The Newberry, like most cultural institutions in this great country of ours, attracts apocryphal stories like barnacles. For example, at the time of Walter L. Newberry’s death in 1868, a rumor circulated that Mr. Newberry had been interred in the same cask of rum in which his body was preserved while at sea. In actuality, Graceland Cemetery dutifully buried him in a proper casket. The following, however, are facts that, lack of fictional embellishment notwithstanding, might surprise you–might even qualify as fun.
Walter Newberry’s drive for immortality is evidenced in (besides the library that bears his name) a provision in his will promising great sums of money to his daughters’ future children if they were ever to assume his last name.
Henry Ives Cobb, who at 29 designed the Newberry’s permanent home, also designed the building on 632 N. Dearborn, occupied by the Chicago Historical Society from the 1890s until 1931. This building is now a nightclub called Excalibur.
In 1921 a Newberry exhibition commemorating the 600th anniversary of the death of Dante was decorated by the King of Italy with the Order of Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy.
Nelson Algren was appointed one of five Newberry fellows in 1948. During this time he conducted research for what would become The Man with the Golden Arm, which was published in 1949 and won the National Book Award in 1950.
Alexander J. Rudolph served as assistant librarian of the Newberry from 1894 to 1911, implementing his system of cataloging materials, the Rudolph Continuous Indexer. However, Dewey’s card catalog would eventually become the universal standard for library cataloging, and the Newberry did away with the Rudolph Continuous Indexer in 1911. Rudolph committed suicide shortly thereafter.