PEP (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Lieutenant (JG) Harriet Pickens (1909-1969) & Ensign Frances Wills (1916-1998)

In honor of African American Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the first two African American women who were commissioned as officers in the US Navy.  Lieutenant Pickens and Ensign Wills were commissioned in the United States Navy on December 21, 1944.

Lieutenant Harriet Pickens, a public health administrator with a master’s degree in Political Science from Columbia University, was the daughter of William Pickens, one of the founders of the NAACP.  Prior to her military service, Harriet was the Executive Secretary of the Harlem Tuberculosis and Health Committee of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association.  In addition to this position, she was a supervisor of recreation programs in the New Deal’s WPA (Works Project Administration). 

Ensign Frances Wills was a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Hunter College.  While Frances pursued her MA in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked with famed African American poet, Langston Hughes.  She worked in an adoption agency, placing children in adoptive homes.   Her experiences as a pioneering naval officer led Frances to eventually write the book Navy Blue and Other Colors under her married name, Frances Wills Thorpe.

Obviously, these were two accomplished and well educated women, highly qualified to serve their country as military officers in time of war.  It was only their race that stood in their way and the remarkable pair would help to tear that barrier down.  They were sworn in as apprentice seamen in the US Navy in November 1944. 

After receiving their commissions a month later, both Harriet and Frances serviced at the Hunter Naval Training Station in Bronx, NY, the main training facility for enlisted WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) recruits.  Harriet Pickens led physical training sessions up until her death in 1969 at the age of 60.  Frances Wills taught naval history and administered classification tests.  She died in 1998.

Lieutenant Pickens’ and Ensign Wills’ military files are two of the records in our PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on their military career, Lieutenant Pickens and Ensign Wills’ record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

We are proud to highlight the lives and achievements of these two courageous women who in the face of segregation and hatred overcame and changed the face of the United States Navy forever.

McMansions 101: Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2)

At last, the fun part, where I post pictures of houses on the fence and rule with my iron fist whether or not they are mansions or McMansions. 

A reminder of the criteria from last post. 

Virginia McAlester’s criteria for a McMansion (reformatted by me here from p. 707 of A Field Guide to American Houses) are as follows:

“-Complex high pitched roof with lower cross gables or hips
- Tall (1.5-2 story) entry features, often arched
- Haphazardly placed dormers (”afterthought” dormers)
- Multiple wall cladding materials applied to single surfaces
- Windows of differing styles and shapes, often arched
- Structure is commonly asymmetrical with tall vertical appearance.”

If a house meets 4 or more of the above, or 3 or more of the above plus 1 of the below, it is pretty safe to call it a McMansion

A house that meets 3 of McAlester’s criteria but none of mine is a house on the fence, so to speak - e.g. a house with a high pitched roof, a tall vertical appearance could still be faithful to the French Eclectic style, and if it happens to have one out of place dormer, is it really that huge of an offense? But if it also has a huge attached garage or is made of cheap material, then that tips the scale into McMansion territory.

McMansionHell additional criteria for clarity:

- Attached 2 or 3 car garage
- Side elevations are often clad in cheaper material and have few windows
- Front facade sometimes will feature a multiple-story window, often an indicator of the presence of the “great room”
- Architectural ornamentation is applied with little consideration for historical precedence (e.g. craftsman columns on a house that is mostly French Eclectic) and are often constructed from foam injected plastic or EIFS.
- House is often out of scale with the lot it was built on

Without further ado…

House No. 1

Mansion or McMansion? The answer:

This is a lovely New Traditional house based off of the French Eclectic style of the 1920s and 30s. The outside is made from high quality brick, and the roof imitates the slate shingles of the corresponding time period. The house is symmetrical, and the architectural details are appropriate (shutters are the right size for the windows, the rounded dormers and the pediments above the central window and the entryway reflect the original style.)

That was an easy one!

House No. 2

Mansion or McMansion? The answer:

A house can be relatively symmetrical and constructed of material like brick, and still be a McMansion. How? 

That’s more than 3 criteria folks. The judge has spoken. Still too easy? Try this next one.

House No. 3

Mansion or McMansion? The answer: 

I love me a house that barely escapes McMansion territory, which this one does. While it is an interesting mix up of architectural styles, (mostly Italianate with Ionic columns) and it does have the 1.5 story entryway, the house is symmetrical, balanced, and consistent (all the columns are ionic, and the window muntins demonstrate good use of architectural rhythm.)

