New audio tape says volumes about the Pratt

June 16, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Sol Goodman developed such a fondness for Baltimore's central library over the past 59 years that he wanted to share his enthusiasm with the public.

The semi-retired businessman created a narrated walking tour of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, a novel new amenity for visitors to the building at 400 Cathedral St.

Similar to the audio walking tours that often accompany museum exhibits, such as the Meryl Streep-narrated tour of the recent Claude Monet show at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the 35-minute Pratt tape can be heard on portable cassette players now available at the library's main circulation desk.

"The reason I like this building is that so much of what you see is unexpected," said Mr. Goodman during a recent tour. "When you go to the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Hackerman House, you expect to see fine art. In this building, unless you've had your attention called to it, you might not notice the art and architecture all around -- the marble and the woodwork."

Narrated in a jaunty, conversational tone, the tape takes visitors on a grand walking tour of the library, with stops at places such as the Edgar Allan Poe and Mencken rooms and the fish pond and garden in the children's department. It's also full of facts about key figures such as founder Enoch Pratt and former library director Joseph Wheeler.

The walking tour is one of the first of its kind for a public library system and will be an asset for years to come, said Mary Anne Denham, chief of the state library resource center and head of Pratt Central.

"We used to have tours of the building, but we don't have the staff to do that anymore," she said. "I'm a great fan of J. Carter Brown and the tours at the Smithsonian [Institute], so I thought doing one here would be a great idea."

The cost to the library was less than $200 to pay for six cassette players and the tapes. Mr. Goodman, a 69-year-old businessman who also writes poetry, took care of practically everything else.

A Baltimore native and Mount Vernon resident, Mr. Goodman has been visiting Pratt Central since it opened in 1933, and has become intimately familiar with the building and its contents. He initially decided to volunteer at the Pratt while recovering from an operation 18 months ago, and wanted to work on a project that wouldn't displace a paid staffer.

Over the past five months, with Ms. Denham's support, he researched the Pratt's history, wrote a 21-page script, arranged for Baltimore actor Stanley Weiman to serve as narrator, and selected the musical accompaniment.

The result is a labor of love for Baltimore's premier literary landmark. From the first word to the last, Mr. Goodman's obvious passion for the institution and reverential tone encourage patrons to take time to discover and savor the "treasure trove" of art and craftsmanship that can be found inside the library.

The tour begins with a brief history of the institution: merchant Enoch Pratt's 1882 grant of $1,145,000 to build a central library and four branches, the first building on Mulberry Street, the growth of the branch system, and the planning and construction of the Cathedral Street building.

As it takes listeners from room to room, the tape explains the significance of features such as the "open plan" layout and the ornate ceiling in the General Reference room. It also points out noteworthy art, including busts by Reuben Kramer, Jacob Epstein and Edward Bartholow.

"This library is not just a repository of books and manuscripts," Mr. Goodman wrote in the narrative. "This library is a vibrant organism. Here at your fingertips you will find arrayed the works of gifted men and women, of scientists and dreamers, of historians and storytellers, of despots and martyrs, of geniuses and charlatans. How close to eternal truth did William Channing come when he wrote: 'God be thanked for books; they give to all who will faithfully use them the spiritual presence of the best and greatest of Humanity.' "

A semi-retired executive with an auto leasing company, Mr. Goodman grew up in the Lake Drive area of Baltimore, served in the Army during World War II, and got his first job running the Ideal movie theater in Hampden, which his family owned. These days he maintains a busy social schedule with his wife, Deborah Goodman, an interior designer and chairman of Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

He is so pleased with the results of the library tour that he's working on a sequel. He plans a video of the "hidden library" that is off-limits to the general public, including the Poe and Mencken rooms.

"It's going to last about 50 minutes or an hour, and it will be distributed to libraries statewide," he said.

"We want people throughout Maryland to know how important the Pratt Library is," he said.

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