s personable attitude among the literary community won him the favor of many prominent authors, including William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess) and Ayn Rand. In spite of strongly opposing her philosophical ideals, he admired Rand’s literary talents, and remained good friends with her, long after publishing her infamously renowned book, Atlas Shrugged. Cerf was responsible for publishing other controversial novels after successfully winning the court case on the government’s ban on censorship, such as James Joyce’s unabridged Ulysses.

During the 1940s, Cerf began publishing a series of joke books of his own, Try and Stop Me and Shake Well Before Using. His books sold well due to his smart use of jokes, limericks, puns, and riddles. Outside of his publications, viewers were given the opportunity to watch him entertain audiences with his witty banter and puns when he began his tenure as a panelist on the popular game show, What’s My Line? until it ended in 1967. Throughout his career, Cerf expressed that he was most honored to receive awards for his humor among all others.

In 1971, popular and beloved Bennett Alfred Cerf died in Mount Kisco, New York at age 73. In 1977, Random House published his biography, At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf. You can learn more about the life of Bennett Cerf at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles we suggest:

- At Random : the reminiscences of Bennett Cerf  1st ed.
Cerf, Bennett. 1977.

- Dear Donald, Dear Bennett : the wartime correspondence of Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer  1st ed.
Cerf, Bennett. 2002.

- Bennett Cerf’s treasury of atrocious puns  1st ed.
Cerf, Bennett. 1968.

The 1964 New York World’s Fair

Image Source: NYSL Manuscripts and Special Collections

Image Source: NYSL Manuscripts and Special Collections

The 1964 New York World’s Fair (NYWF) opened on April 22, at the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York, NY. Occupying the same location of the previous NYWF in 1939, it was the third major fair to take place in New York City, covering 647 acres of land. The date of the fair was planned in time to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York as an English colony and based on the theme “Peace Through Understanding.” While many major European nations were not official participants of the fair, 58 countries from around the world partook in the festivities, including some developing nations for the first time.

From out of the breaches of the Great Depression, the U.S. had undergone major social changes between 1945 and 1965. While countries around the world were repairing the damages left behind from the Second World War, the U.S. economy was experiencing an increase in population growth, urbanization, industry, and commerce. Owing to nearly 50% of the world’s manufactures, American society was redeveloping its postwar economy through the production of steel, electricity, oil, and automobile manufacturing. The auto-industry was at its height during the 1950s, accounting for 61 million cars on the roads and highways built to cater to these popular engineering marvels by 1960. In addition, the size of families had grown after American soldiers returned home, spurring the rise of an affluent middle-class for the first time in U.S. history. This new consumer culture bought new homes and cars and technologies in the market, including television sets, washing machines, and other popular products.

With the booming American economy in 1958, the idea to hold another world’s fair came to the mind of lawyer Robert Kopple, who worked with city administrator, Charles Preusse and public relations expert, Thomas Deegan to promote development. They appointed chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Transit Authority, Robert Moses, as president of the fair. Moses had gained a political upper hand in the 1930s after raising money for large public projects in New York City, including construction of the city’s park system and highway infrastructure in addition to the 1939 NYWF 25 years earlier.

Image Source: NYSL Manuscripts and Special Collections

Image Source: NYSL Manuscripts and Special Collections

In the first year of the fair’s opening, over 27 million visitors were in attendance. While the site was built on the grounds of the 1939 NYWF, the layout was different and simplified in design. The focal attraction and symbol of the fair manifested in a grand metallic sculpture of the world called the Unisphere in the center of an enormous water fountain. Commercialization dominated in architecture and art. Many of the buildings were designed in a modern futuristic style, characterizing the trends at the time, including the Space Age, Atomic Age, and car culture. Commercial pavilions exhibited strictly modern design while national pavilions represented modern or traditional design inspired by their cultural heritage. Pop art images and sculptures were inspired by the famous artist of the time, Andy Warhol and his contemporaries. In the absence of management by the Fair Corporation, exhibitors’ competitiveness for attention was free to reign in design control, resulting in disorganization and flamboyancy.

