Skip to comments.Enoch, Anna, and Me
Posted on 02/02/2008 5:54:03 PM PST by Congressman Billybob
Ive always loved libraries. Both my parents loved books, and our house was chock full of them. Growing up in Baltimore, at an early age (perhaps ten) I was taken by the hand, driven to the nearest branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and introduced to the mysteries of a real library of organized books, rather than a couple bookshelves of miscellaneous books. It was love at first sight.
By the time I was twelve, I regularly walked to and from the Guilford Branch of the Pratt. It was only a mile, and children regularly and safely walked the streets alone back then. Back when ice covered the Earth.
Even then, Id heard of the Pratt Central. Occasionally, wed drive by it on Cathedral Street in downtown Baltimore. It was opposite the Cathedral of the Basilica, and occupied an entire city block. It was a plain building, but imposing nonetheless. It had display windows like a department store, except the displays were about books.
When I reached high school, it was appropriate to be familiar with Pratt Central. I took the trolley-bus downtown. For those whove never seen one, it was a bus on the street, but drew electric power from an overhead wire with a sliding antenna.
I got off on Cathedral Street, paused, then entered past the high, bronze doors of Pratt Central. Other than a couple desks for librarians, the entire center of the ground floor was taken up by the card catalogues. It seemed like miles of wooden drawers holding millions of cards. It was, in truth, a football field with a half million cards. For those who born in the computer era, a card catalogue had at least three cards for every book: by specific subject, by author, and by general subject.
It seemed like the riches of all of Western civilization were spread out before me, just for the asking.
And now a word about Enoch Pratt. He came to Baltimore from Massachusetts in 1831 with just $150 in his pocket. He built a successful career as a businessman and banker. He and his wife had no children, so he gave his fortune in specific ways to the people of Baltimore. One of those ways was to build the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library plus four branches, and endow it with the then-princely sum of $833,000 so it would live forever. It has done just that.
Being in the steel business in part, he was a friend of Andrew Carnegie. Odds are, Carnegies idea of giving libraries to cities across the nation, came from his friend, Enoch Pratt.
Back to Enochs influence on me. The sense of awe I felt when I first walked into Pratt Central has been surpassed by my first impression of only one other building, the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
An experience I had in high school indicates the breadth of the Pratts collection. I searched the catalogue seeking books about Aaron Burr. I found the transcript of his treason trial before Chief Justice John Marshall. I devoured the book. I wrote a paper that was well received. Then I noticed the record in the back of the book. It had last been checked out a century before I borrowed it.
Enter Anna Gallagher. She was a librarian at the Pratt in charge of a publication called Youre the Critic. It was about books; its editors were the Presidents of the Literary Clubs at all the Baltimore high schools. Since I was President of my writing club chosen, not elected, because the head of the English Department thought I could write a little I came to meet Anna Gallagher.
She was bright, she was funny, she had an even greater love of books than I did. When it was my turn to write the editorial in Youre the Critic, she encouraged me to write as well as I ever had, or thought I ever could. She made me rewrite it several times until it sang.
Well, a man named Luther Hoopes, Vice President of a national ad agency based in town, read it and brought it to the attention of David Barton, Jr., President of that agency. He called me in for an interview. Thus I wound up being paid $35 per week to be a gopher in that agency.
Near the end of that summer, I got some chances to write. One was an assignment for Eastern Stainless Steel, the first issue of a quarterly image magazine to be sent to its principal suppliers and customers. I was assigned an article about Easterns manufacturing of the reactor core for the prototype merchant vessel with nuclear power, the NSS Savannah. (NSS stands for Nuclear Sailing Ship.)
I thought about Eastern Stainless. About ships. And, about a classic song, Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah). That suggested one of the best titles Ive ever written, which went on that reactor core article. It was, She Has a Heart of Stainless Steel.
The client was delighted; the agency was delighted. I got a bonus, and later a full-time job there. Since then, I have always been, in part, a writer,
And I owe it to Enoch Pratt and Anna Gallagher.
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About the Author: John Armor practiced in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu He lives in the 11th District of North Carolina.
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John / Billybob
This is fabulous!!!
Thanks so much.
Great reminiscence, BillyBob.
