Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers. 1954 Library of Congress publication
Ironically and appropriately enough for today’s date, December 7th, the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, what I present to you today is a 1954 publication by the Library of Congress, authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers.
This thirty-eight page bound document prepared by the Acting Librarian of Congress details the temporary transfer and the loss of several items of the Thomas B. Harned Whitman Collection from the Library of Congress. As the threat of World War II loomed upon the US in the early 1940’s, the entire Whitman collection was moved from Washington D.C. to an unnamed “Mid-Western library” as a means of protecting it, should D.C. become under attack from enemy forces.
The intro page of this document written by the Acting Librarian reads:
Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers
Thomas B. Harned of Philadelphia was one of the three literary executors of Walt Whitman among whom the poet’s manuscripts were divided at his death in 1892. In 1917-1918, Mr. Harned presented his share of the papers, which included a group of 25 notebooks, to the Library of Congress, where they are designated as the Walt Whitman Papers. The notebook collection was made available for general consultation in 1921, and from 1925 on was used extensively by students of American Literature.
In 1942, the Walt Whitman Papers, in sealed packing cases, were evacuated from Washington for war-time security, and were kept in a separate and continuously guarded area of a Mid-Western library until their return to the Library of Congress, with seals unbroken, in early October 1944. When the collection was unpacked it was discovered that 11 items – 10 notebooks and the cardboard butterfly – were missing.
Searches were immediately instituted. It was at first supposed that the missing pieces had been misplaced, despite precautions, during the procedures of evacuation. These searches proved fruitless. It therefore soon became necessary to face the possibility that the missing items had been deliberately removed at some time prior to the evacuation of 1942. Studies were made to collect every scrap of evidence regarding the use and users of the Papers from 1925 on and the assistance of the investigative agencies of the Federal Government was enlisted. For the want of a periodic piece-by-piece inventory of the very miscellaneous contents of the Papers, it is not possible to state the latest date at which they were intact. There is, however, evidence from records of use of individual pieces that the group of notebooks was intact as late as April 1941.
The purpose of the present circular (prepared on advice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) is, in Part I, to identify and describe the missing pieces. Because the Library had made for itself no copies of these pieces, the descriptions are based upon extracts and other data contained in published books, and particularly in The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, edited by Emory Holloway (New York, Doubleday, Doran, 1921), vol. 2, p. 62-97, and upon Photostats made from the originals before their disappearance for two Whitman scholars, Prof. William L. Finkel and Prof. Ernest E. Leisy, and now by them made again available for the Library’s use. It is thus possible to reproduce here portions of all the missing items.
It is urgently requested that any person who has any knowledge or well-founded supposition of the whereabouts of the missing times, at present or any time since they were separated from the Whitman Papers, will not fail to communicate such information to the Chief of the Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington 25, D.C. All information received will be treated as confidential and will be acted upon with caution and tact. The only object in soliciting this cooperation is to restore the integrity of this important collection.
In Part II, the manuscripts in the Library of Congress relating to Walt Whitman are described.
Verner W. Clapp
Acting Librarian of Congress
Washington 25, D.C.
Forty-one years passed without a trace of the missing notebooks. Then in January of 1995, a *BIG* discovery, four of the ten missing notebooks and the cardboard butterfly were discovered and have been returned to the Library of Congress. Follow the link below to discover how the missing items were located, confirmed to be the missing originals and returned to the Library.
Missing Whitman Notebooks Returned to Library of Congress
1995 article from the Library of Congress “Civilization Magazine” announcing the return of four of the missing notebooks and the cardboard butterfly.
Sadly, still to this day, some sixty years later, there are still six Whitman notebooks that remain missing. How many more years will pass before they are discovered!?! Will they ever be discovered!?!
 An interesting (maybe only to me) footnote in this story, the “continuously guarded Mid-Western library” where the Whitman Papers were temporarily relocated in 1942 just happened to be Denision University in Granville, OH, just a few miles from my own home!