In the second year, 24,458,757 visitors attended the fair for its last season, but the projected number of visitors for the first year had not met its goal, causing a loss of $20 million. Low attendance also resulted in financial cutbacks and show and event cancellations, including the “Ice-Travaganza” and “Wonderworld,” but rides were added for entertainment value in their place. Still, thrill rides were a limited commodity because Moses did not favor them. The fair offered entertainment from exhibitors around the world in ethnic music, dance, food, and merchandise. The most popular exhibits were commercial vendors, including General Motors, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, IBM, Kodak, and many more. Other popular attractions were demonstrations of new inventions and products, such as computers, color television, and touchtone phones.

At the close of the 1965 season, the fair had lost another $1 million, but the effects of the low attendance were only realized after 11 exhibitors had filed for bankruptcy and revenues were 40 percent below predictions. Although many visitors could look back on the 1964 NYWFs with fond memory, its mediocre success will always be attributed to the controversial mismanagement and arrogant character of Moses, who not only allowed monopolies and cost-plus contracts without competitive bidding to take place, but developed bad relations with fair participants, including the Bureau of International Expositions, private organizations, and the press.

Learn more about the history and controversy surrounding the 1964 New York World’s Fair at the New York State Library. The Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the New York State Library has maps, postcards, guidebooks, and much more related to the fair and visitors are welcome to come to the 11th floor of the Cultural Education Center to look at the material. In addition, here are a few titles available from the catalog:

-The end of the innocence : the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair  1st ed.
Samuel, Lawrence R. 2007.

-The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair
Cotter, Bill. 2004.

-Historical dictionary of world’s fairs and expositions, 1851-1988
Findling, John E. 1990.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair


Image Source: NYSL – Manuscripts and Special Collection

Before the Second World War and during the midst of the Great Depression, a group of businessmen from New York City met to discuss the prospects of building an exposition that would serve to turn the economy around and lift American morale. Therefore, the New York World’s Fair Corporation (NYWFC) was organized with former chief of police, Grover Whalen, as the elected president of the committee. Between 1935 and 1939, the fair was underway. While Whalen viewed the fair as an opportunity for corporations to exhibit their products, the science community had hoped that the fair could assist in popularizing the role of science in modern society given that the theme of the fair was founded on the slogan, “Building the World of Tomorrow.” Nevertheless, exhibitors showcased science through commercial gadgetry rather than research development.

The date of the fair was purposely planned to open on the anniversary of President George Washington’s first inauguration 150 years ago. Despite the fact that some pavilions and exhibits were not ready for public viewing, the fair opened on a hot Sunday of April 30th without delay, drawing in 206,000 visitors. Whalen welcomed the public with warm and welcoming words, “We invite the people of all the world to mingle in friendship and security, and to contemplate the marvels that can be wrought when the genius and labor of man unite to make this a better world in which to live.”


Image Source: NYSL – Manuscripts and Special Collections

Visitors entered into 1,216 acres of geometric landscaping, extravagant water fountains and foliage features, futuristic architecture, contemporary and classical artwork, and a multitude of lighting accents strategically laid out to bring the focal attention to the monumental structures, the Trylon, Perisphere, and Helicline located in the Theme Center. Here, the structures were constructed at the meeting point where the fair’s zones came together, including the Transportation Zone, the Communications and Business Zone, the Food Zone, the Government Zone and so on.

After the Second World War waged in Europe the following year, the committee of the NYWFC changed the enriching theme of the fair from “Building the World of Tomorrow” to the political statement, “For Peace and Freedom.” The fair remained open for two successful seasons, introducing new products in electronics including the air conditioner; advertising new technologies in automotive vehicles, including popular car manufacturers, Ford and Chrysler; and presenting the modern innovations and historical artifacts from countries around the world.

