Longhorn Bucket List: Harry Ransom Center

By Sarah Pressley

Despite having lived on 21st Street for four years and passing by the corner of Guadalupe and 21st mornings and afternoons five days a week, I didn't have any idea what the Harry Ransom Center was. It wasn't until last year that another student piqued my interest by explaining that the Ransom Center holds original costume pieces from The Godfather Part 2.  This week, I visited the HRC to find out more about the famous archives.

Around 1917, University of Texas officials began collecting rare books to be archived for research, study and preservation and in 1957, Harry Ransom established the Humanities Research Center to archive the rare and growing collection.  The Ransom Center moved to its current location in 1972 and began growing into the archive center it is today.

Today the center permanently holds the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph ever taken, "View from a Window at Le Gras," both constantly on display (although the photograph is currently replaced by a photograph of the photograph, as it is on loan to the Reiss Englehorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany until February). While many of the centers other artifacts are not on display, including Edgar Allen Poe's writing desk, a journal kept by Jack Kerouac when writing On the Road, two paintings by Frida Kahlo and selected costumes from Gone with the Wind, they can be requested for viewing or research.

Some of the other artifacts residing at the center include:

  • An official declaration by Napoleon Bonaparte

  • Love letters between Mexican emperor Maximillion I and his wife Carlotta

  • Woodward and Bernstein's notes, interviews and manuscripts relating to the Watergate Scandal

  • Copies of the first folio of William Shakespeare's plays

  • A manuscript of Canterbury Tales

  • A twelfth century manuscript of the Christian gospels by Martin Luther

  • Letters between Harry Houdini and his wife Bess

  • E.E. Cumming's painting tools

  • Arthur Conan Doyle's glasses

  • A vest belonging to Gertrude Stein


Visiting the Harry Ransom Center is a beautiful escape from campus and into history.  As a communications student, I am amazed that for four years I have been in classes two blocks away from the first photograph ever taken (not to mention that I walked by it daily).

Admission to the Harry Ransom Center is free. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tours are available Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. Visit the Harry Ransom Center website for more information.