Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Lenny Bruce Collection

Lenny Bruce was a comedian, satirist, social commentator, and rule breaker, whose brilliant, disturbing, and divisive comedy routines led to several arrests on obscenity charges. His bold use of language, his fearlessness in naming social, legal, and political hypocrisies, and his fight for his First Amendment rights paved the way for important changes in this country, not only to its comedic landscape, but also to the rights of its citizens to speak freely and without fear. Brandeis University’s Archives & Special Collections Department acquired the Lenny Bruce collection from his daughter, Kitty Bruce, in 2014, with a generous gift from the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation.

The collection consists of ten linear feet of photographs, writings and performance transcripts, correspondence, news clippings and articles, audio recordings, and trial materials, all related to Lenny Bruce’s performances and life, as well as some materials relating to his family members. Many of the photographs document Bruce’s personal life and show him among friends and family. Bruce’s professional career is well-documented through his manuscripts, typescripts, magazine and newspaper articles and (sometimes annotated) performance transcripts and set lists. The audio materials include excerpts or full recordings of many of Bruce’s performances, as well several personal recordings made at home. The large news clippings and articles series provides insight into the public response to Bruce’s humor and performance style, his legal battles, and the state of free speech in mid-20th-century America. This series includes materials which had been previously gathered by Bruce’s close friend, Ralph J. Gleason, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle who later became the founding editor for Rolling Stone Magazine. The Lenny Bruce collection materials range in date from the early 1920s to the 2000s.

Leonard Alfred Schneider was born on October 13, 1925, in Mineola, New York, to Myron Schneider and Sally Marr. Bruce’s parents divorced when he was young, and Bruce’s early relationship with his father was strained, though Bruce was always very close with his mother. Marr herself was a stand-up comic (one of the first female comedians), and one of Bruce’s earliest public performances was as part of a Sally Marr show. Bruce’s relationship with his father improved later in his life, and some of their correspondence can be found in this collection. Bruce joined the Navy at age sixteen, serving in both Africa and Italy during World War II. He performed his first comedy routine for his shipmates.

Best known for his stand-up comedy, much of which was improvised, Bruce often took a rather free-form, jazz-style approach to his performances, rarely writing his routines down in advance (though he transcribed many of them). As his legal battles began to heat up, Bruce’s routines often dealt with his multiple arrests and court cases. Bruce made several albums of original material and was also a prolific writer, authoring plays, sketch comedy routines, screenplays, and numerous articles for a variety of magazines. He completed an autobiography in 1965, entitled How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, which was rereleased in 2016.

In his stand-up routines, Bruce regularly discussed issues of race, gender, sexuality, sex, politics, and religion, and the language he used was often classified, at the time, as “vulgar,” “obscene,” or “sick.” He was branded the “sick comedian,” and was arrested and tried several times on charges of obscenity. His first such arrest, at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco on October 4, 1961, resulted in an acquittal, but Bruce was busted several more times and eventually found guilty of obscenity on November 4, 1964. The charges for this conviction stemmed from Bruce’s April 1964 performances at Greenwich Village’s Café au Go Go and he was sentenced to serve time in a workhouse, though he died during the appeals process. By the end of his life, Bruce was blacklisted from most clubs in America, and barred from entering England, where he had performed in 1962. His court cases were highly publicized and continue to be considered important moments in the fight for freedom of speech.

When Lenny Bruce died of an accidental heroin overdose on August 3, 1966, he left behind a legacy of groundbreaking comedy and commentary. He left his mark on generations of comedians who cite him as a major influence for their work, who point to Lenny Bruce as having paved the way for how they think about and perform their comedy.

Bruce also left behind an American legal legacy in his years-long battle to speak freely while performing his art. In 2003, thirty-seven years after his death, Bruce was granted a pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction, by New York Governor George Pataki. Bruce’s life and work have been the subject of numerous books, articles, plays, movies, and documentaries. Kitty Bruce continues to honor her father’s legacy; in 2008, she founded the The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, which combats alcohol and drug addiction with scholarships and education.

Through the things Bruce left behind, his photographs, letters, writings, and recordings, researchers can experience his impact on comedy, free speech, and society in America.

For more details, you can access the collection finding aid here.

The Lenny Bruce collection is open to the public.  Please contact us for information on visiting and viewing the collection materials.

