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|VOLUME 19 NUMBER 1, SPRING 2011|
The Special Collections Department at Fogler Library is known for its coverage of all things Maine. And rightly so, as the department’s mission focuses its collecting efforts on our state in its many and varied aspects. But within these Maine-centered collections a window into other worlds and places can often be found. In my role as processing archivist for manuscript collections, I have been intrigued by several recently-processed collections with a strong Russian connection.
The George P. Merrill Papers, for example, give a view of Russia as it was in 1897. Merrill, born in Auburn, Maine, in 1854, was a graduate of the University of Maine, receiving a B.S. in chemistry in 1879, a master’s degree in 1883 and a Ph.D. in 1889. He started work in 1881 at the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, becoming head curator of the Department of Geology. He also held the chair of geology and mineralogy at Columbian (now George Washington) University and was the author of The First One Hundred Years of American Geology. In 1897 Merrill attended the International Congress of Geology held in St. Petersburg, Russia; his papers contain a scrapbook documenting a trip he took through the Russian countryside while at the conference. Traveling by railroad, boat and carriage, Merrill journeyed from St. Petersburg to Moscow, west to Cracow, then south to Mount Ararat, along the Volga, through Georgia and Armenia, and east to Siberia, photographing people, scenery and activities as he went. An article in the Washington Star of December 6, 1897 gives Merrill’s description of the trip and his views of Russia. What impressed him most, he says, “were the great agricultural resources of Russia ... we saw many evidences that grain had been raised in large quantities.” But he continued “... for the greater prosperity of the czar’s dominions the existence of a middle class is needed. There are aristocrats and peasants, with no link between.” Although Merrill notes that “we always drank the czar’s health in champagne,” the trip was not without its rigors. Merrill describes sleeping on the floor in Erivan, having luggage transported by camels, and the loss of a Russian chemist while climbing Mt. Ararat. In reporting this incident, the Star’s writer noted that “One member of the party ... met with an untimely death, being frozen.”
Arthur B. Richardson, whose papers are also found in Special Collections, is another Mainer with ties to Russia. Born in Rockland, Maine, in 1889, Richardson was a member of the class of 1911 at the University of Maine but didn’t graduate; the university awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1956. In 1914, shortly after his marriage to Annah Parkland Butler, also of Rockland, Richardson joined the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company and at age twenty-five was assigned to Moscow as manager of the company’s Russian office, traveling there by himself in 1915. Annah Richardson was able to join him in Moscow later in 1915 despite the danger of travel during the war. In a letter he wrote to his mother-in-law in Rockland, Arthur noted that “This afternoon when the cable came from New York telling us that Annah had sailed I was quite beside myself with joy.” In another letter describing his work, he wrote: “We really have a monopoly and the fact that we can supply ‘Vaseline’ is worth thousands of dollars spent in advertising. We sell huge amounts to the Red Cross organization to be used in the army hospitals.” He also noted that “Our winter has been a pleasant one but very cold, the last month averaging 15 to 20 below zero. When one has the proper clothing a Russian winter is greatly enjoyed.” After several years in Russia and having witnessed the danger and anarchy of the Russian Revolution, the Richardsons left Moscow in January 1918, traveling by train across Siberia to China and eventually home to Rockland. That journey with its many hardships is described in an article in the June 18, 1918 edition of the Rockland Courier-Gazette: “Mr. Richardson foraged at every railway station [in Siberia] where a stop was made. Sometimes he returned with a goodly supply of food, but the next day neither money nor coaxing would avail, as there were no supplies to be obtained.” After this adventure, the Richardsons went on to have long and interesting lives, working in China and England and raising four children before retiring to Owls Head, Maine, in the 1960s.
Three reels of film taken in Russia in autumn 1933, part of the Ralph S. Bartlett Travel Films Collection, provide a graphic look at the cities of Yalta and Odessa on the Black Sea in Ukraine as well as scenes of industrialized farms, the Georgian military highway, and a motor trip from Yalta to Sevastopol. As described by Bartlett, the third reel ends with film taken while “homeward bound on the fast ship Bremen.” Bartlett, born in Eliot, Maine, in 1868, graduated from Dartmouth in 1889, received his L.L.B. degree from Boston University in 1892 and practiced law in Boston until his retirement in 1933. He had a great interest in travel and in Russian art, making the first of many trips to Russia in 1912. He collected Russian art objects on these trips and in 1928 founded Old Russia, a gallery in Boston that featured his collection.
Tatiana Illyn, whose eleven scrapbooks are found in Special Collections, provides direct insight into life in the Soviet Union. Illyn was born in 1908 in Vinnitza, Russia and was educated as a chemist, teaching organic and physical chemistry there. She came to the United States and worked at the University of Maine in the 1960s, becoming an assistant professor in food science. Her scrapbooks contain copies of 117 columns she wrote between 1958 and 1970 for Novoye Russkoye Slovo or New Russian Word, a Russian-language newspaper founded in New York City in 1910. A combination of descriptions of life in the Soviet Union and the experiences of Russian immigrants in Maine, columns include one titled “Children,” describing the melancholy Illyn felt about the Russian diaspora, generated by the sight of two Russian teenagers growing up in northern Maine; “Love and Jazz,” describing the emergence of young love in the heyday of Russian jazz; and “Amerika,” an appreciation of Illyn’s friends in Maine, all natives of Solon, her first home in the state.
For more information about these collections or other Special Collections material, please contact the department at 207-581-1686 or at SpC@umit.maine.edu.
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