Spiro T. Agnew Papers Utilized for Research in Bag Man

UMD Libraries played a pivotal role  in the creation of Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz’s new book Bag Man, based on Maddow’s Peabody-nominated podcast of the same name. Both the book and podcast explore the surprisingly lesser-known stories of former vice president Spiro T. Agnew’s various crimes, briberies, and cover-ups. These accounts of Agnew’s vice presidency have  been described as “one of the most brazen political bribery scandals in American history” and “the other scandal that rocked Nixon’s White House.”

Maddow turned to several archival institutions for her research on the project, including UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives and Frostburg State’s Ort Library. When her Peabody nomination was announced, she credited libraries and archives  with making this extensive research possible and helping tell Agnew’s story, tweeting, “God bless you and keep you, Maryland college and university libraries!”

The Spiro T. Agnew papers at Hornbake Library’s Special Collections and University Archives contain roughly 750 linear feet of materials. This collection covers wide swaths of his career, including files from his time as Maryland’s Governor, audio of speeches he gave  as vice president, and additional materials from after his resignation.

Luckily, the bulk of the audio recordings utilized by Maddow had recently been made accessible for patrons to use by the time of her research. Special Collections and University Archives undertook a massive twelve-month digitization project in October 2018 to digitize much of the audio materials in the collection, which number over one thousand items and include both open reel tapes and cassette tapes. They are now accessible online through UMD Libraries Digital Collections

This project involved sending out the tapes for digital processing by an outside vendor, and then painstakingly listening to and taking notes for each tape, some of which are nearly 90 minutes long. With these notes, SCUA employees were then able to upload the recordings and create unique titles and descriptions for each one, cataloging them and making them searchable. 

Large projects like these not only promote accessibility and preservation, they allow new stories and perspectives to emerge from old materials. Without the work of librarians and archivists, deep retrospectives like Maddow’s podcast and book wouldn’t be possible.


Gabrielle Puglisi is a second year MLIS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Digital Curation. She is a student assistant working in the Maryland Collections at the University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives.

Sounds of the Silent Majority: Digitizing the Recordings of Political Culture in the Spiro T. Agnew Papers

“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Rhetoric like this, found scattered throughout the hundreds of speeches performed by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew illustrates the quotable, and sometimes comedic, aspects of the nation’s most vocal Vice President. As a man of controversy and alliteration, Vice President Agnew’s voice called out to the theoretical “Silent Majority” from 1968 to 1973 to speak up about their opinions opposing “corrupted” national news media and supporting President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War among other social and political topics.

The audio recordings after being returned from vendor.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

In October 2018, Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) began a twelve month project to digitize, describe, and make accessible 559 audio recordings (407 ¼” open real tapes and 152 cassette tapes) found in the Spiro T. Agnew papers . With the support of a Council on Library and Information Sources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant, SCUA has added approximately 253 hours of recorded speeches, press conferences, broadcasts, and constituent-created content to the University Libraries’ Digital Collections.

Starting in 1977, Agnew began donating his personal collection of over 500 linear feet of materials to the University of Maryland Libraries. Included in those materials, were 1,368 audiotapes spanning Agnew’s time as Governor of Maryland, the 39th Vice President of the United States, and his post-resignation career. Identified as preservation concerns and potentially high- use items, the audio recordings became a digitization priority for the University Libraries. In 2017, SCUA unit ran a pilot digitization program converting 173 of the tapes to digital recordings and making them accessible to patrons visiting the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. In 2018, curators identified an additional 559 audio recordings within the Spiro T. Agnew papers to be digitized and made accessible to researchers.

Obtaining funds and selecting recordings was only the beginning. In November and December 2018, the 559 open reels and cassette tapes were pulled from various boxes in the Spiro T. Agnew papers. This process included verifying metadata for the materials confirming the correct material was pulled. The reels and tapes were then packed in shipping boxes and prepared for shipment to the vendor. About 40 of the open reels were previously identified as mold risks and were packaged separately with new containers for their return. The digitization vendor baked the tapes to prevent further mold damage as part of their work. We received our newly created digital files and physical materials in April. The files were then checked by staff in our Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting Lab to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the files. At that time, issues with speed, pitch, and volume were identified.

From June through August, I listened to each of the 559 audio recordings to create an accurate and searchable title and a description that informed researchers of what kind of topics were addressed during that recording. Some of the recordings were short, while others were as long as 90 minutes. While this process was tedious, all our newly digitized recordings now have unique and searchable titles and descriptions that will allow researchers to discover these material and learn more about the political climate between 1969 and 1973.

Notes made while listening to the recordings.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

Once the metadata was complete and reviewed by our metadata librarian, the files were ingested to University Libraries’ Digital Collections and the finding aid to the collection was updated. Researchers now have access to these recordings online. Recordings with copyright protection are available for education use only on campus at the University of Maryland.