2016 Conference
On October 27-28, 2016, Brandeis hosted an academic conference: “Comedy and the Constitution: The Legacy of Lenny Bruce,” which sought to evaluate the legacy, context, and comedic lineage of the most influential American comedian of the post-World War II era. This conference coincided with the formal opening of this collection of archival material. Parts of the conference were streamed live online and can be viewed here.

2016-2017 Exhibit
Highlights from the collection are currently on display in the Archives & Special Collections department, in an exhibit entitled “Introducing…Lenny Bruce!” This exhibit, based on the collection materials, is an introduction to Lenny Bruce as a person, a son, a father, a comedian, a friend, and as the creator of a comedic and constitutional legacy. Visitors to the exhibit will also be treated to a special exhibit-within-an-exhibit: a display of photographs of Bruce taken and donated by Don Carroll, a professional photographer and good friend of Lenny Bruce. The exhibit will be up Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, through July 2017, and is open and free to all.

The Lenny Bruce Audio Files
In addition, the collection’s audio files have been restored and digitized thanks to a grant from the GRAMMY Foundation. Clips from these files are showcased in this online exhibit.

Description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach Librarian.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945

The Theresienstadt Concentration Camp Documents collection at the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections department consists of 200 daily bulletins of the ‘Jewish Self-Administration’ of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942 to 1944. These documents contain orders relating to a range of issues, from housing and personnel in the camp to lists of Jews to be kept at the camp or to be deported to work and death camps in Poland and elsewhere.

The collection was donated to Brandeis University in 1973 by Emma Goldscheider Fuchs, a Holocaust survivor who was held at the camp along with her first husband and two children. Fuchs’ husband, Alfred Goldscheider, managed to collect and hide the documents while working in a minor administrative post within the Jewish Self-Administration of the camp. Alfred and the couple’s son Hanus died in German custody, and when Emma and her daughter Nina were freed by Allied troops they returned to Czechoslovakia to attempt to reclaim their home and business. Finding their factory under the control of the new communist government, Emma and Nina departed for the United States with a single package in tow – the documents from Theresienstadt. It was not until after the war the Emma Goldscheider Fuchs knew the full extent of the crimes that had been perpetrated against Europe’s Jewish population. Although she did not realize their full import at the time, the documents that she managed to save are among the most complete collections of administrative documents from Theresienstadt in existence.[1] Goldscheider-Fuchs’ decision to donate the collection to Brandeis was informed by her desire that the collection be available both to scholars for research purposes and to Jewish students, in the words of Professor Jacob Cohen, “so that they can abstract the spiritual values behind them.”[2]

The German-run camp in the ghetto of Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia served as a hybrid concentration camp and transit camp for European Jews from November 1941 to May 1945. While initially a transit camp for Czech Jews, it soon came to have a more specialized role as a holding camp for Jews from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were either elderly, disabled due to military service, or famous for their cultural and artistic work. From Theresienstadt, most inmates were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and other death camps. Theresienstadt was unique in its role as a subject of Nazi propaganda. During the Second World War, the Nazi state sought to hide the full extent of its crimes against the Jewish population of Europe and other peoples it deemed inferior (Roma, homosexuals, habitual criminals, etc.). The fiction that the state sought to promote was that Jews were being sent to occupied Eastern Europe solely to take part in forced labor. In order to support that version of events, Theresienstadt was maintained as a camp for the elderly and others who could not be expected to perform hard labor. Incidents including an infamous visit by the International Red Cross to the camp in 1942 provided Nazi authorities with the opportunity to present a fantasy version of camp life by painting houses, landscaping, and staging cultural events. Soon after, deportations to the east restarted. Theresienstadt thus helped the Nazi regime to obscure the mass murder being perpetrated in Eastern Europe. Likewise, material conditions in the camp, including rations and availability of essential goods, were deliberately kept at low levels to facilitate the death of inmates from starvation and disease.[3]

