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Students have been celebrating Mardi Gras at Georgetown for well over 100 years. Traditionally, the celebration consisted of dramatic entertainment, a masquerade ball, and a dinner. The festivities lasted well into the night.

College Journal 1876The first printed reference to these celebrations can be found in the March 1874 edition of the Georgetown College Journal, which describes that year’s festivities (sometimes described as Carnival or Shrove-Tuesday). It is likely, though, that these celebrations took place for many years before this first mention in the Journal. Each year a committee of students was constituted to handle the planning of the event, which included arrangements for costumes, sets, music and decorations as well as food and printed programs. The programs included a wealth of information about the night’s festivities, from performers down to the appetizers served at dinner.

The earliest program in the University Archives dates to 1876 and can be seen below. A recap of the evening was published in the April 1876 issue of the Georgetown College Journal. To learn more about Mardi Gras at Georgetown contact the University Archives!

--Ann Galloway, Assistant University Archivist


Mardi Gras Program Cover

Mardi Gras Program Page 2

Mardi Gras Program Page 3

Mardi Gras Program Page 4

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Libraries, Archives, Museums, and other cultural institutions hosted #ColorOurCollections again this month to draw attention to some of the many wonderful images found in books, manuscripts, works of art, or just doodles found in the margins.

Try your hand at coloring some of our cultural heritage collections. Imagine yourself in a scriptorium inside a European monastery, guided by only candlelight, working side by side with other scribes and artists. Print our pages and share them whenever you want. We’ll be happy to see your creative work! Just tag your image with #gtownlibrary to be included in our curated collection.

--Ethan Henderson, Rare Books Curator

Alice and the Knight




Chartier first page

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Max Weyl, a landscape painter of views in and around Washington, D.C., was born in southern Germany and apprenticed as a watchmaker before moving with his family to Williamsport, Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. He came to Washington in 1861 to catch a glimpse of his hero, Abraham Lincoln, and within a year established a small jewelry business on 7th Street across from where the Verizon Center stands today. Weyl’s interest shifted to painting, and he began displaying still-life and landscape pictures in the window of his shop.  When his work was noticed and purchased by Samuel Hay Kauffmann, president of the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and publisher of The Evening Star newspaper, Weyl’s career was officially launched.  Encouraged by Kauffmann, who financed a year of study abroad, Weyl turned the management of his shop over to his wife and traveled to four European countries in 1879, where he fell under the spell of Corot, the Barbizon artists, and the recently launched Impressionist movement.

Max Weyl's View of Georgetown From the Virginia Shore

Max Weyl (1837-1914)
View of Georgetown from the Virginia Shore, 1902
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Upon his return to the U.S., Weyl established an art studio at 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue where Washington artists and their circle became fond of gathering. He joined with a group to form the Washington Landscape School, working in the tradition of the French Barbizon style. This involved painting out of doors directly from nature as opposed to the more common practice of crafting landscapes in the studio based on memory or sketches taken on-site. Weyl became known as “the American Daubigny” who drew inspiration from his native environment. As described in the Washington Star newspaper at the centenary anniversary of his birth:

To Max Weyl no place was more beautiful and more paintable than Washington and its environs. He was never eager to travel or explore. The Potomac Flats, Rock Creek valley, the fields beyond the city limits contained for him all the elements essential to landscape painting. 

Weyl was also a member of the Society of Washington Artists and won two prizes in 1901 and 1904, but remained a rather reclusive artist. His paintings were purchased by two first ladies and at the age of 70 he was honored with a solo exhibition of over one hundred paintings at the Corcoran’s Hemicycle Gallery in 1907. At that exhibition, his painting of an Indian Summer Day was purchased by thirty friends as a gift to what was then the U.S. National Museum, a predecessor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

This View of Georgetown from the Virginia Shore, showing the skyline with the campus buildings, is one of four paintings by Weyl in Georgetown’s collection. The others are: a View of Georgetown from the Virginia Side of the Potomac, a Portrait of the Artist’s Father, and a Wooded Landscape.