Topics of these recordings range from

  • the Vietnam War
  • urban renewal plans
  • dissent on college campuses
  • the flights of Apollo 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14
  • revenue sharing plans
  • the 1968, 1970, and 1972 campaigns
  • the SALT talks
  • foreign relations between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Soviet China
  • and many other political and social issues.

The recordings also demonstrate the support Agnew received from constituents, including homemade songs and voice recordings praising the Vice President for his integrity and candor.

The breadth of information that these recordings hold are not only valuable to Vice Presidential scholars and Agnew supporters, but for anyone interested in learning about the United States at the turn of the decade.

More information about the CLIR grant program, made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Post by Jennifer Piegols, Special Collections Services Specialist.

Jen Piegols graduated in May 2019 with her MLIS from the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives, and is assisting with the digitization of the collections’ unique audio recordings.

Fifty Years Ago: Cynthia Rosenwald and the Newspapers’ Image of a Female Speechwriter

 Twenty years before Peggy Noonan and Mary Kate Cary – speechwriters for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, respectively – there was Cynthia Rosenwald. From 1966 to 1970, she formed a speechwriting partnership with Spiro T. Agnew, whose papers are housed within the Maryland and Historical Collections unit in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland libraries. Contained with the Agnew papers are manuscript speeches – some never delivered – which help illuminate the work of Rosenwald. She served as Agnew’s main speechwriter, throughout his years as Maryland’s Governor (1967-1968) and during the first year in which he served as Vice President (1969-1973). Continue reading

New Exhibit: Un-solicited! Gifts that Spiro T. Agnew received while Vice President

The new exhibit in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library showcases some of the unique gifts received by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew during his time in office, 1969-1973.  It draws upon the work that members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University libraries have been doing to inventory memorabilia and other three-dimensional objects within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.

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Exhibit: Un-solicited! Gifts that Spiro T. Agnew received while Vice President

The U.S. Constitution forbids elected officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” “without the Consent of the Congress” (Art. 1, Sec. 9). However, it does not forbid elected officials from accepting unsolicited gifts from private individuals or groups of American people. Apart from gifts from international heads of state which the U.S. Congress has approved, the offices of the President and Vice President each year receive and accept thousands of unasked-for gifts, including artwork, food, souvenirs, posters, even animals. Continue reading

An Archive of International Gifts:  Objects from the Spiro T. Agnew Papers (A Blog Series: Part 3)

As stated in an earlier blog post, members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University of Maryland libraries have been inventorying physical objects within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  One of the interesting aspects about processing a presidential or vice presidential collection is its inclusion of gifts from foreign leaders. The Spiro T. Agnew papers, for example, includes numerous  gifts to the Vice President of the United States from Mohammad Rezā Pahlavi, who was the last Shah (or king) of Iran between 1941 and 1979.  It is difficult to say whether this relationship extended beyond what was typical of two government officials during the Cold War, but it is clear that Agnew received gifts and commemorative literature from Pahlavi on several occasions. Increased American involvement in Iran dated to at least the early 1940s, Continue reading

The Unusual, the Unexpected, and the Downright Strange: Object from the Spiro T. Agnew Papers (A Blog Series: Part 2)

As stated in an earlier blog post, members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University of Maryland libraries have been creating an inventory of memorabilia within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  In this blog post, we will be looking at some of the fascinating items in the collection related to space travel.

When Agnew entered office on January 20, 1969 the space race between the United States and the USSR was in full swing.  Just a month prior, the Apollo 8 mission had successfully become the first spacecraft with a human crew to leave the Earth’s orbit.  Six months into office, Agnew would be able to celebrate the first man to walk on the moon with the success of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.  The Nixon/Agnew administration would forever be associated with this success and the prevalence of space memorabilia in the collection shows that Vice President Agnew had quite an interest in the subject.

As Vice President of the United States, Agnew had access to a number of unique space memorabilia.  He had signed photographs from crew of the Apollo 7, 8, 9, and 12 missions.  The signed photograph from the Apollo 8 mission is a print copy of the famous photograph called “Earthrise” which astronaut Bill Anders took from lunar orbit.  The Agnew papers includes the commemorative certificate which indicates that Agnew watched the takeoff of Apollo 11 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he sat next to President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Agnew even received a model of a US space rocket ship.

Earthrise_Apollo8

“Earthrise” photograph by Bill Anders, signed by the three members of the Apollo 8 crew.

Agnew’s enjoyment of these accomplishments of space flight must have been well known by his supporters because they sent Agnew a number of items related to space exploration.  One of these items is a commemorative coin and stamp celebrating the Apollo 11 mission, which was sent by the company that manufactured them.  Another gift was a poster that featured the front page of a newspaper from every state on the day that the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon.  Agnew also received drawings and paintings depicting astronauts on the moon from various citizens.

Crockett_cartoon

Political Cartoon by Gib Crockett of the Washington Star, 1969.  Gib Crockett’s drawings are protected by copyright.

