The Story behind “The House Behind the Cedars”

photo credit:  https://alchetron.com/Charles-W-Chesnutt-1199237-W

“I think I must write a book. I am almost afraid to undertake a book so early and with so little experience in composition. But it has been a cherished dream, and I feel an influence that I cannot resist calling me to the task. . . . The object of my writing would not be so much the elevation of the colored people as the elevation of the whites–for I consider the unjust spirit of caste which is so insidious as to pervade a whole nation, and so powerful as to subject a whole race and all connected with it to scorn and social ostracism–I consider this a barrier to the moral progress of the American people: and I would be one of the first to head a determined, organized crusade against it.”
–Charles W. Chesnutt, journal, May 1880

“The House Behind the Cedars” written in 1900, is a story about post Civil War racial identification, prejudice, relationships and does not have a happy ending.  But, if it did, it wouldn’t make anywhere near the powerful statement that it does.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 20 June, 1858, two years before the Civil War.  He was largely self-taught, even when he took the legal bar exam in Cleveland, Ohio, and passed it.  His family moved to North Carolina and at the age of 14, he worked as a pupil-teacher at Fayetteville.  He taught at other schools for black students in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.  In 1877 he became assistant principal of the “normal school” in Fayetteville.  This was one of a number of colleges established to train black teachers.  It later became Fayetteville State University.  He was a long-time supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  He loved literature and education.  He saw it as a way to show that not only Black lives matter, but that All lives matter.  He had good reason to believe this.

His parents were both free “blacks”.  His father was the son of an African American house slave, and her European American owner.  His mother was also bi-racial.  The word back then was mulatto.  Charles inherited enough genes from his European American ancestors to pass as “white”.  Back then that would have meant a much easier way to prosperity and financial security.  The ladder of life would not have been as hard to climb.  He chose however, to be honest with himself and his total ancestry and identified himself as “black”.  Back then, things were “black and white”, yellow and red too I suppose if you looked at Asian Americans and Native Americans.  If you didn’t label yourself, someone else would.

He married and moved his family to New York for a while and ended up back in Cleveland.  He wanted to raise his children in a more accepting atmosphere than the Southern States and appreciated the literary atmosphere New York offered.  After arriving in Cleveland and passing the bar exam, he started a very successful court reporting (legal stenographer) business.  So, when he finally put his life experiences as a “white black man” into story, he had a variety of tales to tell.  His works were widely recognized and awarded.  These works were sketches, essays, short stories and one novel, “The House Behind the Cedars”.

In short, (and this “Reader’s Digest version does the story no justice at all) Rena and John Walden are brother and sister, light skinned, African Americans or Negros as they were called then.  Okay people, it’s a word.  It comes from the Spanish word for black, “negro” (pronounced nae-grow).  Yes, it was incorrectly applied, let’s face it, no human being has truly black skin or, except for a person with Albinism, truly white skin.  Yes. it was shortened into an insult, but in this reference, it is correctly used.

John is quite a bit older than Rena and at the beginning of the story is coming home to take his sister into society.  He has changed his name to Warwick and is a prosperous “white” man.  Their mother reluctantly gives late teenaged Rena leave to go and help John with his newly motherless child.  Rena becomes enamored with high society and the finer things in life.  She is courted by a young man, a genuine European American who wishes to marry her.  Until that is, he finds out she is a “fraud”.

From the chapter “The Bottom Falls Out”.  “At first he could see nothing but the fraud of which he had been made the victim. A negro girl had been foisted upon him for a white woman, and he had almost committed the unpardonable sin against his race of marrying her.”  http://www.online-literature.com/charles-chesnutt/house-behind-the-cedars/

Rena, rejected and forcibly removed from the life she almost knew, leaves.  They try to forget each other and can’t.  She falls into a deeper and deeper depression until she returns home, physically as well as mentally ill.  He decides that she is worth being his wife no matter who she is and arrives at her mother’s house to find she has just died.

