What Goes Around, Comes Around

People and ask me now and then about our missing statue. For those who somehow missed the excitement, the statue “Umanitas”, by Virginio Ferrarri, was broken away from its base and carried off by person or persons unknown two years ago. We have a replacement now, because Mr. Ferrarri is basically a great human being, but I do get asked whether we’ve found the original or the person who took it.

I explain to these folks that I am not the FIRST person in the library the authorities tell about these things, but as far as I know, the answer to both questions is “Nope.” I am then asked what I think became of the statue and if we ever will find it. My response is usually “What do YOU think?” (I sometimes realize that people would rather talk than listen to my opinion. I know: it’s insane, but there are such people. So sometimes I let them talk, which bolsters my image as a great thinker.)

But this is where blogs come in. I do have a theory, and it is related to a donation of books which arrived a number of years ago.

It was an estate made particularly memorable because it arrived in 130 milk crates. The young man who hauled them in said Grandfather had always wanted the collection to go to the Newberry Library, since he’d once worked there. It was a very Newberry sort of collection: the late donor was obviously a reader. There was even a card catalog, with a card for each and every book, about a fourth of them typed up but not filed yet. (I use the same filing system. One of these days—maybe tomorrow, maybe not—I’ll get that all in order.)

Several of the books dealt with English authors, and I set them up for the Newberry selector in that area to consider for the collection. He came down nearly every day (he could get away with smoking in our room) and went through the pile.

That day, he paused over one book. “This is ours,” he said. “There’s our accession number! But it doesn’t have the bookplate or label!” He took it away to check the library records. I, still sorting through the milk crates, looked a little more carefully and found five books which did have the Newberry label and bookplate. Doing a little quiet research on my own, I found that one was described on its catalog card as “missing since 1954”.

That gave me a time frame. I found Grandpa’s name in an old staff list, and all was clear. At that point in history, the Newberry had evening hours, and Grandpa had been part of the night staff. When things got slow, he could simply step over to the cataloguing department (closed for the night) and pick out something. If he couldn’t finish the book at work, he obviously just took it home with him. If the book was only partially processed, there was no card, but if he picked up one that was finished, the card sat in the catalog without anything to match it on the shelf. No point muddying up a dead man’s name, so I found a way to slip the books back to the Newberry without anyone knowing where they’d come from. If anyone wants tips on how to smuggle books INTO a library, I have some experience in the matter.

So that’s my theory. Someday, years from now, when everyone’s forgotten where it came from and the current owner has passed the Great Golden Ultimately to whatever Hereafter awaits larcenous lovers of art, the original “Umanitas” will be donated to some worthy institution. I don’t expect they’ll send it to the Book Fair.

Won’t fit in a milk crate. 

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