New collection documents travels with President Woodrow Wilson


Helen Close McCann and her grandson, Trevor Upham, a member of Princeton's class of 2003, examine the collection of documents and photographs from McCann's father, Gilbert Fairchild Close, who was Woodrow Wilson's confidential secretary from 1918 to 1920. McCann and her family have donated the collection to the Mudd Manuscript Library.

Princeton NJ -- A small but rich collection of documents and photographs belonging to Woodrow Wilson's confidential secretary have a new home in the University's Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

The collection was compiled by Gilbert Fairchild Close, who worked for Wilson from 1918 to 1920. His duties included accompanying the president to the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War -- one of the most important international gatherings of the 20th century.

Close graduated from Princeton on June 10, 1903. His great-grandson, Trevor Upham, graduated a century later on June 3. Upham's grandmother, Helen Close McCann of Glen Carbon, Ill., presented Close's papers to University Archivist Daniel Linke while she was on campus for her grandson's commencement.

They will be added to the University Library's highly regarded collection of 20th-century public policy papers, joining many of Wilson's own papers, as well as those of his secretary of state, Robert Lansing, and his secretary of war, Lindley Garrison. Wilson, who graduated from Princeton in 1879, served as president of the University from 1902 to 1910 and president of the United States from 1913 to 1921.

Close's papers are a fascinating mix of correspondence, memorabilia and photographs that bear witness to the eventful times in which he lived, as well as the minor incidents that fill the days of presidential secretaries.

In one letter, the secretary of the American Legation in Brussels reports that the "automobile glasses of the President have never been found," notwithstanding a thorough search by King Albert's staff. "I should say," the secretary wrote, "that probably some Belgian chauffeur liked the brand ... -- so quietly appropriated them." In another letter, a young Frenchwoman reveals her passionate admiration for the president by recounting a dream in which his statue came to life and "pressed me to his breast."

One of the most impressive features of this collection is its array of original photographs from the Paris Peace Conference. There are scenes of triumph, as crowds thronged the route of Wilson's cavalcade, and scenes of desolation, as Wilson confronted ruins touring the battlefields of Belgium. Other photographs depict the opulent chambers of the Palace of Versailles and some of the delegates -- the victors as well as the vanquished -- who assembled to seal the fate of the postwar world.

There are numerous menus, invitations, programs, luggage tags and other mementos from Close's travels with the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, as the president's party was called. The collection also contains a detailed itinerary, complete with pullout map, from Wilson's ill-fated national tour in 1919. During this grueling trip, intended to win public support for the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson suffered a breakdown, the prelude to a debilitating stroke that would cloud the last year of his presidency.

"This is a small but important addition to our holdings on Woodrow Wilson," said Linke, "one that scholars will use for both its photographic value, as well as for the insights found within the correspondence, especially letters between Close and his wife, Helen. It is unusual for such a significant collection to still be in private hands, and we are very thankful to Mrs. McCann and her family for their generous donation."


  [an error occurred while processing this directive]