Friday, July 26, 2013

Archive Adventures: Sneak Peeks and Hidden Gems

Things are really flying by here at Special Collections, and I'm here to (finally) report for blogger duty! The summer is almost over and here in the archives we are prepping for busy season. As we approach the end of our wildly popular Plant Pathology exhibit and campus plant tours, we're powering up our thinking caps for the new exhibits you won't want to miss: Judy Chicago (spring 2014), PSU history (fall 2013), and PSU sports history (Oct. 13th) keep your ears and eyes open, folks. We're rolling out a spectacular program for '13-'14!

One project we've been feverishly working away at is the fall exhibit for Hintz, called "When I was at Penn State..." that focuses on student traditions and common experiences at the Penn State. Snuffling around the archive for our topics gave me the chance to team up with fellow archivist Paul Karwacki in search of the most interesting Lion's Coats we could find. Little did I know that it would provide a bounty of hidden surprises that just kept coming viewing after viewing. We both had a fun time with the photoshoot picking out things we had missed previously, and I decided I wanted to share a sneak peek with all of you of one particular poster for the exhibit.

One example of a lion drawn on many of the jackets.

Lion's Coats were part of a pre-WWII tradition called "Moving Up," when underclassmen would finally reach the rank of senior and celebrate the promotion. Because back in those days...reaching senior-hood was more than just getting good grades and registering. It was a big achievement that came after years of jumping through wacky rules and traditions hoops, celebrated by showing the newbies how they, too, could one day rub the future underclassmen's faces in it and proclaim how awesome it was to finally be the senior ringmaster.

The Lion's Coat facet of this tradition started in 1926 and involved decorating muslin jackets with drawings, school symbols, patches, and autographs in competition for the best decorated. Many times the themes revolved around fraternities, but other times they focused on their majors or the students' social groups.

A chem nerd! Igne natura renovatur integra!

No matter what, though, the result was a piece of unique wearable art. Each coat was personalized to the student who owned it and reflected individual personalities. Some are self-deprecating (such as the one immediately below), others were serious statements of "allegiances," and  many were records of  the who, what, where, when, and how. It was essentially the clothing-equivalent of an autograph book or senior yearbook today! So-- as you can imagine-- they were very dear to the owner's heart and became a mantle of nostalgia carried on after graduation.

One of my personal favorites....

Anybody brave enough to get a tattoo of this charming pin-up girl?

This jacket is in rough shape, but it just means it got a lot of love (apparent in the little lipstick kiss by "Loraine"!) when it was still being worn.

There's so many details and intriguing hints about college life in the early 20th century on these Coats that it's hard to capture everything. Names, dates, inside commentary abounds! But I thought you might enjoy a little peek at one of the many traditions we'll be displaying this fall in the exhibit. You'll have to visit in person to see the other wonderful photos we will have of the Lion's Coats, from top to bottom and with even more details!

And if you go see it, I'm sure you'll find yourself saying, "Wow, that's incredible! They did that? When I was at Penn State..."

Til next time, fellow adventurers....Archivist Alex signing out!

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