House No. 4

Here is a perfect example of a home that is truly on the fence between Mansion and McMansion. In fact, I think this house can truly be argued both ways: 

These two graphics demonstrate a situation where it might not be appropriate to definitively say that a house is a mansion or a McMansion. The line can certainly be blurred and left solely to popular taste. Another example:

House No. 5

Let’s put it this way: there are varying degrees of McMansion-ness. Houses 4 and 5 might be a little tacky, but they are tame and generally acceptable compared to the following examples: 

I hope this post helped clear up Sunday’s post on what separates a mansion from a McMansion! Stay tune for tomorrow’s post: McMansions 101: Windows

Copyright Disclaimer: All photos are screenshots from real estate aggregate and are used in this post for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107. 

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PEP (Person of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) 

               Legendary jazz performer and inductee to the Jazz Hall of Fame, John Coltrane is one of the most dominant figures that has influenced generations of jazz musicians.  Prior to his association with musical greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and Earl Bostic, John Coltrane entered military service in 1945 and played in the Navy jazz band while stationed in Hawaii.

               When Coltrane entered military service, all personnel were required to have a chest x-ray as part of their induction requirements.  Within John Coltrane’s record, one such x-ray exists.  As the reformatting staff of the Preservation Programs at St. Louis scanned his military record for public use, his x-ray was scanned also.  There are several preservation reasons why x-rays are scanned.  First, the x-ray is part of Coltrane’s file, and thus an integral part of his historical record.  Secondly, providing a scanned image eliminates the need for a user to wear clean gloves so no oils from their hands would transfer onto the silver emulsion of the x-ray.  Thirdly, the x-ray base is cellulose acetate film (a.k.a Safety Film) which decomposes over time letting off gases that smell like vinegar, hence the commonly used term “vinegar syndrome”.  Vinegar Syndrome occurs when acetic acid is released from the acetate based film leading to the vinegar smell.  This deterioration makes the plastic film base brittle, buckle, shrink, and liquefy.  Keeping the film in a controlled environment helps reduce the continuation of the base’s degradation.  Lastly, the x-ray can be scratched easily if not handled appropriately.  

                 On occasion, the x-rays are digitally enhanced so the image is clearer, and in doing so, helps the researcher and improves public access.  These documents and x-rays are placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas and prevent damage to the original document.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but the Ask Box is open. I’ll probably answer somewhat snarkily with a lame joke, but there’s just as good a chance I’ll give you some kind of mind blowingly awesome answer that makes you realize the meaning of life, or at least when Nightwing first started wearing that awesome Black and Robin’s Egg Blue outfit.

So yes, the ask box is open, and I’m up tonight reformatting my laptop, so entertain me.

(Nightwing Vol. 1 #2 of 4, btw.)

External image


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selective Service System Draft Registration Card

The National Archives at St. Louis is home to millions of selective service system draft registration cards for men born prior to March 29, 1957.  In 2012, selective service registration cards were transferred to St. Louis from other NARA sites around the country.  The Reformatting Unit of the Preservation Programs at St. Louis recently stabilized, organized, and   re-produced digital copies of 17 boxes of these records which will available for public access.  During the project, Martin Luther King, Jr’s selective service card was located and scanned for public viewing.  Selective service registration cards can be viewed by the public and contains a great source of information for family history, genealogy, and scholarly research.


Ever wonder what the Preservation Programs at St. Louis does?…Watch this!!!

PEP (Person of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Cpt. Mary T. Klinker (October 3, 1947 – April 4, 1975)

Mary Klinker served in the Air Force as a flight nurse, instructor, and flight examiner from 1969 to 1975.

In 1974, the Vietnam War was ending and in an act of pure humanity, President Gerald Ford announced a mission that would be known as “Operation Babylift.” This mission’s purpose was to evacuate more than 2000 orphaned children from Saigon. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was enlisted as a flight nurse responsible for caring for the children during their transport to the Philippines.

Unfortunately, on April 4, 1975, the inaugural Operation Babylift flight ended in tragedy crashing within minutes of takeoff killing 138 of the 314 on board.  The flight crew, caregivers, and infants died in the Operation Babylift plane crash including Capt. Mary T. Klinker.

Capt. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died and was the last nurse and only member of the US Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. She was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Capt. Klinker’s military file is one of the records in our PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on her military career, Cpt. Klinker’s record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

As we continue to protect and preserve these important military records, it reminds us that Memorial Day is not just the “beginning of the summer holiday season”, but  a time to reflect on the lives of men and woman of our armed forces who willingly gave up their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world.

