Collecting Your Ghost Stories

The following comes from university archivist Sarah Keen

Have you heard footsteps where no corporeal being is walking? Have unexplainable events occurred in your building that have no humanly cause? Are there spaces on campus where the spirits of those who have walked this earth before us feel particularly present?


If so, the University Archives would like to hear your tales of paranormal encounters on campus and in Iowa City. Share your spooky stories to be added to the archives and shared with the campus community.


A Tale of Tails: Pets in the Archives

A new exhibit bound to make you feel warm and fuzzy is up in the Special Collections & Archives reading room. 

Curated by lead outreach and instruction librarian Elizabeth Riordan and academic outreach coordinator Kathryn Reuter, the exhibit A Tale of Tails: Pets in the Archives explores the pets found in Special Collections & Archives, expanding on how the notion of the “pet” continues to grow and morph with the changing years while recognizing some of the aspects of pet ownership that remain constant. 

As Riordan explained, “at the beginning of the pandemic I saw so many people on social media adopting new pets. And studies have shown a huge increase in pet adoption at the beginning of the pandemic. I myself adopted a kitten in May of 2020. It made me really think about the comfort pets bring during difficult times.”

When Riordan returned to working in person at the library, it was hard not to notice the pets that seemed to be everywhere in the collections. Whether featured in family photos, on the margins of an image, or companions in a story, pets were there. While these animal companions were nothing new to the collections, recent events and personal experiences put these archived pets in a whole new light.  

As Riordan and Reuter write in their curator statement:

Despite some of the reports saying many people returned those animals they adopted once the pandemic started to slow down, it should be noted that an overwhelming majority chose to keep their pets. They join the billions of humans across time and space who see pet keeping as an extraordinary yet common human experience. “

The curators hope that those who visit the exhibit see some of their own pet history in the stories on display and reflect on our bond with animals we choose to bring into our homes and lives. 

To get to know the exhibit, Riordan and Reuter have selected 10 items from the exhibit that they are particularly fond of:


3 metal dog tags1.Dog Tags from the Ruth Salzmann Becker Collection, IWA 0123 

Licensing a pet is one of the more concrete ways humans assert official ownership over an animal. Dog tags also demonstrate the potential dangers of living with animals – as dogs must be vaccinated against rabies before receiving a license. The oldest dog tag displayed in the exhibit is from 1915, it was the license of a dachshund that belonged to Ruth Salzmann Becker’s cousin.


2. The complete idiot’s guide to Pet Psychic Communication

If you’ve ever wished you could tell your pet just how much you love them- or, if you’ve ever really needed your pet to get on board with the house rules – this book is for you!






This zine is a compilation of Lost Pet posters readers photographed and sent in from around the globe. We hope that many of the posters resulted in reunions between pet and owner. 



4. The Wizard of Oz

In the Wizard of Oz, most animals in the land of Oz have the ability to speak. For the first four books of the Oz series, Toto, unlike the other animals, does not have the gift of speech. In the eighth book, Toto reveals that while he is able to talk, he simply chooses not to. 



5. This is the Story of Little Cat

The illustrations in this picture book are all so sweet, it was difficult to choose just one page to display for the exhibit. 



6. Portrait of Ruth and cat from Ruth Suckow Papers, MsC0706

Ruth Suckow’s papers include a whole photo album dedicated to her cats. But it is this painting done by Ruth’s husband Ferner Nuhn that really demands attention. An older Ruth, somehow still exhibiting a youthful aura due to her clothes, holds up a white cat, obscuring much of her face. The relationship of the woman and her cat comes strongly across to viewers. 



7. Smiling dog, Stanley Museum of Art

Honestly, this isn’t even in Special Collections, it’s an image from Stanley Museum of Art. And even though we just have a picture of it for this exhibit (you’ll have to go next door to the Museum to see the real thing), we can’t help but smile ourselves when we see it. 



8. Les Chats

Les Chats by François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif is considered one of Western Europe’s first books devoted to cats. The book contains several fantastic images of cats from ancient Egypt to “modern day” (18th century) France. 




9. Andy Warhol cat books

We have two books from Andy Warhol about his cats. Warhol is famous for having several cats at once, all named Sam. The exhibit features his 25 Cats named Sam and One Blue Pussy and a book he did with his mother Julia called Holy Cats by Andy Warhol’s Mother.





10. Where the Red Fern Grows

This was put in there purely for sentimental reasons. As a child, this book was read aloud in class, and memories of crying as we reached the end of the story are still vivid in the mind. It is a devastating tale, but that sorrow was because Wilson Rawls painted such a real relationship between a boy and his dogs. Those who have experienced the loss of a beloved pet probably still will cry ugly tears over this book. 



