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A House Divided
Posted at 04:04 PM ET, 12/11/2011

Civil War scrapbook comes with mystery


Civil War-era scrapbook Ronald Venezia of Bethesda, Md., donated to the Library of Congress. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)
The Library of Congress has accepted a donation of a Civil War scrapbook from a Maryland man who had received it as a gift about 60 years ago. Ronald F. Venezia of North Bethesda got it from a man in New York State who had also cared for it for many years. What is not known is who made it.

Newspaper clippings of battles and engravings were pasted into a used 1840s New York City business ledger, apparently as the news from the front unfolded. The entries were taken from three of the main publications of the day: Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York Illustrated News and Harper’s Weekly.

Although the library already has a mostly complete set of the newspapers found in the ledger, curator of popular and applied graphic art Sara Duke said she was pleased to have the donation. “The scrapbook shows how people look at information,” she said. “It is not in chronological order and we see the material in a new context, through someone else’s eyes.”

The 7-inch-by-12-inch scrapbook arrived at the library minus its front and back boards with the blue marble end papers exposed. Venezzia said that was the way it was when he received it at about age 12 while living in Spring Valley, NY

“I was a house boy to an elderly couple, helping them out on my way to school,” he said. “They lived in an old Victorian house and I took the ashes out of the stove and brought in new coal. In the summer, I washed their old Packard and cut the grass.”

The work with Thomas and Martha Beattie lasted about a year and he was paid 50 cents a day, Venezia said. Thomas Beattie, a retired New York City lawyer, approached him one day with a gift and a question. Did he want an old scrapbook he had and would he keep it safe?

“They had no children and he was worried what would happen to it,” Venezia said. “I said yes and I have done that.”

Venezia took the assignment seriously and faithfully carried the scrapbook with him, even through postings in several South and Latin American countries when he worked for the State Department in the U.S. Agency for International Development. “I’d unpack my stuff and the scrapbook would be put on a shelf,” he said. “Now I am retired and was worried what would happen to it. I didn’t want it to go to a yard sale.”

Venezia said he had always assumed Beattie created the scrapbook but research done by Duke showed Beattie was born in 1875.

The mystery is who did paste all those clippings in the ledger book.

“Maybe Beattie got it from a friend or another lawyer or someone in his family,” Duke said. Although there are some childish scribbles in the book and some notations, there are no obvious clues as to who put it together, she said.

The book is now safely locked away in a climate and temperature controlled vault at the library.

Venezia said he won’t miss it. He had only briefly looked at it.

“I’m not a Civil War buff,” he said. “I could never relate to all those generals.”

By Linda Wheeler  |  04:04 PM ET, 12/11/2011

 
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