My first impression was “you’ve got to be kidding, why on earth did you write this?”  Then I put the end into historical and literary context.  Even if he would have revived her and married her, in that time their life would have been one long struggle.  He would have truly had to have loved her more than his life, and he wasn’t written that way.  The characters were basically honest, caring people who were saturated with a system that rewarded one look and punished another.  They were living inside, on both sides, societal lies and had to balance feelings and beliefs.  I realized from the way Chesnutt gave all characters, even a lowly delivery boy, quality and humanity that he was decrying the unequal treatment of his time and expressing the belief that all lives matter.

There is a slogan and an accompanying group in the news.  “Black Lives Matter.”  They do, they truly do.  However, the more I hear of and from the group, the more I agree with Larry Pinkney.  Mr. Pinkney was one of the founders of the original Black Panther’s group and is a member of the Black Activists Writers Guild.  When asked recently, on the show InfoWars, to comment on the Black Lives Matter group, he said.

“The most diplomatic thing that I can say about Black Lives Matter is that they are a farce.  They’re not about serving.  They love attention but in terms of going into the community and doing something, and by doing something I mean serving the people, body and soul which we used to say, not jumping up on prime-time news and talking about black lives matter as if all lives are not precious.  All lives are precious.  We have a commonality and if they were sincere and for real about wanting to change the systemic chorus that people across the board, black, white, brown, red and yellow people, that we face, then they would find commonality, work together even with those with whom they might disagree.”  https://www.infowars.com/larry-pinckney-to-the-nfl-get-off-your-knees/

Much has changed since Mr. Chesnutt’s time.  Much has stayed the same.

What do you think?  Thanks for reading.

Two other places to read about Charles W. Chesnutt are http://www.chesnuttarchive.org/classroom/biography.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_W_Chesnutt

If you would like to read more about Mr. Pinkney look at http://blackactivistwg.org/Larry%20Pinkney/

 

“Just a piece of string”

photo credit: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/06/the-what-and-why-and-how-of-bearing-a-testimony?lang=eng

Latter-day Saints have a service each first Sunday of the month called Fast and Testimony meeting.  The day before we fast two meals and give the cost, or more to the Fast Offering fund.  Then in place of a regular church service we have a time when whoever wishes to may stand and bear testimony to how the gospel and God have helped their lives.  Yesterday was Testimony meeting for September.

One young member, about 10 or 11 years old.  Stood and bore a beautiful testimony of how forgiveness helps her.  She come from a loving, supportive family.  They sit reasonably well behaved during church and I have seen her help with younger sibling.  So, at first glance one wonders what she has to forgive.  Well, she’s the oldest of four girls and as the second oldest of five girls, I can relate.  She has three younger sisters!

She stated that forgiving someone makes her feel good.  That she thinks it is easy and then finds out it can be hard.  She said, “I think sometimes, we say we forgive, but do we really?  I have to forgive my sisters and I have to forgive my friends, and I have to forgive myself.”

photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/yarn-colors/

The story goes that one day, a soldier traveling between battles, found himself in a small town.  He was jauntily strolling the streets when he saw a length of colorful string on the sidewalk.  He picked it up and put it into his pocket thinking, perhaps I can use this, it might bring me luck.  Later that day, as the soldier was enjoying a simple but delicious dinner, he was accosted by the local constabulary, arrested for theft and taken to jail.  It seems a girl had lost her brightly colored purse and someone had seen the soldier pick up a brightly colored object and place it into his pocket.

Try as he might, even by producing the string, the soldier could not convince the suspicious folk he was not the thief.  Some days later, the purse was found and the soldier was unceremoniously released.

Feeling that he was justly insulted for being unjustly condemned, he tried to obtain an apology from the locals, to no avail.  Finally, he left town but told his tale of woe to everyone he encountered, without ceasing.  In fact, his last mortal words were, “a piece of string, it was just a piece of string.”

I looked for a picture of forgiveness and found a quote, lots of them.   One site listed 2461 quotes tagged as forgiveness.  Obviously more people than my young church sister think that forgiveness is important.