In late 1940, the committee removed Whalen as president in favor of banker, Harvey Gibson, to overlook and sustain budgetary control. Although the fair generated nearly $48 million in revenue, the NYWFC lost out in its investment of over $65 million, causing the corporation to declare bankruptcy.

Learn more about the 1939 New York World’s Fair at the New York State Library. You can access the catalog right here or by visiting the New York State Library’s website.

-New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair
Wood, Andrew F. 2004.

-New York extra : a newspaper history of the greatest city in the world, from 1671 to the 1939 World’s Fair : from the collection of Eric C. Caren
Caren, Eric C. 2000.

-Remembering the future : the New York World’s Fair from 1939 to 1964
Bletter, Rosemarie Haag. 1989.

-The world of tomorrow : the 1939 New York World’s Fair
Zim, Larry. 1988.

St. Patrick Banishes Snakes from Ireland

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17th in nations that observe the holiday. St. Patrick is associated with the green isle of Ireland in such ways as bringing Christianity to the Pagan people, using the shamrock as an illustrative parable – and driving snakes out of Ireland?

According to Irish legend, St. Patrick chased all the snakes into the sea after attacking him while undertaking a 40-day fast on top of a hill. However, evidence from post-glacial Ireland suggests that snakes never naturally existed on the island. In fact, only one reptile is native to the island, the common or the viviparous lizard.  The only other reptile that currently resides there is the slow worm, a legless lizard, not native to the island. Biologists believe that the slow worm wasn’t introduced to Ireland until the 1960s and the range of its habitat has only been confined to the Burren’s limestone rich region amongst much other wildlife.

So where then did the legend of St. Patrick’s banishment of snakes originate? Many scholars and parties of interest have only their speculations. One popular suggestion is that the snake in the legend is representative of the biblical serpent deriving, namely, from Exodus 7:8-7:13. In this biblical story, the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and perform a miracle for him. So Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh’s feet and it turned into a snake. Pharaoh’s sorcerers then cast down their staffs and they transformed into snakes, but Aaron’s snake-staff prevailed over those of the sorcerers.

Others suggest that the snake may be allegorical in Judeo-Christian tradition, but is symbolic of evil by the fall of grace of Adam and Eve. Therefore, St. Patrick’s banishment of these evil creatures is further symbolic of good conquering over evil. In other words, bringing Christianity to the Pagan Irish.

Whichever story is true and however the legend originated; St. Patrick may be mythically known for his banishment of snakes, but historically remembered for his teachings and influence of Christianity on the emerald isle.

Learn more about St. Patrick in relation to New York State, here at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles to get you started:

-St. Patrick, Albany, New York : burials, 1923 to 2006
American-Canadian Genealogical Society. 2011.

-St. Patrick, Albany, New York : marriages, August 1859 to June 2006
American-Canadian Genealogical Society. 2011.

-The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick
Daly, Thomas A. cn. 1920.


James Baldwin

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924 to Emma Bardis Jones, a domestic worker, in Harlem, New York. She divorced his father when he was still an infant because of his problem with drugs and remarried to factory worker and preacher, David Baldwin. Although, Baldwin referred to his adoptive father as “father” in many of his writings later in his life, they had a strained relationship. David was particularly abusive to him than to his half brothers and sisters. Much of his young life at home was spent taking care of his seven younger siblings. Otherwise, when he wasn’t babysitting, he spent his time reading.

Between the ages 14 and 16, he served as youth minister for the Harlem Pentecostal Church. It was David’s faith which lead him to the church in the first place. His reputation began to precede him when his popular sermons drew in larger crowds than his stepfather’s. At age 17, however, his view of Christianity changed such that he left his faith behind him, but found that it was a necessary remedy for his traumatic experiences growing up. Still, he never referred to himself as atheist. In spite of his personal stance on religion, he appreciated that it encouraged African Americans to fight oppression during such highly racial times. Later in life, his writings would reflect his understanding of religion and its role in the world.

