Princess Di’s Dresses in the Archives?

At Cranbrook Archives, much of the work we do—processing manuscripts, arranging documents, scanning photographs—all have a rather similar procedure: repeat.

There is plenty of magnificence to be found in the mundane though. We don’t mind the monotonous details because it’s this repetitive process that wins us the occasional gem. Today, while going through Cranbrook’s historic exhibition brochures printed between the 1940s and 1990s, I came across an image of Princess Diana.

“Five Dresses from the Collection of Diana, Princess of Wales” was an exhibition held at the Cranbrook Art Museum from March 10-15, 1998. The royal dresses were premiered at Cranbrook before becoming part of a worldwide tour that traveled to Russia, Japan, Australia, and England through 1999. This selection from the Princess’s wardrobe was shown in conjunction with the “Art on the Edge of Fashion” exhibition held at Cranbrook at the same time.

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Cranbrook Art Museum exhibition brochure, 1988. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The five dresses were from the private collection of Ellen Louise Petho, a commercial interior designer who, incidentally, was the parent of a Kingswood School alumna. Susan Whitall’s press release in the Detroit News explained how the princess sold dozens of her dresses to benefit AIDs charities just months before her death in 1997. She wrote, “Petho scooped up the five frocks for what became, after Diana’s death, a bargain basement price—less than $100,000.”

The collection included a pleated pink silk tunic dinner dress that Diana wore at the Gala Evening for the English National Ballet and the long jade and black evening dress worn to a dinner at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in 1986. Four of the five dresses were designed by Catherine Walker and the “piece de resistance,” designed by Bruce Oldfield, was the red dress the princess wore at the premiere of the motion picture “Hot Shots” in 1991.

The Archives are a trove of Cranbrook history. We love rediscovering the hidden materials—it’s what makes the repetition meaningful.

Danae Dracht, Archives Assistant

The Fascinating Notebooks of John Buckberrough

John H. Buckberrough (1874-1955), an immigrant from Ontario, Canada, was a civil engineer for the Cranbrook Foundation from 1927 until he retired in 1955. As described by Henry Scripps Booth:

Buckberrough, a slight man of medium height, started working for Swanson and Booth as that firm’s sole employee two years before Cranbrook officially employed him. That was in the firm’s tiny architectural office located in the below-road-level room of the Ram House section of Brookside’s buildings. … He became one of the first employees of what was known as the Cranbrook Architectural Office in January 1927. … Over the years he was chief surveyor, planned most of the pump rooms, transformer vaults and underground systems, kept copious notes and made detailed plans regarding changes which not only proved increasingly valuable in solving complicated problems but put to shame those who were later supposed to fill his shoes.

In addition to numerous architectural drawings that bear his signature, Buckberrough’s legacy in the Cranbrook Archives is 10 calfskin engineers’ field books, chock full of drawings and notations, covering 1926-1955.

Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Descriptions and diagrams of Cranbrook property, heating and plumbing data for Cranbrook buildings, data on Cranbrook roads and lakes, drawings of pump houses, sidewalks, lighting layouts and water lines can be found in the notebooks. Here are some examples:

Design of a bridge.

Bridge at Kingswood Lake, 1938.

Column design for fireplace in Cranbrook House living room.

Column design for fireplace in Cranbrook House living room.

The Archives’ staff often finds valuable information in the notebooks, which is used for campus restoration and renovation projects including the recent restoration of Cranbrook School Quad. Little did Buckberrough know how valuable his meticulous note-taking would prove to be. Though a search for information requires a careful page-by-page hunt, it’s a pleasant change from the impersonality of electronic resources.

Cheri Y. Gay, Archivist

Lions and Tigers and Mastodons, oh MI!

Don’t worry (or sorry!) if you thought this post was going to be about sports teams in the Detroit area. Today’s post is purely about scientific discovery and serendipity right here in Southeast Michigan! Last month local news services reported that the remains of a wooly mammoth had been discovered in Lima Township (Washtenaw County). This prompted me to do some research about these super-cool prehistoric elephant ancestors. According to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, mammoths and mastodons disappeared from this area about 11,700 years ago. Since that time, the remains of about 300 mastodons and 30 mammoths have been found in Michigan.

In 1934, a WPA project was underway when workers discovered bones while using a steam shovel in Bloomfield Hills. The remains, believed to be dinosaur bones by the workers, were brought to Cranbrook Institute of Science for identification. The bones were determined to be those of a mastodon – now known as “The Bloomfield Hills Mastodon.”

Excavation site of the Bloomfield Hills Mastodon, 1934. Cranbrook Archives.

Excavation site of the Bloomfield Hills mastodon, 1934. Cranbrook Archives.

Only the skull with a few vertebrae and ribs were recovered during the excavation of a small pond, which was deepened to form an artificial lake. The bones were uncovered in a residential district about a quarter of a mile east of Woodward Avenue near Charing Cross Road.

Jaw bone from Bloomfield Hills mastodon, 1934. Cranbrook Archives.

Jaw bone from Bloomfield Hills mastodon, 1934. Cranbrook Archives.

In 1972 a large bone was discovered by a Cranbrook grounds crewman during the process of cleaning up a dump. Warren Wittry, anthropologist and then-CIS director, identified the bone as the central portion of the right scapula of an adult Ice Age mastodon. A”dig” crew was gathered to search for additional bones, but alas only a few additional fragments were found.

Late in 1977, the Institute received an early Christmas present when a partial skull and section of tusk from a young mastodon were discovered by two high school students near Seymour Lake Road in Brandon Township in northern Oakland County. The Institute was very excited about the donation of the bones, which were in an excellent state of preservation. There have been several more mastodon discoveries in Michigan since the 1970s. Personally, I find these stories more interesting to follow than the local sports scene.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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