Someone, perhaps the great philosopher Anonymous wrote, “To heal a wound you need to stop touching it.”  As a nurse, I understand that.  Even a simple cut can become infected and enlarged if not treated properly and then left alone to heal.  A small scab may become an ugly scar if repeatedly ripped off before it falls on its own.  How many emotional wounds do we keep touching?

My young church sister asked the question, “I think sometimes, we say we forgive, but do we really?”  I’m asking what if?

What if the leaders on both sides of the conflict in ___pick a place____ decided to take Oscar Wilde’s advice, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much?”  Well, that’s pretty obvious, ISIS would simply be an old Egyptian goddess (a peaceful one at that), and the newspaper would be a lot thinner.

What if then, if you and I forgave our sisters, brothers, friends, parents, children, co-workers, idiots on the road or in Congress, would we even have the inclination to make enemies?

Above all, what if we forgave ourselves?

A Sweet Love Story

I usually don’t read those internet stories.  You know, the ones you have to click through an unearthly number of pages wishing all the time it would have just been put on one:  why this celebrity did this, what this one looks now is whatever, and see what we caught on a hidden camera (seriously who cares), but, I am a sucker for animal stories.  This one makes me wonder, if a person can care this much for a dog, surely we all can care this much for each other.  Honestly, it’s worth the clicks.

http://www.wonderbuzz.com/animals/36/g/tabcdalldoeca/bronson-puppy-rescue/1?cs=synacor-centurylink1&ck=This+Puppy+Was+Going+To+Be+Euthanized.++What+She+Did+Will+Bring+Tears+To+Your+Eyes.#

A Kettle full of Stories Part 2

Story 3—A Tale of Two Boys

photo credit Evelyn Stam, vacation photos

There are three area of geyser density in Yellowstone National Park.  These are called Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins.  Because the soil’s crust is so fragile and thin, each has a boardwalk to safely see the area.  There are many signs telling people to stay on the boardwalk.  These not only have words, but a picture of a child falling through the crust to scalding water below.  People have been boiled to death by stepping off the path.

So, one would think that any reasonably intelligent person would obey the signs.  One boy did, one, yeah, almost did.  Fortunately for him almost counted.  I met him first.  He was 16 or 17, old enough to know better, young enough to forget that fact.  He and six or seven like aged friends were ahead of me on the boardwalk.  They were talking, joking, but not causing trouble.  Then, the brilliant idea entered his mind that even though the sulfur scented air was hot and humid and the water was steaming, he needed to find out first hand if the water was hot.  I was taken aback for a moment that anyone would actually squat down, grab the guard rail with one hand and shove the other (and his head!) toward the nearest steaming pool.  By the time I collected myself to say anything, he was back up.  He then announced to his friends.  “It really is hot.”

Did I mention the boardwalk was slightly slippery?  And that there were signs advertising the fact?  It was made of composite wood to last a long time, but it was more slippery than genuine board.  His Guardian Angel was on duty.  The only thing I could think of to say was.  “That was not smart.”  Then I told him.  “The last guy who tried something like that, well, his friends went to his funeral.”  I don’t think it even fazed him.

As I walked back, I met the second boy.  I heard a young woman say something and a small voice repeatedly ask, “why”.  I turned to see a young mother carrying her 3-year-old son.  He wanted to know why the pools were called sapphire.  I told him what a sapphire was and that the pools were the same color.  He reacted with the typical toddler shy look.

His mother explained, “He’s confused that he’s in a park, but can’t play.”  I told him, “Yea, some parks have playgrounds and some trees and pools.”  My daughter Evelyn added and him mother nodded, “And some have boiling pools that can kill you.”

I thought about the two boys.  Maybe, if the second keeps asking why, by the time he’s as old as the first, he won’t need to do something dangerous to answer his question, because he’ll already know.

