Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection: the hidden jungle of Ekstrom

By on September 25, 2012

The Tarzan collection at Ekstrom contains the largest amount of memorabilia surrounding the Edgar Rice Burroughs character.

By Esther Lee–

Deep in the heart of the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library lies a hidden treasure: the world’s largest institutional collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writings and memorabilia of his most well-known literary creation, Tarzan.

The collection was donated by George McWhorter, who also serves as the collection’s curator. McWhorter started his Borroughs and Tarzan collection, which now includes over 200,000 items in 1936. He donated the collection to the library in 1976. It was dedicated to his mother, Nell Dismukes McWhorter, who taught him to read at the age of five.

“[Burroughs] had a great sense of humor that appealed to me. His philosophy and one of his techniques were cliffhangers, so you always wanted to read more,” McWhorter said.

When I first learned about this massive Tarzan collection in the library, I imagined a jungle, and this was not far from the truth. In the display room, there were bright, colorful Tarzan posters hanging on the walls and countless Tarzan figurines, ornaments, comics and even a pencil sharpener in the glass display cases.

“The collection was absolutely amazing. It had everything from Sunday comics from 1931 to foreign movies about Tarzan,” Keyonna McKinsey, bioengineering major, age 19, expressed when asked about her thoughts on the collection.

Not only does the collection include Burroughs collector’s items, but there are also Burroughs’ personal items such as membership cards, including War Correspondent US Pacific Fleet, United Press Correspondent and Hollywood Country Club. Another fascinating and amazing item in the display room was a personal letter from President Ronald Reagan. “The most amazing thing in my opinion is the letter written by Borroughs sent to President Reagan, and the fact that Reagan had even responded was pretty astounding in itself,” McKinsey said.

At the end of the display room was another door that led into the main exhibit. It overflows with all sorts of items such as Sunday funnies, movie scripts, badges from Dum-Dum conventions hosted by the Burrough Bibliophiles and photographs of all 22 official Tarzan actors. “I never knew that there were so many movies, TV shows and books of Tarzan. I didn’t know it was so popular,” Steven Schweinhart, computer engineering and computer science major, age 19 said.

At the end of the room, there was even a Martian chess-set, an extension of the traditional game that is based on Burroughs’ science fiction novels. Also, wedged between the bookshelves were miniature representations of Tarzan’s birthplace and Burroughs private library.

Nothing Burroughs-related escaped the collection. Not even Star Trek items that drew Burroughs references were excluded.

And of course the Burroughs Collection would not be a collection without the books. There were countless volumes including all 30 first-edition Tarzan books, reprints, foreign editions and braille copies. Although the collection is sizable already, the collection will continue to grow as the lasting impression of Burroughs’ Tarzan develops. “There will always be more adaptions of Tarzan,” McWhorter stated.

The massive collection is truly inspiring. Anyone who visits the collection would be encouraged to read early literacy classics. “I want them to need to read for themselves.” McWhorter said. “If  it’s through Burroughs, then that’s great, but it’s okay even if it’s Peter Rabbit to get them to learn to read.”

The collection’s most outstanding feature was not its impressive number of books or items, though. It was the love and dedication McWhorter has put into the collection over the decades.

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Photos: Nathan Gardner/The Louisville Cardinal

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