Documents from this collection detail regulations to be followed by inmates and camp staff alike, as well as statistics and reports on the events in the camp. Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) Number 185, distributed August 1, 1942, reveals several aspects of daily life at the camp and provides evidence of the deliberate manner in which material misery was forced on the inmates there. The document begins with an order “to all inmates of the ghetto” in the name of Theresienstadt’s Ältestenrat (Council of Jewish Elders). Noting recent cases of theft, the order outlines sanctions that can be taken against inmates in the event that they are caught stealing. It warns the “sharpest means” will be used to discourage theft, including “not only with deprivation of freedom and reduction of rations, but also with deprivation of belongings and goods, branding, and other harsh measures.” Given the poverty of most of the ghetto’s residents, stealing was often a means for survival. Responding to theft in this way thus magnified the effects of existing material deprivation. As if the consequences of this sort of policy were not already clear, the order continues by stipulating that, “The movable goods of those convicted of theft, down to their clothing, underwear and shoes that they are wearing, the necessary bedclothes and necessary eating utensils, will be forfeited for the benefit of the community.”[4]

Although Tagesbefehl 185 consists of just one double-sided page, it is unusually informative. In addition to revealing measures taken against thieves, it also refers to the “Ostentransport” – the deportation of Jews in the ghetto to concentration and death camps in the east, especially in Poland and Ukraine. According to the document, one such transport was planned for August 4th. Most of those who were sent east from Theresienstadt went to their deaths, either by gas, bullets, overwork or starvation. Other orders contain lists of those to be deported and those to be retained at the camp, which according to Professor Jacob Cohen “now can be translated as ‘who will live and who will die.’”[5] Between January and October 1942, approximately 42,005 people were deported from Theresienstadt to the east, mostly to their deaths. Between October 1942 and October 1944, an additional 46,750 Jews were deported from the camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau.[6]

In addition to a brief reference to the movement of Jewish inmates out of Theresienstadt, the document notes the arrival of new inmates from Germany and Czechoslovakia. It mentions the arrival on July 30th of 50 people from Munich, 968 from Dortmund, 100 from Berlin and 1000 from Prague, as well as the arrival of an additional 100 from Berlin on July 31st. The second half of the document relates births and deaths in the camp, clearly demonstrating the effects of the harsh conditions there. Along with one birth, it lists 47 recent deaths. Each deceased person is listed by name, birth year and the number of the transport with which they arrived at the camp. Several facts about those listed in this section are worthy of note. To begin with, many are listed with the middle name Sara or Israel, names that German Jews were forced to adopt beginning in 1939. This is one way to tell German Jews from Jews of other nationalities. Second, the birth years of those who died are all between 1850 and 1896. This means that in 1942, they would have been between 46 and 92 years old. This underlines the function of the camp as a place for older Jews who could not be expected to perform hard labor, although the fact that many of those who died were in their 50s or early 60s may also testify to the harshness of life in the camp.

Another particularly instructive document of life at the camp is the December 15, 1942 Rundschreiben (Newsletter) of the building management department of the camp’s internal administration. While primarily concerned with issues such as housing, building maintenance and fire prevention, it also contains valuable statistics including a head-count of inmates at the camp (47,878 people). It also lists planned leisure activities, including comedy shows, operettas and readings from the Bible and Jewish literature. The strangeness of these events occurring amid such suffering and in the context of an ongoing genocide, points to the unique nature of the camp at Theresienstadt and its complex propaganda function. It is evidence of the Nazi administration’s willingness to allow for the continuation of Jewish cultural life within the camp, a cultural life that the regime held up as evidence that the Jews were being treated humanely. It is also evidence of the resilience of the Jewish community in the camp and its desire to maintain a degree of normalcy, collective identity, and hope in the very shadow of death. Also to the end of making Theresienstadt appear to be a normal civilian city, the S.S. allowed the Jewish Self-Administration to run a bank which printed unique paper money adorned with Stars of David and images of Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The administrative file for this collection contains examples of these bills, which were distributed to inmates beginning in 1943 in order to give the appearance of a normal economy within the camp.[7]

Later documents from the collection reveal the continuing harshness of life in the camp as the war and the Holocaust dragged on. Tagesbefehl 397, dated January 7, 1944, reveals the difficult material conditions in the camp. It reminds readers of the strict punishments that awaited those who failed to turn off lights in accordance with the curfew. It also reminds them that street lights are only to be turned on and off by officials of the Ghetto Watch, likewise threatening strict punishments for anyone who tampers with the lighting. The September 14, 1944 Mitteilungen (Message) of the Council of Jewish Elders mentions general administrative questions such as curfews and work schedules, also notes the deportation of two “mixed Jews” (Mischlinge) to a concentration camp as punishment for an escape attempt.[8]

