So Columbus Day actually falls on Columbus Day this year, a rare occurrence which no one else has mentioned, so far as I’ve noticed. For those of you not old enough to recall, until we decided it was more efficient to close the banks on Mondays, this holiday was celebrated annually on the twelfth of October. Nowadays, we make do the closest Monday for this observance which one newscaster called “a sort of holiday”.
Columbus Day has had its detractors. John Kendrick Bangs, at the turn of the last century, felt that landing in North America was no great feat: the continent was too big to miss. When asked whether Columbus wasn’t heroic, at least for sticking stubbornly to his idea and seeing it through, Bangs simply noted, “He stuck to his ship like a hero who couldn’t swim.”
Around these parts, though, October 12 and Columbus Day are observed because it is also the birthday of Evelyn J. Lampe, the Book Fair curator now honored by that plaque on the loading dock. Nathalie Alberts is the founder of the Book Fair, but it was Evelyn who came along and convinced the Newberry that it could be done, besides also convincing it that we should hold it longer than just two days, that we should have a little more space to show our wares, and that boxes of books stacked around the room was not only chic, but guaranteed we wouldn’t run out of things to do. Not only did she teach us to price books in pencil in the upper right hand corner of the first white page, but she dealt with the volunteer she caught pricing individual volumes in a set of encyclopedias by marking the price in ink in each. (AND she did it in such a way that the volunteer went on working with us. I’ve never learned the trick of that; I just kill them and call the Cement Overshoe Committee.)
She would also not approve of my talking about her for a whole column. She’d want to know what we have to sell. Well, speaking of the Concrete Galoshes, I have just listed for sale online two blank sheets of paper from the Office of the Mayor of Chicago. There are letterhead collectors in the world, but these two aging leaves are attractive because they come from the office of William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, the mayor remembered in most history books for having threatened to punch George V of England in the nose. He was elected to his first term just one hundred years ago this year, and is noted in a number of other sources as “the most unethical mayor in the history of the United States”. He was Al Capone’s favorite mayor, and the subject of the Pineapple Primary, so called because hand grenades were used to discourage people from voting for his opponent. If all that isn’t notoriety enough, he is also the answer to the trivia question “Who was the last Republican mayor of Chicago?”
These treasures are for sale online so I don’t have to explain to customers why I’m charging so much for blank sheets of paper.
We have been given a carbon monoxide alarm (I haven’t plugged it in yet to see if it works) and a remote control roughly the size and thickness of a dollar bill. THERE is a useful bit of technology: a remote that can double as a bookmark.
Somebody dropped off twenty-four identical Olympic pins. If your company sponsored an Olympic team, you had the right to make a lapel pin with the Olympic rings and your company logo on it. Nothing on these pins tells me what Olympics they represent (corporations understood right away that these were Collectible, so they made up a new design for each time they served as a sponsor.) I see by eBay that they sell for about ten bucks each, so it’s nice to have two dozen of ‘em. It’s even nicer to see that none of the sellers seem to know which Olympics they came from, either. It’s nice to know one is not alone in one’s cluelessness.
I have been given a shade for a wall sconce, a Coke bottle saluting an NCAA basketball champion of the nineties, and I have been PROMISED a collection of glitter skulls. (“I never thought I could have too many glitter skulls,” the donor told me; I told her I knew just what she meant.)
Oh, and there are books. I’ll be marking those, in pencil, on the upper right hand corner of the first white page. Happy Evelyn Day!