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Remembering Ray Bradbury

August 22, 2016

One of America’s favorite science fiction authors, the late Ray Bradbury, was born on August 22, 1920. His best-known tales, all premiering in the early 1950s, are The Martian Chronicles, I Sing the Body Electric, The Illustrated Man, and his masterwork, Fahrenheit 451.

Originally from Waukegan, Illinois, Bradbury’s father moved his family west during the Great Depression, ultimately settling in Los Angeles. As a teen Bradbury was fascinated by Hollywood celebrities and would sneak into the movies and seek out the autographs of his favorite stars. At the age of 17, his first story to appear in print, “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” was published in Imagination!, a short-lived fanzine issued by the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. “The Lake,” the first story he sold, was published in the May 1944 issue of Weird Tales.

In Rare Books and Special Collections, we have more than 400 science fiction and fantasy pulps from the 1930-1960s. Among our titles is the first issue of Fantastic Universe, which includes contributions by major authors Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Bradbury. Although not in our collection, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 began as “The Fireman,” a novella published in the February 1951 issue of another popular pulp, Galaxy Science Fiction.

RBSC is home to an autographed copy of Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451. Printed in a limited edition run of 750 copies by Gauntlet Publishing in 2006, Match to Flame tracks the origins of the classic 1953 novel through its numerous incarnations, many of which were previously unpublished stories. The tale of a totalitarian society in which books are prohibited, the title refers to the temperature at which paper catches fire without being exposed to a flame. Bradbury passed away on June 5, 2012 at the age of 91.


Primeval – An artists’ book

May 18, 2016

Thirty-six years ago today, on May 18, 1980, a devastating eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens, blowing off more than 1,000 feet from the mountain’s peak. With numerous small earthquakes rumbling beneath its surface over the last several weeks (they call it a swarm!) what better time to feature Primeval, hand-crafted by Washington state book artist Jill Timm. Constructed in the shape of a tetrahedron, or a triangular pyramid, Primeval ingeniously unfolds into panels which tell the story of the massive blast and its aftermath through photographs and text. Boosting the cool factor even further, a capsule of volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens is included. The book measures 5.5″ x 6″ x 6″ and the Library’s copy is number 7 in the limited edition printing of 20. It was published by Mystical Places Press in 2015.

Timm, whose works “celebrate the spirit and aesthetics of the natural environment,” is also featured in 1000 Artists’ Books: Exploring the Book as Art by Sandra Salamony, with Peter & Donna Thomas. This terrific resource, published by Quarry Books in 2012, is located in the Fine Arts Room at Central Library. The call number is 709.04082 and it can be checked out.

Primeval, on the other hand lives in Special Collections, and does not circulate. However, we are more than happy to let visitors spent some time with our volcano-shaped book. Give us a call at 314-539-0370.

The Glass Menagerie – A Play

May 12, 2016

TP Glass

The inaugural Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis is happening this week and weekend at multiple venues in and around Grand Center. Numerous events celebrating the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright are being held, including an Al Hirschfeld caricature art exhibit, a reading of Williams’ family letters, and the screening of the film A Streetcar Named Desire in the open-air Public Media Commons. Unfortunately for me, it looks as though I’ve missed my opportunity to see Upstream Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie at the Kranzberg Arts Center since the remaining performances are completely sold out.

After premiering in Chicago in December 1944, the autobiographical family drama moved to Broadway the following March, suddenly turning the native St. Louisan into a star. As chance would have it, I had pulled our first edition copy of the play for a patron recently and was delighted to find it signed by Williams. Instead of writing on one of the book’s front endpapers, as is customary, he cleverly juxtaposed his inscription – For the St. Louis Public Library, Tennessee Williams – with a passage on page 25. During a heated exchange between lead characters, mother and son, Amanda and Tom Wingfield, Tom exclaims, “Yesterday you confiscated my books! You had the nerve to -”. Amanda interrupts, “I took that horrible novel back to the library – yes!..”

 Glass Menagerie
Our copy of The Glass Menagerie is one of only 5,000 copies printed by Random House in its first edition in 1945. It is bound in greenish-blue cloth and stamped in gilt on the spine. Its only flaw is that it lacks the original dust jacket. It measures 12.5 cm. x 19 cm. and numbers 124 pages.

