Teen Idols: from James Dean to…The Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia?

This week I have been working on processing the scrapbook of Stephen Henry Olin, an influential figure in Wesleyan’s history (most commonly known as the son of President Stephen Olin of Olin Library fame). The scrapbook does not detail Olin’s many life accomplishments, however, but instead reveals the fancies of a thirteen year old boy growing up in a country on the verge of a Civil War.

When I heard that I would be working with a “Civil War Scrapbook,” I was expecting grim accounts of friends lost and the trials of eating gruel. Instead, this particular scrapbook opens to an elaborate (yet obviously amateur) painted dedication, and then goes on to showcase similarly upbeat articles cut and pasted from Vanity Fair concerning a leisurely trip that the 7th Regiment made to Washington D.C. It turns out that all of the “Civil War” material in this scrapbook predates the war, and focuses on the charisma and popularity of the Gallant Seventh.

Although the fluffy subject matter of this scrapbook initially surprised me, it made sense once I remembered that it was a 13 year old boy who had taken the time to carefully put it together. Every generation has some form of teen idol- from James Dean to the more recent (and more repugnant) “Hannah Montana” craze. It seems that in 1860 the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia served as idol for American youth like Stephen Henry Olin, and that’s a  significant piece of pop culture history if I ever heard one. Take a look!

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