My Experiences with the Vasváry Collection

As a graduate of library major at the University of Szeged my choice of theme for my thesis seemed nothing but obvious; picking the Collection of late Rev. Ödön Vasváry of Somogyi Library of Szeged was almost natural. With the collection I got closely acquainted during those hundred hours that I spent at the library as one of my practical courses. Shamefully, though being born in Szeged, I have never even heard of this collection before this experience.

By the collection's unique atmosphere I was touched on two different levels: I have always been interested in the Hungarian immigrants' history that I heard so much about on my American History lessons; and being a proud fellow-resident of Szeged made me inquire intensely about the collection.

Reverend Edmund Vasváry on 27 June 1914 just one day before the breakout of World War I started he out to settle (originally planned to stay only for two years) in the United States of America.

Being an American-Hungarian he felt obliged to create some intellectual value so thus he dedicated more than fifty years of his life for collecting documents regarding American Hungarians. The incomparable collection had been bequeathed to the Library of his birth town, the Somogyi Library even before his death, which ever since its arrival in 1978 is opened for the public.

During my visits paid to the collection a never ceasing amusement has evolved over the antique volumes and folders that introduce so many stories: folders that were lost and found, volumes that joined only later the collection and the countless handwritten notes that still yarn our nation's history on strange lands.

Researching, reading heaps of atricles about the history of the collection two stories touched me the most. The first one starts out with László Péter's visit (a scientific colleague of the Library) at Vasváry's in Washington. He had a rather close friendship with Vasváry and spent a few weeks' time, compiling an inventory of the collection.

After the year of Vasváry's death, in 1978 the material arrived in three turns to the library, the packages were opened with full inventory.

This time was the fact revealed that the inventory did not match the one compiled in 1975. Amongst the missing documents were three folders full of information about Benyovszky Móric and one of Abraham Lincoln. An opportunity for replacing the Benyovszky folders was opened in 1989: a copy was made after the microfilm that was taken of the collection before the shipping to Hungary, held at the National Széchényi Library. Even more interesting was the almost miraculous return of the missing Licoln folder after surviving God knows how many cleaning and moving: back in the days Vasváry lent this folder to an American-Hungarian researcher, but he died before he could have returned the folder to its rightful owner. Managing the bequest of his late husband, the widow found the document with Vasváry's handwritten notes in it and returned it to the collection in Szeged.

The other interesting topic was the story of the collection of the similarly enthusiastic American-Hungarian: Károly Feleky. Obviously I only familiarized with his pursuit through books and articles but even from these a certain shine comes through: his devotion and enthusiasm towards documents connected to Hungary or Hungarians is amazing. His passion for collecting has the same origin as Vasváry's: in the center stands Kossuth and his involvement in American matters. Once a Kossuth-book of his activities in 1848-49 caught Feleky's eyes in the window of a bookshop in Pittsburgh and driven by his curiosity bought and read the book. After this particular event he built a worldwide network of book dealers who immediately notified him whenever an English language book of Hungary or Hungarians was discovered. By this method would he have gained three Kossuth-notes if they hadn't been delivered on the Titanic in 1912.

According to his peers his passion was incomparable: he did not spare either time or money to gather all the documents available. The fate of his collection was rather rugged: it was part of the Hungarian Reference Library then the Library of Congress in Washington. Among others, Vasváry disputed in favor of keeping the collection together but against all differing opinions, the collection was melted into the holdings of the Library of Congress.

These two, and so many more stories draw the varied picture of the history of the collection: after taking such a bumpy road, the collection of Vasváry and a piece of Feleky's collection found its final peace in the Somogyi Library.

Today the collection is taken care of by the most adequate, professional hands, even though the financial conditions are quite poor, the staff does his best to preserve and make the valuable scripts and volumes available to the public eye.

The first step of this aspiration was the making of the index - by András Csillag - which included the complete processing of the data folders. With the help of various tenders were a whole range of ideas possible to establish, even the digitalization of the Kossuth-folders, which is available on the web since 2004. Amongst further plans digitalizing the whole segment of folders is considered as well; so far the American themed folders are converted to digital files.

It was a great pleasure and experience to have a glance at the 'backstage' of a collection having such an adventurous past, almost even touch a piece of history. I can only be grateful to Vasváry, Feleky, the Somogyi Library and Mária Kórász for making it possible for the collection to become an invaluable piece of public property.

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Tünde Bácskai