A Student’s Last Day on the Job with Special Collections

By Jenny Nehrt, student assistant

As graduation looms in the all too soon future, seniors are bombarded with their “lasts.” I had my last undergraduate class on Thursday, I took my last undergraduate exam this morning, and I am currently sitting at the desk in the reading room, working my last day at Special Collections. My two years at Special Collections has drilled an almost inappropriately vast knowledge of JMU history into me that makes me a boss at trivia nights. (off the top of my head: Wilson was built in 1931, JMU went co-ed in 1966, and female students weren’t allowed to dance in public places). By assisting researchers, I have been able to familiarize myself with Special Collections’ diverse assortment of rare books, manuscripts, and periodicals and I’ve come to have a few favorites.


The seniors of 2015 aren’t the only ones prone to reminiscing. The Alice Virginia Kellam scrapbook dates from 1923 to 1925 and shows that packrats have always existed. The scrapbook is overflowing with the scraps of paper, cards, flyers from dances, and notes from boys Ms. Kellam collected throughout her time at college.


breezeI have probably skimmed nearly every issue of The Breeze but this article definitely gave me a chuckle. In 1971, students were complaining about having to pay a $2 parking fee in their tuition bill. At the time, a parking permit was only $8.




reader2readerSome JMU students may remember learning to read with a McGuffey’s Reader. I know I certainly did! Special Collections holds several editions of McGuffey’s, including the 1865 edition shown above.




Some things can be both educational and spooky. John Heatwole published his research on superstitions and folklore in the Shenandoah Valley. The Magic Cures and Incantations booklet offers old-time advice on ailments, such as “if you want to protect a person for life from being bitten by fleas, roll them in a hog trough when they are small children,” or “carry a hog’s tooth in your right pocket to ward off a toothache.” These fixes might require a good dose of faith but you never know…


The illustrated Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe could keep readers awake at night. This edition contains classics such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” along with spooky graphic images.


As one of the most macabre collections, the Henry Smals Diaries serve as a reminder that some people have always been weird. Smals detailed the weather, church events, weddings, and deaths that occurred every day. He included odd sketches to accompany the accounts, such as the picture of the man hanging for the suicide of Joseph Bleerey.

My time at JMU’s Special Collections is over but these books and manuscripts will continue to be available for interested researchers. We encourage anyone to come down and access the collections!



About Mark Peterson

Rare Books and Research Services Librarian at James Madison University Libraries.

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