He attended the DeWitt Clinton High School, a prestigious school with a high populace of Jewish students, in BedfordPark, Bronx. He became the literary editor for the school’s magazine alongside Richard Avedon, a famous American fashion and portrait photographer later in life. The magazine gave Baldwin the opportunity to publish his poems, short stores, and plays.

After high school, he sought work instead of enrolling in college in order to help support his financially strained family. He accepted a job laying railroad tracks in New Jersey for the U.S. Army and struggled with incessant racial abuse until he was eventually fired from the job. In 1943, David died of tuberculosis in a mental hospital when Baldwin was nineteen. The same day, Baldwin’s mother gave birth to her eighth child.

As an aspiring writer, he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City to join the community of other artists and writers there. He took odd jobs to support his living, but after he met popular writer, Richard Wright, he was offered a fellowship to cover his living expenses so he could strictly write. Not long after, his short stories and essays began to be published in popular magazines, such as The Partisan and The Nation. Three years later he was offered another fellowship to continue writing and moved to Paris. The repressed issues he had with his father poured out into his stories, including his popular and first novel entitled, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953).

In 1987, Baldwin died in Saint-Paul de Venice, France from esophageal cancer. Many of his writings have received critical acclaim in the literary world for his insight on racial, spiritual, and humanistic issues during the mid-twentieth century. Other popular works written by Baldwin include Giovanni’s Room and Notes of a Native Son.

Want to know more about the life and works of James Baldwin? You can find these titles and more at the New York State Library:

-Native sons : a friendship that created one of the greatest works of the 20th century : notes of a native son  1st ed.
  Baldwin, James. 2004.

-Collected essays
  Baldwin, James. 1998.

-Early novels and stories
  Baldwin, James. 1998.

Norman Perceval Rockwell

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Norman Perceval Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894 to Jarvis Waring Rockwell and Anne Mary “Nancy” Hill in New York City. Rockwell’s interest in art was by the influence of his father, who ritually painted every Sunday. While he grew up in the city, he and his parents often visited the country, where Rockwell developed a connection with nature. As a teenager, he attended a few different art schools, including Chase Art School and the National Academy of Design, before officially settling at the Art Student Lounge. At this art school, he received formal training in technique of anatomical accuracy by George Bridgeman and composition by Thomas Fogarty. As a student, he was offered small jobs to create cover illustrations for juvenile publications, including St. Nicholas Magazine. After graduation, he started working for Boys’ Life, a publication of the Boy Scouts of America; he became art editor for the magazine and managed that position for three consecutive years.

In his early twenties, his parents ended up moving to New Rochelle in Upstate New York where Rockwell opened up a studio that he shared with fellow artist and cartoonist, Clyde Forsythe. As an employee of The Saturday Evening Post, Forsythe helped Rockwell successfully submit his first cover painting to the newspaper. Highly receptive of his work, the Post published six of his paintings in 1916, including: Mother’s Day Off; Circus Barker and Strongman; Gramps at the Plate; Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins; People in a Theatre Balcony; and Man Playing Santa Claus. Thus began a long career with the Post, including 321 cover paintings over a span of forty-seven years.

At twenty-two years old, he met his first wife Irene O’Connor, and they married in 1916. While their marriage lasted for fourteen years, they divorced in January 1930 and Rockwell announced his engagement to his second wife, Mary Barstow, in March of the same year. Together, they had three children, Jarvis Waring, Thomas Rhodes, and Peter. In August of 1959, Mary died and Rockwell remarried two years later to his third wife, Molly Punderson.

During the First World War, Rockwell enlisted into the Navy, but was rejected due to the apparent imbalance of his height to weight ratio. After he gained a few pounds, the Navy accepted him and designated him as the military artist. During the Second World War, he began working on his popular series of paintings called the Four Freedoms, which were based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech commonly known as the Four Freedoms speech, but was actually his State of the Union address in 1941. In his speech, Roosevelt addressed four principles that all humankind should be entitled to: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. In 1943, after a period of seven months, Rockwell finished his Freedom paintings and they were published in the Post.

