Pratt parades its cultural treasures

December 15, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

As Carla Hayden began learning her way around Enoch Pratt Free Library headquarters on Cathedral Street this year, the new library director stumbled upon one magnificent curiosity after another.

Like any good library school graduate, Dr. Hayden had studied ** the Pratt's days of glory as a premier American library. But until she arrived from Chicago to restore the Pratt to prominence, Dr. Hayden didn't know that the library owned a handwritten poem by William Faulkner, 19th-century Mongol prayer boards, and a lock of Edgar Allan Poe's hair cut the day after the great writer's death on Oct. 7, 1849.

L Stroll into the Pratt lobby today, and you can see them too.

"Hidden Treasures of the Pratt: A Random Selection," will be on display through Jan. 27 to share seldom seen rarities with the public and inspire people to search the library for more information about them.

Ten antique glass cases on loan from the Walters Art Gallery have been placed throughout the main hall of the library to show off old sheet music, dolls from around the world once held by children as they listened to Pratt story hours, programs from bTC long-demolished local theaters; the personal belongings of library founder Enoch Pratt, and more.

Many of the items -- like a 1493 edition of "The Nuremberg Chronicle," an early example of the printing trade -- came to the Pratt as gifts.

"Going through the library vault was the wonderful part," said Dr. Hayden, who said she has begun to feel the "no fuss and hard work" presence of Mr. Pratt since taking charge of his 107-year-old gift to the people who made him wealthy. "To see his belongings and his handwriting -- the key he used to open the front door of the library -- and the document bequeathing it to the city of Baltimore . . . this is not a myth."

She added: "The people of Baltimore know what a good library is. That's what we're trying to bring back."

Robert S. Hillman, elected president of the Pratt trustees in October, said the idea for the exhibit popped up when he took Dr. Hayden to meet his old friend William Donald Schaefer, governor of Maryland.

"Carla was telling me one day about all the things she had discovered, stuff hidden behind bookcases and in the vault where no one would ever see it," Mr. Hillman said. "When we were talking with the governor, he was saying how the library could have all the best in technology, but unless we got people inside the buildings, it wouldn't do any good. He said we ought to do something over the holidays when people are downtown looking at Christmas lights. A mutual light bulb went off in my head and Carla's: Let's put all our stuff on display!"

Organized by Pratt public relations director Averil Kadis and arranged by library artist Bill Bond, the display includes a program from the Holliday Street Theater, which stood between Lexington and Fayette streets opposite City Hall.

While researching the material for the exhibit, Mrs. Kadis discovered that theater manager William Wood described the 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry to citizens clamoring for news -- and did so by standing on the roof of the Holliday, then the tallest building in town.

"We have a file on each of the old theaters and I went to our Maryland Room to look it up," said Mrs. Kadis, who hopes those who visit the exhibit will do the same. "That's what makes it thrilling to be in a public library. Some of these things may seem esoteric, but if they capture your imagination, they can lead you all kinds of places. And the Pratt has the material to back it up."

Also on display is an uncut, 1922 first edition of James Joyce's "Ulysses" along with a 1915 letter from the author to H. L. Mencken, an early admirer and supporter of Joyce in the Irishman's censorship battles.

"The 1922 edition is the most scarce," said Hugh Kenner, a

Joyce scholar in the English Department of the University of Georgia. "Joyce obviously wanted Mencken to have it and know that he was grateful to him. Joyce always was grateful to people who had been good to him and he tended to remember them with first editions."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.