 

Story 4—The tale of Acoma, City in the Sky

photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoma_Pueblo

Set up in the old West Yellowstone airfield was a Mountain Man Festival.  Dozens of white canvas, three sided tents formed a rectangle on the huge dirt and dried grass patch.  Merchants of all kinds filled the tents with their wares.  One held a knapper busily making a flint knife blade.  The weathered old man lives in Idaho, winters in Utah and gets his flint stone in Oregon.  In another tent, a furrier displayed his caps, coats, holsters and quivers.  There were jewelers, toy makers, musicians, “pioneer” clothing makers, painters, sculptures and music makers.  Every aspect of life in the 1800’s was represented.

One tent held my interest most of all.  It was an outdoor, mini antique shop.  Pottery, wood sculptures, old kitchen ware, were among the bric-a-brac sold by the spindly middle-aged gentleman decked out in buckskin, denim and straw (hat that is).  He was a cheerful, friendly, storyteller and magician.  He soon had a crowd of children engrossed in his rope and ring tricks, but his wares were what held my gaze.

photo credit hp scanner

I first saw this wooden Storyteller Doll.  I asked how much.  He replied, “Five dollars.”  I repeated that and he said, “It can be ten.”  I explained, “In town they’re asking fifty for something like this.”  He explained that he had bought it from a woman in Utah for five dollars and was selling it for five dollars.  He pointed out that it was weathered and so old, but he didn’t know the story behind the Storyteller.   If any reader recognizes this and knows the story, please comment.

However, he did know this one.

Did I know Acoma, City in the Sky?  No I didn’t.  Well, it seems about 2000 years ago, a group of Pueblo dwellers in present day New Mexico, USA, built their city on top of a mesa (flat topped, rocky hill).  This made for a nice stronghold.  In fact, the first Spanish visitors in 1540 were sorry they had tried to climb the thing.  The storyteller/merchant told me the Acoma people had rebuffed the Spanish completely.  This is only partly true.  It took until January, 1599, for the Spanish soldiers to turn peaceful trade into full blown conquest.  The Conquistadors managed to drag a cannon up the hill and blasted/burnt the village killing 800 of the 6000 people.  They mutilated and enslaved the rest as the brave Conquistadors were wont to do.  Well, the Soldiers died but the Acoma people lived and still live.  Having the last word is a good ending to a story.

My spindly merchant told me this story to tell me the story of a small vase, similar to this one found on a google search.  An Acoma wedding vase.  I found a longer version than he told me on http://www.sfaol.com/store/wedding.html.

STORY OF THE WEDDING VASE

Usually a week or two before they are married by a priest, the future husband’s parents make the Wedding Vase.

When the vase has been made, the husband, along with his parents and all his relatives go to the bride’s house. The bride brings out everything she will need to establish their new home together: clothing, utensils, mattress, moccasins, corn and any other homemaking essentials, including her white manta wedding dress.

The parents of both the bride and the groom give the young couple advice to help them have a happy and successful marriage.

Indian holy water is placed in the wedding vase, and the vase is turned around and given to the bride.

She drinks from one side of the vase, turns it around again, and gives it to the groom, who then drinks from the opposite side. This ceremony unites them as one.

The couple will treasure the Vase throughout their married life. Should one of them outlive the other, the remaining person will give the vase to a couple known to be living a happily married life.

The wedding vase is treasured and protected always-it is never broken, discarded or destroyed.

http://www.arizonaflutes.com/wedding_vase.htm is another site listing a slightly different, longer version.  My storyteller was certain that I would be back for the vase and if I would have had the money, I would have been (it was much more than the $5 I “borrowed” from my husband).

 

Story 5—Old Man Coyote strikes again

I mentioned the humans at the festival and they were fun.  I talked to a woman wearing a tartan shawl over one shoulder and carrying a small dog.  A tartan is the colors of a Scottish clan (family).  I am part of the Southerland clan so I spoke with her.  Her clan, she said, was wrongly accused of being cattle thieves.  So, now when she and her husband attend Scottish Highland Festivals, they use this to have some fun.  A stuffed calf is placed somewhere among the booths.  It is then the goal of the youth attending to steal the calf, write their names on it and leave it somewhere else for someone else to steal.  The theft must be done with stealth or it will be stopped.

