April 2, 2018
by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern
One of my favorite types of primary sources to work with are letters. Mostly, I love the language. You can tell a lot about a person from how they write and to whom they write it. If it’s to a business partner, maybe they’re more formal. To a spouse, more affectionate. To a friend, light-hearted and cordial.
In this case, I’m reading a letter written by Eli Lilly to Ida Black. Eli and Ruth Lilly were friends of Glenn and Ida Black, and played an important role in the excavation of the Angel Mounds site and Indiana archaeology at large.
The letter –written August 24, 1965, from Lilly’s cottage in Syracuse, Indiana– concerns the founding of the Glenn Black Lab, the fate of Angel Mounds, and the destination of the artifacts discovered there. It came to the GBL as part of a donation by the family of Glenn and Ida Black.
Lilly begins by wishing Ida well, and seems regretful that he is unable to relay the contents of the letter in person. The friendship between the two is clear in his frankness; Lilly makes it clear that he did his best to take both Ida and Glenn’s (Glenn died September 2, 1964) wishes to heart, but ultimately did not have the final say in the decision.
He speaks of negotiations with the state and with Indiana University, and assures Ida the site will not be neglected. In a helpfully numbered list, he details the steps of the thinking process.
The site will not be abused, he says, and it will be kept out of the hands of politicians who might not have its best interests at heart. There will be attempts to interest Indiana University in the property, and the artifacts.
Later, he mentions his intention to build a memorial lab to Glenn Black, which likely will be on IU’s Bloomington campus. (The GBL did indeed end up in Bloomington, and would be opened April 21, 1971.) Lilly is sure Glenn would approve of the strategy, and its protection of both the artifacts of Angel and the site itself.
It’s interesting to look back at this letter, with our founding day fast approaching, and get a glimpse into the process of opening the GBL.
While the handwriting is a bit difficult to decipher in parts, it does not diminish from the importance of the letter, nor the kind words the Lillys have for Ida Black. It also gives you a sense that you’re holding history in your hands, a feeling that’s almost beyond words.
There are bound copies of this letter available for viewing in our lobby; if you’re interested in reading the full text, I recommend you come check them out!