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Elmer Gertz Collection

Identifier: MS97

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

Biographical, Personal, Professional

This series, spanning the years 1924-1997 contains material relating to Gertz’s early life, education, family, professional awards/honors/certificates, and includes items relating to Gertz’s second wife, Mamie. Also present are publications by and about Gertz, including drafts and publication-related correspondence. The section concludes with items related to the Illinois Constitutional Convention, to which Gertz was elected as a representative.


General Correspondence

This series spans the years 1920-1998 and includes incoming letters and outgoing carbon copies in the same run.

Correspondence by Name/Subject

The correspondence of certain individuals and organizations were kept separate by Gertz; this correspondence spans the years 1909-1994.


This series consists of general newspaper and magazine clippings from 1940-1999.

General Legal Files

A section of material relating to broad legal issues and smaller legal cases from Gertz’s career, from 1935-1997.

Subject Legal Files

Material pertaining to four more involved and lengthy cases from Gertz’s career make up this series, the clients being: Paul Crump, Shirley Karp, Henry Miller, and Jack Ruby.

Paul Crump Case

Paul Crump lived on death row for decades for killing a security guard, and faced 15 execution dates. Gertz was able to get him paroled after 39 years in prison. Crump was the subject of a 1962 television documentary produced and directed by William Friedkin. The material spans the years 1957 to 1994. It includes legal files, general files, correspondence, and clippings.

Shirley and Haskell Karp Case

This case centers on a medical malpractice claim relating to an early artificial heart transplant surgery that ended in the death of Haskell Karp. Material spans 1969 to 1973.

Henry Miller Obscenity Case

Gertz represented Miller in numerous obscenity cases relating to the U.S. publication of his novel, Tropic of Cancer. This section covers the years 1953 to 1997.

Jack Ruby Case

Gertz was part of the team that got Ruby’s death sentence for killing Lee Harvey Oswald thrown out. Ruby died of cancer before his case could be retried. This material covers the years 1964-1992.

Miscellaneous Subject Files

This series covers some of Gertz’s professional interests and personal relationships between the years of 1926 and 1998.

Harry S. Truman Files

Gertz was a personal friend of President Harry S. Truman and an avid collector of Trumaniana. He collected general presidential memorabilia, but Truman was his main focus.

Truman Correspondence

This correspondence between Gertz and Truman is arranged chronologically from 1954 to 1972 and includes incoming letters (some originals and some photocopies) and carbons of outgoing letters. The    

Truman-related Correspondence

This second sub-series spans 1953-1996 and deals mostly with coordinating several visits by the former president to Chicago as well as with Gertz’s collecting activity. Also present is correspondence relating to a Decalogue Society event honoring Truman and also letters concerning the Harry S. Truman Library. Correspondence between Gertz and several autograph and rare book and memorabilia dealers rounds out the section.

Miscellaneous Trumaniana

This section contains publications, excerpts, stamps, cartoons and caricatures, signed speeches, signed addresses, signed presidential orders, and more arranged chronologically from 1920 to 1997.

Harry S. Truman Library Publications

This section contains general publications, newsletters, rosters of Honorary Fellows, etc. arranged chronologically from 1955-1995.

Truman Material Catalogs

Section contains autograph/Bookseller/Manuscript dealer lists and catalogs in chronological order from 1956-1986.

Truman Clippings

Series consists of miscellaneous magazine and newspaper clippings, whole issues with Truman-related content, all arranged chronologically from 1948-1995.

Legal-Sized Truman Material

This run consists of miscellaneous larger Truman items in chronological order from 1945-1959.

General Files

This series reflects Gertz’s many professional organization affiliations, hobbies, travel, and research interests between 1902 and 1998.


Truman Photographs

The majority of these photographs documents President Truman’s various visits to Chicago in the 1950s, but also include other miscellaneous images. Mostly from 1955.

Gertz Travel Photographs

These photos span the years 1966-1993 and primarily document the Gertz’s several world tour cruises Elmer and Mamie took after winning the landmark libel suit. Gertz wrote extensive travel articles that were published in the Chicago Sun-Times and are included in this archive.

Personal/Professional Photographs

Section contains pictures of family members, family events, and images from Gertz’s professional and civic life, from 1936-1994.

Legal-Sized Photographs

These miscellaneous photos from multiple categories, from 1935-1991.

Oversized Photographs

These miscellaneous photos from multiple categories, from 1928-1974.

Oversized Certificates and Awards

A series of larger awards and certificates given to Gertz, from 1948-1997.

Audio Visual Material

The majority of this section consists of audio of public speeches, presentations, and interviews featuring Elmer Gertz. The recordings span the years 1952-1994 and are mostly on cassette tape. Reel to reel, microfilm, and VHS tapes are also present.


This section includes awards, memorial gifts, bookends, miscellaneous decoration from Gertz’s office, spanning the years 1957 to 1996.

