Democracy Square LIVE! in the Archives

Join Special Collections and University Archives on Thursday, March 31 from 12:30-1:30pm in Steely Library Room 102 for Democracy Square LIVE!, co-hosted with The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement. The discussion will examine difficult historical knowledge brought to light in “When Covington, Kentucky Executed an Innocent Man: the Legal Lynching of John Montjoy,” a new exhibit in the Archives Research Room. Katie Bramell,  Public History graduate student and exhibit curator, will talk about her exhibit research and lead a discussion on the complex topics she unearthed during the process.

The exhibit focuses on the case of John Montjoy, an African American accused of the rape of a white woman in Covington, Kentucky in 1935. In this real life version of To Kill A Mockingbird, John Montjoy was convicted by an all-white jury, forced to confess under physical harm, subjected to racial prejudices during his criminal trial and was executed two years later by way of hanging in the courtyard of Covington’s City Hall. The exhibit, using primary sources from Steely Library’s Eva G. Farris Special Collections along with other archival resources, highlights the racial inequalities and injustices Montjoy was subjected to as well as the impact this unfair execution had on the African American community of Covington. The exhibit seeks to engage visitors in dialogue about the larger social effects this case and others like it have on the way we think about history and how we understand inequalities in the justice system in communities across America.

The exhibit will be on display in the Archives Research Room in Steely Library Room 106, beginning March 30. Open public visiting hours are 1-4pm, Monday-Friday.

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New Twists, Old Artifacts

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Special Collections and University Archives is seeing how users, near and far, connect with the materials that we carefully preserve. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity and scholarship!

Last spring a production company contacted us after discovering an artifact mentioned in one of our online finding aids. The object, a needle threader from the Committee of 500 Records, ties into George Ratterman’s campaign for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky in 1961. The production company wanted to feature it in an episode for Mysteries at the Museum, a show on the Travel Channel.

The Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records contain organizational records and campaign ephemera from the Committee of 500, a citizen-led group that operated in Campbell County, Kentucky during the 1960s. The group’s goal was to rid the county of organized crime, illegal gambling, and prostitution. The Committee of 500 believed that electing new officials was one of the most effective ways to beat corruption and crime. They supported and helped finance the campaign of George Ratterman, a former NFL quarterback and Fort Thomas, Kentucky resident, for Campbell County Sheriff in 1961. On May 9, 1961, after dinner and drinks with Tito Carinci, a Newport club manager rumored to have mob connections, Ratterman was found in Newport’s Glenn Hotel with a stripper who went by the stage name of April Flowers and arrested by police. After his arrest, Ratterman claimed he was drugged and framed by Carinci. A court found Ratterman not guilty and then conspiracy charges were brought against Carinci and his associates. While those charges were eventually dismissed, the incident had already galvanized support behind Ratterman. He went on to win the sheriff’s office in the November election.

E-Z threader_watermark_72

Ephemera from the Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records, Eva G. Farris Special Collections, W. Frank Steely Library

The Ratterman campaign distributed the needle threader as a campaign give-away. It’s attached to a card with the slogan “Let’s Give Vice the Needle/ Vote for George W. Ratterman for Sheriff.” The production company tied the needle threader into their narrative about Ratterman being drugged by contrasting the delicacy of the threader with the evil of vice. In June 2015, the archives hosted the production company for a day to film the object and interviews with staff. The segment, “Dolley Madison, Christmas Truce, Exploding Whale” aired in December. It was a great experience for us to learn how a production company operates and to see how they use artifacts to support, or challenge, a narrative.

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Portrait of Colonel James Smith

The Fort Pitt Museum, located in Pittsburgh, PA, is currently borrowing the portrait of Colonel James Smith from the Warren J. Shonert Americana Collection in Special Collections for their outstanding exhibit, Captured by Indians: Warfare & Assimilation on the 18th Century Frontier. In a recent blog post, exhibit specialist Mike Burke analyzed the clothing worn by Smith in the portrait and connected elements like the fringe on the hunting shirt to clothing trends among backwoodsmen in the 1760s and 1770s. Read Burke’s blog post at We’re thrilled that Fort Pitt Museum shared their research with us on this unique piece in Special Collections.

The portrait is on loan to the museum through May 2016 for the exhibit.


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Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History

Along with the NKU community, University Archives is celebrating the launch of Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History, a new book featuring
panoramic photographs by professional photographer Tom Schiff
along with historical photos of the University. Tonight’s event will take place on the 3rd floor of W. Frank Steely Library from 6-8pm.

Working collaboratively with Marketing + Communications, archivists carefully selected historical images from University Archives’ RG University Photographs to include in the book. We hope you enjoy the selection!

The book, published by the University Press of Kentucky, will be available for purchase at the event and in the bookstore.

Book Cover

Cover of Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History

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Kentucky Oral History Day Success

We’ve been on a long blog break, but we’re excited to get started sharing our Special Collections and University Archives news again.