--LuLen Walker, University Art Collection Curator

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Most people have heard of Washington Irving (1783-1859), the prolific American author who penned such classics as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”  However, few realize that he had a distinguished career as a U. S. diplomat.  The Booth Family Center for Special Collections owns a letter book documenting Washington Irving’s work as U.S. Minister to Spain from 1842 to 1846. The letter book is a bound volume containing handwritten copies of outgoing letters sent by Irving to American and Spanish diplomats.

Irving spent the years 1815 to 1832 in Europe, where he was one of the first American writers to garner widespread international acclaim.  At the invitation of U.S. Minister to Spain Alexander Hill Everett, Irving became an attaché in the U.S. embassy in Madrid in 1826.[1] He became fascinated with Spanish culture. publishing the History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828, the Chronicle of the Conquest of Grenada in 1829, and The Alhambra in 1832.  He continued his diplomatic career as a secretary in the U.S. legation in London from 1829 to 1832.

Irving returned to Spain as the U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from 1842 to 1846.  He once again put his literary skills to good use by writing detailed, insightful dispatches, vividly describing the tumultuous state of contemporary Spanish politics.  Political unrest surrounded 12-year-old Queen Isabella II (1830-1904).  Her opponents questioned her right to the throne at such an early age, and they criticized her regent.  Irving felt sympathy for the queen, who remained in power despite serious challenges.

Amidst the political turmoil, Irving found some moments to continue his writing pursuits.  Poor health and a skin condition, however, kept him away from his duties at times.  During this period, he also made some trips to other parts of Europe for his health.

A number of letters from U.S. Minister to Spain Washington Irving to U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster are preserved in our letter book. Here are excerpts from a November 22, 1842 dispatch to Webster detailing an insurrection in Barcelona. 

Irving reported that “sudden news arrived of a formidable insurrection at Barcelona.”  He analyzed the source of the uprising:

The immediate cause of this outbreak appears to have been accidental; but the populace of Barcelona, at all times excitable, have of late been in a general state of uneasiness and irritation, caused, it is said, by the rigorous hand held over them by Government; by the rough, and at times unconstitutional, measures of General Lurbano in suppressing sedition, contraband, and robbery; and by the apprehended “Cotton Treaty” with England.

He provided even more detail:

Washington Irving letter excerpt

It appears to have been a general and spontaneous rising of the populace, something like that of the “three days” in Paris. Barricades have been formed in the streets, missils [sic] hurled from the windows, and even women and children have been mingled in the affray. The troops after ineffectual efforts to maintain the mastery of the city have been driven out with heavy loss; some who lingered in the Citadel have been obliged to capitulate, and to retire after surrendering their arms.

He noted how the revolt may affect the Queen:              

Yesterday [General Baldomero] Espartero [the Queen’s Regent] took his leave in military style of all of the National Guards, assembled in the Prado. He made an address professing his determination to maintain the constitution of 1837, against despotism on the one hand, and anarchy on the other, and he confided as on a former occasion to their patriotism, loyalty, and valor, the protection of the city and of the youthful Queen. His address was received with animated acclamations, and he departed amidst the cheerings of the multitude.

Irving concluded his analysis by writing:

Washington Irving letter excerpt

I give you what appears most to be depended upon of the various reports in circulation. If this insurrection be speedily put down it may strengthen the hands of Espartero, and increase the public confidence in the sincerity of his professions concerning the Constitution of 1837, and the limited minority of the Queen.

Washington Irving brought his unique literary perspective to his work as U.S. Minister to Spain.  He was an astute observer of Spanish politics.  Although this letter was written in a secretary’s hand, it and others like it found in Washington Irving’s letter book from Spain provide ample source material of his time in Spain and his contributions to U.S. diplomatic history.

--Scott Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

[1] The Booth Family Center for Special Collections also holds the Alexander Hill Everett collection, a small collection of documents by Alexander Hill Everett.


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In the 19th century it was not uncommon for the U.S. President to attend the Georgetown College commencement—not to speak, but to hand out diplomas and prizes to students. The tradition seems to have begun with John Quincy Adams, who was present at both the 1825 and 1829 commencements. James Buchanan attended in 1857 and 1859, but declined in 1858 for health reasons. In a letter to the Georgetown President Bernard Maguire, S.J., President Buchanan assured Father Maguire that, while “it would afford me very great pleasure to be with you,” he felt “obligated to be with the Ladies [graduating students at the Georgetown Visitation Academy] the following day” and that he “could not think, in this hot weather, of passing two days in succession in a crowd.” 

