24 August 2014

The Search for Sylvia Plath Continues...

In the past, this blog has featured posts on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt: her disappearance, the search and recovery, and the articles that appeared in the newspapers about the event. It was also the subject of a long paper titled "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" published in 2010, the focus of which was a bibliography of articles found. However, like most bibliographies it was out of date almost immediately. Sadly, too, for obvious reasons it (the bibliography) will never be either 100% accurate or 100% complete.  Such is the nature of that discipline. Well, this post continues those as recently I found another source presenting digital access to historic newspapers.

The Fulton History of Fulton County (New York) offers searching of more than 26 million historic newspaper pages. And, yes, I searched again for Sylvia Plath. The articles that were new to me were:

"Missing Wellesley Student is Found, Put in Hospital." Niagara Falls Gazette. August 26, 1953: 1.
"Smith College Senior Missing." The Times Record (Troy, N.Y.). August 26, 1953: 21.
"Girl Found Moaning in Cellar." Buffalo Courier Express. August 27, 1953: 1.
"Coed Recovering from Overdose." The Leader-Republican (Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y.). August 27, 1953: 21.
"Missing Co-ed Found Alive Under Porch." Schenectady Gazette. August 27, 1953: 13.
"Home All Along." The Morning Herald (Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y.). August 28, 1953: 1.
"Co-ed Recovers from Overdose." Utica Daily Press. August 28, 1953: 1.

I first found this site in March 2014; and re-searched the site in May. On the second visit, there were 276 articles where the exact phrase "Sylvia Plath" was found. These articles include book reviews, name-drops, etc. as well as articles from August 1953.

Strangely, a rogue result was mixed in, too, from Pennsylvania (which the last time I checked was not part of New York though it shares a long state border!) which was also new to me:

"Hunted by Posse, Girl Lies in Coma." Philadelphia Inquirer. August 27, 1953: 6.

This lead me to request via Interlibrary Loan the microfilm for this newspaper. A search of this did not find any additional newspaper articles other than the one that appeared on 27 August, but it was worth the effort to confirm.

While I was working on this post in June, I found quite by accident another article on Plath's disappearance from August 1953. Somewhat quietly in the summer of 2012, Olwyn Hughes donated to Pembroke College, Cambridge, a collection of items related to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Several items from this collection were displayed in February 2013. Largely composed of clippings of news paper articles and reviews, among them are some clippings that had to have belonged to Sylvia Plath as several date from before Plath and Hughes met. In Series 2, Life, Subseries 2.3 Sylvia Plath, there were four articles related to Plath's first suicide attempt. In reviewing the articles, I noticed one that was not familiar to me, based on the research I did for my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath". I include the link, but please accept my apologies if it one day does not work... the journal in which it appeared annoyingly keeps changing its url).

The three that were familiar to me were: "Top-ranking Student at Smith Missing from Wellesley Home" from the Boston Herald; "Beautiful Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley" from Boston Globe; and "Day-Long Search Fails to Find Smith Student" also from the Boston Globe.

The article that was not familiar to me has three headline-ish titles: The first presumably appears above the masthead of the front page next to the word "EXTRA! Wellesley Student Found Alive". If it follows the other articles from that day, the first page featured "Search Ends / Find Girl in Cellar". Above the conclusion of the article on page 17, it reads: "100 Hunt Wellesley Girl Missing 2 Days". The article appeared in the lurid Boston Traveler on August 26, 1953: 1, 17. I believe the "Extra!" is the name of the edition of the newspaper. The most brilliant thing about this clipping was the inclusion of a previously unseen (by me) photograph on page 17. The photograph shows a search party in a natural scene somewhere in Wellesley with the caption: "PART OF WELLESLEY SEARCH PARTY—Wellesley police officers are shown with a woman volunteer, Elaine Pipes, as they searched today for missing 20-year-old Sylvia Plath, Smith College student who disappeared Monday. Left to right, Victor H. Maccini, Donald H. Murphy, Jerry Monaghan, Leroy Weaver, Francis Kiduff, Richard Parker, Tom Furdon and John Tracey." The photograph was taken by a famous Boston news photographer, Anthony Cabral, two time winner of the Edwin T. Ramsdell Memorial Trophy.

This is truly fascinating. Plath's Esther Greenwood describes three clippings and four photographs in The Bell Jar. The first two are spot on in their descriptions of actual photographs that ran of Plath that summer. In the article "Beautiful Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley" from Boston Globe, there is a photograph of Plath "showed a big, blown-up picture of a girl with black-shadowed eyes and black lips spread in a grin" (1963, 210). And in "Day-Long Search Fails to Find Smith Student", also from the Boston Globe, the photograph accompanying the article "showed a picture of my mother and brother and me grouped together in our backyard amd smiling" (1963, 210). The third photograph was of "A dark, midnight picture of about a dozen moon-faced people in a wood. I thought the people at the end of the row looked queer and unusually short until I realized they were not people, but dogs"; and the fourth "The last picture showed policemen lifting a long, limp blanket roll with a featureless cabbage head into the back of an ambulance" (1963, 211).

This photograph of the search party does not include bloodhounds and is not taken at night as Esther Greenwood describes in the novel, but it gives me some kind of Plathetic hope that perhaps there were at the time. It is evident there were more newspaper articles that ran than we will likely ever fully know, so it is not totally unreasonable to think that the other clippings Esther described actually were printed.

The other interesting aspect to these clippings is the fact that they are original, and that Olwyn Hughes had them. How did she acquire them? One possibility is that she obtained them from among Plath's papers that she left behind in England after her death. If this were the case, then it means that Plath had them on hand at the time she wrote The Bell Jar.

This brings the total number of articles on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt to 192. The large majority of these are AP news stories cut up from their original Boston appearances and sent out over the wire. I still find it fascinating to see how far and wide this story traveled. If you live in a city with access to microfilm from 24-31 August 1953, please consider going to look at it to see if any articles ran. If so, I (we, I dare to speak for this blogs' readers!!!) would love copies/scans of them to further extend the search for Sylvia Plath.

My thanks and deepest gratitude to Patricia Aske, Librarian, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

All links accessed 14 May 2014, 20 June 2014, and 15 August 2014.

You can see a bibliography of articles on Plath's first suicide attempt, and read PDF's of them, over at A celebration, this is.


Anonymous said...

Great work as usual. I wonder if any of the folks named in the photo are still alive. Richard Marsh

Peter K Steinberg said...

Richard -- See, this is why you get paid the big bucks as it had not occurred to me to see if any of these named people were still living, or had relatives that might have stories, clippings, and the like. Genius. Thank you for your compliment, too.


suki said...

Will try the libraries. Useful being in a university town sometimes

Rehan Qayoom said...

It's amazing how widely reported the incident was. Masterly research Peter, as always:

Je m’en allays, les poings dans mes poches crevées
Mon paletot aussi devenait ideal
J’ allays sous le ciel, Muse! Et j’étais ton féal
Oh! là là! Qued’ amours splendides j’ai rêvées!

(Arthur Rimbaud. ‘Ma Bohèhme')

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.