Field Notes

Couper Press publishes historic Gillette diary

Research on the 1906 Adirondack murder that inspired Dreiser's An American Tragedy and the film A Place in the Sun opens a new chapter this spring with the publication of The Prison Diary and Letters of Chester Gillette.

Published by Hamilton and its Richard W. Couper Press and edited by Jack Sherman and Craig Brandon, the book comes in time to mark the 100th anniversary of Gillette's March 30, 1908, execution at Auburn (N.Y.) State Prison for the slaying of Grace Brown on Big Moose Lake nearly two years earlier. Gillette kept the diary over the seven months before his death. The original was donated to Burke Library in March 2007 by Marlynn McWade-Murray, Gillette's grandniece.

Couper Librarian Randy Ericson believes the scholarly impact of the diary's publication is likely to be substantial. "Any scholar who does research on this case is going to want to read the diary," he says, "because this is almost the only information we have directly from Chester, and the only information we have from his time in jail."

According to Ericson, the diary charts "a transformation in [Chester's] character from what was seen in the trial and what he expressed before. To get a better, more rounded sense of the person, I think the scholar is going to want to look at these materials."

The diary does not provide new evidence of Gillette's guilt or innocence in the notorious case. Ericson notes that Sherman provides "a very strong case for his guilt" in the new volume, but he also says that "by today's standards, the forensic evidence was really sketchy." And he recalls that Brown entertains thoughts of death in her final letters. "The last letter in particular can be interpreted as suicidal," he says.

But while the case against Gillette was based on circumstantial evidence, Ericson says, "that evidence led to a conviction and an execution…. What counted against him a great deal was how he behaved afterward and the callow, insensitive and self-absorbed attitude that people perceived during the trial. And that's the transformation that takes place" over the course of the diary. "He becomes much more concerned about the feelings and hardships of others, particularly the impact on his family."

McWade-Murray inherited the diary and letters in 2003 and learned about Burke Library's collection of other items related to the case, including letters exchanged by Chester and Grace. She donated the materials to Hamilton because she wished them to be handled in a fair-minded, scholarly manner. Held by the family since Gillette's death, the diary and letters have never before been published.

The book also includes personal reflections by McWade-Murray; a biography of Gillette and summary of the case by Brandon, an author and journalist; and an introduction to the diary and letters by Sherman, a Tompkins County judge. There are 32 black-and-white illustrations and photographs as well as a Gillette family tree. The book retails for $25 and is available from the Couper Press and North Country Books. For additional information or to order a copy of the book, call 315-859-4475 or e-mail acaprak@hamilton.edu.

The Richard W. Couper Press, established in 2006, is named in honor of the late Richard W. Couper '44, an alumnus and life trustee of Hamilton and benefactor of the Burke Library.

The Couper Press continues its publication schedule this spring with Vol. 2, No. 1 of the American Communal Societies Quarterly, with articles devoted to the planning, construction and "mythical structure" of the communal dwelling of the Mount Lebanon Center Family in the mid-1800s; and the interactions — particularly regarding celibacy — between communal groups at Bishop Hill, Ill., and Pleasant Hill, Ken., during the same era. Ericson says the press may also reprint various editions of early apostate writings from the 1780s.

"One of the intentions of the Couper Press is to reprint publications that are difficult to obtain but that are important to the history of the Shakers and other communal groups," he says. "We want to present new research but also documents that are long out of print and difficult to find."


Domack, McCormick receive NSF grants

Two related grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support the work of Eugene Domack, the Joel W. Johnson Family Professor of Geosciences, and Assistant Professor of Biology Mike McCormick. Both grants help fund a series of research expeditions to Antarctica for which Domack serves as chief scientist as part of the NSF International Polar Year program. Domack's international, multiyear project, "Collaborative Research in IPY: Abrupt Environmental Change in the Larsen Ice Shelf System, a Multidisciplinary Approach — Marine and Quaternary Geosciences," received a $561,715 award that will allow him and a team of fellow researchers to address the changes occurring in the Antarctic Peninsula region as a consequence of the abrupt collapse of the Larsen Ice Shelf system.

"This is the first time that an international, interdisciplinary team will work together to address a significant regional problem with global change implications," Domack says. "This breaks the traditional mold of discipline-specific research. We will benefit from gathering observations from several different areas of research."

The project for which McCormick received funding is titled "Collaborative Research in IPY: Abrupt Environmental Change in the Larsen Ice Shelf System, a Multidisciplinary Approach — Marine Ecosystems." The award to Hamilton is $113,000. McCormick and his collaborators will investigate the profound transformation occurring within the marine ecosystem once covered by the ice shelf.

The projects will involve five expeditions from 2008 through 2013. Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to participate in some of these. "This is another chance for us to continue the Antarctic research tradition at Hamilton. It is a great testimony to the program that we have received this funding," said Domack, who has been making regular research trips to Antarctica since 1987 and has received continuous funding from the NSF.


Microsoft grant for computer security

Associate Professor of Computer Science Mark Bailey has received a grant from Microsoft's research division for the development of a new computer security course, Secrets, Lies and Digital Threats. The course will cover computer security issues to help future leaders, including those who will shape public technology policy, to understand the nature of security threats and how they are likely to evolve in the future. The course will include case studies and a service-learning component in which students will run a tutorial at local high schools.

The new course is the second in a series of courses designed to disseminate expertise in computer security at the curricular level across a wide range of educational institutions. The course will be developed and taught at Hamilton and the University of Virginia; later the materials will be distributed nationally. The entire grant is $100,000 of which Hamilton will receive $25,000.


New research boat is lab on the water

The waterways of Central New York are crucial sites for the study of natural change and its impact on society as well as the local, regional and even global environment. Hamilton now has a vessel capable of providing access to regional lakes and rivers for teaching and research. It was acquired and outfitted with the support of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation via the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. A name had not been definitely decided in March, but an "open boat day" and formal dedication is planned for May or June.

The boat, which is moored at the Oneida Lake Marina and can operate from April through November, is equipped with all major sediment and water sampling instruments. Its digital navigation and bottom-mapping hardware and software are GIS compatible. The boat can accommodate up to 12 passengers, has fuel, accommodations and engine capacity for overnight excursions, and is completely enclosed for operation in foul weather. It can navigate in water as shallow as one foot and is handicapped-accessible. The boat provides direct-water access to the Finger Lakes via the New York State Barge Canal system; Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway; and the Mohawk and Hudson River systems. It can be transported by trailer to the large water bodies of the Adirondacks and the Tug Hill Plateau.

Contact Information

Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Magazine
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
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