Streetcar and Cat

We have a number of Williams’ other first editions in Rare Books and Special Collections. The two I looked over today were A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both published by New Directions in 1947 and 1955, respectively. Neither are signed, however, they do have their original dust jackets which feature terrific artwork by Alvin Lustig, who was a prominent graphic designer.

Call 314-539-0370 to plan your visit to Special Collections.

The First Four Folios and The Tragedy of Macbeth

October 29, 2015

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

I’m pretty sure my earliest memory of Shakespeare is reciting as ghoulishly as possible this spooky incantation by the Three Witches in Macbeth. We were no doubt a menacing bunch of second graders- absent front teeth, scraped up knees- fully committed to making each other squirm with all that talk of eye of newt and tongue of dog.

It’s believed that Macbeth was written by Shakespeare in 1606. While reading the play, I have to remind myself that witchcraft was taken very seriously in England during Shakespeare’s age. Evidence of sorcery was a capital offence punishable by hanging, burning, or drowning. Gulp. James I, then the new King of England, and patron of Shakespeare’s acting company, had even written a book titled Demonology.

When Shakespeare died in 1616 at 52, only half of his plays had been printed. These small, one-play editions are called quartos. Macbeth was not among them. It, along with 17 others, debuted in the First Folio of 1623. The printing of the First Folio, a large memorial volume of his complete works, was arranged by his friends and associates to honor the late bard. The success of the First Folio led to the printing of a Second Folio with minor corrections nine years later. In 1663, a Third Folio added many new plays, most of which were falsely attributed to Shakespeare. The Third Folio is quite scarce because a large number of copies were destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666. Finally, a Fourth Folio, also including the spurious plays, appeared in 1685.

At Central Library, our Rare Books and Special Collections department holds a copy of Original Leaves from the First Four Folios of the Plays of William Shakespeare: 1623, 1632, 1663, 1685 (RB-X Oversize 822.33 G.) This volume from 1935 was published by the Grabhorn Press, a late San Francisco-based arts and crafts printing shop. In addition to the original leaves, an entertaining introduction written by Edwin Eliott Willoughby recounts the labyrinthine saga behind these early printings. Willoughby was the Chief Bibliographer at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. from 1935 until his retirement in 1958.

The first three folios in our edition are represented by pages from Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard II, and Julius Caesar, respectively. Which brings me back to Macbeth, our Fourth Folio page. Yesterday I realized our particular leaf contains Act 4, Scene 2 from Macbeth, which features the heinous stabbing death of Macduff’s small son and implicit murder of his wife.

He has kill’d me, Mother,
Run away, I pray you.

Jeepers. Beginning in January, in observance of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, several First Folios owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library will tour the country. While SLPL is not a stop, rest assured something wicked this way comes from your local Special Collections. Call 314-539-0370 to make an appointment today to see our original leaves. Boo!

Parlor Dramas and Scrapbook Dreams

December 22, 2014

– South Side Journal, Wed. Sept. 3, 1969 –

113-Year-Old Book Back at Library After 90 Years

Let me see here, I thought, as my fingers examined the shelf of well-worn titles. Aided by an imaginary sleuthing cap, I’d taken it upon myself to prowl the lengthy 3M level of Central Library’s stacks. I was on a mission. 793.1 Fitzgerald, 793.1 Flexner, 793.1 Fogerty… sure enough 793.1 Fowle. There it was, Parlor Dramas, or, Dramatic Scenes, for Home Amusement, the book I’d first read about in clippings from the Library’s 1969-1970 Scrapbook. Neatly tucked alongside its similarly Dewey classified brothers and sisters, William Bentley Fowle’s 1856 collection of amateur plays, half leather bound over marbled boards, was home where it belonged. That’s neat.

