The Funny Man Who Loved Ghosts

glBecause Jackie Gleason was so famous and well known for his comedy, very few people are aware of his fascination with spiritualism and the occult. Over his lifetime, he had collected hundreds and hundreds of books, featuring topics from ghost possession to alien encounters. His glorious collection of the world and wonders beyond is housed here in Special Collections with an ephemeral presence that attracts students and researchers from all over the globe. These books have not only evoked curiosity but have also influenced other works of art and literature.

As for the man of the hour himself, exactly one hundred years ago on February 26, 1916, Jackie Gleason was born from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, and today, we want to pay homage to both him and his passions by showcasing our favorite pieces from his collection, which continue to inspire us and capture our imagination.



Wanderings of a Spiritualist by Arthur Conan Doyle

“This book is one volume of a trilogy by the famed Victorian author, who on the title page modestly describes himself as “author of The New Revelation, The Vital Message, A History of the Great War, etc.” No mention of his great masterpieces of detective fiction, or of the fact that he created one of the most famous and enduring characters in English Literature. Doyle was, in fact, an ardent seeker of truths, and a believer in the spirit world in all its manifestations. In his opening chapter he challenges all skeptics: “Should the reader have no interest in psychihc things—if indeed any human being can be so foolish as not to be interested in his own nature and fate—then this is the place to put the book down.

Those choosing *not* to put the book down will be rewarded with a juicy slice of Victoriana, complete with war stories, ramblings in foreign countries (in this case, Australia) and tales of the author’s encounters with interesting characters, both dead and alive. A “should” (if not a must) for all Sherlock fans!” – Cristina Favretto, Head of Special Collections


The book of Thoth ; a short essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians, being the Equinox, volume III, no. V by the Master Therion

“Master Therion was a pen name of Aleister Crowley, known in the mid 20th century as the wickedest man in the world and often labeled a satanist. Crowley was an occultist, attempted ceremonies designed to summon demons, and developed a system of sex magic. Crowley’s beliefs and practices earned him widespread rebuke and condemnation. In The Book of Thoth Crowley designed a set of Tarot cards which are now among the most popular Tarot decks in the world. I chose this book for as much for its colorful backstory as for the hieroglyphs on the binding and the striking images Crowley helped create for each of the Tarot cards.” – Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian


The Principles of Light and Color by Edwin D. Babbitt

“A detailed description of chromotherapy and its effects on both the human body and the nature surrounding it, this book presents an interesting take on spiritualism wherein all living organisms are subject to the relationship between light and color. While the theory is one without any real scientific basis, there was a lot of effort to try and illustrate how color affects different levels of physical, spiritual, and mental harmony within the body. What caught my eye are the numerous diagrams that depict how light is broken up into a vivid spectrum and how each part of the spectrum holds a key to the ‘mysteries of life.’ What Babbitt saw within the vast spectrum of colors that are normally hidden to the naked eye is something I cannot even begin to comprehend, but it is quite the journey to try and wade through his convoluted logic.” – Yvette Yurubi, Senior Library Assistant


Fun-Master Gag File [Uncatalogued]

“Compiled by entertainer Billy Glason in the 1940s, these bound scripts contain an amusing collection of jokes and gags aimed at providing the budding emcee with tried-and-true material for a live comedy routine. Ranging from vaudevillian performance pieces written for multiple characters to one-liners, short stories, and topical jokes, the 144+ volume compilation (amended with several ‘encyclopedias’ and supplements) serves as a unique study of the different approaches to humor that reigned in Gleason’s era, many of which have provided a foundation for the way performance-driven comedy is created today. While Gleason’s book collection reveals a spooky side of the comedian that is unfamiliar to some, I choose the Gag-File to celebrate the studied on-stage comic persona that is most commonly associated with ‘The Great One’.” – Cory Czajkowski, Library Technician


As a bonus, one of the students who visited Special Collections recently with her Creative Writing class for a project, Carla Botha, was inspired by The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research from the Jackie Gleason Collection and created this lovely miniature artist book.

We happily invite you all to stop by the 8th Floor in the Otto G. Richter Library today and experience these treasures for yourself to honor the man whose influence continues to reach to parts unknown.

This Just In: Acquisitions from the Women’s Studio Workshop

Last month, Special Collections had the privilege of hosting Tana Kellner from the Women’s Studio Workshop. Tana brought with her a fantastic selection of artists’ books, or works of art realized in the form of a book, produced by WSW. The beautiful books that we acquired from this visit cover a range of topics including: environmentalism, scientific theory, incarceration, immigration, poetry, and language. The following descriptions represent only a small portion of our artists’ book collection. To see more about our artists’ book collections visit: University of Miami. Library. Special Collections. Artists’ Books Collection.



