Blake Collection coming to Huntington

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — Rosanna Blake grew up in Proctorville around the time the United States was fighting the War to end all Wars — World War I.

However, the daughter of Merrill Clifford and Marian Alexander Blake developed a lifelong fascination with another war. More precisely, the losing side of that war. The Civil War and the Confederacy.

When she was 10,

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her mother gave her a book on the famed Southern general Robert E. Lee. And that was that.

“That started her fascination with Robert E. Lee and that branched into collecting items about the Confederacy,” explains Jack Dickinson, curator of the Rosanna A. Blake Confederate Collection at Marshall University.

It’s a collection that has a magnitude of range and quantity. There are 4,000 books, plus 3,000 documents, either Confederate governmental tracts, sheet music or newspapers.

“We have most of the major Southern newspapers on microfilm,” he said. “We have a lot of rare books on artillery and cavalry tactics.”

Blake, who moved in her teen years to Huntington, W.Va., where she graduated from high school, got her bachelor’s degree from Marshall College in 1934. She graduated there summa cum laude and was in the debating and Latin clubs. She received a master’s degree from Ohio University in 1938 and her law degree in 1945 from the University of Kentucky.

Then she moved to Washington, D.C., where she became the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, special assistant to the associate general counsel of the board and administrative law judge of the District of Columbia. She retired in 1968.

Blake died in 1987 at the age of 75 and left her collection of Confederate memorabilia to Marshall.

“She kept her love for Marshall no matter where she was,” Dickinson said. “She was a Marshall supporter all her life.”

Now the prized pieces of the collection will be on display at the Huntington Museum from July 26 to Sept. 21 in conjunction with its massive Civil War exhibit going on at the same time.

Among the pride of the collection is a letter in the hand of Robert E. Lee.

“We found a certified document appraiser,” Dickinson said. “It is completely in Lee’s handwriting. (Its value) is enough to buy a small Mercedes.”