These documents are likely to interest students of the history of the Holocaust, of the history and culture of German and Czech Jewry, and those who wish to better understand the lived experience of the Nazi genocide of European Jews. The documents are especially illuminating in that they reveal some of the contours of Jewish self-administration in the camp. Yet we should not be misled by the harshness of policies carried out in the name of the Council of Jewish Elders. After all, the Jewish administration could not be truly independent, and was in fact responsible to the S.S. Yet it could provide a front by which the Nazis could disguise their violent aims and even shift some of the blame for harsh conditions onto the Jews themselves. One should take care in interpreting these documents, given the will of the Nazi regime to make Theresienstadt appear normal for outside observers and thus to obscure the extent of state-sponsored mass murder occurring in Europe. Even so, they attest not only to the suffering of the camp inmates, but also to the unusual resilience of religious and cultural life there – the will thousands of people to carry on their lives amid incredible hardships.

1. Helen E. Sullivan, “Nazi Documents Presented to Goldfarb Library,” Brandeis University Gazette, vol. 11, no. 5, January 31, 1974.
2. “Nazi Death Camp Papers Given to Brandeis Library,” Boston Globe, 1/10/1974.
3. “Theresienstadt,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia.
4. “Tagesbefehl No. 185,” 8-1-1942, Box August 1942-February 1943, Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945, Robert. D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
5. “Nazi Death Camp Papers Given to Brandeis Library,” Boston Globe, 1/10/1974.
6. “Theresienstadt,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia.
7. Margalit Shlain, “The Bank of the Jewish Self-Administration.”
8. “Mitteilungen der Juedischen Selbstverwaltung Theresienstadt,” 9-14-1944, Box: Original Copies 1944, Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945, Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.

The finding aid for the Theresienstadt concentration camp documents can be found here.

description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History

Friday, October 28, 2016

Leonard Baskin & The Gehenna Press, 1951-1971

The Gehenna Press, founded by Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) in 1942, and located in Northampton MA, was one of the premier 20th-century fine presses in America. Leonard Baskin, a noted sculptor and illustrator, created many of the books etchings himself. This Spotlight, based on our digital exhibit of the same name, highlights the collection of early Gehenna Press books and ephemera that was donated to the library by Maurice and Edith Shulman in 1972. The items in the Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press collection date to 1951-1971, roughly the first two decades of sustained productivity of the Gehenna Press. The web exhibit was made possible by the gracious permission of Lisa Unger Baskin. The copyright to the Gehenna Press books remains with the Baskin family and should be honored accordingly.

About Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin was born on August 15, 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The son of a rabbi, he spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn. At the age of 13 he watched a clay modelling demonstration at a department store and knew then he wanted to be a sculptor. He attended Yale on a scholarship, and it was there he discovered the works of William Blake, which gave him the ambition to become an artist, poet, and printer. The idea for Gehenna Press was born.

Baskin left Yale to join the US Navy during World War II. In 1947 he married Esther Tane and in 1950 spent a year in Florence and Paris studying art. This year had a profound effect on him, opening his eyes and mind to the Renaissance artistic traditions and methods. In 1951 he and Esther moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where he taught at the Worcester Art Museum school and began publishing his own wood engravings under the Gehenna Press imprint. In 1953 he began teaching at Smith College. Throughout these years he continued to sculpt and paint along with running the Gehenna Press. Baskin considered himself first and foremost a sculptor. As he once said, "Although it has been my prints which have won me praise, my [real] and profound concern is for sculpture." His body of work is tremendous, with his most famous sculpture being the Roosevelt Memorial bas-relief in Washington DC.

In 1967 Leonard Baskin divorced his first wife and married Lisa Unger. In 1974 they moved to England. Here they could be closer to the poet Ted Hughes, with whom Baskin had a decades long collaboration and friendship. They inspired each other. Hughes would send Baskin poems which would inspire Baskin to create new woodcuts, and these woodcuts would spark new poems from Hughes. In 1981 the Baskins returned to Leeds Massachusetts, where they remained for the rest of Baskin's life. He continued to run the Gehenna Press and create art. He died in 2000 at the age of 77.