Perhaps the best part of the exhibit, however, is the growing wall of library staff pet photos. This part of the exhibit has already caught the eye of several students and patrons passing our doors. It is a testament to the power of pets when you see strangers smiling at pictures of your own pets. 

Memories of a Memogram

The following is written by graduate student worker Emily Schartz

As we get ready for warmer weather and summer vacation, we look longingly at a group of travelers 90 years ago who were preparing to start a 137 day-long worldwide cruise on their own vacation to much warmer places. 

Bound copy of Memograms

This epic vacation is recorded in a book now found in Special Collections & Archives. This book is a bound collection of colorful memograms, created during the Empress of Britain’s Round the World Cruise. The memograms were created while the ship was at sea and distributed to the travelers on board. A bound copy, like this one, could then be purchased at the end of the trip as a souvenir. Read together these memograms create a “pictorial record” of the crew and travelers’ “journey around the world.”  

The 1932 cruise featured in this particular book was the 10th annual cruise by Canadian Pacific and the second completed by the Empress of Britain liner. Around 300 cruisers left aboard the ship on Saturday, December 3, 1932 at “noon sharp” and would not finish their cruise until April 19, 1933, when they arrived back at Cherbourg and Southampton. Over the course of their journey, the Empress of Britain would cover 30,000 miles, stopping in 81 ports across 23 countries. Truly a world-wide cruise. 

Each memogram is a colorful sheet with information and illustrations for the travelers and they cover a variety of topics. There are maps and itineraries for travelers to use when planning their day-to-day excursions, information about the places they were visiting and their cultures, and posters for ship-wide events, such as a treasure hunt and a Christmas party. The level of detail in the sketches varies from page to page, some are barely more than stick figure cartoons, while others are detailed drawings of specific locations. Many of the memograms within this particular copy show signs of their use. Some are folded as if they were slipped into a pocket or have notes in the margins and sketched out additions to the maps. Some additions are a mystery, such as the bold line added to a map of Palestine helpfully labeled “FISH.”  

The memograms are as diverse as the activities the travelers participated in. Listed on the calendar pages are sightseeing excursions, educational lectures, concerts, and dinners with dancing aboard the boat in the evening. There are also pages that depict anecdotes and “remember when” moments from the cruise.

There is a whole page dedicated to bananas from the ship’s time in Ceylon and another page devoted to the “Tropical Fruits of Java” that mentions fruits that definitely don’t grow in Iowa, such as doekoes and mangoesteens. 

The Empress of Britain continued her annual cruises until 1939 and eventually ended her career when the liner was sunk in an attack by German forces in 1940 while being used for wartime service as a transport vessel. She certainly left behind a legacy, carrying hundreds of travelers on trips around the globe.



“New Empress of Britain Sails Friday on Maiden Trip.” New York Times, Apr 18, 1956, pp. 62. ProQuest, 



Image of Sherman in field of high grass

Decolonizing the Kitchen: Sean Sherman

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young 

Image of Sherman in field of high grass
Sean Sherman foraging. Photo from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen taken by Nancy Bundt

Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, was born in 1974 and spent the early days of his childhood on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Much of his childhood was spent on his family’s ranch, playing out on the edge of the Badlands. Coyotes, rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, mallards, sandhill cranes, prairie dogs and more were a common populace of the area. At seven, Sherman was hunting animals like grouse and pronghorn antelope, while also helping gather chokeberries, and dug up wild turnips and timpsula.  Along with his cousins he pitched in to help around the family farm, moving cattle, tracking horses, and mending fences. 

Sherman and his cousin Justin on Pine Ridge in 1982, from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen

However, his childhood wasn’t all work. Much of it was spent immersed in his culture: attending powwows, Sun Dances, holiday parades, and family gatherings. Even in school, the Lakota-language class they had was just as important as their English, math, and social studies classes. While he was close to his culture, Sherman remarks that the land around them wasn’t the best “growing area,” supporting mostly cactus and desert plants.  

In an interview with American food journalist Francis Lam, Sherman states that “We didn’t have a lot of the traditional foods growing up; we definitely had a lot of commodity foods. … But looking backwards as a chef much later in life, I realized there should’ve been a lot more knowledge of the traditional foods of the Lakota. That’s what set me off on the path; I was trying to figure out the food of my own heritage.” 