Well, there was a theft that day, but not by human hands.  By Coyote paws.  Now there are plenty of regular coyotes around the Yellowstone area, but I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the original, one and only, Old Man Coyote.  He is the eternal trickster who as often as not ends up tricking himself.  I guess he just didn’t want my pictures in this blog.  You see, at home I found an old roll of unexposed film and my old camera.  I loaded the camera, took it along and promptly lost it in the tent.  Okay, figured I’d find it—I mean really, how can something be lost in a six-man space?  And it was found, the day we went home.  Anyway, I didn’t worry because I had our camcorder and since our campsite had electrical hook-ups, I even charged it at night.  I guess the batteries didn’t like almost freezing nighttime temperatures because I only got 4 pictures per charge.  But I figured that’s 4 pictures.

So, I took a couple of pictures at the festival and decided to put the camcorder away until we arrived at the park—after I used the port-a-potty.  Okay, so I placed both the Storyteller Doll and the camcorder on the small shelf in the plastic pit toilet, did my do, sanitized my hands and walked to our van to store the items.  So I had both hands full.  I transferred the Doll to my left hand, with the camcorder, pulled keys out of my pocket with my right hand and opened the van door.  The keys went back into the pocket, the Doll went into the right hand and onto a cooler on the back seat.  Then, I looked for a good place to put the camcorder and put it there with my left hand.  Or at least that’s what I think I remember.  When I looked for the camcorder, it wasn’t there.  I checked the entire back seat area, including the garbage sack, and the floor of the van.  And it wasn’t in any of the suitcases and boxes we packed.  I hope Coyote likes my photo of Dragon’s Mouth cave.

I can’t blame this on Old Man.  I neglected to write down the name of the woman’s clan.  So, Scottish Sister, if you are reading this, please comment.  Thanks for reading.

A Kettle full of Stories Part 1

Story 1—The Yellowstone Caldera

My family and I spent last week, Monday, August 7th to Friday, August 11th exploring Yellowstone National Park.  Once upon a time, oh, 640,000 years ago a hot spot, of magma from Earth’s core built up enough pressure to blow its way to the surface.  It turned everything above it in a 35-mile (56.33 km) by 50-mile (80.47 km) ragged oval to ashes and took the ash up with it.  Scientists have identified deposits of this ash in California, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Then the hot spot “cooled down” to power geysers, mud pots, hot springs and meadows that are warm enough to grow grass in the winter.  What’s that?  The perfect area for a Spa?  Well, okay, if you like bathing in superheated, boiling water, sipping on a sulfuric acid cocktail or enjoying a heat loving bacteria mud pack.  If however, you value your health (and life!), it is a Spa for the spirit.  To be enjoyed with the eyes, not with the hands.  (Or any other body part.  Except the hearing, there are some wonderfully interesting sounds made as steam and gas blast out of rock tunnels.  You might want to leave your nose home though.  Rotten egg gas is not the most enticing perfume.)  The depression remaining after the explosion is called the Yellowstone Caldera.

Caldera is the Spanish word for large pot or kettle.  Instead of Grandma’s stew or 5-Alarm Chili, this kettle cooked some of the most fascinating acreage on Earth.  Interspersed between verdant green Lodgepole Pine and Fir forest are rock meadows, thinly crusted earth between “bottomless” holes spewing forth demonically scented gas and steam.  Some of these holes contain crystal clear water bubbling with both heat and more gas.  The colors in this Hades inspired place are heavenly.  Sapphire, emerald and beryl describe the ponds and waterfalls.  Yellow orange and ochers decorate the pool edges and follow the runoff rivulets.  These vibrant, larger than life colors are made by microscopic, heat loving, or thermophilic, bacteria.                                                                     As the bacteria ages, dries and dies, the color fades into the grays and white of the surrounding rock.  A few places have bacteria and mineral combinations of dark brown and black.  Elsewhere in the park are sub-alpine areas filled with gorgeous red, yellow, blue and violet flowers.  The North swath is carpeted by a silver-green Juniper-Sage forest to rival anything Southeastern Idaho or Northern Utah has to offer.