While Baskin considered himself chiefly a sculptor, it is his printmaking that has given him the most attention and fame. His study and use of traditional methods and the years he devoted to mastering and developing these skills resulted in an impressive body of work. Baskin avoided abstraction, preferring to work in the tradition of figurative art. This came out of his belief that the human being was the center of the universe as we know it. As he once stated "man is glorious", and while Baskin often had a bleak view of the world, he believed in the final redemptive power in man. And his art was an attempt to communicate that power.

About The Gehenna Press

In 1942 Leonard Baskin founded the Gehenna Press while at Yale (the name coming from a line in Milton's Paradise Lost: "And black Gehenna call'd, the type of Hell."). Inspired by William Blake's example of being both a poet and an artist and bookmaker, Baskin's first printed book, On a Pyre of Withered Roses, was a selection of his own poems. Due to the war (World War II, in which Baskin served in the Navy) and five years of dedicated artistic study, much of it in Europe, Baskin's second book, A Little Book of Natural History, was published nine years after the first.

The Press' books in the early 1950s have an almost naive charm. Either printed on different second-hand printing presses or commercially printed, they show Baskin developing his wood engraving and bookmaking skills. By 1959 Baskin felt that he had begun to "invent typographic structures of originality and sensitivity."

Around the same time Baskin relinquished his role as the sole printer. Starting with the book Thirteen Poems by Wilfred Owen, Baskin partnered with Richard Warren of The Metcalf Printing and Publishing Company, and for Horned Beetles and Other Insects, Baskin began using Harold McGrath as the Gehenna Press pressman. This led to a new level of superb workmanship in the Gehenna Press books, complemented by an increasingly sophisticated and elegant choice of typeface.

Throughout the 1960s Baskin published both books devoted to his woodcuts and to literary works illustrated with his, or other artists, engravings. The 1960s output of the Gehenna Press is diverse, including such stunning achievements as Flosculi Sententiarum and Euripides Hippolytos. In the mid-1960s, due to rising costs, Baskin occasionally designed and/or printed books for other publishers.

In 1974, after selling the Press equipment to Harold McGrath for one dollar, Baskin and his family moved to Devon, England. There, Baskin and Hughes collaborated on a broadside of the Hughes poem "Pike" but had never done a book together. After several years of Baskin devoting himself to other artistic endeavors, he and Hughes collaborated on their first Gehenna Press book: A Primer of Birds.

In 1983 the Baskins returned to America and settled in Leeds, Massachusetts and Baskin began publishing under the imprint of Eremite Press. By 1989,  though, he had switched back to using the Gehenna Press designation. Arthur Larson of Hadley, Massachusetts was a frequent printer of Gehenna Press books at the time, and woodcuts were often printed by Daniel Keleher of Wild Carrot Press, also in Hadley. The Gehenna Press bindings at this time also achieved a new level of elegance, with many of the books now being bound by Gray Parrot of Easthampton, Massachusetts.

The 1990s saw Baskin continuing his close collaboration with Ted Hughes, publishing Capricco and Howls and Whispers. The Gehenna Press printed a variety of books throughout the decade, with Baskin continuing to develop and grow as an engraver, including the incorporation of more color into prints. In 2000, Leonard Baskin died, as did both Ted Hughes and Harold McGrath.

No other private press has achieved anything near its output and longevity, and after over 100 books and 50 years, the Gehenna Press can be called the most successful private press of all time.

Click here to see the finding aid to the Leonard Baskin and The Gehenna Press collection.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Witches, Demons, and Ghosts in Special Collections

Among the items held in the Brandeis University Archives and Special Collections are numerous rare volumes on a subject quite fitting for autumn in New England: the supernatural. Among the topics covered in these books are witchcraft, demons, and ghosts. The field that studies such phenomena is referred to as demonology. The volumes range in date from the 16th to the 20th century and are written by figures from literature, religion, and the history of medicine. Interestingly enough, many of these books are skeptical, rational responses to the rising paranoia caused by Reformation era witch trials and anti-Enlightenment or Romantic era obsessions with the supernatural.