4, 3, 2, Cry by Kathy T. Hettinga, 2014

On the outside, 4 3 2 CRY mimics the condensate tanks along Colorado’s horizon, each book wrapped in drab book cloth with an actual aluminum NFPA hazard diamond riveted onto its cover. On the inside, 4 3 2 CRY‘s 48 pages are packed with visual and textual information: satellite maps, personal photographs, screenshots from websites, scrawled handwritten annotations, and technical text and narrative poetry are digitally juxtaposed to create rich surfaces and textures. Aerial maps of the drilled earth’s terrain create strikingly abstract, patterned compositions decoded by Kathy’s text. – description from Women’s Studio Workshop

Scientific Theories Once Widely Believed, Since Proven Wrong, by Alison Byrnes, 2013

This book features 10 images interpreting occasions when truth took a circuitous route. From Einstein’s Cosmological Constant, to Alchemy, to Geocentricism, and seven others, the screen prints are inspired by medieval illuminations and Mughal miniatures to encapsulate moments from the history of science using various narrative strategies. The book inverts the relationship between word and image, with written descriptions of each scientific theory accessible behind a gate-fold, enabling the images to take precedence. Silkscreen and digitally printed, bound in hard covers. – description from Women’s Studio Workshop

The Moon Has No Weather by Sarah Peters, 2013

“‘The Moon has no Weather’ … explores the moon as an archive of the entirety of its cosmic history … The Moon Has No Weather grew from an installation Sarah created at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts while she was experimenting with casting colanders: the resulting paper spheres looked like fragments of satellites or space junk. And her hand-marbled paper resembled the swirling surface of planets seen through telescopes. And there was a gorgeous 1885 book called The Moon Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. And a podcast about the moon having no weather–no changing atmosphere–to disrupt its atomic material, so that its surface acts as a preserved record of its history. The road was built, and the project was born.” – Women’s Studio Workshop 



Stories Behind Bars by Tona Wilson, 2010

“Stories Behind Bars was inspired by the author’s job as a Spanish interpreter in the US courts. It consists of four individually bound silkscreen printed booklets: in one, a young man is deported using video teleconferencing, another gives some brief history of immigration detention, and all tell stories of immigrants in U.S. prisons and jails. The stories give the reader an insight into the complex issues surrounding the immigration debate. The four separate pamphlets are housed in a slipcase with a barred window. Silkscreen printed.” – Women’s Studio Workshop 

Transatlantic Balderdash by Ann Kalmbach and Tatana Kellner, 2010

“Transatlantic Balderdash is a series of cards, not unlike flash cards, that feature the ‘big words’ used in Errors of the Amanuensis. The 25 words, from admonish to ultracrepidarian, are printed using a random selection from the over 3,000 type fonts available for KakeArt to use during their residency at the Hessischisse Landes Museum fur Industrie und Kultur in Darmstadt, Germany. The cards were shown to a group of Germans and Americans asking each group to define the word. On the back of each card are their responses and the correct definitions.” – Women’s Studio Workshop 

The Angel is My Watermark by Barbara Beisinghoff, 2009

“Inspired by Henry Miller’s story The Angel is My Watermark and a 17th century poem the Song of Paper by Father Imberdis, the artist meditates on the emancipation of the watermark. Handmade paper with rich texture, colorful etchings, embossings and silkscreened text accompany the elaborate watermarking process. Accordion bound in hard covers.” – Women’s Studio Workshop 


These books, along with the rest of our collections, can be viewed in our Reading Room.

A Most Excellent Adventure

Exploring the Pan Am Archives in Miami
By Rebecca Snider Sprecher with Dian Groh

Becky and Dianjpg

Dian Groh and Becky Sprecher start their research.

After writing a novel about Pan Am flight crews and giving a number of history presentations on our airline for various community organizations, I was anxious to visit the Pan Am archives at the University of Miami’s Richter Library. I’d read many books on the history of Pan Am, but I wanted to actually lay my hands on the source documents and touch them. In addition, former flight attendant Terry Haeger Webber and author Jamie Dodson are currently putting together a book on the flying boats and wondered if I would help gather some information. Terry connected me with Dian Groh and Tori Werner, two other flight attendants who had expressed an interest in coming along. The three of us met early in the morning after the World Wings convention last October in Savannah, all slightly bleary-eyed from four days of revelry.  We loaded up on coffee, piled into my car and cruised off together down I-95, telling stories the whole way.