Small warm water lakes and their accompanying rivers dot the park.  The central Southeastern portion houses the very large, very blue Yellowstone Lake.  It is 7,732 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, has 110 miles (180 km) of shoreline, and covers 136 square miles (350 km2).  The lake bed has just recently been explored with camera containing robotic craft.  The deepest areas are about 400 ft (120 m) and contain gray, white and green rock        pillars made of fossil diatoms, single celled aquatic creatures.  Cutthroat Trout are the native fish.  From a bird’s eye view, it looks like a hiker, a hitch-hiker with one arm and a huge fist and thumb.  (The area is called Thumb Point.)

Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Trumpeter Swan, Pelican, Canadian Geese, Ducks and lots of friendly Squirrels can be seen in and around the Caldera.  If you travel to the Northeast Range, away from lodges, hiking trails, boardwalks, roads, in short, away from people, you will also find Wolves, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Bobcats, Cougars and yes, Bears.  The days of feeding the Bears garbage as a crowd gathering spectacle are, thank heaven, long gone.  The rule of thumb now is “you have your spot, we have ours and with 100 yards between us, we’ll be just fine.”  There were also the largest butterflies I have ever seen with orange and brown colors to rival the rocks.

(photo credits = 1-4, 6  Evelyn Stam vacation photos, 5 Yellowstone Lake as seen from space, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Lake

Story 2—The only thing constant is change

One day, in the galactic timeline, Earth’s crust will have floated itself over the magma hot spot and Old Faithful, the most celebrated geyser, will be just another cold-water spring.  Until then, the interaction between inside and out constantly changes the look of the park.  Two examples:  In August of 1959, when I was just over two years old, an earthquake rocked Hebgen Lake, 15 miles (24.14 km) away in Montana.  The shock caused a plot of grass to spew forth red mud and earn the name Red Squirter.  Since then the area has doubled.  It spews mud mostly in the spring when there is the most water and whistles “scented” steam as the area dries.  Dragon’s Mouth, a cave out of which used to come a stream of hot water shot out to the outlook boardwalk a good 30 or 40 feet (9.14 m or 12.19 m) away.  In 1994 the Dragon must have found something to be happy about and he quit “flaming”.  Now the water simply pours out, bubbling up and down to be sure, with a spray that mists the platform now and then.  He expresses his opinion though.  As the gasses, water and air flow through the underground tunnels, they make a growling, howling noise like, well, a dragon.

I wish I could be there when the mud pots plop their last sulfur spewing plop to see what other wonders Mother Nature has made.  I could too, if I could figure out how to live for another 640,000 or so years.  Until then (if ever) I’ll have to return to see what else has popped up.

Celebrate!!!!!

Is finally HERE !!!!!!!!

Norma Jean Morris and Nola Morris Stam proudly announce their first joint publication, Aspects of Love.  Nine different stories, each illustrating an aspect of love.

*  Kaelyn Cull, Femme Fatale of the high stars learns to love herself and change her life with help of a very unusual being.  (Hint: the story is titled Father Earth)

*  A cursed woman calling herself Quill is released by the true love of a prince.  (You were expecting something else??????)

*  Andra Allid, manufactured in a clone factory for the use of sentient machines becomes a truly autonomous human through selfless love.

*  A newlywed couple, Vonni and Thomas learn that for love to grow it needs more attention than sharing the same abode.

*   Karen McCall, Army test driver, finds out from a hero possessed car that love is as sweet as hot fudge.

*   Azzara, a dream caster who can no longer cast dreams, learns love is powerless without faith and hope.