Harriet Lane Letter 1858 page 1This letter (click to enlarge), addressed to the Georgetown President and dated July 7, 1858 (apparently the actual day of the commencement), also declines the invitation to the ceremony on behalf of President Buchanan. It is signed H. Lane and written on stationery headed by a monogram made up of the overlapping letters H, R, and L. 

Harriet Lane Letter 1858 page 2

The writer was Harriet Rebecca Lane, who was James Buchanan’s niece and who acted as his First Lady. Note her comment that “. . . you will not allow me to distribute the Diplomas or Premiums or make myself useful in any way.” The passage of almost 160 years since this letter was written makes it difficult to interpret this sentence. While the words may have been jokingly penned, the underlining which is absent from any other portion of the letter could also be taken to convey a sense of indignation, despite the polite expressions that follow. Whatever the motivation behind the words, they were written because of Harriet Lane’s sex. Women played little active part in the workings or events of Georgetown College at this time. The first women did not enroll at Georgetown until 22 years after Harriet’s letter was written, when Jeannette Rice and Annie Sumner attended the Medical Department during the 1880-1881 academic year. The first women to graduate and so participate in any graduation ceremony, other than as audience members, were students in the Training School for Nurses Class of 1906. And the first honorary degree was not awarded to a woman until 1934, when Mrs. Nicholas Brady, National Chair of the Girl Scouts of America and Vice Chair of the Women’s National Committee of Welfare and Relief Mobilization, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.  

The 1858 commencement ceremony went forward in the absence of President Buchanan and Harriet—presumably Father Maguire handed out the diplomas and prizes. Nine Georgetown students received the degree of Bachelor of Arts, six Master of Arts degrees were awarded, and students entertained the audience with speeches on topics ranging from “The Poetry of Life” to “The Division of Poland.” 

--Lynn Conway, University Archivist

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On January 11, 1963, barely a year after his historic orbit of Earth, John Glenn spent a day at Georgetown University. He came to the hilltop to film an episode of “The Experts Answer,” a program sponsored by the United States Information Agency, to be aired in South America. During the filming, Glenn was joined by two journalists and two Georgetown students to discuss the United States space program, its economic aspects, and the current space race with the Soviet Union. After the taping, Glenn was interviewed by WGTB director Jack Burgess, who asked Glenn questions related to his work on the Gemini and Mercury projects. Glenn also spent time with University administrators and staff and delivered remarks to a gathering of students.

Ann Galloway, Assistant University Archivist


The following photographs were taking by University Photographer Bob Young, Jr., who documented Glenn’s day on campus:

John Glenn, Vera Rubin and Fr. Martin McCarthy

Glenn with Vera Rubin and Martin McCarthy, S.J., Professor of Astronomy

John Glenn speaks at Georgetown

Glenn speaks to a group of students and University staff

John Glenn, Fr. McCarthy and Dr. William Thaler

Glenn with Fr. McCarthy and Dr. William Thaler, Professor of Physics

John Glenn interview

Glenn being interviewed by WGTB’s Jack Burgess

John Glenn, Mark Phillips, Vera Rubin and Fr. McCarthy

Glenn with Mark Phillips, Vera Rubin and Fr. McCarthy


John Glenn and Edward Bunn, S.J.


Glenn with GU President Edward Bunn, S.J.

John Glenn filming

Glenn during filming of “The Experts Answer” in Copley Lounge

John Glenn filming

Glenn during filming of “The Experts Answer” in Copley Lounge

John Glenn filming

Glenn during filming of “The Experts Answer” in Copley Lounge

John Glenn

Glenn during lunch

John Glenn

Glenn speaking to group of students and University staff

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Danny Lyon (1942­—) is an American photographer famous for his coverage of the American Civil Rights Movement. Lyon was raised by German and Russian Jewish parents in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and philosophy from the University of Chicago.

