Impersonation before and after Social Media: From Graham Greene’s “Other” to Jon Ronson’s “Infomorph”

In September 1954, writer Graham Greene received a curious letter from a man who had met him at the Cannes International Film Festival. There was one problem: Greene had never attended the Festival. Green responded, explaining that he must have met another Graham Greene. But this wasn’t the end of the matter. Over the next few decades, Greene would hear again and again of another Graham Greene traveling around the globe, passing himself off as his more famous namesake, and getting into various spots of trouble — including being arrested in Assam for selling weapons to outlaws and subsequently attempting to solicit bail money from Greene’s publisher. These events are documented in the Graham Greene papers, held by the John J. Burns Library.

In January of 2012, the writer Jon Ronson discovered that someone had created a Twitter account impersonating him and was tweeting what he considered to be nonsense. When he tracked down the account’s creators—who turned out to be researchers experimenting with virtual bodies of information that may possess emergent features such as personality—he discovered that shaking this double was harder than he’d expected. “The spambot left me feeling powerless and sullied,” he wrote. “My identity had been redefined all wrong by strangers and I had no recourse.”

These two incidents, separated by almost sixty years, seem startlingly similar in some ways and starkly different in others. It’s now easier to create a Twitter account with someone else’s name than it is to pull off the act in person, when a quick online search can pull up photographs of nearly anyone. It also seems like it’s easier to stop those digital impersonators, through features like account verification. While parody or fan Twitter accounts are permitted, an impersonation policy states that “You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others.” 

Photograph of telegrams Telegram concerning the arrest of Graham Greene’s imposter in Assam

Telegram concerning the arrest of Graham Greene’s imposter in Assam. Box 43, Folder 8, Graham Greene papers, MS.1995.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Both Ronson’s and Greene’s experiences with imposters led them to ponder weighty topics. For Ronson, his (ultimately successful) campaign to get his infomorph’s account deactivated drew a large amount of public interest and led to him writing about the consequences of virtual mob justice in his 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. As for Greene, he eventually wrote an essay about his strange relationship with his imposter, entitled “The Other … Whom Only Others Know.” It concludes with an anecdote about how, after a meeting between Greene and Chilean president Salvador Allende, a local newspaper accused him of being his own double. “I found myself momentarily shaken with a metaphysical doubt,” he wrote. “Had I been the imposter all along? Was I the Other?”

Visit the “Being Social Before Social Media” exhibit currently on display at the John J. Burns Library to see some of Greene’s correspondence and articles about his double trouble. The exhibit is open until October 5, 2017. 

  • Annalisa Moretti, Archives Assistant, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Graham Greene papers (MS.1995.003), Box 43, Folders 7-8, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


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A Lost Rivalry Renewed: BC vs. Holy Cross

Although 40 miles separate Boston College and Holy Cross, the history and tradition of two of the top Jesuit schools in the country, both in the classroom and on the gridiron, is inseparable. In September of 2018, at Alumni Stadium, BC and Holy Cross will renew their storied “Holy War” rivalry, a series that spans 91 years and has yielded thrilling games, outstanding football players on either sideline, and even better men over its long history. The matchup will end a 32 year void that was the byproduct of a changing dynamic and talent level between the two teams, leading to the inevitable end of a fantastic rivalry between two storied football programs.


Boston College vs. Holy Cross Football Program, Box 26, Folder 12,  Boston College athletic programs, BC.1984.024 ,
John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Over the course of 91 years, the Holy War has seen seven different venues, including historic Fenway Park, Braves Field, the former home of the Boston Braves and current Boston University athletic stadium, the home of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, and various stadiums throughout Boston and Worcester. Fans would gather every year to support their school and witness a game that has produced many memorable outcomes. To believe what the series lead currently stands at would be a question of which institution you align yourself with. The 1896 contest, only the teams’ second matchup in a long lineage of classic games, ended in a result that is still disputed to this day. With just over four minutes remaining in the game, BC’s end back Hughie McGrath was called for a foul, which was heavily disputed by both teams and the officials. As bickering ensued during the play, McGrath picked the ball up off the turf and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. Holy Cross refused to accept this score as valid, and as they exited the field and boarded their bus back to Worcester, they stood as the winners of the matchup. But seeing as there was still time left on the clock, the Eagles were instructed by the officials to snap the ball, and with no defense on the field, Boston College nonchalantly ran the ball into the end zone to take a 10-6 lead. The Crusaders’ record books will tell you they were victorious, 6-4, while in Chestnut Hill, the score from that afternoon reads, 10-6, Boston College (Carew 23).