La Dispute- Damaged Goods (in dialogue)

She forced a smile, said, “Boy come kiss my mouth. You know that hope you’re holding to, it looks an awful lot like fear. Now you’re so quick to fall on failure and so quick to raise your voice. Like, “if I can’t find a mistake to blame, we didn’t have a choice.” Oh, but you had an option, I was your chance to feel complete. But when I leaned in close to you, you kissed your fear instead of me. You had my hand in your hand. You had my lip in your teeth, you had my heart on your sleeve, and you had a chance to breathe. But boy, you wouldn’t let your fear recede, so I moved on. Oh, and it’s too late to change your mind. Now you got scared, boy, and I got gone. Now you failed and there’s no way to turn back time. You had your chance, Boy, I tried.”

“You tried” I looked her in the eye and smiled, “My girl, you must understand that fear is not some product that I made. It crept unwelcome in my head, the day they had her torn away. It changed me. Now at the end of every day I lie awake at night and wait to feel The wires of my brain get cut and quietly rearranged And hear my beaten heart exclaim, Still I refuse to let her go. So we escape to our mistakes for they wait patiently for us. Oh, how they always wait for me. If my fear has kept me here, only my fear can set me free. And I’m sorry dear, but don’t you dare speak another word. How could I risk holding your heart in me while still in love with her? You were wrong.”



THE FACES OF PRESERVATION (SERIES): Keith Owens, a Preservation Technician in the Reformatting Unit for the National Archives at St. Louis finds his creative outlet through teaching families to grow fresh vegetables.

My department is responsible for digitizing and microfilming military and civilian personnel records that have been deemed PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) as well as highly used records that supplement records damaged or destroyed in the 1973 fire.  My main focus is on microfilm preservation, which is the only true archival standard of document reformatting.  With microfilm, all a person needs is a light source and something to magnify the image to glean the information one is seeking.  If a person has a digital image on a floppy disk or DVD, there are a number of technical factors that have to be met before an image is viewed.  In producing and performing quality control on microfilm, I focus on minute details that will impact the quality of the microfilm for the next 500 years.  The passion that I have with the quality of microfilm is also the same level of passion that I have outside the workplace - helping people learn to garden for themselves.

I started growing seeds after my aunt gave me a package of zinnias when I was in kindergarten.  I was amazed to see how the plants grew and that if you pinched off the flowers, two more flowers would take its place.  At the same time, my grandmother taught me about wild edibles that grew in the woods, along country roads, and around her house.  She lived through the Great Depression and told me that I needed to know what I could and couldn’t eat just in case another depression happened.  This was foundational to my passion for plants later in my life.


My love for plants did not take off until I bought my first house after college and I started to landscape and grow a small garden.  As my passion grew, so did the plants.  Currently, I have 128 rose bushes in addition to a wide range of flowering plants that draw tons of hummingbird and honey bees. 

For the past 4 years, I have been leading garden clinics at Lowe’s near my home.  Some of the topics I teach include fertilizers, container displays, square foot gardening, rose care, organic gardening, lawn & landscape care, and wild edibles.  It is not uncommon for people at Lowe’s to see me pick off flowers or leaves and eat them! I have created landscaping designs for hundreds of people, several schools, and civic organizations.  This past fall, I was given an opportunity over the winter to use a greenhouse to grow seeds for a farm in Southern Illinois.  This opportunity has exploded into a “budding” non-profit organization called “Seeds for Changing Lives”.   This organization’s focus is “Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for life … teach a man to plant a seed, and he can feed the world!”  I ask big box stores to donate “expired seeds” (Flowers, Vegetables, and Herbs) so I can distribute them to food pantries, churches, and community gardens.  I also supply garden clubs, high school FAA programs, and elementary schools with seeds so they can grow plants and sell them as a fundraising opportunity.  Finally, I give clinics to people at food pantries, churches, community gardens, and elementary schools on how to grow food from seeds.  Afterward, I present the attendees with seeds to choose from so they can start their own garden.  I stress that one can garden even if you are living in an apartment, renting a house, or own property.

Just like my detailed work at the National Archives at St. Louis of reproductions of military and civilian personnel records for veterans, their families, and the public at large, I have the same passion for helping people learn to grow fresh vegetables for themselves, their community, and the world!