The Filson and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Last week, the New York Times reported that New York University's Hall of Fame for Great Americans (now affiliated with Bronx Community College) had fallen into disrepair:


George Rogers Clark by Matthew Harris Jouett

When it was founded in 1900, it was the first Hall of Fame in the nation, local historians say, and the elections to induct members were covered by the national press. Some stalwart defenders believe the renown even earned a reference in “The Wizard of Oz”: The Munchkins tell Dorothy, “You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust in the Hall of Fame!”

But when the hall’s host, New York University, sold its Bronx campus in 1973, the collection languished. The 98 busts tarnished, soot gathered, and the Hall of Fame slowly slipped into irrelevance. An election has not been held since 1976.

Today, the colonnaded hall sits high above the city as an awkward appendage to the campus of Bronx Community College. To history buffs, it is a forgotten gem; to nearly everyone else, it is just forgotten.

As far afield as this story may seem, multiple collections at The Filson relate to the Hall of Fame.  As part of a broad effort to commemorate the life of Louisville's founder, the George Rogers Clark Memorial Foundation advocated the frontiersman's election to the Hall of Fame.  Records from the organization include correspondence between the group to the Hall of Fame's College of Electors.  For several months in 1955, the Foundation bombarded electors with letters making the case for Clark's election.  Yet, the group's campaign failed.  They were more successful in other efforts, such as naming Louisville's Second Street bridge after Clark.

In addition to the letters from a group advocating an individual's election, Filson collections show the other side of the equation as well.  From 1949 to 1957, William Marshall Bullitt, a Louisville attorney and United States Solicitor General, served on the Hall of Fame's College of Electors.  Bullitt's papers, included in the Bullitt Family Papers-Oxmoor Collection, reveal both the internal discussions among electors as well as the interaction between the electors and those advocating for induction.

These Hall of Fame-related collections demonstrate the breadth of the Filson's holdings.  Although centered around Kentucky, the Ohio River Valley, and the Upper South, materials at the Filson contain a wealth of information about people and institutions well beyond this region, even forgotten ones like NYU's Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

Filson Historical

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