I follow several idiosyncratic places on Facebook for a variety of research reasons; the University of Chicago is one, because it holds the repository of J Harlen Bretz’s archives. Uncle Harley taught at the University, helped found the Adler Planetarium, and explored Greenland and glaciers with international scientists from the Royal Society. A gum shoe geologist, his theories of the floods of the Washington State Scablands earned him accolades and scorn. But this great university backed him, and received in return, the boxes of his life’s work. The University of Chicago is also famous in another entirely different realm, as the employer of Indiana Jones. Any blog post that begins with the phrase, “We don’t really even know how to start this post …” promises quite a possibility.
A mysterious package arrived at the Rosenwald Hall, the former home of the Geology department at the University of Chicago. Addressed to Henry Walton Jones, Jr., complete with fictitious international stamps, but the contents were astounding. The package contained a detailed replica of “University of Chicago Professor” Abner Ravenwood’s journal.
The University was stumped, and appealed through social media for a solution.
“We know this sounds like a joke/hoax… it’s not (at least, from our end). Any hints, ideas, thoughts, or explanations are appreciated. We’ve been completely baffled as to why this was sent to us, in mostly a good way, but it’s clear this is a neat thing that either belongs somewhere else— or belongs in the halls of UChicago admissions history.”
The solution to this mystery came shortly thereafter. The diary is the work of an artist known as Ravenbar (Paul from Guam on eBay). The diary was originally intended for a customer in Italy. The outer package was found without its contents at the USPS sorting facility in Honolulu, HI. The University’s address was put on the manila wrapping of the journal for cosmetic effect, the zip code added at the Post Office, and believing the Egyptian postage was real, sent it onward.
The journal will find a new home in the Oriental Institute, as many commentators to the story noted, “It belongs in a museum!” The Institute is working on a new exhibition about the men who inspired Indiana’s character, and perhaps my Uncle Harley will be chosen as one of those influences. His archive is housed at the Regenstein Library on the University of Chicago campus.
The rabbit hole of research that produced this article had another interesting side note; an interview with author Ed Erdelac, who once toiled in the archive of the Regenstein Library, and the interesting notebooks he found regarding the Van Helsing myth. You never know what might be hidden on a dusty self in the basement of a library!
I love reading about history and myth, and the collision course that the internet has given to fact and fiction. I look forward to chatting with you about this, Indiana Jones, and history.
All images are from the University of Chicago.