One would never suspect that Parlor Dramas’ whereabouts were unknown for 90 years. That’s an entire lifetime. And now, the newspaper articles recalling its unlikely return to St. Louis Public Library were written four and a half decades ago. Back in 1969, Parlor Dramas was discovered in San Antonio, Texas at a book fair held by the local chapter of Brandeis University National Women’s Committee. It was forwarded to Mrs. Samuel Kohn, the chairwoman of the St. Louis chapter, to be included at an upcoming antique show held at the old Arena annex on Oakland. Kohn decided instead to return it to our collection.Paxton Price with the Brandeis Women

Paxton P. Price, Librarian with Mrs. Fred Sobel and Mrs. Ronald Sandler, 8/25/1969 –
Brandeis Women’s 3rd Annual Antiques Show


From what I can gather after sifting through the SLPL Archives, which we keep up here in Special Collections, Parlor Dramas went missing sometime before 1880. It is listed in the 1870 catalog just below an earlier Fowle book, the breathlessly baptized The Hundred Dialogues, New and Original; Designed for Reading and Exhibition in Schools, Academies, and Private Circles. It seems Hundred Dialogues disappeared off our shelves, too. I found a handwritten missing list from 1877, mistakenly referring to it as “500 Dialogues.” But that collection never made a headline-making comeback.

The archives, including the carefully assembled scrapbooks, date back to the beginnings of the library in 1865, when it was known as the Public School Library Society of St. Louis. We were originally a subscription library open only to paying members. Since joining Special Collections two years ago, I’ve regularly relied on and reveled in this treasury of manuscripts, correspondence, board meeting notes, etc. to answer reference questions and assist visiting researchers. I found myself especially taken with materials relating to former library head Aurthur Bostwick’s seven week trip to China in 1925. Sent by the American Library Association to promote public library development, Bostwick wrote affectionate daily letters to his wife Lucy, seemingly on whatever bits of paper he could find. A Chinese scholar I assisted earlier this year expressed to me just how important Bostwick’s tour was to the modernization of libraries in China. Trip… tour… whoops, back to Parlor Dramas!

I spent a few days reading the plays in Parlor Dramas and researching the pastime itself. Entertaining guests by putting on scripted productions with friends and family as actors was a popular Victorian Age form of home entertainment in both Great Britain and the United States. The contrived plots were often satirical spins on then-current events and characters were generally stereotypes. The affectations of social classes were treated with humor and scandal was common.

The soap opera-like tale “The Fugitive Slave” involves an ‘orphaned’ baby girl born into slavery, but raised by a Quaker family as their own daughter. However, secrets can’t be kept forever and on Marie Eugenie’s 18th birthday the inexplicable truth is revealed to all with oddly joyous results. Another play, “The Tea Party,” features stuffy society women, one of whom is seeking a domestic servant. Enter the unrefined Elsie McSnooksy, a new arrival from Ireland “seeking a place.” She’s not quite the “American girl” that Mrs. Hyson has in mind to serve “tay” at her gatherings.

I’ve thought about how out of place Parlor Games must have been after its magical mystery tour. It was now the very un-Victorian summer of 1969. Woodstock, the Stonewall Riots, and Apollo 11 were big stories on people’s lips and Puzo’s “The Godfather” and Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” were on the library’s shelves. At least it made the paper.

I’m not sure why it meant so much to me that I found the darn book in its proper place. Items must come and go. We can’t keep everything. Am I woozy from the sentimental nature of the holidays and the approaching new year? Did the scrapbook from 1969 (the year I was born) evoke these emotions of nostalgia? I recently learned that Immanuel Kant, a major figure in modern philosophy, never journeyed from his hometown of Konigsberg, Prussia. Still, he’s remembered as one of history’s great thinkers. But, ringing in my head is a line from Whitman’s Song of Myself, “I tramp a perpetual journey.” I do know I would have been sorely disappointed had I not found Parlor Dramas.

But, it was home and has been for quite some time, and that’s neat.

After the Paunch Comes the Dance

August 11, 2014

English As She Is Spoke

Headquartered in Central Library’s Entertainment, Literature, and Biography Room, my esteemed and always engaging colleague, Sean Parada, is often seen heavily armed with Doc Savage pulps sandwiched between German poetry and early works of Jane Austen. Also in is haul is a notebook of inspiration, where he scratches his latest amusing ideas in the itty-bittiest penmanship I’ve ever seen. So when he clued me into the pure joy that is English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest I knew it would be worth my while.