ATL CLipper crew

Bill Winston Crew List

But I had more than just perusing the archives and researching the flying boats in mind. I grew up with some wildly entertaining cousins who have often spoken of a distant relative named Bill Winston who was a pilot for Pan Am during World War II. They knew little about him, and I had not seen his name mentioned in any of the books I’d read. Maybe I could find some material on him in the archives, gain a sense of his personality, and report back to the family. Most likely he was a calm, cerebral type like my uncle, a lawyer and Civil War scholar. These boys on the other hand, were cut from a different cloth. We spent our summer vacations together in Wilmington, North Carolina in a boisterous delirium, learning how to swear and play cards and dance, and they grew up to be expert seamen and rapscallions, tooting off on Bourbon-soaked fishing trips and coming home in gale force winds.

Two months prior to our arrival, Dian had requested that forty boxes be made available for our review. They were trucked in from a climate-controlled warehouse to Special Collections on the eighth floor of the Richter Library. Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian, instructed us on how to inspect the contents of the boxes, and to wear cotton gloves if we handled photographs. Then Dian and I sat down and got to work. The excitement we felt was palpable. Finally, we were going to see our history, up close and personal!

ATL Clipper departure

The Atlantic Clipper being prepared for the first transatlantic crossing using the Southern Route

I got lucky with Winston early.  One of the first files I picked up contained an article from the Long Beach Sun dated Dec. 15, 1942. It was about an experience a Flight Engineer named Sylvester Tunis had on board the Pacific Clipper, the same Boeing 314 that Capt. Bob Ford had taken around the world in reverse after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to the article, as the Clipper was taxiing toward her mooring (presumably at Fisherman’s Lake, Liberia) “a sudden gust of wind drove the ship against an uncharted reef, where she grounded hard.” Sounded interesting, I thought, preparing to slip the article back into the folder.

Then a name jumped out at me in the next paragraph.  “Captain William A. Winston finally wormed the 84,000-pound plane off the reef and taxied her to the shelter of shore.” The hull was ripped and two compartments flooded. To make a long story short, they improvised diving equipment with a five-gallon can of flour, cut a round hole in it for viewing, then fastened a pane of glass over the hole. Air was supplied through a hose borrowed from the station’s welding equipment, and pumped in with two hand-operated air pumps taken from station trucks. The divers worked in mud seven feet below the surface, slipping a tarpaulin under the keel and pumping the compartments dry. Using a light from one of the trucks to illuminate their work area, mechanics drilled 1000 screw holes by hand from the inside so they could attach plates to the hull. Next they poured 1500 pounds of concrete into the damaged compartments, bracing them with two-by-fours made of African timber. About a week later, the concrete-bellied Clipper made the 6,000-mile journey to New York safely.

What an excellent adventure! Once I had Winston’s complete name and the equipment he was on, the Special Collections staff was able to do a computer search and find another box containing files with more information. It turns out that Winston was a superb card player and knew many tricks (including how to deal himself four aces), which he often performed to entertain the passengers. Horace Brock wrote in his book, Flying the Oceans, that he didn’t much like him until Winston began to regale him with stories and play the piano on a layover at the Estoril Palace Hotel near Lisbon, Portugal. Another file revealed that Winston was in command of the Atlantic Clipper on July 5, 1939 for Pan Am’s second Atlantic crossing using the Southern Route through the Azores and Lisbon. Also in the file was a copy of the piece Vogue Magazine’s Betsy Schaefer wrote about the experience, as well as the menu for breakfast, the crew list, and a newspaper photograph of the departure.


Becky Sprecher, Jay Sylvestre, and Dian Groh with a small sampling of the Pan Americans World Airways Inc. records.

Over the course of the next two days, we opened boxes and files containing other treasures: the Navigator’s Log of the China Clipper; Ed Musick’s personal scrapbook; compilations of all the Allied commanders, dignitaries and press people who flew on the flying boats during World War II; the text from a speech on the design of the 314 by Boeing engineer Wellwood Beall; the program for the launch of the Yankee Clipper; original letters written by Charles Lindbergh to Juan Trippe, and on and on. At dinner the last night with Dian and Tori, I expressed my profound gratitude that these materials had been preserved, both for historical research and the enjoyment of future generations.