On October 21, Special Collections participated in the first Kentucky Oral History Day. Sponsored by the Kentucky Oral History Commission and the Kentucky Council on Archives, the purpose of the day was to improve access to oral history collections and to promote awareness of oral history collection needs and strategies for collection management.

Repositories across the Commonwealth have actively collected people’s stories to document the history of Kentucky and to provide a broader picture of the past than what is in written documents alone. Twelve institutions dedicated staff time on October 21 to specifically work on their oral history collections, including Northern Kentucky University, Berea College, University of Kentucky, Georgetown College, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and others. The institutions held a lively Twitter conversation using the hashtag #OralHistoryDay to share their experiences and stories.

In Special Collections, we focused our efforts on adding information about our interviews to an online discovery tool called Pass the Word. The tool allows users to search for and find oral histories at over 600 different Kentucky repositories. You can find our interview information by going to, entering “Eva G. Farris Special Collections and Schlachter University Archives” in the search box at the top right of the screen, and selecting search. The tool displays the names of our collections and interviews. Each interview has a title, interviewee name, interviewer name, date of interview if available, and a description of the topics addressed in the interview. In order to listen to an interview or read a transcript, we ask that you visit the Archives Research Room during our public hours.

We Love Oral History sign

We love oral history so we added interview information to Pass the Word.

As a result of the Kentucky Oral History Day, we were able to learn about what other archives professionals are doing to care for their collections, share information about our collections, and promote the value of oral histories for understanding human experiences of the past.

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The Circus is in Town

circus poster, Donaldson Litho. Co.

Chromolithograph (circa 1898) of circus acrobats from the Huston Collection in Eva G. Farris Special Collections at Northern Kentucky University.

This picture shows a color lithograph of circus acrobats published sometime after 1898 by the Donaldson Lithograph Company of Newport, Kentucky. The company specialized in printing large advertising posters. It was known for its generic posters that buyers could customize themselves by adding names and dates to save money. Donaldson Lithograph Company posters advertised circuses and other traveling performance acts  like hypnotists, musicians, and sword-swallowers. The posters were printed as a series of smaller prints and then pasted together on large buildings or barns.

During the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, Cincinnati was well-known for producing high quality lithographs. The Donaldson Lithograph Company, which stemmed from one founded in 1862 by William M. Donaldson and Henry Elmes, moved from Cincinnati to an old watch case factory at the corner of 6th and Washington streets in Newport in 1898. At its height, the company employed around 300 workers. Although the Consolidated Lithographing Co. took over in 1905, the company name, its Newport location and Donaldson’s position as chair remained unchanged. In addition to the Donaldson Lithograph Company, Strobridge Lithographing Company was another internationally-recognized Cincinnati lithograph company.  Lithography is still a popular method for printing.

The poster is on display in the Archives Research Room located in 106 Steely Library through May 2014.

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Recent Donation of Visual Art

Eva G. Farris Special Collections is pleased to announce the generous donation of fourteen architectural drawings and graphic and photogravure prints from Mr. Larry Huston. These fine pieces help Special Collections document visual art and northern Kentucky’s business history.

Among the donated items are several design drawings of ornamental fencing and gates created by Stewart Iron Works. Stewart Iron Works, from Covington, Kentucky, traces its origins to 1862 and still operates today. Specializing in detailed architectural and structural steel and iron work, some of the company’s major projects include jail cells for Alcatraz, iron fencing for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and gates to Fort Knox. One of the donated architectural drawings depicts elaborate gates designed for the Holmes Estate at Holmesdale in Covington. Torn down in 1936, Holmes High School now sits on the estate’s original location.

Color Lithograph (c. 1890s) from the Donaldson Lithography Company, Newport, Ky.

Color Lithograph (c. 1890s) from the Donaldson Lithography Company, Newport, Ky.

Mr. Huston also donated a color lithograph produced by the Donaldson Lithography Company of Newport, Kentucky. Male circus performers animate the large lithograph, which was printed in the 1890s. Cincinnati was a well-known commercial center for graphic arts including lithography and printing during this period. The piece is a beautiful example of advertising and the nature of entertainment in the late 19th century.

Four photogravure prints from Karl Blossfeldt’s (1865-1932) Urformen der Kunst published in 1928 are included in the gift. Blossfeldt was an important German photographer and teacher who specialized in creating close-up photographs of plants. He used his detailed photographs to study the field of art and nature. The four prints demonstrate Blossfeldt’s attention to the beauty and complexity of botanical life.

Special Collections and University Archives is open to the public Monday-Friday from 1-4p.m. and other times by appointment in Steely Library room 106 on the Highland Heights campus of Northern Kentucky University. We invite interested researchers to contact us prior to their visit by emailing Anne Ryckbost ( for regional history collections or Vicki Cooper ( for NKU history.

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