Although many of Rockwell’s paintings depicted the simple pleasures of American life, at times, he painted scenes that were more political and social in nature. In addition to the Four Freedoms series he created earlier in his career, in his older years, he began working for Look Magazine; a publication that enabled him to paint scenes of serious subject matter, including his series on racism, featuring one of his more popular works, called The Problem We All Live With. The painting depicts young African-American Ruby Bridges being escorted by white Federal Marshals to school. Yet, a deeper look into this scene shows young Ruby walking tall and brave as she bypasses an unavoidable wall in the backdrop that is graffitied with racist words and splattered with a tomato that was thrown with every intention to hit her on her way to her desegregated school.

Norman Rockwell died on November 8, 1978 at his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, but fans can visit the NormanRockwell Museum there which was built to immortalize his legacy. Learn more about the life and paintings of Norman Perceval Rockwell at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles to get you started:

-Norman Rockwell : a life, 1st ed.
Claridge, Laura P. 2001.

-Norman Rockwell : pictures for the American people
Hennessey, Maureen Hart. 1999.

-Norman Rockwell, my adventures as an illustrator
Rockwell, Norman. 1988.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (also referred to as Franklin D. Roosevelt or FDR) was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He was born into one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York State. His parents, James Roosevelt and Sara Anne Delano, were distant cousins. Roosevelt was named after Sara’s grandfather, Franklin Hughes Delano. He attended an Episcopalian boarding school in Massachusetts, called the Groton School, and developed a long-term relationship with the school’s headmaster, Endicott Peabody. At Groton, Peabody and former classmates recall him as being an average student, demonstrating no more than ordinary intelligence. In spite of these shortcomings, he attended Harvard College and headed the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, which required high energy and motivation in a person and the ability to manage a team. In 1903, he graduated with an A.B. in history. He attended Columbia Law School, but dropped out after passing the bar. He was awarded an honorary J.D. after his death.

Early in 1902, Roosevelt was formerly introduced to his fifth cousin and wife to be, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Three years later, the two married despite his mother’s incessant attempts to break them up. It wasn’t that she disliked Eleanor per se, she simply didn’t find any woman to be good enough for her son. Roosevelt’s father spent little time with him as he grew up, but his mother spent much of her time raising him and became quite possessive over her only son and child. Roosevelt and Eleanor had six children together and remained married until his untimely death. However, the latter half of their years as husband and wife were bound only by a political relationship, not a romantic one. Roosevelt reportedly had two affairs outside of his marriage with Lucy Mercer, social secretary to Eleanor, and his private secretary, Marguerite “Missy” Lehand. Moreover, others speculate that he might have had romantic relations with Princess Martha of Sweden and his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. These confirmed and rumored affairs were unknown to the public until the 1960s.

While still a student at Harvard, Roosevelt’s distant Republican cousin, Theodore Roosevelt (also known as “Teddy”), was elected as president of the United States. Teddy was also Eleanor’s uncle, who stood in place of her deceased father on their wedding day. A Democrat himself, Roosevelt ran for the New York State Senate from Hyde Park in 1910 and won the election by the good fortune of his family name. Two years later, he would run again and win despite a terrible case of typhoid he caught in that election year, thanks in part to his relentless campaign team. After his loyal support of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election against the political machine of Tammany Hall in New York City, he eventually earned his appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

In 1920, Roosevelt ran for vice president under the nomination of the Democratic National Convention, but lost the election to Republican Warren G. Harding. The following year while on vacation, he contracted polio and became paralyzed from the waist down the rest of his life. He did, however, combat the disease by experimenting with different physical therapies including hydrotherapy and founding research organizations to treat polio patients. Reticent about his condition, he managed to hide his disability from the public in fear of bad press before the state elections. In fact, most of the nation didn’t learn about the severity of his condition until after his death on April 12, 1945. What’s more, out of the 35,000 plus photographs taken of Roosevelt throughout his political career only two photographs exist revealing his physical disability.

