Can You Guess the Story?

While continuing to work on the Allen collection I came across a curious set of cards. The cards were numbered in a series and each series seemed to tell some kind of moral story. Since the text is in German we had a lot of fun trying to guess what the story was just based on the illustrations. Tara O’Brien, our Director of Preservation and Conservation Services and resident German speaker/expert clued us in as to what these were and the stories they were telling, but we thought it would be fun to share these with our readers and see what you could come up with. So please, feel free to comment and share with us your guesses!

Series One:

Series Two (my personal favorite):

Series Three:

Getting There is Half the Fun

While working with the Allen Family Papers I came across some travel journals with ephemera from the trips (mostly postcards) laid in. The journals span 1909 to 1934 and cover the family’s trips to Europe (with one exception of a trip to California via the Panama Canal).

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Picture 027The journals presented a somewhat perplexing question. The earlier journals were written by Alfred Reginald Allen Sr. (1876-1918) while the later ones were written by Alfred Reginald “Reggie” Allen Jr. (1905-1988). What’s odd is that even though different people wrote them at different times, the journals all look physically the same; a small green canvas binder with three-holed notebook paper inside. I had to wonder how this could be. I figured that Allen Sr. purchased several binders at once and that Reggie continued to use them as travel journals after his father’s death. Another possibility is that Reggie put his father’s writings into the same type of binders he was using sometime after his father’s death. If I had to guess, I would say that the former is probably the case since the paper inside is such a rare size to find.

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Since these journals were written well before the time that trans-Atlantic air travel came into being, the first and last portions of the journals always document the trip across the Atlantic and back via ocean liner. Being an avid ocean liner buff I found these portions, particularly the related ocean liner ephemera included, to be the most interesting.


At a time when a trip to Europe meant spending about a week at sea ocean liners had to be more than basic transport but more akin to a floating city. The various companies (notably the German and British lines) competed to outdo each other in size, speed and grandeur to lure passengers to book passages on their ships. Essentially they wanted to make the ship itself a destination. With that in mind, traveling during the heyday of the ocean line gives truth to the old adage: “Getting there is half the fun.”

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Reggie and sister Helen having fun during a voyage in 1913.

Passenger lists on the best ships tended to read like a veritable Who’s Who of American and European society. The French line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique went so far as to print lists of passengers for the passengers. Maybe this was that well to do people could plan whom they would be dining with aboard the ship (getting a “good” table was of the utmost importance).


Although commercial air travel was available starting in the 1920’s it did not really take off (no pun intended) until the 1950’s. Commercial jets such as the DeHavilland Comet and the Boeing 707 provided passengers with a much faster and cheaper way of crossing the Atlantic. By the 1960’s the age of the ocean liner was all but over. But in the first decades of the twentieth century, air travel was more of a novelty as this brochure from the London Aerodrome (dated 1913) that was with the journals can attest to.


For a fee one could be flown around the London Aerodrome.

The Allen Family Papers

Last week I began to create a finding aid for the Allen Family Papers. From what I can tell so far, the majority of the collection seems to be Alfred Reginald Allen Sr.’s (1876-1918) correspondences with his father, son, wife, and other family members. Leslie Hunt, a former archivist at HSP, had painstakingly inventoried some of this collection back in 2001. Given that and considering that my processing of the collection would be an experiment in minimal processing (see Mark A.Greene and Dennis Meissner’s “More Product, Less Process” for more), I did not have the chance to really dig into this collection. However, what I could glean from this collection was an interesting story about the father and son relationships within this family.

Alfred Reginald Allen Sr. was a neurologist and neurosurgeon who earned his degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Allen also had a serious interest in musical theater. In his early adult life, he wrote numerous songs, some published, some not. He was also a founding member of the Savoy Company, a theater group that performed the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, which still exists today. However, Allen seems to have abandoned the theater world around 1907. His father, Rev. George Pomeroy Allen (1845-?) apparently exerted pressure on Alfred to focus exclusively on his medical pursuits. The previous archivist noted that this might have been because Alfred’s younger siblings, John Ernest and Nancy, were “free spirits” that caused the family much grief and that for this reason Rev. Allen pressured Alfred to be successful.

Before abandoning his theatrical pursuits entirely however, Alfred seemed to find a way to combine the theater and medical worlds. Here is a program for a medical-themed comic musical entitled “Evelyn and Harry” that Alfred wrote, scored, and acted in. “The American Neurological Association Comic Opera Company” presented the musical – perhaps this was a conglomerate of like-minded neurosurgeons?

Evelyn and Mary Program

Evelyn and Harry Program

One thing that from the musical that got a laugh out us was the number titled “I Want Your Brain and Spinal Cord.” Luckily, the collection contained the sheet music for this song.

Allen-Brain & Spinal Cord

In 1915 Alfred joined a reserve unit of the United States Army. In the summer of 1918 his reserve unit was called into action. Alfred wrote numerous letters to family first detailing his experiences at training camp, and then his experiences in the war-zone in France. From France he wrote a very sentimental letter to his son, Alfred Jr. (1905-1988), called Reggie in the family, in which he (perhaps realizing that there was a good chance he would not survive the war) instructs Reggie on how to be a man and also to follow whatever endeavors he wished. Reggie initially did not respond to this letter, and Alfred Sr. wrote a few letters to his wife asking why. Reggie, who was about 13 at this time, finally wrote back to his father explaining that he did not respond because the letter made him “feel so badly that I tried to forget it all.”

Alfred Jr

Sadly, Alfred Sr. never received this letter – he was killed in action in September 1918 during the Battle of Argonne. I can only imagine what young Alfred Jr. must have felt when this letter was returned to him marked “Killed in Action.”

Allen envelope

However, Alfred Jr. seemed to take his father’s advice to heart. Perhaps following the path that his father could not take because of Alfred Sr.’s own father’s pressures, Alfred Jr. was much involved in the Philadelphia music community, eventually becoming General Manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1930’s.

This is another one of those interesting little stories that the collections at HSP have to tell. Uncovering these stories has been truly the most fascinating aspect of archival work for me. I hope to find (and share) many more!