Many players within the rivalry were familiar with one another and developed rivalries before entering college. As a result of heavy recruiting in Massachusetts and the Greater Boston area, many players had played against one another in high school and continued their athletic careers at Boston College and Holy Cross (Carew 162). Current Eagles’ head coach Steve Addazio, at his introductory press conference in 2013, stated that as a kid growing up in Connecticut, he would make the trek up to the Bay State every year to spectate the rivalry game (Vega). Every season, the matchup fell on the last Saturday on the schedule, and no matter what the teams’ records stood at, all could either be amended or lost based on the result of the season finale between bitter rivals. In a historic game that ended tragically, the 1942 game saw Holy Cross, a heavy underdog, pull off an upset over Boston College by the lopsided score of 55-12. The defeat stripped the Eagles of their #1 ranking in the national polls and denied them of an invitation to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (Oslin 55). Boston College entered the game 8-0, and had planned on commemorating their undefeated season at a popular Boston nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove. Plans were later cancelled after a stunning defeat, shortly before a fire broke out in the overcrowded space and killed 492 people who were stampeded or unable to make their way to an exit in time (Carew 75).

The Holy War has produced incredible gamesmanship and even better student-athletes from each team over the years.  One of the best athletes to ever wear a Holy Cross jersey, Louis Sockalexis, played in the first season of the rivalry. He was a Penobscot Indian who, while at Holy Cross, ran track, played offense and defense in football, and was a standout outfielder and hitter for the baseball team (Carew 22). He scored a touchdown for the Crusaders in the inaugural contest vs. BC, and later became the first Native American to play professional baseball, after hitting .444 in his sophomore season at Holy Cross. He was signed by Cleveland and played at such an exceptional level that, after his first season, when the team moved into the American League, they renamed themselves the Indians in honor of Sockalexis.

Continue reading

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Irish Music Symposium

Flyer for Notai/Notes SymposiumA research symposium organized by the National University of Ireland Galway in conjunction with the Irish Music Archives in the John J. Burns Library at Boston College will capitalize on the energy of music-related scholarship happening globally and present findings in a special themed edition of Éire-Ireland: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Irish Studies.

The full-day symposium, Nótaí/Notes: Music and Ireland, will be held in Boston College’s Gasson Hall on Saturday, September 23. On Friday September 22, participants will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Boston College’s extensive Irish Music Archives at an opening reception at the Burns Library that will also include a demonstration and presentation on Egan harps by harp historian Nancy Hurrell.

Keynote speakers on Saturday will include Helen O’Shea (University of Melbourne), who will explore the music of East Clare, and Méabh Ní Fhuartháin (National University of Ireland Galway), who will discuss parish and dance halls as spaces for music and dance practice in early twentieth century Ireland. Morning and afternoon panel sessions will include presentations on Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Raglan Road,” the Willie Clancy Summer School, piper Shaun O’Nolan, and more. Panelists include Verena Commins (NUI Galway), Aileen Dillane (University of Limerick), Adam Kaul (Augustana College), Dan Neely (New York University), Michael Nicholsen (Oakton Community College), and Thomas O’Grady (University of Massachusetts, Boston). A brief performance of Irish traditional music will cap off the day’s events.

The special issue of Éire-Ireland, guest edited by Ní Fhuartháin and Commins, will be published in 2019. It will include papers from the symposium and related research. Éire-Ireland has been a leader in the process of expanding the literary-historical axis on which Irish Studies initially developed, and this issue acknowledges a significant and growing area of research.