De praestigiis daemonum, & incantationibus ac veneficiis libri sex: postrema editione sexta aucti & recogniti : accessit liber apologeticus, et pseudomonarchia daemonum: cum rerum ac verborum copioso indice, Johann Weyer (1583, originally published in 1563)

The title of this book, written by notable 16th-century Dutch-German demonologist Johann Weyer, translates to On the Illusions of Demons. Written in Latin, Weyer’s book is considered a foundational study in the field of the supernatural, and also to be quite ahead of its time in method and scope. De Praestigiis covers magic spells and potions but its most famous section is Pseudomonarchia Daemonum [The False Kingdom of the Demons], a catalogue of major demons and their supposed rankings in Hell.[1] Weyer wished to address the rampant witch hysteria of his day and he believed that “evidence” of the supernatural could be explained by logical, rational means. His famous index of demons is generally considered an attempt to debunk theories of vast hierarchies of Hell. While Weyer based his research and writing in contemporary theology, he was ahead of his time in proffering ideas that today might be categorized as literary studies, cultural and folk history, psychology, sociology, and medicine. Due to his focus on mental origins of witchcraft and demonic possession, Weyer is sometimes considered a proto-pioneer in psychiatry. The Brandeis University Library holds English translations of this text.

Letters on demonology and witchcraft: addressed to J. G. Lockhart, Esq., Sir Walter Scott (1830)

Sir Walter Scott, famed author of Romantic historical novels, wrote Letters two years before he died, while recovering from the first of several strokes and looking for a change from his typical subject matter. The book is composed of ten letters to his son in law J.G. Lockhart (who suggested the topic) and presents a rational view of demonology and the supernatural. Scott presents these phenomena and the witch trials that followed as resulting from medical causes (much like Weyer) or stemming from early Christians’ misunderstanding of foreign religions (especially Islam). He also noted that as witch trials grew in popularity, the charges were often conflated with political crimes against the state. The book itself is bound in a beautiful red cover embossed with images of typical witch’s items: pointed hats, broomsticks, toads, and cats. Particularly stunning are the ten full-color illustrations, drawn by George Cruikshank, depicting the creatures and figures discussed in the text.[2] Cruikshank was also a noted illustrator for Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, who is in turn connected to the next book discussed below.

The Mystery Revealed: Containing a series of transactions and authentic testimonials respecting the supposed Cock-Lane ghost, which have hitherto been concealed from the public, Goldsmith, Oliver (1928 reprint of the 1762 ed. printed for W. Bristow, London.)

This artifact is a 1928 reprinting of a 1762 pamphlet presumably written and produced by Irish playwright and author Oliver Goldsmith. The subject of the pamphlet is the “Cock Lane Ghost,” the name given to a strange occurrence that achieved widespread fascination in late 18th-century England. William Kent, a usurer from the countryside, moved to London with the sister of his dead wife, with whom he was in a relationship. His lover later died and many thought foul play was involved. Kent and his landlord, Richard Parsons, entered into litigation about money. Some years later, at the building that served as their lodgings in Cock Lane, Elizabeth, the daughter of Kent’s landlord, began to suffer fits accompanied by strange sounds in the building, most notably “knocking” or “scratching” sounds. It was claimed the ghost of Kent’s first wife was haunting the children. This became a something of a national obsession, and was investigated through two séances organized by a committee of noted figures of the day, among them the writer Samuel Johnson. Johnson and others believed it was a hoax to cover up foul play and impropriety, and Parson and several of his supporters were eventually tried and found guilty of conspiracy against Kent. [3]

The pamphlet takes the view that the ghost is real, and was intended to support Kent’s innocence in the entire event. The Cock-Lane ghost remained a cultural touchstone of English life for the next century, giving rise to the popular phrase “One Knock for Yes, Two Knocks for No” used in the popular images of séances. Its impact on literature was especially notable. Charles Dickens, writing in his great novel A Tale of Two Cities almost one hundred years later, uses references to this ghost as a way of developing a sense of the time for the late 19th century in the opening chapter “The Period.” [4]

These are just a few of the fascinating items on occult that are held by the Archives and Special Collections at Brandeis University. And of course, all these items are available for public and scholarly perusal!

For more on Brandeis's supernatural special collections, see this BrandeisNOW article on "Witches in the Archives."


[1] Wikipedia. De praestigiis daemonum.
[2] Edinburgh University Library. The Walter Scott Digital Archive.
[3] Wikipedia. Cock Lane Ghost.
[4] Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities, 1859.

Description by Matthew Chernick, Masters Student in Comparative Humanities and Archives & Special Collections assistant.