Agnew’s interest in space was not just a hobby, but became part of his Vice Presidential duties.  In February 1969, Nixon created a Space Task Group to create an outline of a post-Apollo spaceflight strategy, with Agnew chairing the group.  This group drew up some rather ambitious plans, such as the establishment of a near-Earth space station, further explorations of the lunar surface, and a manned landing on Mars by 1986.  Not all of these plans came to fruition, mainly due to monetary concerns.  However, the group was partly responsible for the creation of the shuttle program which began on January 5, 1972 (1).  Some files relate to Agnew’s time on this group, including a press release on the report of the Space Task Group from September 17, 1969, and a transcript of a speech he gave to invited contributors to the Space Task Group from July 17, 1969.  Agnew was also head of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, for which the Agnew papers also provides an access point.

The reactions to Agnew’s rather wild Mars plans can be seen by two political cartoons that were sent to the Vice President.  In one, Agnew can be seen wearing a space suit and holding a briefcase which reads “Mars or Bust.”  The cartoon was drawn by Gib Crockett from the Washington Star, a newspaper in Washington D.C..  The other cartoon shows a Mars populated with aliens whose faces look like Agnew and at the bottom the cartoon reads “Our Earth Contact, Spiro, is pushing for a landing here by 1986.”  This cartoon was drawn by Pat Oliphant while he was at the Denver Post.

Oliphant_cartoon

Political Cartoon captioned “Our Earth Contact, Spiro, is Pushing for a Landing Here by 1986” by Pat Oliphant of the Denver Post, 1969.  Pat Oliphant’s drawings are protected by copyright.

The items discussed here represent just a small portion of the hundreds of linear feet of materials in the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  Interested researchers may visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to view the memorabilia collection in person, and a preliminary inventory of the Agnew memorabilia is available upon request.  Please be sure to contact the Maryland Room at least 3 days in advance of your visit so that we can accommodate memorabilia requests in a timely manner.  If you want to learn more about the Spiro T. Agnew papers, please consult the finding aid for the collection.

  1. Kluger, Jeffrey. “NASA’s Final Shuttle: The End of an Error?” Time, 5 July 2011.

Harrison Gage is a second year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.  She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.

The Unusual, the Unexpected, and the Downright Strange:  Objects from the Spiro T. Agnew Papers (A Blog Series: Part 1)

Over the past two months, members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit in Hornbake Library have been creating an inventory of memorabilia from the Spiro T. Agnew papers. This assortment of objects includes political mementos and various gifts that Agnew received during his political career. These items primarily date from Agnew’s time as Vice President of the United States. There are also earlier materials that were presented to Spiro Agnew while he was governor of Maryland. The Agnew papers contain large quantities of souvenir items, like American flag pins, tie clips with Agnew’s signature, and ballpoint pens, but this collection also encompasses some truly one-of-a-kind pieces.

The stately gifts that Agnew received from foreign dignitaries coexist with the unusual trinkets sent to him by ordinary Americans. When you open one of these boxes, you might find a greeting card from the King of Morocco or a plastic yellow Easter egg from a class of New Jersey eighth graders. Often, these items from constituents were accompanied by well wishes and letters of support for the Vice President. In other cases, the senders tried to highlight their own products by sending Agnew a free sample. There are several portraits of Agnew and other pieces of art in the collection. Some of the artists faithfully captured Agnew’s likeness while others took more creative liberties.

Agnew1

Driftwood carved with portrait of Agnew, Bible verse, and message of support. Spiro Agnew papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

For instance, this collection of memorabilia includes a red, white, and blue statue of a bird that was named “Sparrow Agnew.” Another individual sent the Vice President a portrait that she carved out of a piece of driftwood from Lake Michigan.  It is not always clear who sent Agnew a particular item, why they thought that Agnew would want it, nor even why Agnew decided to keep it among his papers. But those enigmas just add to the fun.

Spiro Agnew was an avid golfer and many of the gifts that he received while in office were related to the sport. He received a plethora of golf balls, tees, and towels. Other golf-themed items include a barometer (or “Golfer’s Fore-Caster”), a mink golf club cover, and a hat labeled “Agnew Golf Helmet.” There are also objects from golf tournaments that Agnew entered, such as the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Agnew 2

Golfer’s Fore-Caster barometer. Spiro Agnew Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Other items appear to have been chosen for Spiro Agnew because of his Greek heritage. One New York man sent Vice President Agnew a pair of traditional Greek shoes with large, red tassels. The accompanying gift card mentions that the sender found the shoes during his vacation to Greece and hoped that they would bring Agnew good luck. The card also states that the shoes were previously worn, so hopefully Vice President Agnew was comfortable receiving secondhand goods.

Agnew3

Greek shoes, Spiro Agnew Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

This is just a small sample of the gifts and other oddities contained within the Spiro T. Agnew papers. This collection is available to researchers in the Maryland Room of Hornbake Library, and a preliminary inventory of the Agnew memorabilia is available upon request. To learn more about the Spiro T. Agnew papers, please consult the finding aid for the collection.


Emily Flint is a first year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.