The Squire and her Knight battle the ultimate challenge to their friendship and learn the true power of love of friends.

Britt, a young widow, faces off against Nazi Germany to prove the love of a mother for her disabled child is stronger than any Führer’s edit.

*  And Nada and Rosa, two broken hearts, discover the mending power of the love of Christ.

Available July 30, 2017 from SynergEBooks.

It can be purchased in either Kindle or Nook form.

No reader?  No problem!  Both Kindle and Nook have free apps for PC, Tablet and Cellphone.

Shared Stories

I am sharing stories about two men today, old time musician Buddy Holly and a mystery man.  I wanted to re-blog them but there was no way to do it on the sites so I am sharing the addresses.

http://www.flipslife.com/paul-harvey-now-know-rest-story/ is a tale about music loving insects and a bad land line.  Blogger Phil Beling “Flip” presents the story behind naming the group “Buddy Holly and the Crickets.”

In https://themanfromthesuitcase.com/ Blogger Becci tells of her quest to solve a mystery.  Years ago she bought an old suitcase from a second hand store full of letters and pictures from and to the same person.

I hope you check these out.  If you have a story worth telling, send it to me and I’ll tell it.

 

Still the Best Place to find a Story Part 2

The best place the Morris flock had to find a good story was the library, either Mom’s upstairs or at the Public Library in the Park.   If we had been born 200 years earlier, our story would have been much different.  In the 1700s, educational opportunities for females were few to none.  Unless a family was wealthy or clergy, book ownership was limited to the family bible and perhaps a few other volumes.  And there were no public libraries.  Women who wished to further their learning (usually the wealthy) would meet together to read and discuss books.  Literary salons then, were not only a precursor to today’s public libraries, but also book clubs and literary societies.  Rich men at the same time had subscription clubs.  For a monthly fee, a man could borrow a book to read for a while.  The fee would buy more books and a place to put them.  Closer, but still no Library in the Park.

this photo and the next credit:  https://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/history-us-public-libraries/beginnings

Benjamin Franklin, United States of America inventor, statesman, ambassador, printer, “Founding Father”, and all around brilliant guy, had a large part in setting up Public Libraries in the USA.  In 1731, he founded the first subscription club in the colonies.  He was a member of a group, mostly merchants, who met to discuss, as he described in his autobiography, “queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy.”  They owned some books and were looking for a way to get more.  So, Franklin used subscription money and a forty-shilling investment from each of the first fifty members to order more books from England.  The next time you think your order from Amazon is taking its sweet time, remember it took anywhere from 47 to 138 days for a ship to cross the Atlantic, if it made it at all.

The greater part of the first books were about education and religion.  As the collection grew, more topics were added.  Members of the club had free use of the books. A non-member could borrow, if he gave some sort of collateral.

Ray Memorial Library in Franklin Massachusetts

Then, in 1790, the town of Franklin Massachusetts (named for him) asked Franklin to donate a bell as a memorial.  He decided that sense was more important than sound and donated a collection of books.  The town voted to have the books available to all town members, thus starting the first Public Library.

As recorded in A History of US Public Libraries, https://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/history-us-public-libraries/beginnings:  “The first totally tax-supported library was established in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833. While there were many other libraries that met new public-oriented milestones—like the Darby Free Library in Pennsylvania, which has been in continuous service since 1793—the first large public library was the Boston Public Library, founded in 1848. Boston Public Library opened in 1854 and all Massachusetts residents could borrow from its collection, which began with 16,000 volumes.”

It took until after the Civil War before board-governed and tax-funded lending libraries became commonplace in American towns and cities.  Now, Public Libraries have expanded their collections to audio books, movies and e-books all for free.  (Unless one decides to never take the thing back and let fines grow higher than any bookstore price.  Seriously now who would do that?!?)  Plus, most systems have an inter-library loan of some sort so if your neighborhood library doesn’t have the book you want, the one down the street does!  Public Libraries, brick and mortar or www., are still the best place to find a story.