Lacrosse Redux

With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games underway, this is a good time to highlight a recent acquisition in the Institute Archives and Special Collections: a lacrosse uniform worn in the XIV Olympiad in the summer of 1948!

A few months ago the son of an RPI lacrosse player donated his dad’s uniform consisting of a pair of shorts, a jersey (#23), and sweatpants.  These items were worn by Robert J. Webb, a midfielder on the team that competed in a demonstration game against English all-stars in the London Olympics.  (For information on that event check out our April 2008 and July 2012 posts.)

The jersey is particularly cool – instead of the usual “RPI” or “R” on the front, this one has “USA” emblazoned below the school letters.  All that was needed to convert the school colors to those of the nation were the addition of a blue neckband and blue stripes on the sleeves.  Voila – suddenly RPI represented the entire country!

The inside of each item holds additional information.  Webb’s name is printed on small labels sewn into the clothing, no doubt to ensure players got the right shirt, shorts, and sweats after laundering.  The original store labels indicate the uniform came from Cahill’s, a sporting goods shop that’s still in business in downtown Troy – seventy years later!

One of my favorite photos of Robert shows him and another player standing under the outstretched arms of their tallest teammate, Robert Frick.  All three are proudly wearing their USA jerseys.  I also like an individual photo of Webb from a program that was sold to help fund the team’s trip.  In it Webb wears his regular RPI jersey instead of the “RPI USA” uniform the team wore that summer.








It’s hard to imagine that players from a single college team would be selected to represent the United States in the Olympics, but clearly things were different in 1948.  I’m very excited to add tangible evidence of this unique event to our collection, thanks to a generous donation from the family of Robert Webb.

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Van Rensselaer Family Bread and Butter Pudding

Every season prior to the break we publish a blog post to send you all off with some Rensselaer holiday history cheer. This year, we’ve honed in on the Van Rensselaer family recipe booklet published by Historic Cherry Hill, entitled Selected Receipts [Recipes] of a Van Rensselaer Family 1785-1835. One recipe that really spoke to me was Bread and Butter Pudding!

This is one of my favorite desserts, but I never really knew that much about it’s history aside from being notoriously known as a British poor man’s dessert. Seeing the recipe in this Dutch family’s history prompted me to do a little research and try my hand at baking Elizabeth Van Rensselaer’s (1799-1835) version.

First, did you know that bread pudding dates back to the Egyptian era and was called Om Ali? Though bread pudding has roots all over the world, each version comprises three essential ingredients, bread (old, stale, or home made), milk or heavy cream,  and eggs.  When baked the result is a thick, creamy, bread soaked delight!

Bread pudding has come a very long way since the Egyptian era. You wouldn’t believe the varieties of bread puddings out there. Go to Pinterest and search “bread pudding recipes” and you can spend hours sifting through recipes that include coconut cream, rum, gingerbread, blueberries, caramel, or bananas…even cookie dough. You can find savory bread pudding recipes with bacon, cheese, sausage, zucchini, or mushrooms! You can slow cook it, or not, you can make your own bread or use stale old bread, you can use a carton of eggs or that tapioca egg substitute, or make your own custard.  You can bake it, freeze it, thaw it, eat it and freeze it again…but I don’t know why you would.

So far this year I’ve made three bread puddings: Chocolate chip cranberry bread pudding, and vegan and non-vegan pumpkin spiced bread pudding. FYI – the vegan version I find difficult and not quite as satisfying, but honestly I attribute this to my own lack of patience and desire for milk and eggs. I’ve even tried my hand at gluten free but this did not end well. The signature flavor profiles of bread and butter pudding are eggs and rich cream, hard to obtain with substitutes.

Nevertheless, imagine my surprise when at Dr. Jackson’s Campus Wide Holiday Celebration last Friday, my colleague came back from the dessert bar with a plate of bread pudding! I’ll note here that she was very reluctant to share and told me I had to get my own – can’t say I blame her…it was that good! Anyway, finding the Van Rensselaer recipe filled me with glee and I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

Van Rensselaer Family Bread and Butter Pudding: Slice bread thin, spread thick with butter lay it in a dish with currants between each layer small bits of citron and lemon pour over a rich raw custard 3 hours before baking

Rich Custard: Boil 1 pint of milk with lemon peel & cinnamon, mix 1 pint of cream & the yolks of 6 eggs well beaten, sweeten the milk when it tastes of the seasoning, pour it into the cream stirring well then give the custard a simmer till of proper thickness, stir it one way only. Do not let it boil.

