Tuesday, February 2, 2016


If you haven't read Frederick Douglass's book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave,  we urge you to:

A) Stop by the Bullis Room and take a look at the collection's copy published in 1847 in Boston at the Anti-slavery office; and,
B) Get a copy (through PLS or your friendly online bookseller) and sit down for a good read.

This is a book that will grab your interest from the very beginning. In fact, a letter from the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, dated April 22, 1845, is printed in the Preface. In it, Phillips declares:

"I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most neglected of God's children waken to a sense of their rights, and of the injustice done them. Experience is a keen teacher; and long before you had mastered your A B C, or knew where the 'white sails' of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and want, not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting death which gathers over his soul.

"In connection with this, there is one circumstance which makes your recollections peculiarly valuable, and renders your early insight the more remarkable. You come from that part of the country where we are told slavery appears with its fairest features. Let us hear, then, what it is at its best estate—gaze on its bright side, if it has one; and then imagination may task her powers to add dark lines to the picture, as she travels southward to that (for the colored man) Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the Mississippi sweeps along.

"Again, we have known you long, and can put the most entire confidence in your truth, candor, and sincerity. Every one who has heard you speak has felt, and, I am confident, every one who reads your book will feel, persuaded that you give them a fair specimen of the whole truth. No one-sided portrait,—no wholesale complaints,—but strict justice done, whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for a moment, the deadly system with which it was strangely allied. You have been with us, too, some years, and can fairly compare the twilight of rights, which your race enjoy at the North, with that "noon of night" under which they labor south of Mason and Dixon's line. Tell us whether, after all, the half-free colored man of Massachusetts is worse off than the pampered slave of the rice swamps!"

Again, we strongly suggest you spend some time with Frederick Douglass's book which, according to the abolitionist Phillips, is written with truth, candor and sincerity. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016


As you honor the memory of Martin Luther King this weekend,  please consider a visit to the Bullis Room.

Why?  There are no books in the collection written by or about Dr. King. However, there are over a dozen Bullis books that address the slavery issue as well as the lives of our country's great emancipators and liberators who came before Martin Luther King, Jr.

Therefore, in honor of Dr. King and observance of next month's Black History month, we will highlight these books for your reference -- and in hopes that you'll want to stop by the Bullis Room to study them further.

For this post, we chose the book:

History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880.
Negroes as slaves, as soldiers, and as citizens;
together with a preliminary consideration of the unity
of the human family, an historical sketch of Africa, and
an account of the Negro governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
By George Washington Williams (1849-1891)
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons New York, 1883

The author, George Washington Williams, was "an American Civil War veteran, minister, politician, lawyer, journalist and a groundbreaking historian of African-American history."   His varied life experiences prepared and qualified him to write this book,  "... the first overall history of African Americans, showing their participation and contributions from the earliest days of the colonies." (Wikipedia, "George Washington Williams") 

Some of the other books we will highlight in the next six weeks are: The Galley Slave; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave; The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade Ancient and Modern; The Yankee Slave Driver: Or, The Black andWhite Rivals; The Wrong of Slavery, the Right of Emancipation; and, The Future of the African Race in the United States.

Please "tune in" for more details.

PS: The Wikipedia article also mentions that George Washington Williams 

Thursday, January 7, 2016


National Handwriting Day is January 23. This special recognition of the lost art of penmanship and letter writing has been celebrated annually since it's establishment in 1977. (FYI: According to History.com the January 23 date was chosen, very appropriately, in honor of John Hancock's birthday.)

As Bullis volunteers, we marvel at the handwritten letters, notes, and documents in the collection. The idea that people used to devote an hour or more to write a letter to a friend seems almost foreign to us in these days of instant messaging, texting, and emailing. And yet, we get a sense that the writers of these missives enjoyed these writing sessions as much (or perhaps more than) the recipients enjoyed the final product.

And so we've been thinking - when is the last time we sat down to write a long, newsy letter to a friend or relative? Do we even remember how to do this activity? Well, if we need a few pointers on letter writing, we can always refer to Mary Owens Crowther's How to Write Letters that was highlighted in our post a few weeks ago.  Ms. Crowther's book was written over 90 years ago.  Is it relevant today? It must be--there's a 2015 paperback version of it for sale online.

So here's the deal - there are two weeks left before National Handwriting Day.  In this interim, let's find a quiet time, sit down, relax, pick up a pen, put it to paper, and write a letter.  If this seems a bit awkward at first, know that with practice the skill will come back.  Honest.

And also know that you are invited to stop by the Bullis Room and look at some perfect examples of this lost art.