Our kids see our humble local library, a mile’s walk from home, through parental eyes as a place of wonder. Soon after we moved down here the librarian said, “We’re getting used to seeing parades of Smedleys coming through here!”
This brings back fond memories. I share your affection for the written word, and libraries have always been favorite haunts of mine.
Terrific story! How many people just like you did Enoch Pratt light the way for by his endowment? Pretty amazing to imagine!
I am now wallowing joyously in memories of the Sheboygan Public Library. A marble temple, where I moved from the children’s section. to Greek mythology, to biographies of great Americans, to English novels, to Dostoyevsky and Kafka and Thomas Mann.
It was a magic place.
Pratt Institute? NY
I won’t try to compete with your story, but I know what you mean. I too owed a lot to libraries when I was growing up.
Sad to think of what a fine city Baltimore once was.
It was only a mile, and children regularly and safely walked the streets alone back then. . . .and a sadness here for our cities, with the loss of a child's safe walk, alone, going anywhere. . .
It reminded me our the Saturday Walk to the Library I and my siblings took every week as we grew up. The Library has been replaced with a shiney new one, but I clearly remember the "book smell" and the slightly slanted wooden floors and sturdy wooden tables and chairs. I could draw a floor plan of the whole building...furniture and all...telling you where each section was located and where some of the actual books were usually placed.
Nice for us...after my much-younger baby brother began school, Mama became a librarian in that same building. Thanks for the shared memories and for the reminder.
I was about 10 years old when our small town got a “library”.
I put library in quotes because it was extremely small by my standards today but at the time I was in hog heaven.
I remember walking a few blocks as a youngster in San Francisco in the Sixties, and being cautioned by my grandfather to be careful, as ‘these [were] dangerous times’.
I miss him, but I’m also glad that he didn’t see how much more dangerous the times would become. One of my destinations was my first library- the branch library on 36th Avenue (IIRC) , between Geary and Anza streets.
Nice...brought back a lot of good memories...books have always been a part of my life too.
Had a teacher that lead her class of grade-schoolers on a field trip to the local library many, many years ago (I believe it was the third grade). Thanks to that field trip, I have had a love of books that knows no bounds all my life. To this day I prayerfully thank that teacher.
Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories. ;-)
This brought back memories of the Calgary library my parents took me to when I was a kid, almost 50 years ago. It was a squarish building, built in cedar log style, with the second level raised up over a semi-submerged basement. On Saturday mornings, in the winter, we would go there all bundled up in our parkas and heavy boots (this was pre-Global Warming), and then leave our winter clothes at the door to descend to the very warm basement for weekly story time.
It wasn’t the same when they opened up the new branch library 10 years later as just another glass storefront in the local shopping mall.
The other day my 20-year-old daughter (home from college) and I went to the Tempe library. As a member of the first fully digital generation, she sees no reason to ever again buy a physical recording of music or even a physical book. She sees the clutter that books and CDs and videotapes and DVD have created in her parent’s life, and wants no part of it. She’s perfectly happy to download almost all the information in her life. As we approached the building, she asked me, “What will happen to libraries when everything is digital?” I mumbled something about people still needing a place to visit to share knowledge, but one thing I know, it will never be the same.
Funny, the memories we all have of serious, but somehow. . .easier/safer times.
When quite small, I rode my tricycle 'into town' and with help; made it safely home. Later, spent many school years, walking to school and riding my bycycle. It was such a great feeling of independence and 'freedom'. Today, my daughter's children attend a school that is right in her neighborhood; a sneeze or two away from her doorstep. And while a 'safe neighborhood', the Mother's nontheless, accompany their children to school to insure their safe arrival.
Going it alone today, anywhere for a chid; is simply and sadly, not an option.
(And as of late; not even safe for the older 'chidren' as well; given the number of free for all abductions of young women in the past years. It has become almost 'sporting'. . .and and outrageous. in it's insanity.
Do wish Repubs would speak to this issue; pointing out that so often; we can thank a Liberal Judge for these perps even being on the street; while reminding them of the importance of not voting for those who will allow this 'new tradition' to continue.)
Then, my wife reminded me that the last time I wrote a "personal" rather than a "political" column, that the reactions were quite positive and folks appreciated the work more, the personal way.
I am pleased by all the fine memories about the beginnings of a love of books that my small story engendered. Thank you.
John / Billybob
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