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VU's initial archivist was on lecture circuit first

Valparaiso University history major Quinn Albert lectures on Charles and Katharine Bowden, who went on the Chautauqua lecture circuit, using "magic lantern" slides for their presentations in the early 1900s.

VALPARAISO — Digging through the Valparaiso University archives during internships proved fruitful for six history students.

History major Quinn Albert’s researched lantern slides taken and purchased by VU alumni Katharine and Charles Bowden between 1900 and 1910.

These images are printed directly onto light sensitive glass and projected onto a screen. The slides were photographed as black and white, then often painted by hand to add color. Charles Bowden showed the slides during their presentations, while Katharine Bowden lectured about the subject matter.

The slides can now be found on DVD at the Christopher Center, VU’s main library.

In researching the images, to catalog their conditions, Albert also pieced together a story about the Bowdens themselves.

The Bowdens met at the Northern Indiana Normal School, before it became named Valparaiso University, and went on a grand honeymoon to Europe, gathering material they would later use to lecture in more than 20 states to a total of tens of thousands of people.

Paris Exposition of 1900

The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 was worth a Bowden lecture. That is where talking pictures and escalators were introduced to the fascinated visitors.

“The fairgrounds at the time was the largest of its kind in history – 543 acres. That’s a lot of football fields,” Albert said.

The art nouveau style which was beginning to come into use got a large boost from its widespread use at this world’s fair.

Oberammergau passion play

The Bowdens also obtained slides of the Oberammergau, Germany passion play.

The passion play has been presented every 10 years since the 17th century, following a 1633 town promise to honor God if he would spare the town from the bubonic plague sweeping Europe at the time.

In 1900, a new theater capable of housing more than 4,000, “which is larger than the population of the town,” was used for the first time, Albert said.

The Bowdens used slides purchased from the show for one of their lectures.

Hiawatha

A third topic for lectures was the story of Hiawatha. The Bowdens lived with the Ojibway tribe for three summers, creating lantern slides and motion pictures.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” inspired the Bowdens’ presentation on Hiawatha.

Alice Longfellow, the poet’s granddaughter, praised the presentation, Albert said. She wasn’t alone.

“Wherever they went, they had hundreds of audience members,” Albert said.

A letter from a Panama Canal engineer who saw their four-page circular credited Katharine Bowden as being “an emancipated woman.”

They toured from 1903 to 1911, when they stopped for health reasons and returned to Valparaiso in 1912.

Katharine Bowden became a university librarian and, in 1950, was named the university’s first archivist.

“She is largely responsible for restocking the library after it burned down,” Albert said.

Other students who served as interns at the archives this semester include:

  • Leilah Hovey, who tracked down information on unidentified theater photos.
  • Justin Holland, who studied the Week of Challenge event that brought many speakers with diverse ideological backgrounds to the university.
  • Joy Joll, who studied images of the VU campus on lantern slides from 1925-1933.
  • Max Penn, who studied the papers of architect Charles E. Stade, whose works include Mueller Hall, Meier Hall, Linwood House, the Chapel of the Resurrection and the former Moellering Library.
  • Aaron Morley, who transferred onto archival quality materials the scrapbook collection of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events at VU.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.