Xavier, like most universities, has its fair share of fine art.
Statuary graces spaces and places indoors and out. Paintings large, small, old and new adorn the walls of most buildings and halls. But buried behind and below the common grounds are a gold mine of archives and artifacts—letters filed away, books tucked onto shelves and mysterious technological devices squirreled away in forgotten corners—that tell another story about the University.
Xavier magazine went looking for those items and that story. We looked in the library, searched the storerooms and even uncovered a few treasures hidden in plain sight. In some cases, we helped the University discover valuables it didn’t realize it had.
Then we contacted Wes Cowen, owner of Cowen Auctions in Cincinnati and featured appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” to take a look at our findings. He sent over Graydon Sikes, head of the auction house’s paintings and prints department.
Here’s what we found—and how it appraised.
The Paper Trail
Before texts there was telegrams. And before email, letters. Now imagine the flow of correspondence to a University president. From Elet to Graham, everyone from papal representatives to commanders-in-chief sought the attention of Xavier’s highest office. Some of the more notable include (below) John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and John Phillip Sousa.
Of course the University has books. Lots of them, in fact. But not all books at the University are created equal. Some are aged to extremes. Some have a signature attraction. None of them can be read on your Kindle. And all are worth more than the cover price.
In the collection are: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (circa 1936); Tales Told of Shem and Shaun by James Joyce (circa 1929); The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (circa 1928); 20 Hours 40 minutes by Amelia Earhart (circa 1928); The Nuremberg Chronicle (circa 1500); and An Antiphonary (circa 1300).
Medals of Honor
Today, graduating students receive honors cords and different colored sashes to designate their area of study. Back in the day, after students learned their Latin verbs and polished their philosophy, they were given medals at commencement to honor their achievement. The medals, below were awarded to Albert Poetker, upon commencement in 1909 for among other disciplines, poetry, philosophy and “The Creation and its Purpose.” Poetker’s purpose was indeed lofty as he went on to become a Jesuit, was President of the University of Detroit and later taught physics at Xavier. His sister donated the metals in 1980, in conjunction with Xavier’s sesquicentennial celebration.
A Furnished History
Who knew you could experience a stately moment of Edgecliff’s past just by taking a seat?Originally located in Emery Hall, these magnificent pieces now elevate the A.B. Cohen Center administrative office to museum status. A 1976 brochure detailing Emery Hall describes the Louis XVI-style desk, end tables and as “some of the estate’s most valuable and authentic pieces of furniture.”
The Flotsam of Science
Research is often not a tidy process—it leaves a trail. Not just in new knowledge, but a procession of devices and instruments that have outlived their usefulness and are often discarded or hidden away in store rooms and closets.
Psychology left to its own devices
This is a test. What does the term “Experimental psychology” conjure up in your mind? If your answer has anything to do with a person (or “volunteer”) strapped to a device, you are correct, both from Hollywood’s and academia’s historical perspective. These days at Xavier, a professional career path in psychology usually leads students more toward clinical psychology, which involves the assessment and therapy of patients. But back in the early 1960’s, with the rise of Alter Hall and “modern” education, there was a bit of mania for device-driven experimental psychology. Which usually meant someone strapped into something. What kind of things? Here are a few:
• The Memory Drum: The Memory Drum was used to teach students the basics of scientific research. A series of meaningful words, nonsense syllables or grouped letters were shown to the subjects, with the number of items and amount of time allotted to view the information varied. The results recorded. Just to make things more interesting, another task or some sort of distraction could be thrown in to see if it created any kind of interference with short-term recall.
• Automatic Mirror Trace: The Mirror Trace was a way of studying perceptual motor behaviors—the coordination between what one sees and how one reacts to it (seeing a star shape, for instance, and then tracing the star shape). What added to the difficulty was having the object reflected in a mirror, which required a much higher level of hand-eye coordination.
• Biotelemetry Receiver: A child of the 1970s, biofeedback entered the academic mainstream when equipment allowed for the measurement of brainwaves, heart function, skin temperature and more. These responses were measured while the psychological study took place.
• Constant Current Shocker: In 1961, Stanley Milgram, professor of psychology at Yale University began a series of experiments to measure the willingness of participants to follow instructions that may conflict with their own conscience. The tricky bit was that participants, who were asked to administer the “shocks” to other people, had no knowledge that there were actually no shocks being delivered. Rather, the subjects who were supposed to be receiving the shocks were actually trained actors skilled at howling in pain. What researches found was that participants who were administering the shocks experienced tremendous guilt and remorse—but gave the shocks anyway. These experiments were replicated all over the world, including quite probably at Xavier, until the experiment was deemed unethical by the American Psychological Association. Even today, with books like Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments published in 2013, the world of experimental psychology is still attempting to measure the effects of those experiments.