Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 24, 1800: Library of Congress Established

Thomas Jefferson
The United States of America had barely set up a permanent government when its legislators, the Congress, determined that an in-house reference library was necessary to assist the senators and representatives of the two Houses to prepare materials for debates and legislation. Two hundred and eleven years ago this week, Congress passed an act, endorsed by Vice President Thomas Jefferson and signed by President John Adams, establishing the Library of Congress.

Today’s Library of Congress, the largest library in the world with over 147 million items, consists of three buildings. But in 1800, no separate building was yet needed to hold the library. The first volumes were housed in the office of the secretary of the Senate.

A permanent library had not been created previously, because the seat of federal government had moved every year to different prominent cities in the young nation. Since a federal city - Washington - had been incorporated, however, and the seat of government had set up house-keeping within it, a permanent library was now feasible.

Five thousand dollars were earmarked for the establishment of the library, and soon, 740 volumes and three maps arrived from England, including books on law, political science, and history.
British set fire to Capitol 1814
Within its first fifty years, the library was beset with three fiery trials. In August 1814 (during the War of 1812), the British invaded Washington and set fire to every handy federal building, including the White House and the Capitol. Although a providential thunderstorm provided a downpour which put out the flames before the whole Capitol was consumed, the 3,000 volumes of the Library of Congress made good kindling. In January the following year, Thomas Jefferson restored the library by selling his personal library - 6,487 volumes - to the government. By May 1815, the library was up and running again, located in the Old Brick Capitol building across the street from the Capitol, where the Supreme Court now stands.

Two more fires struck the Library of Congress during the 19th Century, once in 1825, when a small fire destroyed some duplicate volumes, and again on Christmas Eve, 1851, when a major fire destroyed 35,000 volumes, which amounted to about two-thirds of the library’s holdings. This destruction included the Jefferson collection. Besides the quick appropriations of Congress to replace the lost volumes, the library was significantly supplemented in the late 1850s when the Smithsonian Institution, devoting itself strictly to scientific research, handed over its 40,000-volume library to the LOC. Other significant American collections in the latter half of the 19th Century broadened its holdings as well.

Book acquisition came much more easily after President Lincoln appointed Ainsworth Rand Spofford as Librarian of Congress in 1864. Spofford served in this position until 1897. He revolutionized copyright procedures and saved tax dollars by convincing Congress to pass a law in 1870 requiring all copyright applicants to submit two copies of their work - books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, photographs, etc. - to the Library as part of the copyright registration (for which a fee was also charged). As a result, the Library of Congress grew exponentially.

Jefferson Building, Library of Congress
Within a few years, it had far outgrown its space, and Congress approved the construction of a building to house the library. After many delays, the ornate Jefferson Building was completed in 1897, at which time the library was opened to the public as well as for the government offices.

With continued growth, the library expanded into the Adams Building which opened in 1939, and again in 1980 into the new Madison Building. The Jefferson Building was restored in the 1990s, reopening in 1997, and is a magnificent tribute to the arts.

Library of Congress
“Washington, DC, Blue Guide” by Candyce H. Stapen, Ph.D., W.W. Norton, New York, 2000.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Sweetness of Mary

This week, Massachusetts and Maine celebrate Patriots' Day to honor those who stood up to face the world’s finest army in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. In the 236 years which have intervened, this historical event has spawned endless cultural activities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which chronicle and commemorate the disillusioned colonists who mustered and marched to defy the British Crown.
The Fifes and Drums of the Lincoln Minute Men
As a Revolutionary War reenactor and as a member of a fife-and-drum corps which portrays the rag-tag regimental music of Cambridge Camp of 1775 who answered the April alarm, I have taken part in these celebrations and commemorations for over three decades.  I am consistently surprised that I learn something new and notable at each one, which keeps my experience fresh and my interest piqued.