After his parents separated, Sherman, his sister, and his mother moved to Spearfish, South Dakota so his mother could pursue her college degree. He and his sister put food on the table for the family as their mother was now a single parent working two jobs and busy with school. During this time of his life, chef-hood crept closer into his life, into his future.  

At 13, he bussed tables and prepped food at Sluice, a restaurant nearby. The next summer he worked at the Sylvan Lake resort as the youngest on staff, working on the grill, where the college-age kids experimented with meats, switching from steaks to rattlesnake and beaver. Sherman remarks “I knew then that I loved this work.”  

Sherman’s culture has always been a large part of his life, and as such, so has Indigenous food. When Sherman’s grandfather was a child, he was one of the first Native American children to attend a mission school on their reservation. The forced assimilation that started during the 19th century eliminated a lot of Native American food culture across the country, and that was no exception for Sherman’s family. Despite this experience, Sherman’s grandfather still maintained parts of his tribe’s food culture, becoming one Sherman’s first teacher. He passed when Sherman was 18, leaving the budding chef with a plethora of unanswered questions, both in general and about the culture of their food. 

After spending his early 20s in Minneapolis as a sous chef and becoming an executive chef at La Bodega in 2000, Sherman decided he wanted to create a Lakota cookbook. Finding the research on plants and game native to the Great Plains severely lacking, Sherman devised his own research plan to study ethnobotany. He spent time talking to elders and looking at how Native Americans in other parts of the country had their own food systems and pieced together what commonality they shared. 

At 29 he moved to San Francisco, Nayarit in Mexico. This region was colonized by Europeans later than other areas, leaving much of the native plants and foods intact. He found the culture there very similar to his own back home in the Midwest.

Sherman states in his introduction to his book  The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, “In an Epiphany, I tasted how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure. After seeing how the Huicholes [the native individuals in the area] held on to so much of their pre-European culture through artwork and food, I recognized that I wanted to know my own food heritage. What did my ancestors eat before the Europeans arrived on our lands?”  

Sherman spent a lot of time reading cookbooks, magazines, research publications, along with traveling across the US to visit other Indigenous Americans to learn more about their food cultures. He states that one of the biggest parts of Native American cuisine was the method of preserving their food, as during the summer they were preparing for the next winter. He relied on a food dehydrator and experimented with drying by wood fires or using the sun. His research is continuous, but in 2014 he was able to  put his work into fruition by creating the organization The Sioux Chef. He describes The Sioux Chef as “a mission-driven enterprise of Indigenous team members.” It includes the Tatanka Food Truck which is a full-service catering company, Indigenous Food Labs,  an Indigenous kitchen and training center, and Sherman’s restaurant: Owamni.   

Bison steak with carrots
Owamni Bison Entrée, image by John Yuccas Photography

Owamni was started by Sherman and his wife Dana Thompson in Minneapolis, MN in July of 2021. Thee restaurant is run by an over 80% Indigenous staff. Many individuals on the Owamni team and in the community find the restaurant to be more like a community service than a regular restaurant, according to Thompson. Even the name of the restaurant is integral to the communal history and the mission of the restaurant.  

Owamni was named after a map of the Eastern Sioux that Thompson’s grandfather and his best friend made.  Without this map, many of the original names of the natural landmarks before colonization would’ve been lost. Owamni sits on an area which used to be full of waterfalls with sacred islands to the Dakota and Anishinaabe people. 

Owamni, like the organization The Sioux Chef, is dedicated to de-colonizing food. Thompson, who is of Dakota ancestry has stated that “These foods were systematically removed by forced assimilation and genocide and the culture was almost erased. The fact that we have these foods here is an act of resistance itself.” 

The name origin of Owamni, the food that they serve, and The Sioux Chef entirely are part of Sherman’s mission to engage the community in conversations about race, equity, sustainability, and the history of Indigenous Americans. To teach a history that has often been left out and erased.  

Sherman states “I’ll never learn everything about Indigenous foods, but we’re setting up structures and systems to be able to preserve it and maintain it for the following generations … We envision eventually being able to drive across the U.S. or anywhere in North America and having the option of Indigenous food businesses: to be able to stop there and to experience the immense diversity and culture and language and stories and food.” 

In our library here at University of Iowa, we have Sean Sherman’s book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, so, if you’d like to learn more about Sherman, his journey, different Indigenous foods and their importance, and want to learn to cook some of his recipes yourself, this book is worth a read!  