In making this recipe I couldn’t help but be  mindful of several facts. If I were making this in 1800 at the Van Rensselaer Cherry Hill Manor, the bread would have been made from scratch, one of the cows in the back pasture would have been milked for the cream and butter, and the eggs retrieved from the chicken coop. How I would have sweetened my milk, that’s tough to say; honey, molasses or maple syrup are obvious choices since sugar wasn’t easy to come by, but for a wealthy family like the Van Rensselaers, it may have been possible.  I would have had easy access to currants since they were widely grown in the U.S. and Canada at that time. The lemon and citron seems more a sign of wealth for 1800. Nevertheless, I would have used an iron skillet, a wood fired cooking stove or open hearth, and while I was making this bread and butter pudding, eight other tasks or chores would have been happening at the same time! After all, this was a 900 acre manor to run and maintain. My version consists of store bought and packaged ingredients (and I’m not entirely sure where they were trucked in from) and a gas range, but at least I could honor the use of an iron skillet!

So this holiday season, I encourage you to make some bread (and butter) pudding. Trust me, you won’t let anyone down. If you decide to make the Van Rensselaer recipe, please let us know about it!

Until next year, Happy Holidays!

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Homage to AmytheArchivist, a.k.a. Mystery Images #37 & #38

An astute subscriber to RPI History Revealed recently pointed out that the Archives blog has been going strong for ten years!  In honor of the blog’s creator, Amy Rupert (a.k.a. AmytheArchivist), I think it’s time to harken back to one of her signature series – mystery images!

Amy’s very first post was titled “Mystery Image #1” indicating her intention to post unidentified images on a regular basis.  And so she did.  Our readership has been an excellent resource in identifying the people and events depicted in these mysterious photos.  However, this time around I’m turning the tables a bit.

Instead of sharing an image about which we know little or nothing, I’m asking our readers what you know about a couple of photos that are well identified.  They come from our collection of Louis B. Puffer photograph albums, which I described in my previous post.  So please, have at it, and tell us if you think you know what either of these pictures represents!

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Views Into the Past: Results of an ebay Find, Part I

Not long ago I happened upon something of great interest to me as an RPI archivist – a photograph album documenting Rensselaer and its vicinity in the early twentieth century.  This is the story of how we acquired not one but seven photo albums compiled by Mr. Louis Blackmer Puffer, RPI Class of 1909.

The Institute Archives has a standing search in ebay for things related to Rensselaer.  Every day we receive email notifications about what’s new.  There’s usually a bunch of stuff we already own – old yearbooks, some Institute publications, a postcard or two, etc.  At the end of the list there’s a message that says “View all results.”  I rarely look there because it’s mostly stuff that’s been posted a thousand times and I’ve already determined we don’t need any of it.  But one day in September I followed the link, just to see how much additional material was available.  Was I in for a surprise!

As I pored over the usual array of items, one in particular stood out – an album containing photos of a 1911 student survey in Warrensburg, New York.  At that time  students were required to go on expeditions to develop their surveying skills.  The photos depict students posing with rods and transits and other paraphernalia as well as using the equipment, goofing off, and relaxing in their spare time.  Best of all, each image is neatly labeled, often including names or initials of people in the photos.

While the album was a little more costly than the things I usually buy, my colleagues and I wanted this unique treasure for our collection.  In addition, it turned out that the seller had several more Puffer items.  I quickly purchased the one I’d seen on ebay and began negotiating for the sale of additional materials.  In the meantime, I did a little research on the student photographer.  This led to a couple more surprises.