For I can now tell my cousins—all of whom are card sharks, accomplished raconteurs and capable of keeping a boat afloat on any ocean—that they did not come by these talents at random. Their relative, Bill Winston, was not only a colorful individual who had some excellent adventures during his career, but he also made a vital contribution to the war effort during a crucially important time in the history of the world. Thanks to the documents contained in the Pan Am archives, they will know more about him, thereby gaining a greater understanding of themselves.  Pan Am is now part of their family history from this generation going forward. You can’t put a price on that, both for the families and for those of us who were employees; it is how Pan Am will stay alive.

Sprecher is the co-author with Paula Helfrich of Flying: A Novel.  She flew for six years out of JFK and HNL. Groh flew for 17 years our of MIA, JFK, HNL and LAX.  She served as a purser, recruiter, training instructor and grooming supervisor.

The records of Pan American World Airways Inc. are open and available to the public. Please contact Special Collections at least a week in advance about viewing Pan Am records to ensure retrieval from offsite storage.

2014 Abrams Banning Grant Winner



Special Collections and the Pan Am Historical Foundation are thrilled to announce that the 2014 Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan Am Research Grant has been awarded to Hadassah St. Hubert. Presented by the Pan Am Historical Foundation, the award supports scholarly research using the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records housed at the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections, and honors two of Pan Am’s most avid historians.

Grant winner Hadassah St. Hubert receives her award from former Pan Am pilot Al Topping

Grant winner Hadassah St. Hubert receives her award from former Pan Am Station Manager Al Topping

A doctoral candidate and McKnight doctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of Miami and Assistant Editor for the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), Ms. St. Hubert’s unique research interest and well thought out plan for using the collection made her proposal the strongest among many. Titled “Visions of a Modern Nation: Haiti at the World’s Fairs,” her dissertation will examine the way Haitian governments from the late nineteenth century onwards represented the country in world’s fairs and expositions. Her research with the Pan Am Records will focus on two fairs: the International Exposition to commemorate the Bicentennial of the founding of Port-au-Prince, lasting from December 1949 to June 1950, and the Tricinquatenaire in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Haiti’s independence, held in 1953.

The relationship between Haiti and Pan Am is one of many examples of the impact the company had not only on international tourism, but also on the formation of national identities, and the two fairs that Ms. St. Hubert will be focusing on provide powerful examples of this. Promotional materials, including advertisements and photographs, will enable her to assess how Haiti’s image was constructed and the impact the fairs had on the nation’s image abroad. Images of the exposition and folkloric performances will aid in her understanding of any continuities or departures between these expositions and others in which Haiti participated abroad. And diplomatic correspondence will provide direct insight into tourist traffic and Haiti’s “Golden Age” of tourism.

After receiving her award, Hadassah had the opportunity to check out the store at the Pan Am International Flight Academy

After receiving her award, Hadassah had the opportunity to check out the store at the Pan Am International Flight Academy

To give you some more insight into Ms. St. Hubert, we asked her four questions about her research, her use of archives, and memories of Pan Am:

1. What is your favorite thing in (or about) Special Collections? Is there a specific collection, item, person?

My favorite items in Special Collections are the Caribbean and South American Ephemera collection and the Pan American World Airways Inc. records. Beatrice Skokan pointed out these collections early on during my research and they have become quite invaluable sources on Haitian tourism in the 1950s.

2. Tell us about an archival “jolt” moment. Think of an archival jolt as one of those times when you are working with a collection and you feel a strong intellectual or emotional connection with the information. You can also think of it as an “aha” moment – where you find that 1 piece of information you are looking for, or where you find a connection between subjects and projects that you were not expecting.

My archival “jolt” moment was when I discovered that Pan Am had increased its advertising of Haiti from less than $50,000 in the late 1940s to $1,000,000 by the mid-1950s. I had always heard that Haiti was a popular destination for U.S. tourists, including Bill and Hilary Clinton in the 1970s. This evidence shows that Pan Am truly believed that Haiti could be a year round resort for tourists and they invested heavily to make this happen.

3. How do you use Special Collections? This is a functional question – when looking for materials, do you read the finding aid and browse, do you keyword search, are you looking for specific kinds of materials (photographs, objects, books) or certain classes of documents (letters, advertisements, contracts, meeting minutes)

When using Special Collections, I use the finding aids and conduct keyword searches especially for ephemera material relating to Haiti. Since my project looks at the increasing role of tourism of Haiti, I analyze materials such as photographs, letters, advertisements, as well as government documents.

4. Do you have any memories of Pan Am?

My memories of Pan Am are very limited, since I was young when the company ceased operations. I do remember the iconic Pan Am travel bag that the flight attendants used.