All of Lyon’s published series are part of the trend known as New Journalism, which emerged in the 1970s. New Journalism encouraged journalists to immerse themselves in their stories rather than trying to remain objective and removed—which had been the only acceptable form of journalistic photography before. Lyon is one of the most acclaimed New Journalist artists, focusing on feelings and often befriending his subjects.

In 1969, Lyons published the book The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, which captures structures that were going to be destroyed to make space for expansion and the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in 1967. In the book are photographs of buildings and streets, locals, construction workers, and demolition sites.

Of the four photos below, two depict the neighborhood and two depict workers whose job is to demolish the structures.  In the city photos, there are no people—all have been cleared for the demolitions. According to the The New York Times, Lyon was the only photographer to photograph the area before it was demolished. In the same article, those interviewed about the shoot said that no one cared that this neighborhood was going to disappear. In the other two photos, Lyon photographs construction workers who are carrying out the razing of the area. I picked the photographs of the workers because of their composition, but there are other photographs in the series that imply Lyon had been talking with them. The four photos selected show the two main subjects of The Destruction of Lower Manhattan: the people who carried out the work and the buildings that no longer exist. If it were not for Danny Lyon, perhaps neither the workers nor the buildings would be remembered. 

Deniz Citak (F'2017), Booth Family Center for Special Collections Student Assistant

Washington Street New York

Washington Street; View North from Chambers Street.


Washington Street New York

258 Washington Street at the Northwest Corner of Murray Street.


Demolition workers


"Huey and Dominick, foreman. Both men have brought down many of the buildings on the Brooklyn Bridge site. Dominick directed the demolition of 100 Gold Street."


Demolition workers

"Ben and his brother Junior on the walls."





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Georgetown traditionally played a football game on Thanksgiving Day. In 1894, the opponent was the Columbia Athletic Club (C.A.C.). The game was expected to be a close one. Ten thousand people gathered at National Park, the home of the Washington Senators baseball team at Georgia Avenue and 5th Street, N.W., to watch.  Anticipation grew as the start time approached and the crowd had a festive air.  Fish-horns, cow-bells, and every device for making noise known to the small boy at Christmas time and the Fourth of July was forced into service to supplement the refined efforts of lung power to give expression to the pent-up feelings of the excited multitude, according to the Georgetown College Journal, November 1894.

on the way to the Thanksgiving football game 1894

On the way to the Thanksgiving football game, 1894.

The C.A.C. won by a score of 20-0 in what The Washington Post described as the fiercest football game ever played in Washington. Four Georgetown players were carried off the field injured, including right-half and captain George Bahen and quarterback Bob Carmody; one CAC player broke his collarbone. At one point, a sideline fight broke out between the substitutes for both teams.

The Post attributed many of the injuries to the hardness of the ground; Georgetown supporters thought otherwise and the Georgetown student body passed a resolution the following day stating that, in view of the methods employed by the C.A.C. in the game, no member of the Georgetown Athletic Association would compete in any athletic contest with representatives of the Club. A later decision by University President J. Havens Richards went further and suspended all football.

George Daniel Bahen, known as “Shorty,” was the most seriously injured player.  Medical assessment after the game suggested that his spinal injury would result in permanent paralysis, assuming he lived.  His family kept a constant vigil at his bedside. Friends from Georgetown College visited as did, to their credit, every member of the C.A.C. team after they had been assured by Bahen’s brother than he bore them no ill-will. 

Bahen benefit program

A benefit, organized by the Law Department, was held for Bahen on March 7, 1895 to raise money to cover his medical costs. Nineteen days later he died. A memorial to him made of Virginia blue granite stands in Mount Calvary Cemetery, close to the James River, in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. It bears the following inscription: George D. Bahen, born Jan. 12, 1874, died on the 26th of March, 1895, at Washington, D.C., from injuries sustained on Thanksgiving Day, 1894, in heroically upholding the Blue and Gray of Georgetown, on the field of athletics. 

Georgetown students did not field a football team again until 1897 when intramural play resumed.  Varsity play restarted in 1898.

