For 64-year library delinquent, return is better late than never

Pratt Library gets book originally checked out in 1946

December 30, 2010|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

When he noticed the overdue book at home, John J. Wolfe figured he'd better get it back to the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Wolfe, who lives in France, was already 64 years late in returning the book. He just hoped the library would waive the late fees.

Luckily for Wolfe, Pratt officials were willing to make an exception.

A World War II veteran, Wolfe, now 84 years old, was recuperating from surgery at Fort Meade when he visited the Central Library with other soldiers in early 1946. Expecting to be sent to the Far East, he decided to check out "Sound and Symbol in Chinese."

"I 'borrowed' the book and took it back to camp," Wolfe said. The book was interesting, he said, but he ended up going to Italy instead. He left the military later that year and finished his studies in Romance languages, which he'd started at the University of Maryland, in his hometown of St. Louis at Washington University.

The book is well-traveled. Wolfe, who has lived abroad ever since graduating from college, took it with him to Latin America, Spain and France, where he has lived for the past 45 years.

While going through some of his own books lately, it caught his eye.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I never returned this,'" said Wolfe, who's in St. Louis until spring visiting family.

He sent the book this week with a letter requesting mercy: "At least, I can be credited with keeping the book safely all these years without its suffering any damage. It does not appear that there was an overwhelming rush of people interested in the book since the last time it had been checked out was January 1945."

Ellie Luchinsky, humanities department manager, said she got a good laugh over the incident.

"I told him that we certainly forgave the fines and that the smiles he gave us were worth more than the fines would have added up to," Luchinsky said. "I thanked him for his service to the country."

And for anyone else holding onto library books from years past who wants to do the right thing, don't worry — late fines are capped at $6.

"The main thing we're interested in is getting the books back," Luchinsky said. "Nobody will be hit for hundreds of dollars for one book."

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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