Registration for the Saturday symposium is free and includes lunch and coffee breaks. For a complete schedule, and to check on seating availability for Friday and/or Saturday, please visit or contact the onsite coordinator, Irish Music Librarian Elizabeth Sweeney. Additional Irish Music Archives programs for fall 2017 are listed at

This symposium is cosponsored by Comhrá Ceoil, Centre for Irish Studies at NUI Galway, together with the Boston College Libraries and Boston College Center for Irish Programs, with additional funding provided by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme.

  • Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, John J. Burns Library, Boston College
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Being Social Before Social Media exhibit spotlight: Eleanor Early

image of Eleanor Early's letterhead

Eleanor Early letterhead, Eleanor Early papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Are you happy? Should you live alone? Do you wear the pants in your family?

Eleanor Early asked these questions of her readers long before Buzzfeed was asking equally clickbait-worthy questions on your Facebook feed. A travel journalist born in 1895 in Newton, Massachusetts, Early explored the world and wrote many popular books, including New York Holiday and New Orleans Holiday.

In addition to documenting her travel experiences, Early, whose papers are housed at the John J. Burns Library, penned numerous quizzes, akin to the ones you still see today in Cosmopolitan. One of these quizzes, “Should You Marry?”, is now on display in the current Burns Library exhibit, Being Social Before Social Media. The quiz, which is “founded in scientific fact,” asks such compelling questions as, “Do you like potatoes?” and “Have you wide-opened, astonished eyes?” (In case you were wondering, liking potatoes and not having wide-opened, astonished eyes are both signs that you’d make a suitable wife, according to Early.)

Image of typescript quiz

“Should You Marry” quiz, Eleanor Early papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The exhibit explores many ways in which people socialized before the internet and the abundance of social media apps. While games make it easy to kill time on tablets and smartphones now, it used to require people to sit down across from each other to play together. Unless, of course, you’ve got a chess-by-mail game going like Rex Stout, but weeks could go by before your opponent made their next move!

Early wrote her quizzes back when you circled your answers in a magazine and passed it around to your friends to compare results. There was no “share now” button. And although the questions might seem, well, questionable (we’re not sure why liking potatoes means you’re ready to get married), Early’s quizzes are still a fun way to tell if you’re a sheep or shepherd, or if you have imagination.

To find out your own results for “Should You Marry?” be sure to stop by Burns Library and check out the exhibit before it closes on October 6, 2017!

  • Stephanie Hall, Archives Assistant, Burns Library
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Feeling Social

Photograph of students at a mailbox

Photograph of students at a mailbox, Newton College of the Sacred Heart records, BC.1988.031, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

It’s summertime. We’re getting together with friends around the backyard grill or nearest swimming hole. This got the archives staff thinking; now that so many of our interactions are virtual rather than analog, face-to-face, or physically represented, what have we gained and what have we lost? Addressing this question was the impetus for Being Social Before Social Media, a Burns Library exhibit looking back at how people dated, networked, partied, and shared their travels before smart phones, apps, or even (gasp) the Internet.


Photograph of students at a formal dance,

Photograph of students at a formal dance, Newton College of the Sacred Heart records, BC.1988.031, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

In order to select materials for the exhibit, we thought about how we use our social media accounts and themes emerged. Some platforms try to do everything (Facebook, we’re looking at you); however, we found that in many cases what was once a single traditional function is now possible through multiple apps. Want to compile things you love and share them with others? Traditional scrapbooking with scissors and paste has been replaced by posting on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, snapping a digital photo and sharing  on Instagram…the list goes on.

