Shortly before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on
Dec. 7, 1941, Johns Hopkins
administrators and faculty anticipated that the nation
would be drawn into war. Letters and
memoranda in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower
Library indicate how quickly they moved to
devise plans to protect the university's valuable books,
journals and significant art objects.
University architect Grosvenor Atterbury, of New York,
informed Johns Hopkins President
Isaiah Bowman in October 1941 that "a number of
institutions in New York have taken up the question
of safety vaults with an eye to possible trouble in the
Following the November 1941 board of trustees'
Executive Committee meeting, Bowman wrote
to John B. French, university librarian, to say that the
trustees had discussed "safe storage facilities
for especially valuable university property in case of
French informed Bowman on Dec. 8 that he had consulted
with the secretary of the British
Museum, who "emphasized the need for protection against
dampness in any underground shelter."
Not everyone was alarmed. The executive secretary and
librarian of the Peabody Institute,
Louis H. Dielman, wrote to French that taking "precautions
for the preservation of rarities - has
never occurred to me and I have not the slightest idea of
any practical steps to take." He added, "I
learn that the State is considering the use of an abandoned
coal mine in Garrett or Allegheny
Counties. Should such a cavern be sufficiently dry for this
purpose, the problem of packing and
transportation is too big for my capacity."
On Dec. 16, Bowman appointed a Committee on Protection
of the Library with French as chair.
Bowman told committee members that they had three days to
consider the issues and make
recommendations to him and the trustees. The committee made
♦ Library: Although "the destruction by enemy
action" of valuable materials "would be very
serious, the removal and storage, even if feasible, would
disrupt the work of the University so
completely as to force us to suspend all research. The only
thing to do is keep such material where it
is and try to protect it as fully as possible."
♦ Special Collections: Stating that these items
"could be spared without serious effect on
University research," the committee suggested these items
could be stored in a vault in the recently
constructed Mergenthaler Hall at Homewood. The vault could
be "so protected by sandbags as to make
it reasonably secure against bomb attack."
♦ Archaeological Museum: "Store the most
precious objects in the Mergenthaler vault, and
consider using sandbags outside the Museum as protection
against bombs falling close to the
The trustees, on Jan. 5, 1942, accepted the
recommendations and authorized expenditures for
a "Special War Protection Account" of $20,000.