Odd things happen in the Woodson Research Center with reassuring regularity. Once in a while, though, it gets out of hand. This particular story is one of the most unlikely episodes I’ve ever seen unspool here, a whole string of unforeseen developments.
It even started strangely, with an email to my colleague Rebecca Russell that arrived completely out of the blue from a person with no ties to Rice:
I am trying to find someone to contact re: Floyd S. Lear papers. I understand that he was once a Rice University history professor. My husband and I recently received a box of letters/correspondence that were quite old that were generally addressed to Floyd Lear. This came from my mother in law who lives in a senior community and happened to come across it near her dumpster. She doesn’t have any relation or know where the box came from. This correspondence dates at least as early as before WWI and probably through the 1950’s or later but we have not gone through it too carefully . . . The box has many many letters in it. We discovered who this man was by doing an online search but it is clear from the correspondence that he was in the military at one point and then a history professor. We are wondering if this would be of interest to the university.
Got that? Someone found a box of Floyd Lear’s letters next to a dumpster at a senior living community in California, then took the time to find out that they might belong with us. This is more than a little surprising and I am very grateful to these folks for their effort.
So Rebecca got to work sorting and processing the contents of the box (there were indeed many, many letters) which is where I got the material for this post.
It wasn’t until she finished that I really took a hard look at it, checking to see if there was anything important in there. As we stood together looking at the files, she called to my attention a stack of letters to Dr. Lear from a former student. These letters were just fantastic. They were a lively, interesting commentary on Rice, on politics, and on her post-graduation life in, of all places, Amarillo. I immediately wanted to know more about her but, frustratingly, we were thwarted. She signed every single letter, including this one with its very amusing take on Harry Truman, as “Queenie:”
I had only one idea about how to figure out who she was: she repeatedly mentioned Katie Fischer in the letters. That, of course, must be Katherine Drew, who is still to be seen from time to time on campus. I went home thinking I’d track her down and ask her what she knew.
But when I got in to work the next morning I was delighted to find that we already had the answer. Our mystery girl had left enough clues in her letters–she was Presbyterian and Phi Beta Kappa–for Rebecca to go through the Campanile and figure out that Queenie could be no one other than Margaret Anne Eckel ’43. Rebecca made a xerox of her Campanile picture and, as her correspondence with Dr. Lear suggested, she was an outstanding student and an almost unbelievably active member of the Rice community.
For some reason that she couldn’t explain, Rebecca also made a copy of one other thing that she found in the correspondence files–Queenie’s wedding announcement:
And this is where things start to get weird.
Part 2 tomorrow.