In 1928, he was elected governor of New York State by a marginal win. While governor, he implemented reform by initiating social programs and continued to press for progress in state government. In 1932, he won the presidential election shortly following the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. His campaign for progressive government was materialized through a number of social programs initiated with the intent to reform issues with labor, economic growth, and bank and Wall Street corruption, among many others, called the New Deal. This initiative helped turn the economy around between 1933 and 1937 before falling into a deep recession.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” (FDR), Roosevelt entered the Great War in Europe and led the U.S. war effort by joining forces with the Allies. The end of the war also ended the depression in the U.S. and restored prosperity to the American economy.

To learn a more detailed account about the life and politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt, visit the New York State Library for resources and information. Here are a few titles from the catalog:

-Electing FDR : the New Deal campaign of 1932
  Ritchie, Donald A. 2007.

  Smith, Jean Edward. 2007.

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt, preserver of spirit and hope
  Peterson, Barbara Bennett. 2006.

J. D. Salinger: The Making of a Great American Writer

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on January 1, 1919 to Sol Salinger and Marie neé Jillich. Marie adopted the name Salinger and changed her first name to Miriam to disguise her non-Jewish roots. In fact, Salinger only learned the truth about his mother’s Irish, Scottish, and German heritage after his bar mitzvah, later having an effect on his attitude towards his religion and identity.

Young Salinger grew up on the West Side of Manhattan, where he and his sister, Doris, attended public school. In 1932, his parents moved to Park Avenue and enrolled the Salinger children in private school. At McBurney School, Salinger demonstrated a great interest in drama and writing by portraying parts in the school plays and writing for the school newspaper, but Salinger’s interests weren’t supported by his father. Sol made a comfortable living in the city, working in the cheese and meat industry and wanted to see his son grow up to do the same. Consequently, Sol took Salinger out of McBurney and enrolled him in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania to set him down the “right” path and instill a little discipline in him at the same time. While the military school certainly disciplined Salinger, it had little to no effect on his passion for writing. Aside from being editor of Valley Forge’s yearbook, old dorm mates recalled Salinger’s late-night writing sessions, when he’d crawl under his bed sheets and write to his heart’s content by flashlight.

He graduated Valley Forge in 1936 and briefly attended New York University that fall semester, but dropped out by the spring. In the interim, Sol’s outlook for Salinger’s future had gone unchanged. Since he wasn’t in school, his father sent him to Vienna to apprentice in the meat-importing business. He stayed in Europe for two years and then returned home to reenroll in college. In 1938, he attended Ursinus College for one fall semester, published an article in the school’s newspaper and then dropped out before the spring. Finally, in the fall of 1939, he attended Columbia University where he enrolled in one creative writing class. He spent much of his time observing the class his first semester there rather than participating much in it. Yet, by the spring semester, he published his first short story, “The Young Folks” in the magazine, Story; a publication of his teacher, mentor, and long friend, Whit Burnett.

In 1941, Salinger submitted seven stories to The New Yorker magazine, only to receive seven rejection letters in return. By this time, he had stories published in other literary magazines, but to Salinger, the prestige of being published in the The New Yorker would demonstrate his success as a writer. In spite of the curt and sometimes frank words of the rejection letters, he continued submitting story after story until finally, the magazine accepted one. In the latter half of 1941, Salinger’s efforts would be acknowledged with a short story called, “Slight Rebellion off Madison” about the angst of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield as he rendezvous in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the magazine’s decision came prematurely. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December of that year, Salinger’s story was revoked for publication because the editors didn’t find the subject matter to be appropriate, let alone, important enough for the warring times.

