Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Phantom of the Library

This is where I spent much of my preadolescence--the Waynesboro Public Library:

Fun Facts to Know and Tell:
"Founded in 1912 by the Philathea* Class of the First Baptist Church (pic), Waynesboro's library was the third Virginia Library to take advantage of the state law permitting the establishment of tax-supported public libraries. The first librarian was Virginia Leftwich, the mother of Ruth Graham (Mrs. Billy Graham)."

For a small Southern factory town we had a surprisingly good library (and it became even better over the years). The basement was devoted to children's books and ran the gamut from the old (as in early 20th Century) and forgotten series of our parent's time to the most recent Caldecott and Newbery Medal winners plus some slightly trashier stuff: The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Heinlein's juveniles, the "Lucky Starr" series by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French), and so forth and so on.

But the Good Stuff was upstairs where the adult books were shelved (no, not those kinds of adult books, you guttersnipes) and I, being a typical Monster Kid of the Sixties, ran around looking for anything that might tie in with whatever I knew from Shock Theater and Famous Monsters of Filmland.**

I was not disappointed.

One example stands out: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.

That's the 1920 French edition which our library did not have, but is so unspeakably cool I had to include it. What the WPL had was the 1911 1st edition (!) English printing:

Yeah, a pretty boring cover except for the "Phantom at the Masquerade as the 'Red Death'" embossing. Inside, however, were five color plates by (almost forgotten) illustrator Andre Castaigne:

Stolen... uh... I mean... appropriated--yeah, that's it--appropriated from here.

According to long-time pal JSaM the book, for whatever reason, theft or otherwise, is no longer on the shelves.*** I've thought about buying myself a copy for nostalgia's sake but to date the lowest price I've seen for a nice one is $1500.

Yeah, this is why I love the Intarwebs--no matter how dim or obscure my memory I can usually track down something to revive it for no more than the cost of a monthly connection.

*Defined by the 1913 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary as "an international, interdenominational organization of Bible classes of young women," sort of a Ladies' Auxiliary to the church or, as my mother affectionately referred to such groups, "the Baptist Mafia" (not to be confused with this).

**When I wasn't gobbling up everything in the Science, Nature, and Technology sections. Which reminds me--recent epiphany--the WPL had an astounding number of hardcore science books, especially the various Scientific American offprint collections, and what I later realized was an immense science fiction collection. I took this for granted at the time, but years later I realized exactly how unusual this was for a small town library. My guess is that since Waynesboro was home to a number of industrial plants (DuPont, General Electric, Crompton/Shenandoah, Virginia Metalcrafters, etc.) and, therefore, had a sizable population of engineers and Ph.D.s, the library made sure these people would be happy, especially when donation time came around.

***Nor is the 1st edition of of Ray Bradbury's first published book, Dark Carnival. If this was stolen and sold someone made a small fortune.

1 comment:

Cathy VanPatten said...

Gosh, but I loved that library--the kids' section (from which we eventually checked out every Dr. Seuss and Wizard of Oz book known to man), the adult section, and the balcony area overlooking the whole shebang, where resided hundreds of National Geographics. And you know, if I close my eyes and try really hard, I can still detect the wonderful aging library odor--books, books, books!