top of page

Part 103: Riley and The Library of Congress, Stack 50

Today is Sunday, November 26th, 2023. On Thanksgiving, we had two friends over, Monte and Mary Ellen. I've known Monte since we were kids; he knew my parents.

Monte and Mary Ellen had just travelled to Washington DC to see a Supreme Court case (link) and while they were there, made time to go to the Library of Congress to see my father's encyclopedia of folk music. I told them to be sure to ask for Stephen Winick, the folklorist who was heard on the Hidden Brain Episode.

As they entered the majestic building, a docent approached, an elegant, pretty woman named Ann. She asked if she could help them. They told Ann they what they were looking for, and she pointed them in the right direction.

“Where are you from?” Ann asked.

“Seattle,” Monte said.

“Oh, my daughter lives in Seattle, in a neighborhood called Queen Anne.”

“That’s the same neighborhood our friend Stacya lives in,” Monte said, suprised at the serendipity.

Monte and Mary Ellen wrote down Ann's daughter's name, and when they came to dinner on Thanksgiving, they told me the whole story. It turns out, the daughter is Laura, my longtime friend, client, and yoga buddy. She lives five blocks from me, and I’ve known Laura and her husband for something like 20 years. What are the chances that the docent who randomly greeted my friends at the Library of Congress in DC is the mother of one of my longtime friends? Insane. That small world stuff makes me happy. Anyway, back to the encyclopedia.

When Monte and Mary Ellen were in the correct area in the Library of Congress, a librarian named Michelle helped them. Stephen Winick was out that day, but one of the librarians called him.

“I was sure to clarify that I thought his beard was neatly trimmed with accents of grey—nothing like the JK Rowling character,” Monte said, reflecting back on the Hidden Brain, which compared Stephen's photograph to Hagrid.

Stephen directed them to his blog on Riley’s encyclopedia, I've linked to it before but here it is again: Link.

Michelle found the key and brought out the manuscripts.

“It was cool to see your dad’s work and touch the paper he’d typed,” said Mary Ellen.

“Did it smell like cigars?” I said.

"Um, I didn't sniff them, so I don't know," she said, humoring me.

I guess people don’t go around sniffing paper. When I go there I might do it, give it a good sniff. When no one’s looking, of course.

All photos by Monte and Mary Ellen.

Librarian Michelle Stefano helped my friends find Riley's encyclopedia of Folk Music, and even called Stephen Winick on the phone to get more information.

Riley Shepard's encyclopedia of folk music manuscripts.

Photos courtesty of Monte and Mary Ellen. This is inside the Library.

Mary Ellen at the Library of Congress looking through Riley's project.

Joe Tanzman was a musician and close family friend. He was given credit for his work early on, but later when Joe died, my father took his name off the project. I wrote his name as "Tansman" before, but Tanzman is correct.

Riley Shepard's author's forward, above.

Snippet from the Hidden Brian episode:

WINICK: Each title is followed by the first line or lines of the song and/or versions thereof, and this by the source. Example - Goose Hangs High, The, Civil War ballad. It deals with Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania and the battle of Gettysburg.

VEDANTAM: As Steve Winick sifts through the materials, he slowly grasps the enormity of the project.

WINICK: So he's got 43,000 individual sheets or two sheets of paper - however long it takes - that he's got to then sort into 4,000 categories. And then in addition to that, he has to cross-reference each of those with all of the places that they've been published. So there's an enormous number of cross-references within this book that he had to do by hand without the ability to electronically associate one item with another.

From the Hidden Brian transcripts:

VEDANTAM: What Riley Shepard had been working on since 1960 was a monumental accounting of some 200 years of American folk music. It involved a search of nearly every available documentary source. Riley had obtained rare books at great expense, including many that were out of print. He had collated thousands of songs and organized them according to their provenance, discovering common roots and pathways that linked different musical traditions together.

Above, Riley writes about folk songs established by common, ordinary people.

Above, the collection report. This will be helpful when I finally go to the Library of Congress. I already have my own copies of my father's work, but I hope to get back to Washington DC, soon. The last time I was there, years ago, I chickened out. I didn't go inside because I was worried that my father and the others who told me that the encyclopedia was in there were bullshitting. I didn't want to waste anymore time tyring to figure out what was true and what wasn't. I regret my reaction, but the anxiety got the best of me.

If you go to the Library of Congress to see my father's encyclopedia, let me know! Send me pictures!

©Stacya Shepard Silverman Riley Shepard’s Promise 2023 All Rights Reserved


Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • YouTube - Black Circle
bottom of page