Lynn Conway, University Archivist

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November 4 is the birthday of artist Eugene Berman (American, born Russia, 1899 – 1972).
A leader among the Surrealist and Neo-Romantic artists, Berman often combined the two styles in his imaginary landscapes: architectural forms in deserted vistas, with romanticized figures that allude to classical figure studies. His imagery provides a commentary on the decay of the modern world, which Berman portrayed as being in ruins.
Eugene Berman
Nocturnal Cathedral, 1951
Lithograph, 10/100
13 x 9 inches
Art Collection purchase
In this print from 1951, he approaches familiar themes from a different direction. Here is an imaginary classical building, yes; but instead of a lonely structure in a desolate scene, it’s a massive cathedral completely removed from context. Is it a ruin? A mirage? We can’t know for sure, because we’re captive behind a towering brick wall that shifts in and out of focus around the picture frame. Lowering darkness prevents a clear view; a shivering tiny moon is no help at all. 
Berman has deftly swapped the visual vocabulary of vast loneliness for that of claustrophobia, to the same effect of profound isolation. The cathedral may be real; it may be a memory; but we will never reach it.
Christen E. Runge, Assistant Curator, University Art Collection
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Among its extensive collections documenting the history of the Panama Canal, the Booth Family Center for Special Collections contains the John L. Stephens–Henry Chauncey collection. That particular collection includes 15 letters from Stephens to Chauncey concerning the construction of the Panama Railroad, the world’s first transcontinental railroad and the precursor of the Panama ship canal.  Stephens and Chauncey were business partners in the Panama Railroad venture, and their correspondence sheds light on the planning and building of the railroad.

The concept of joining the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean was a long-standing dream.  Because the distance between the oceans is relatively small on the Isthmus of Panama, many people looked for a route in that area.  Although several sites were studied, Stephens and Chauncey selected the Isthmus of Panama as the most viable option. Interest in the Panama route between the seas rose when gold was discovered in California in 1848.  If somehow the oceans could be connected, a favorable route could be made across Panama, saving time to the California gold fields and replacing the long ship route around the tip of South America or the arduous land route over the American west.  In January of 1849, a group of prospectors successfully traversed the Isthmus of Panama through a combination of mule, canoe, and foot travel.

On April 21, 1849, John L. Stephens, the first president of the Panama Railroad Company, wrote a letter to his business partner Henry Chauncey about the construction of the Panama Railroad.  The letter is preserved in box 1 folder 2 of the Stephens-Chauncey collection.  Stephens began on an optimistic note:

Judging from the conversation between us this morning in walking up Broadway, that you look upon our Rail-road project as weighty and burdensome, I am induced to throw upon paper my views for carrying it out, which if I am not grossly in error make the whole matter simple, and easy of accomplishment.

Stephens described the initial steps in creating a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama:

We have, as you know ordered a steamer, which will navigate the Chagres river up to the point where our road will cross the river on its way from Panama to Navy Bay. From that point, I would build a horse rail road to the Bay of Panama, distance about twenty miles.  The steamer will cost ten or twelve thousand dollars; the road about $10000 per mile.  Three hundred thousand dollars or thereabouts would probably give us a communication which would satisfy all the wants of the travelling public, and would transport quite as many passengers, as if we had a rail road through, costing $3.000.000….  A communication of this kind could probably be put into full operation by the end of … June 1850.

In his letter, Stephens calculated the proceeds of a horse rail road.

Horse rail road proceeds

Stephens closed his letter by saying, “I am sure that if we will go on with the same spirit, and cordial cooperation with which we began and will be content with feeling our way, the whole will result successfully, and most creditably, for all concerned.”

In the postscript, Stephens listed estimated receipts for a macadamized road across Panama as calculated by Mr. Lewis, British Vice Consul of Panama in February 1845.  That particular prediction was made before the California gold rush.

Receipts for macadam road across Panama

In 1850, construction actually began on the Panama Railroad. Construction workers battled malaria, cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and extreme heat. For his part, John L. Stephens died of fever in 1852.  When it finally opened for business, the Panama Railroad covered 47 ½ miles from shore to shore. The Panama Railroad was built in 5 years at the cost of $8 million1. When it was eventually built, the Panama Canal followed essentially the same path as the railroad.

Scott Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist


1David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977), 35.

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