Social media is also used to network; conduct business; create a profile or online persona; meet a mate or find friends; play games; share adventures; journal our daily thoughts; share photos; raise funds; and even (more nefariously) vent a grudge or impersonate someone else. All these activities were done very differently in the past. Since the Burns Library collects the papers of artists, authors, scholars, senators, and students, there are many examples from the pre-digital era. Author Bernard Shaw took selfies (well, almost); journalist Katherine Conway picked up souvenir photographs of sites in North Africa to show mom where she’d been; Boston College librarian Helen Landreth traded recipe cards with friends and family (jello salad anyone?); and a young future-president enrolled in the Charitable Irish Society of Boston to make some good connections. We had so much fun discovering these items and more! Come and visit us this summer to cool off and see how we used to be social.

Photograph of writer and activist Mary Boyle O’Reilly on a camel

Photograph of writer and activist Mary Boyle O’Reilly on a camel, Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers, MS.2003.045, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

  • Lynn Moulton, Burns Library Processing Archivist
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The Vietnam War at the Burns Library: The Tip O’Neill Congressional Archives (Part Two)

Informal pose of Thomas P_ ONeill seated

Tip O’Neill in 1972. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 36, Folder 2.

In Part One I looked at the change of heart Congressman Tip O’Neill experienced in 1967 regarding the Vietnam War. Formerly a supporter of the Executive branch’s military policy, O’Neill, encouraged by a stream of constituents’ anti-war letters, shifted to an oppositional stance focused on ending America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Even after evolving on the issue to align with the majority of his voters, O’Neill continued to receive correspondence from the public as further news from Vietnam influenced public opinion.

The appearance of atrocity reports, particularly the My Lai massacre, was a major turning point in the public’s perception of the war. O’Neill’s Congressional form letter to correspondents writing about the My Lai incident strikes a surprisingly heartfelt tone: “I am afraid we have grown so accustomed to war and its atrocities that we may have become immune to the horror that this represents. If this is not an isolated incident, and there is a great deal of talk that it is not, then we must really worry about our ability to convey to our troops, and our children, a greater sense of morality and a code of ethics.” That “great deal of talk” regarding other atrocities led to the 1970 National Veteran’s Inquiry into US War Crimes. The Citizen’s Commission of Inquiry, which organized the National Veteran’s Inquiry, held 13 hearings in various cities, collecting testimony from eyewitnesses to purported war atrocities, and giving the public a record of the (alleged) crimes being committed, ostensibly, on their behalf.

Battle Hymn

The promotional record single for “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley,” mailed by Plantation Records to Tip O’Neill. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 299, Folder 4.

My Lai itself was indefensible, but the trial of Lt. William Calley, and his sentence to life imprisonment for the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians, drew sharp criticism. The bulk of the letters O’Neill received regarding Lt. Calley asks for clemency, with some believing he had been pre-judged by the media. “If I still had my uniform I would take it to Washington and throw it in someone’s face,” writes John Terranova. “We let the newspapers print words like massacre, vicious, brutal, murder and so many other things and then they tie it all up to this kid Calley.” Even some apparent “doves,” while expressing opposition to the war itself, took umbrage with the judicial decision, placing blame for the massacre on the war itself: “They are sending immature and ill-trained boys over there,” writes Joan M. Crochet, “teaching and ordering them to kill and then charging them with murder… Who is being charged with murder when the bombing (ordered by the President) kills civilians?” A standout in the archive’s William Calley folder is a green vinyl record, a promotional copy of a song titled “The Battle Hymn of Lieutenant Calley.” Sympathetic to Calley, it was published and mailed directly to Tip O’Neill by country music label Plantation records. Continue reading

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Some Other World: the Yeats Family and the Occult


Embroidery by Lily Yeats and Brigid O’Brien for Cuala Industries. Box 19, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The moment I got there I felt in touch with some other world — a most pleasant feeling, almost an exalted feeling; but I could get no quiet, and so saw nothing. This feeling remained with me all the time, and all the time of the drive home, and till I went to bed …

During the recent reprocessing of the Boston College collection of the Yeats family papers, I became acquainted with a little known side of this family of artists. Lily Yeats, an embroiderer, had an abiding interest in the supernatural, which she shared with her oldest brother, writer W. B. His fascination with the occult began in the 1880s, when he joined Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and these philosophies influenced his writing. Lily experienced visions and psychic dreams her entire life, and the siblings often consulted each other over portents and visions.