The World Wings International, Inc. Research Grant

The World Wings International, Inc. Research Grant

WWIlogoThe World Wings International, Inc. (WWI) Research Grant, is an annual grant which is open to advanced graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty members who are interested in conducting research on the organizational records of WWI, a historic association of former Pan Am flight attendants. Priority will be given to research proposals that will result in publication in any media. Up to $2,000 will be awarded annually to support scholarly research using the World Wings International, Inc. Records, housed at University of Miami Special Collections.

Since its first international flight in 1927, Pan Am positioned itself as a world leader in American commercial aviation. Formed in 1959, World Wings International, Inc. is an association of former Pan Am flight attendants that is now dedicated to charitable activities. The World Wings International, Inc. Records, currently housed at Special Collections in the Otto G. Richter Library, includes the administrative records of the organization, as well as scrapbooks, photographs, membership and annual meetings files, correspondence, and financial records.

World Wings Grant (graduating_class)

Prospective researchers are encouraged to explore new areas of scholarship and inquiry within the World Wings International, Inc. Records. The vast collection supports research in the areas of history, geography, business, sociology, and gender studies, among others. We also encourage creative writers to use these materials to inspire short stories, poetry, novels, and even art work. The research should advance the image of World Wings International, Inc., and encourage further study into the role former Pan Am flight attendants had in the history of aviation, philanthropy, feminism, and women’s business history. World Wings Grant (attendant_on_engine)

Grant awardees will be required to give a presentation to faculty, students, staff, and interested community members.

About World Wings International, Inc. and the University of Miami Libraries

World Wings International, Inc. is the philanthropic organization of former Pan Am flight attendants who seek to maintain the historic Pan Am tradition of global humanitarian assistance, safeguard Pan Am’s place in aviation history, and promote friendship among its members through cultural and civic activities. For more information about the organization, visit the World Wings International, Inc. website.

Special Collections preserves and provides access to research materials focusing on the history and culture of Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America. The department also curates the official records of Pan American World Airways. For more information about the Special Collections of the University of Miami Libraries, visit our website.


World Wings Grant (collage)

*Images courtesy of the World Wings International, Inc. Records collection, University of Miami Special Collections

Now Accepting Applications: The Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan Am Research Grant

The Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan Am Research Grant

The Pan Am Historical Foundation announces the seventh annual Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan Am Research Grant competition. Up to $1,500 will be awarded to support scholarly research using the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records held by the University of Miami Libraries’ Special Collections. The grant honors two of Pan Am’s most avid historians, Dave Abrams and Gene Banning.

Since its first international flight in 1927, Pan Am positioned itself as a world leader in American commercial aviation. The Pan Am records date from 1927 to the 1990s and include administrative and financial files; technical and research reports; public relations and promotional materials; internal publications including newsletters, journals and press releases; and thousands of photographs.

The grant is open to advanced graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty. Priority will be given to research proposals that will result in publication in any media.

Application Procedures

Applicants must submit a proposal of no more than two pages describing their research project, include a curriculum vitae or résumé, and provide two letters of recommendation.

Application deadline is July 15, 2014.

Please send inquiries and applications to:

The Dave Abrams & Gene Banning Pan Am Research Grant
c/o Yvette Yurubi
University of Miami Libraries
PO Box 248214, Coral Gables, FL 33124-0320

About Dave Abrams and Gene Banning

After graduating from the University of Miami, Dave Abrams (1919-2005) joined Pan American Airways and worked for forty-two years as a meteorologist, navigator, and Director of Flight Operations for Latin America. Abrams was instrumental in the formation of The Pan Am Historical Foundation after the company shut its doors in 1991, and in finding a home for the Pan Am’s archives and memorabilia.

Gene Banning (1918-2006) was one of the longest serving pilots for Pan Am. His aviation days started with the infamous flying boats in 1941 and ended with Boeing 747s in 1978. An avid researcher, Banning was a guiding member of The Pan Am Historical Foundation from its inception and the author of Airlines of Pan American since 1927 (McLean, Va.: Paladwr, 2001).

About the Pan Am Historical Foundation and the University of Miami Libraries

The Pan Am Historical Foundation is a group dedicated to preserving the heritage of Pan American World Airways. For more information about the Foundation, visit The Special Collections of the University of Miami Libraries preserves and provides access to research materials focusing on the history and culture of Florida, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records consists of hundreds of boxes of materials and reigns as the most avidly consulted single resource in Special Collections. For more information about the Special Collections of the University of Miami Libraries, visit