In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the Army. Assigned to the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, he fought at UtahBeach on D-Day, Battle of the Buldge, and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. In 1945, he was promoted to the counter-intelligence division, where he acted as translator to interrogate prisoners of war. During the war, Salinger continued to write; he began work on another story about his teenage character, Holden Caulfield, in the novella that would later become The Catcher in the Rye. According to fellow combatants, Salinger carried six chapters of Catcher with him on the war field, not unlike a lucky charm, and continually worked on it during slow periods. Still, his love for writing couldn’t ward off the hardships of death and loss all around him. For a short period of time, Salinger was hospitalized after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers suggest that Salinger’s experiences in the war were manifested through characters in some of his stories, including “For Esme–With Love and Squalor,” narrated by a traumatized soldier and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which briefly follows a day in the life of a suicidal veteran suffering from PTSD.

Between 1944 and 1946, Salinger incessantly submitted dozens of short stories to The New Yorker, and just like previous occasions with the magazine, all but one story was turned down. In 1946, The New Yorker reconsidered the publication of “A Slight Rebellion off Madison” after the war. And, two years later, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” was published in their January issue. At long last, Salinger became a published writer for The New Yorker magazine and it was only uphill from there. He would go on to publish The Catcher in the Rye in the summer of 1951 with Little, Brown and Company. Although the debut of the book was challenged by the unyielding topic of its crude use of language toward sex and religion, it was equally met with outstanding reviews nationwide, spending 30 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List. In recent years, Catcher’s widely read in schools and for pleasure as it continues to sell at a rate of approximately 250,000 books a year.

Learn more about the life and works of J. D. Salinger at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles to get you started:

-A reader’s guide to J.D. Salinger
  Alsen, Eberhard. 2002.

-Dream catcher : a memoir
  Salinger, Margaret Ann. 2000.

-Salinger, a biography  1st ed.
  Alexander, Paul. 1999.

-At home in the world : a memoir  1st Picador USA ed.
  Maynard, Joyce. 1998.

Clement Clarke Moore and A Visit from St. Nicholas

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Clement Clarke Moore was born in New York City on July 15th 1779 to Reverend Benjamin Moore of the Episcopal Dioceses of New York and heiress, Charity Clarke, to the “Chelsea” estate (later known as Chelsea Square) in Manhattan. Reverend Moore had received his education from Columbia College and later served two terms as the president of the school. As an only child, young Moore was educated by his father at their Queens residence. Years later, he attended Columbia like his father, and, by 1801, he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Greek and Oriental Literature from the college. In his older years, Moore became very religious, teaching Divinity and Biblical Learning at the General Theological Seminary as well as donating a large portion of land from his inheritance at the Chelsea estate to the Protestant Episcopal Church.  

In 1813, Moore married Catherine Elizabeth Taylor and together they had nine children. By Christmas of 1822, Moore wrote the famous poem entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (popularly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) to tell to his children during the holiday. After the success of his first reading to his family, the poem became a traditional part of their Christmas. The following year, the poem spread outside of the Moore home and mysteriously into the pages of The Sentinel. The Troy-based newspaper printed the poem on December 23, 1823 by an anonymous writer.

Recently, this historic event has caused speculation among scholars about the true origins of the famous Christmas verse. For instance, historian, Seth Kaller and English Professor, Donald Foster, demonstrate opposing views. Foster claims that Moore never wrote the poem; it was written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a distant relative of Moore’s wife. He argues on the basis of textual analysis which suggests that the technique and mechanics of the poem are more similar to Livingston’s writing style, not Moore’s. Many scholars, however, would agree with Kaller, who counters Foster’s claims with an original manuscript of the poem written by Moore, himself. He further argues that there is no record or evidence tying Livingston to the poem like there is with Moore. In 1844, Moore published the anthology, Poems, in which “A Visit from St. Nicholas” appeared among his collection of original poems.

While traditionalist say Moore and skeptics say Livingston, we say, enjoy this great American poem and have a very Merry Christmas.