Legal Briefs

          Bound Gertz Volumes of Legal Briefs

Bound editions of legal briefs from cases in which Gertz was the attorney of record. They are mostly chronological and run between 1932 to 1964.

Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District

This section and the rest of the briefs were used for legal and research purposes. Arranged by court and by case number within each court.

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second Judicial District


Supreme Court of Illinois


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit


Supreme Court of the United States (October Sessions)


Miscellaneous Legal Briefs


Gertz Serials

This section contains serials from 1923-1998 to which Gertz subscribed.

Gertz Autograph, Book, Manuscript Dealer Catalogs

This section contains serials from 1975-1998 related to Gertz’s collecting hobbies.

Large Flat File Items

This section contains large items such as paintings, plaques, extra-large photographs, etc., spanning 1947 to 1982.


The Individual Name Subject Files contain correspondence, ephemera, clippings, and more  from 1935-1997 and relating to particular individuals with a significant role in Gertz’s life and/or were research interests.

The General Subject Files consist of correspondence, administrative documents, publications, clippings, etc., relating to more general themes or organizations and spanning 1938-1998.

In the Gertz Correspondence, Articles, and Book Material we find miscellaneous correspondence to and from Gertz, as well as drafts, corrections, and indices for written work authored by Gertz. This includes books, articles, book review materials, and spans 1950-1997.

The Gertz Libel Case contains media coverage on the libel case and settlement the Gertz won after a multi-year battle with the John Birch Society. The U.S. Supreme Court finally decided the case in 1974. Material covers the years 1969-1991.

In addition to representing Henry Miller in the obscenity case against Tropic of Cancer, Gertz became a close friend of the author. In the Henry Miller Material series we find clippings, correspondence, dealer catalogs, drafts of articles and speeches, and more from 1945-1998.

The Photographs section contains a selection of personal and professional photographs from Gertz’s life. Some of the images were pulled from frames that were probably displayed on the wall of Gertz’s home and/or office.

One issue of the Congressional Record Index makes up the Gert Serials. Several common, mainstream serials, and duplicate issues were discarded from this series.

The final series in the addition is the Mold-Damaged Material, spanning the years 1962-1973. Several boxes came to Northwestern with substantial water damage and mold growth. Digital images were taken of the 1209 pages, converted into PDFs, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was performed to allow for keyword searching. A majority of the files are correspondence (mostly relating to the Paul Crump case). Also present are some Paul Crump clippings and ephemeral items. These files can be accessed by making a request to Special Collections.


  • 1909-1999


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this material beyond normal copyright laws. The "Mold-Damaged Material" has been digitized and can be accessed by contacting Special Collections. Boxes 177 and 178 are large, flat files and are stored separately from the rest of the collection.


186.00 Boxes

Language of Materials



Elmer Gertz (1906-2000) was a lawyer, author, professor, and civil rights advocate. He fought many legal battles relating to the death penalty, police brutality, housing equality, freedom of speech, and other civil liberties. Gertz played a role in some of the most famous legal cases of the second half of the 20th century. He helped secure parole for "thrill killer" Nathan Leopold, defended Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer in numerous obscenity trials, and helped win Jack Ruby a retrial. As a plaintiff, Gertz won an important libel case decision against the John Birch Society. His papers contain correspondence, legal files, clippings, photographs, audio recordings, and manuscripts documenting his life and legal career.


The Elmer Gertz collection is organized into:

  • Biographical, personal, professional (organized alphabetically)
  • Correspondence (general correspondence, in chronological order; correspondence by name or subject, then by date)
  • Clippings (arranged by date)
  • General legal files (in alphabetical order by case/client surname)
  • Subject legal files(in alphabetical order by case/client surname)
  • Miscellaneous subject files (arranged alphabetically by surname or topic)
  • Harry S. Truman files (corresondence; Trumaniana; publications; legal-sized material)
  • General files (in alphabetical order by organization or topic)
  • Photographs (Truman; Gertz travel; personal/professional; legal-sized; oversized; each group is in cnronological order)
  • Oversized certificates and awards (in chronological order)
  • Audio visual material (in chronological order)
  • Artifacts
  • Legal briefs (bound volumes of briefs, and briefs arranged by jurisdiction and court
  • Gertz serials (in alphabetical order by title)
  • Gertz autograph, book, manuscript dealer catalogs (in alphabetical order by title)
  • Large flat file items

The addition contains similar material, organized into broad categories organized alphabetically by keyword.

Source of Acquisition

Elmer Gertz

Method of Acquisition

The material in this collection was donated to the library by Elmer Gertz over the course of many years. A large donation was made in 1978 (with some matieral having come earlier) and dontations continued through 2000, when Mr. Gertz passed away.

Accruals and Additions

An addition was found in the stacks and processed in 2015.

Processing Information

Jason Nargis, 2015

Guide to the Elmer Gertz Collection
Jason Nargis
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US