Middlesex County 4-H Fife and Drum Corps
My corps, The Musick of Prescott’s Battalion, is one of the regularly performing corps at the Lincoln Salute in Lincoln, MA, a small musical muster featuring eight fife-and-drum corps. Besides our hosts - The Fifes & Drums of the Lincoln Minute Men - the other corps usually attending this fine musical tribute include the William Diamond Junior Fife and Drum Corps, a talented group of youngsters which honors William Diamond, who played his drum on Lexington Green on that fateful morning; the Bluff Point Quahog Diggers Band, a raucous, masterful corps which has mentored the William Diamond corps; the Connecticut Valley Field Music, which portrays the 1862 Civil War soldier and plays the music of the Civil War, often in brilliant, original arrangements but always in traditional 'ancient' style; Sudbury Ancient Fyfe and Drum Companie, one of the oldest corps in Massachusetts which has set standards in the fife-and-drum world; the 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps, a prominent corps which has come East from Michigan every year since 1981 to participate in the week’s many reenactment and musical activities; and the Middlesex County 4-H Fife and Drum Corps, another accomplished junior corps which, in order to accommodate suburban youth, broadens the interpretation of 4-H beyond the raising of prize sheep.

This past Sunday at the Lincoln Salute was when I first heard about the “Sweetness of Mary” drum set, named after a lilting Canadian slow strathspey and created by the 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps.  The ultimate team in body and spirit, the corps co-founders Mark and Mary Logsdon were deeply impressed with the Middlesex County 4-H Fife and Drum Corps when they first heard them play.  The Logsdons were astonished at the high level of achievement of the 4-H youngsters, aged 8 to 16: their professionalism, their dedication to the music and its history, their clean and precise delivery.

1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps
After Mary died of ovarian cancer in 2002 - a profound loss to the corps and to the fife-and-drum world as well as to her devoted husband - an idea grew in Mark to have a set of drums made, each one to be presented to a corps which presents the tradition of fife-and-drum music far beyond the ordinary. Each of the chosen corps was selected because Mark and Mary both believed its work to be exemplary in keeping alive the spirit of the music and what it represents in American history.  Mark commissioned Cooperman Fife & Drum Company, a fine drum-maker then in Connecticut, to make four wood-shell, rope-tension snare drums.  Each drum was made to match the drums carried by the chosen corps, in color, size, and construction. When they were complete, Mark, Director and Drum Major of the 1st Michigan, made gifts of these drums to the chosen corps, christening them the “Sweetness of Mary” drums after his wife Mary, in recognition of the dedication of these corps to the music, to those who stood up to the British army in 1775, and to all veterans since who have stood up for this nation.

2006 Sweetness of Mary Drum Reunion, Lincoln, MA
The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps carries one of the “Sweetness of Mary” drums. The other corps are the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums, a junior corps which performs as one of Colonial Williamsburg’s major attractions; the Middlesex County Volunteers, a premier corps with many international tours under its belt; and our own Middlesex County 4-H Fife and Drum Corps. In 2006, the complete set of drums shared the muster field at the Lincoln Salute when all four corps mustered, the first time the drums have been together since they were made.

Mark Logsdon, Drum Major
We can thank Mark Logsdon for creating a new tradition by which we honor those who have gone before. The drum sergeant in each corps is the keeper of the drum, and only he or she plays that drum. Every year, in each corps, as the current drum sergeant is mustered out, the Sweetness of Mary drum is passed to the incoming drum sergeant in a small ceremony. At Lincoln this year, I was a fortunate witness to this changing of the guard, as the outgoing Middlesex County 4-H drum sergeant handed the Sweetness of Mary drum to Drum Major Mark Logsdon, who passed it to the new drum sergeant. The poignancy of the moment, linking Mark again so closely to his beloved Mary, left no dry eye in the room.

For more information about these units, check these links:
1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps
Middlesex County 4-H Fife and Drum Corps
The Fifes & Drums of the Lincoln Minute Men