Melvil Dewey and the Origins of the Dewey Decimal System

Image Source: Public Domain

Image Source: Public Domain

Melvil Dewey was an American librarian, who is best known for his invention of the Dewey Decimal System in library classification. Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on December 10, 1851 in Adams Center, New York to Joel and Eliza Green Dewey. At the time of Dewey’s birth, his father was a supporter of the Hungarian patriot and statesman, Louis Kossuth, and so named his youngest son after him.

From a very young age, Dewey demonstrated precocious behaviors such as arranging the food items in his mother’s pantry by order of class and inducing his father to stop selling alcohol and tobacco in his general store, arguing that it wouldn’t make a significant difference in the total revenue, but his actual intent derived from his vehement detestation of the drugs. Young and apt Dewey was passionate about systematic learning which motivated him so much so that he trekked on an eleven mile hike to nearby Watertown to purchase his very own copy of Webster’s Dictionary. Growing up in a house with modest means, Dewey’s understanding of thrift and waste would make a lasting impression on his mindset and future in libraries.

In 1870, Dewey briefly attended AlfredUniversity before switching over to AmherstCollege, the school in which he would receive his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree by 1877. While he was a student at Amherst, he became an ardent supporter of the European metric system, favoring the simple logic behind the decimal system and soon advocated for simplification in other areas, such as spelling reform. After undertaking the secretarial position of the Spelling Reform Association, he changed the spelling of his name to “Melvil,” and began writing letters in his version of the English language, arguing in one letter that the “English spelling is the wurst there is.” During his time with the Board of Regents, he went so far with spelling reform that he tried changing the spelling of his surname from “Dewey” to “Dui,” but the Board was reluctant to accept it. Still, Dewey left his mark on spelling reform in other ways, such as in the word “through” also spelled as “thru.” An example of this can be seen in the name of the popular highway, the New York State Thruway.

As an undergraduate student he began working part-time at Amherst’s library, where he first developed an interest in systematizing the arrangement of library collections. The library lacked a classification system, causing the collections to be in random order and the pursuit of locating materials to be time consuming; two issues, in which, Dewey abhorred. Later, his visit to the New York State Library seemed only to reinforce his advocacy for a more efficient method of organizing library materials. He observed that the Library’s practices consisted of alphabetizing their collections without regard to subject differences. Although this method demonstrated more effort toward better organization practices for collections than Amherst’s library, Dewey remained dissatisfied with both libraries.

After visiting other libraries around New England and New York, he returned to work at Amherst’s library, where the library would undergo a drastic change in collection organization. One day during church, Dewey’s mind wasn’t on the sermon, it was busy developing a system for subject classification in libraries. His system was called the Dewey Decimal System which consisted of nine main classes of subjects represented by a digit between 0 and 9. Each main class would then be divided into subclasses which would further be divided into more specific subject classes and so forth and etcetera. The decimal represented the division point of main classes and subclasses from the very specific subject classes. At Amherst, the Dewey Decimal System underwent a three-year trail before the impact of its success diffused among other libraries. Nearly since its inception, the Dewey Decimal System has played an integral role in collection organization as it has enabled indefinite classification of any growing collection of library materials. Perhaps, for Dewey, the greatest success of his system was not in its efficiency alone, but in its removal of disorder and waste.

Learn more about the life and history of Melvil Dewey at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles to get you started:

-Dewey decimal classification and relative index  Ed. 23 / edited by Joan S. Mitchell, Editor in Chief ; Julianne Beall, Assistant Editor ; Rebecca Green, Assistant Editor ; Giles Martin, Assistant Editor ; Michael Panzer, Assistant Editor.
  Dewey, Melvil. 2011.

-Dewey decimal classification and relative index  Ed. 22 / edited by Joan S. Mitchell, Julianne Beall, Giles Martin, Winton E. Matthews, Jr., Gregory R. New.
  Dewey, Melvil, 2003.

-Irrepressible reformer : a biography of Melvil Dewey
  Wiegand, Wayne A. 1996.

-Melvil Dewey returns [videocassette]
  Purcell, Shawn. 1996.  

-A History of The New York State Library
Roseberry, Cecil R. 1970.