A fascinating and faintly mysterious story emerges from a series of Lily’s letters in our collection.

In July of 1914, Lily experienced one of her most intense visions after visiting Derrynane House in Glencullen, Ireland. She had a strange feeling at the property, and, when she went to sleep that night, dreamed of the house. She saw “a tall woman in the dress of … the forties or early fifties” walking with a younger man. Lily went “out of my own mind and into hers; I saw with her mind and felt with it.” The woman was thinking sadly of her youth and a man she had once loved in France: “I saw her lover — young man, thickset, very sallow, fine head, rather big; I thought he was a Pole or a Frenchman, and a musician or artist […] I saw him ill on a sofa — a lingering illness, slow consumption perhaps. I knew they had lived together, and knew no one knew.” She then described seeing the lover’s funeral.


Photo of bust of Mrs. Fitzsimon in Glencullen House taken by the Campbells for me” is written by Lily Yeats on the reverse of this photograph. Box 8, Folder 19, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The next day she wrote to the current residents of the house, Joseph and Nancy Campbell, to ask if they knew who lived there previously and if there was any connection to France. She mentioned her vision, but included little detail, in order to get unbiased information. Mrs. Campbell replied, “I am so thrilled about the vision. Mr. Fitzsimon [her landlord] was up a few days ago, and I asked him about France. Apparently his grandmother (O’Connell’s daughter) was a great friend of a Comte de (I couldn’t quite catch the name) who was often staying here, and thought he was the rightful heir to the French throne, the head of the Bourbons. Would that fit in?” Daniel O’Connell was an Irish lawyer and politician who worked for home rule in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Campbells later discovered a volume of poetry written by the woman in question, Ellen Fitzsimon, and identified a poem they thought referenced the events in the vision. (Read the poem they likely meant, entitled “Lines addressed to E. F. T.”, and decide for yourself.) They also sent along a photograph of a bust depicting Ellen Fitzsimon.

yeats to yeats

Letter from W. B. Yeats to Lily Yeats, undated. Box 8, Folder 18, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Next, Lily consulted W. B., who conducted some research into the matter. In an undated letter, he wrote, “I have been looking into a life of O’Connell. A daughter of his ‘a few’ years after his wife’s death (1835) became melancholy because of some ‘sin’. There are two very moving letters by O’Connell to her urging her to submit to the directions of her confessor, and speaking of salvation and repentance.” The letters in question, written in the summer of 1839, appear in The Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell, but are attributed as being addressed to a different daughter.

Later, Lily sent her account to friend and literary scholar Oliver Elton. He found it fascinating and concluded that “if the professionals (Soc[iety for] Psych[ical] Res[earch, an organization based in London that investigated supernatural phenomenon]) went into it, they would worry at it and ask more questions – but the only most obvious one (to which you would answer ‘No’ at once) is whether you had had any inkling of the story of the place and persons before. You clearly hadn’t.” He typed up a copy of her handwritten account and sent the typewritten version back; it appears with her correspondence in our collection. At the bottom of the account, Lily added a brief addendum: “I have heard since that Mrs. Fitzsimmons [sp.] was engaged over in France to a man[,] a Count who considered himself the head of the Bourbons.” She does not provide a source for this information, or the name of the count in question.

lily note

Note by Lily Yeats on the bottom of the account of her vision, August 28, 1916. Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

What do you think? Was Lily’s vision real? Did Ellen Fitzsimon really have a French lover and was he really an heir to the House of Bourbon? Do “Lines Addressed to E. F. T” or any of Ellen’s other poems contain clues?

You can read about the O’Connell family (and see portraits of Daniel O’Connell’s daughters, including one of Ellen when she was young and one around the age she would have been in the vision) and the vision-provoking house on the Derrynane House website.

To learn more about the Yeats family, please consult the Boston College collection of Yeats family papers or contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Annalisa Moretti, Processing Assistant, John J. Burns Library, Boston College


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