The Baltimore County Public Library system," Pat...


December 16, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"SHAME ON the Baltimore County Public Library system," Pat Ercolano wrote in "Gallimaufry" on this page on Nov. 6.

He was upset because the BCPL did not have a copy of "A Heartbeat Away," the 1974 Richard Cohen-Jules Witcover book about the investigation and resignation of Vice President (and former Baltimore County Executive) Spiro Agnew.

By coincidence, on Nov. 3, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James Schneider had come up to George Beall at a legal function and informed him that he had just read "Heartbeat." Schneider had bought the book at the Goodwill Book Nook on N. Charles Street a couple of years ago for $1.50, but just got around to reading it. He told Beall how much he enjoyed the story.

Beall, now a partner at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson in Baltimore, was the U.S. attorney who in 1973 led the investigation and preparation for prosecution of Agnew. He's the star of the book.

He told Schneider he'd been searching for a copy of "Heartbeat" to give his daughter, Rebecca, on the occasion of her taking the oath to practice law in Maryland. Schneider later sent Beall his copy. It was bound and classified by the BCPL and stamped with an official WITHDRAWN. Last Tuesday George gave it to Rebecca at her swearing-in ceremonies at the Court of Appeals.

Now again by coincidence Ercolano returned to the subject in "Gallimaufry" last Saturday. A colleague had bought a copy of "Heartbeat" at an Enoch Pratt Free Library sale, and Pat had tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to donate it to the BCPL.

George read that item. He assumed I wrote it, because among my political biographies is one of Agnew. George wrote me that if someone would give his daughter another copy, she would return the BCPL copy to the county. "That way Baltimore County can get back its own version for public use and the Bealls will have a copy for the family memorabilia. What do you think?"

I think it's a great idea. I called Charles Robinson, director of the BCPL, to see if he would take back a book he had previously discarded. First, he defended the previous decision to get rid of "Heartbeat" as a routine matter, based on the fact that "nobody reads old political books" (tell me about it!). But, he said, yes, the Agnew book was special and, sure, they'd accept the Bealls' copy. "We ought to have it for our local history collection," he said.

I offered George my own dog-eared copy, with many notes and comments in the margins, made when I was reading it to review for the New York Times Book Review. But he already has a personal copy that is similarly dirty, he said, and he prefers a copy in good condition for his daughter.

So, if you have a clean copy of the book that you're willing to donate to a good cause -- filling a void at the BCPL -- please call George Beall (410-659-2715) or Rebecca Beall (301-791-3115) or me at The Sun (410-332-6015) (or write me at P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, 21278-0001).

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