Meet the Sioux Chef 

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen 

The ‘Sioux Chef’ Is Putting Pre-Colonization Food Back On The Menu 

One of Minneapolis’ Newest, Hottest Restaurants Is Also One of the Country’s Most Important 

‘Our whole mission is Indigenous education and Indigenous food access’: A Q&A with owners of Owamni by The Sioux Chef 

How this Minneapolis chef is reintroducing Native American cuisine to the world 


Further interviews/talks with Sean Sherman:

Sean Sherman: What Can We Learn From Indigenous Culinary Traditions? 

Exploring indigenous kitchens of North America with Sean Sherman 

 Sean Sherman – Author of The Souix Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen LIVE Q&A at R-Future 2021 

Native Minnesota podcast: Revitalizing Indigenous food with Sean Sherman 

The (R)Evolution of Indigenous Foods | Sean Sherman | TEDxSiouxFalls 

page from acrobats

Poems That Just Are

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Luke Allan from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001). 

Poems That Just Are

By Luke Allan

Ian Finlay in front of wall with letters on it
FIG 1: Ian Hamilton Finlay with his poem acrobats on the wall of his house in 1965. Photo by Jonathan Williams

In a letter to a friend in the late 1950s, Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) admits to feeling that he must be “about the only contemporary writer who believes that the purpose of art is to—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: be beautiful.” Finlay is in his early thirties, living alone on a remote Scottish island, recovering from the collapse of his marriage, struggling with his mental health problems, and desperately poor. In 1959 he’ll move to Edinburgh, and from there to a dilapidated farmhouse in the Highlands. In the meantime he’ll meet his second wife, Sue, and in 1966 the young couple will move into a slightly less dilapidated farmhouse in the Pentland Hills, called Stonypath, and have their first child. For the next fifty years Ian and Sue will transform Stonypath, and the square acre of wilderness it sits on, nicknamed Little Sparta, into a unique “poem garden”, cultivated by the world’s first self-proclaimed “avant-gardeners”.

But let us take a step back. At some point in those years between moving to the city and leaving it again with Sue, Ian meets Paul Pond and Jessie McGuffie, and together they start a small poetry magazine, Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. The title is borrowed from a Robert Creeley poem, “Please”, and this borrowing itself hints at one of the motivations behind Ian’s interest in running a magazine: the wish to establish a community of likeminded poets and friends. In the mid-sixties Ian was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an event that, if nothing else, gave a name to the feelings of anxiety and alienation that had troubled him for many years, and which fenced him off from the world. Running a magazine would be, whatever else it would be, a way of having friendships in exile.

Editing POTH took Finlay on a long journey into the contemporary poetic avant-garde that would radically reorient his own writing. He already sensed that he no longer cared for poems that were merely “about” things, that he wanted instead poems “that just are” (letter to Gael Turnbull, 29 April 1963). But it was his encounter with the work of the Brazilian poet Augusto de Campos in winter 1962, while editing issue 6 of POTH, that lit the fuse for Finlay. De Campos’s poems were concretos—concrete. They demonstrated a way of thinking and writing that short-circuited traditional logical and grammatical structures. Feeling alienated from the “ordinary syntax” of “social reality”, as he put it in a letter to Jerome Rothenberg in 1963, Finlay found in concrete poetry a mode of thinking and writing that freed him from the grammar of a world he didn’t recognize as his own: concrete poetry became, for Finlay, “a model of order” within a world “full of doubt” (letter to Pierre Garnier, 17 September 1963). The encounter is crucial for Finlay. In POTH 8 (1963) Finlay publishes his first concrete poem, “Homage to Malevich”, and over the next five years he produces some of his greatest hits, including “acrobats” (1964) and “wave/rock” (1966). Much as Finlay used the magazine to establish a safe social space inside a larger, unstable world, so the concrete poem served as a microcosm of stillness and clarity within the disorder of modern life.

The poem-object shown in the images below is a calendar. Published in 1968, it collects twelve of Finlay’s early concrete poems, and is his first real encounter with a US readership. The calendar’s title, The Blue and the Brown Poems, is a reference to Wittgenstein’s Blue and Brown Books, transcriptions of lecture notes in which the philosopher first develops his destabilizing ideas about the relationship between words and meanings. The calendar is larger than you might think: at 20 inches tall, it’s probably too big for your fridge door or the space beside your desk. It asks, unusually for a calendar, for a more monumental setting, hung on a large wall like a framed painting or poster.

The calendar begins, also unusually, in September. This may be a reference to the calendar of the Roman Empire, in which case it’s an early example of Finlay’s interest in classical culture, a central theme of his later work. Each month features a concrete poem printed in color on white paper, accompanied by a short commentary by the critic Stephen Bann.

