READS: When A Closed Book Is The Best Thing In The World

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I’d been meaning to visit the sometimes appointment-only Huntington Free Library and Reading Room about a half-hour walk my place for some time, but I’d always found myself a bit too busy to get over that way. That is, until I found out there was a new library that was going to replace the older building next door that was formerly home to a rather large Native American artifact collection. That new building won’t be built for a while, but getting the chance to see and pore over a bit of area history was something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. Thanks to TLH setting up an appointment on Monday via email, we popped in today at 10 sharp and stayed about two hours chatting with caretaker/tour guide/author Tom Casey, a man with a encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the area and a ton of other things.

As his wife Sharon merrily worked away on a new exhibit in a back area, Tom gave us a tour of the main reading room area while discussing the wonderful history of the building and its construction. We went outside and saw the small garden and old garage, both of which will be renewed once funding for the new library is approved. On the way back inside, I spied a white brick along the path stamped DIG SAVAGE that Tom had never noticed. It turns out that yes, there is a brick collecting group or two online, so I’ll need to poke around and see what info I can find out about that particular man-made rock. Back inside, we perused an old police log from 1879 (when even the “worst” adult penmanship was beautifully flourished, ruler straight and readable!), saw some well-aged typewriters and even found out more about Freedomland U.S.A., the Bronx’ troubled, slowly sinking short-lived answer to Disneyland (which is now the troubled, slowly sinking Co-op City).

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We also saw parts of the library that HBO used to shoot a few episodes of Boardwalk Empire (which got the place repainted after the old lead-based paint was stripped away so filming could be done 100% safely). It’s too bad the show is no longer, as I’d bet another season or two might have seen that larger annex used a few more times. After giving a full tour, we were able to poke around on the shelves and I found far too many interesting books to list here. One of them was a fantastic report from the 1977 on minorities in TV and movies of the era compiled by the United States Commission of Civil Rights. I’d only seen a copy of this once before many years back at a friend’s place, so it was great to flip through it again after so long.

Still, the best thing I saw while I was there was that book in the photo at the top of this article. It’s about archeological research in and around the La Candelaria area of Salta Province in Argentina. As you can see, the book has either never been opened and read or it’s all wrapped up and tied like that because it’s been read to within an inch of its life and that paper and string are the only things holding it together. Both are excellent fates for such a tome. I’m gathering someone will want to read this if it hasn’t been read so that person can know more about the area or it’s a book that’s done its job quite well and is now a bit tied up until it’s given some love via restoration. There was a bit more learned at the Huntington today, but I’m keeping those memories for my next visit. There are a few free to all events upcoming, a book sale in June and more to keep track of, so I’ll be gently bugging Tom Casey over the next few months for sure.

If you’re coming up to the Bronx and would like a tour of the Huntington Free Library and Reading Room, click on that link at the very beginning of the article and get ready to make a phone call or drop an email to Mr. Casey. The hours are usually 1:30pm to 4:30pm, but you may want to keep earlier or slightly later hours open in case Tom has plans for the day elsewhere. You may even get to help Tom move a few tables and chairs if you’re willing. That lovely old book smell when you walk inside will make you feel as if you can move a small mountain. Oh, and Tom has a pretty marvelous historical postcard collection (about 6000 so far!) solely devoted to the Bronx and surrounding area. We saw a handful of them, but I bet he’ll show more if I ask nicely…

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