I discovered Puffer’s photographs were sold off to different people after his death, including a batch that ended up at the Vermont Historical Society (VHS).  The silver lining is that a description and inventory of the VHS collection is available online.  Thanks to the biographical information provided in their finding aid I now know more about this son of old Rensselaer.  It turns out that in addition to his photography avocation he was an avid outdoorsman, which helps explain the many outdoor scenes throughout his albums.

Additionally, Louis Puffer was not just a student here; soon after graduation he became a lecturer in mathematics at his alma mater.  In 1911 he was the faculty member in charge of the Warrensburg survey expedition, supervising a cadre of students only a couple of years younger than himself.  Puffer later took a teaching position at the University of Vermont, taking him back to the state where he grew up.

I’m happy to report that the Institute Archives now has Puffer photographs dating from 1905 to 1914 along with two undated albums.  They document student life in ways we’ve rarely seen, including Troy from the perspective of an RPI student/recent alumnus.  So stay tuned – I’ll share more of Puffer’s images in future posts!

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Adventures in the Archives Part 1

Throughout October, archivists and archives across the nation honor American Archives Month by explaining who they are, what they do, and the successful impacts they (and their collections) have on communities. For this celebration we decided to share some projects with the Rensselaer community and shed some light on how the Institute Archives gets used and who we work with.

I’ll begin by sharing a project that the Vice Provost & Dean approached me with last March. Linda Schadler was eager to find answers to some key questions: “Who were the first female full professors in each department?” “When were women first hired, and how many?” “Who were the first female deans?” “When did Rensselaer build the first residence hall for women?” “What was the environment like for female students at a predominately all male technological institute?”  Linda (and I) decided in order to answer these questions (and many more), a student needed to spend the summer researching in the Archives, with a sole focus on placing women in the context of Rensselaer’s history. Thus the History of Women at Rensselaer project came to fruition.

Throughout the past summer Linda and I guided Brooke Hayden ‘18 as she set out on her quest. We reviewed with Brooke her discoveries on a weekly basis, only to find that she was uncovering more questions we didn’t originally ask. To date, Brooke has done more research than anyone else on the history of women at Rensselaer (that I know of), and her research continues! Brooke meant for this to be completed at the end of the summer, but she was so enthralled with the subject, she decided this would culminate into her Capstone project!

Nevertheless, to celebrate Brooke’s pursuit of finding answers in the Institute Archives I asked Linda and Brooke to share their experience with the community. Here is what they have to say!

Linda: “After 20 years at Rensselaer, I looked around and realized that the landscape for women at Rensselaer had changed dramatically.  I am no longer the sole woman in my department, no longer teaching classes with very few women, and more.   When I asked our Chief Information Officer (whose mother was one of the first graduates) about the history of women at Rensselaer, he suggested talking to an archivist.   You cannot believe how much information is in the Institute Archives and how interesting it is to learn about the lives and perspectives of the women who have passed through here.  For me, the Archives have been a source of laughter, introspection, celebration, and recognition of how far we have to go for women at Rensselaer. Thank goodness for Brooke Hayden, who was willing to take on a project about the history of women at Rensselaer, and dig into the details!  I cannot wait to see what more we learn from the Archives and how she puts it together in an exhibit for all to see, hear, and learn from.”

Brooke: “When I began my research into the history of women at Rensselaer this summer, I must admit I did not know what I was in for. I remember on my first day I walked into the Archives to find stacks and stacks of boxes filled with documents and I wondered how I would be able to find all the information I was looking for. As I learned the lay of the land I began to feel like a detective working to uncover the past lives of people who walked the very same paths that I do as I hurry to class. I loved uncovering stories that had been overlooked that gave a glimpse into the lives of those who came before me. I was in awe over their incredible accomplishments and astounded by the struggles they overcame. Recognition for these women and their successes is long overdue and I feel proud to be able to share their stories. Throughout this whole experience I have had the incredible opportunity to learn from and work with Rensselaer’s wonderful Archivists as well as talk with current and former students, staff, and faculty. I look forward to sharing what I have uncovered with the Rensselaer community to shed light on the women’s history that has been waiting to be shared.”

Please stay tuned for Brooke’s exhibit and final project in 2018. We will keep the community posted.

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