Finlay believed that concrete poems were for contemplating, so it followed that their ideal presentation was in a place where they could be readily contemplated. The calendar, like the wall or the garden, is a quintessentially Finlayian form. It is a way to turn the poem into something we can live around or within. Underpinning these considerations of form and space is a more fundamental belief in the relationship between poetry and ordinary experience: the calendar is a bridge between the heavens of literary culture and the ovens of real life in the home.

In ‘wave/rock’, the words “wave” and “rock” bear the colors of the sea and the land, and where the two words overlap there is a sonic collision that produces the “wrack”—seaweed washed up on the shore. Visually, the superimposed blue and brown letterforms give an impression of seaweed-covered rocks. A “wrack” is also a wrecked ship, the word suggesting sudden violent damage, and as these two words collide the wreckage miraculously takes on the form of a word for wreckage. In this sense the poem borrows the kind of forces found at sea as metaphors for the kinds of forces found in language.

FIG 4: “wave/rock” (February) The poem was first realized as a glass poem-object in 1966 (pictured here) and later exhibited as a sculpture in a park in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1969. It was also printed across a page spread in the magazine Aspen. Later still it was realized as a fabric wall hanging

Finlay started out as a writer of short stories and plays. In the middle of his life he found concrete poetry, and he set out on a journey into small-press publishing that would serve as his primary medium of friendship. In the final third of his life he realized the full potential of the concrete poem as a part of a landscape. Later, Finlay disassociated himself from concrete as a movement, because he felt that it did not share his views on the important function of tradition within the avant-garde. Today it is his garden domain, Little Sparta, for which he is best remembered, but at one level the garden is only the final manifestation of a poetic impulse to make enclosures that characterized Finlay’s oeuvre. The social enclosure of the magazine and the press, the aesthetic enclose of the concrete poem, and the physical and philosophical enclosure of the garden: these were ways of dealing with a sickness Finlay had diagnosed in the world and for which he spent his life discovering—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: beautiful cures.

FIG 5: “you / me” (April). The yellow of “you” and the blue of “me” combine to make the compound green of “us”. The two colors then separate again, continuing on a path that is at once shared and separate, on which they are, so to speak, alone together. The metaphor of color—one crucial to Wittgenstein too, we should remember—reminds us that relationships, like compound colors, are more than the sum of their parts. Blue and yellow make something unique, called green, that was in neither, and that cannot be kept if the colors are separated back out.

* * *

When the University of Iowa acquired The Sackner Archive in 2019, work began to unpack and classify the 75,000 works of visual and concrete poetry that Ruth and Marvin Sackner had collected over the course of their lives. Ruth Sackner passed away in 2015, and Marvin Sackner joined her just a few weeks after the Archive’s inaugural exhibition, in September 2019. The work required to process the many books, prints, periodicals, letters, and objects that make up their enormous collection continues behind the scenes, and items from the archive are currently available to view by special request. Over time, the archive will be fully integrated into ArchivesSpace, but even now it is possible to browse the archive here.

Over the course of forty years Finlay published more than a thousand books, booklets, cards, prints and poem-objects, many through his publishing imprint Wild Hawthorn Press. It’s clear that Ruth and Marvin Sackner were enormous fans of Finlay’s work, because their collection contains several hundred of these publications.  It’s a rich seam, and one that is still largely unexplored.



In print:

Yves Abrioux and Stephen Bann, Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer (London: Reaktion Books, 1985; 2nd edition, revised and expanded, 1994)

A Model of Order: Selected Letters for Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Thomas A Clark (Glasgow: Wax366, 2009)

Patrick Eyres, “Gardens of Exile”, New Arcadian Journal 10 (1983)

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections, ed. Alec Finlay (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)

Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Alec Finlay (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1995)

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Rapel: 10 Fauve and Suprematist Poems (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1963)

John Dixon Hunt, Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay (London: Reaktion Books, 2008)

Caitlin Murray and Tim Johnson, eds., The Present Order: Writings on the Work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (Marfa, TX: Marfa Book Company, 2011)

Jessie Sheeler, Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Photographs by Andrew Lawson (London: Frances Lincoln, 2003)



Carli Teproff, “A force on the Miami art scene, Ruth Sackner dies at 79”, Miami Herald, October 12, 2015.

Andres Viglucci, “Marvin Sackner, a physician, inventor and renowned collector of word art, has died”, Miami Herald, September 30, 2020

Padded Cell Pictures, Concrete! (documentary about Marvin and Ruth Sackner)

Sackner Archive Live Exhibition. 

Sackner Archive Exhibition Guide. 

University of Iowa Library Guide to the Sackner Archive.