Monday, December 28, 2015


If you read our post "Christmas With Aunt Jo," you know that the Bullis family's Christmas celebrations were not as elaborate as those of most of their neighbors.  However, they were a kind and basically generous family.

Nettie Bullis exemplified these traits with the $12.3 million bequest she left to her community.  As a result, many individuals and organizations in Wayne County have benefitted  from that generosity (and continue to do so). This reminds us of two lines in the song, "The Secret of Christmas," which read:

"It's not the things you do, at Christmas time
But the Christmas things you do all year through"

Just as important as her monetary gifts to others - and maybe more so - Nettie Bullis consistently showed kindness to all of those she met during her lifetime. Her colleagues at Gleason Works noted that she mentored younger workers at that institution, where she served as Private Secretary and Private Assistant to President James Gleason.  Among neighbors and others who met her, Miss Bullis had a reputation for being very non-threatening, approachable and  kind. If someone needed help, she would be there, doing those Christmas things, all the year through. 

Our community is a better place because of Nettie Bullis and her "Christmas things." And for that, we once again say a sincere, "Thank you."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


How-to (aka self-help) books continue to be a perennial Christmas gift choice.  Did you know there are several of books in this category in the Bullis collection? Here's a partial list:

How To Write Letters. 
(Formerly The Book of Letters)
A complete guide to correct business and personal correspondence
Author: Mary Owens Crowder
Publisher: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1922

How To Read Character;
A new illustrated hand-book of phrenology and physiognomy, 
for students and examiners: with a descriptive chart.
Author: Samuel R. Wells
Publisher: Fowler & Wells Co., New York, c 1808

Flying Machines:
Construction and operation; a practical book which shows,
in illustrations, working plans and text, 
how to build and navigate the modern airship.
Author: William James Jackman
Publisher: The Charles C. Thompson Co., Chicago, 1910

So ... if you're looking for an almost-last-minute gift for that special someone (who may have an interest in how to write correct business and personal correspondence, how to read character, or how to construct and operate a flying machine), here's what we suggest. Stop by MPL and ask someone to help you access these books. Take your time looking over each one, and if you decide on one or more of them as a gift, you can purchase them online.  

There are also Kindle editions available. Two of the books have customer review ratings of 4-out-of-5 stars, indicating that books can continue to inform and entertain for more than 200 Christmases. Now, that's a gift that lasts.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Where did November go? We're not sure, but it went fast for us Bullis Room volunteers.  Now it's December and time for holiday celebrations.  This brings up the question (once again) of how the Bullis family observed Christmas. Here's an excerpt from a July, 2009 interview with an extended-family member who is connected with the Bullises through her grandmother.

Question: "Did you ever spend any holidays with them (Bullis family)?"

Answer: "Yes, Christmas with Aunt Jo. But Charlie and Nettie weren't there. I don't know if they celebrated Christmas or not. Auto Jo always celebrated. We always got books or we got money. We always got gifts from her and I still have all of the books. They were nice books. They were Richard Halliburton books, The Occident and The Orient, they were travel books (The Book of Marvels: The Occident; The Second Book of Marvels: The Orient). I had one about the Erie Canal. We had some of those Thornton Burgess books - children's books about animals and the seashore. I liked the books. I'm not a Bullis, but I like books."

The time frame for the Christmases referred to in the interview was the 1930s and early 1940s. Charlie and Nettie Bullis were adults  by then, which may be why they were not present at those holiday celebrations.  However, another source quotes Nettie Bullis as saying that when she and Charlie received gifts from their parents, they were books or practical toys.  This fits in with the Bullis frugality recorded in many other accounts.

Another question in that July, 2009 interview solicited Christmas memories as well:

Question: "Any Bullis family recipe?"

Answer: "Always had goose for Christmas. Nettie and Charlie didn't have much in the way of recipes (or food!) I don't mean to disparage them in any way at all. They were very good people. Aunt Jo used to have a big wooden bowl and her chopper and she would always chop a cabbage salad. That was one of the things that was always a part of Christmas dinner - cabbage salad."

So, in a nutshell (chestnut?):  The Bullises observed Christmas by giving books to the children and eating goose and cabbage salad for dinner.

From the Bullis Room: Happy Holidays to you.

Monday, November 30, 2015


Have you seen the display of Native American books, in the case outside the Bullis Room? If not, please make a point to stop by this week.

You'll see books on Native American traditions, crafts, and their history in general.

And if you'd like to take a closer look at any of those books on display, they'll be available in the Bullis Room next week. Just stop by and ask for a volunteer to assist you.