The first Bible printed in North America; an aria handwritten and signed by Mozart—when he was nine; a Shakespeare First Folio; original artwork featuring American Indians by American Indians; the first printed (and most irreverent) incarnation of Voltaire’s Candide; letters from Thomas Jefferson, Jack Kerouac, and Ernest Hemingway; and rare correspondence between a slave woman and her husband. Imagine all of these items in one place—in one exhibition that is free and open to the public.
These remarkable items make up just a handful of the rest of the 125 similarly unique and stunning objects that will be on display at the Newberry’s125th anniversary exhibition, The Newberry 125, open through December 31. All three of the library’s galleries are being used to stage this huge exhibition, which, in addition to the 125, include 50 items that directly relate to the history of the Newberry itself.
“Preparing for this important celebration has been challenging, enlightening, frustrating, rewarding, and above all, the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Newberry President David Spadafora. “Paring down an already-extraordinary collection of about 2 million items to choose just 125 that best represent the Newberry was quite daunting, and required more than a year of preparation and effort from almost everyone on our staff as well as many non-staff members. Our clear mission, which hasn’t changed since 1887, and our deep commitment to it, were the critical factors in our success.”
An important part of the mission is to remain free and open to the public.
“I think a lot of people view us as a place for scholars only, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Newberry Board Chair Vicki Herget. “In fact, in many ways, we’re more accessible than other cultural institutions; certainly the Newberry is one of the only major independent research libraries in the world that is free and open, and allows people direct access to its magnificent collection.”
Beautiful and downright ugly; handwritten, printed, painted, and drawn; parchment, wood, paper, and leather—this varied, stunning exhibition of 125 maps, letters, paintings, books, manuscripts, photographs, posters and other media best represents the Newberry’s mission, its record of collection development, and the community of learning it has engendered throughout a 125-year history.
In addition to the Newberry 125, the library will showcase 50 other elements that relate directly to the library’s rich and sometimes quirky history.
Forty authors—Newberry staff and otherwise—have written essays on the 125 objects. These thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces, accompanied by gorgeous photographs, will be published in a book that will be available in October.
Newberry in a Barrel
It was September 6, 1887, when the Newberry was founded. This was almost 20 years after its benefactor, Walter L. Newberry, died, leaving a complicated will that finally led to the library’s receipt of his bequest. Newberry died in 1868 at sea, and so his body was preserved shipboard in a large, empty rum barrel before being interred in Chicago. He is buried at Graceland Cemetery.