First published in Paris in 1855 and reprinted numerous times, the unintentionally funny Portuguese to English conversational guide had me cackling once I got my hands on it. It seems the author, Pedro Carolino, had limited knowledge of English when he assumed the task of producing an English edition of a Portuguese to French phrasebook written by José da Fonseca. Carolino likely relied on a French-English dictionary rather than directly translating the Portuguese into English. If you’re not confused yet, you will be when you read the lists of “familiar” words, expressions, and dialogues in this delightful book. For me, it brings to mind the telephone game wherein a whispered phrase ultimately gets mangled as it passes from one person to the next. Here is just a sample:

Fishes and shell-fishes:
Large lobster
Dorado, Snail
A sorte of fish
Hedge hog

The chapter on familiar phrases is probably my favorite. Head scratching surreal highlights:

This girl have a beauty edge.
This ink is white.
He burns one’s self the brains.
I have mind to vomit.
I dead myself in envy to see her.
The thunderbolt is falling down.
Have you forgeted me?
Take care to dirt you self.

And can you imagine speaking in this manner to your barber? From Familiar Dialogues Part 1, With a hair dresser:

Master hair dresser, you are very lazy. You keep me back at home; i was to go out. If you not come sooner, i shall leave you to.
Sir, i did come in a hurry.
Yours razors are them well?
Yes, sir.
Look to not cup me.
Comb-me quickly; don’t put me so much pomatum. What news tell me? all hairs dresser are newsmonger.
Sir, I have no heared anything.

Finally, a few insightful adages from a chapter titled Idiotisms and Proverbs (really though, haven’t we heard these all too many times before?):

To craunch the marmoset.
To come back at their muttons.
He has a good beak.
After the paunch comes the dance.

The following editions of English as She is Spoke are available at Central Library. Digital copies of various printings can also be found online at both and Some are more complete than others. I hope you giggled as much as I did, I know Sean and I will be quoting from the book for years to come.

The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English in Two Parts / by Pedro Carolino; with an introduction by Mark Twain. (RB-K 469.83421) 1883.

English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest
/ by Pedro Carolino and José da Fonseca, Introduction by James Millington. (428.3469) 1884. This edition can be checked out.

English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest
/ by Pedro Carolino and José da Fonseca, introductions by Leslie Shepard and Millington. (RB-T T55 miniature) 1967.

Spectric Visions

May 3, 2014
The Spectra Hoax

The Spectra Hoax

Just as the colors of the rainbow recombine into a white light,- just as the reflex of the eye’s picture vividly haunts sleep,- just as the ghosts which surround reality are the vital part of that existence, so may the Spectric vision, if successful, prolong, and at the same time multiply the emotional images of the reader.
Anne Knish, 1916

A few months back while researching turn of the century St. Louis journal Reedy’s Mirror, I stumbled upon Spectricism, the ‘school’ of poetry whose nearly impenetrable verse briefly turned the American literary world on its head. The preface to Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (811.52), quoted in part above, outlines the movement’s lofty philosophy. Hailing from unlikely Pittsburgh, the mysterious Spectral poets were tempestuous Budapest-born Anne Knish and her partner Emanuel Morgan.

Turns out these two wordsmiths didn’t exist. The Spectral poetry movement was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Witter Bynner (Emanuel Morgan) and Arthur Davidson Ficke (Anne Knish), both accomplished traditional poets. Perturbed by the glut of elitist experimental free verse movements of the era, chiefly the Imagists, Bynner and Ficke chose to spoof them. Just months before the volume’s release, the men had holed up in a Moline, Illinois hotel for ten days with ten quarts of scotch and concocted the entire ruse. The ideology and poetry that emerged was pompous, absurd, and wonderfully spirited.

Reviews were mixed, but for the most part Spectricism was taken seriously by critics. Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams were admirers. Amusingly, Bynner himself was paid to review the work for the journal New Republic! He wrote “…whether or not there be meaning or magic in the book, I can promise that there is amusement in it and that it takes a challenging place among current literary impressionistic phenomena.” However, The Los Angeles Graphic charged that it was “Gibberish, written for one purpose only- to attract attention.”

The deception continued through World War I, in which both poets served, but seemed trivial given the gravity of the period. Finally, on April 26, 1918, Bynner was asked point blank during a lecture whether or not he and Ficke were the Spectral poets. He said yes.

A delightful book, The Spectra Hoax (811.52), written by William Jay Smith in 1961, recounts the prank through recollections by all the players involved. It is full of humorous tales regarding their attempts to bring other famous poets into the fold, keeping the scam alive amid growing suspicion, and the sting felt by those who were taken in by the con.

What I love the most about this story is the notion that the poetry of Morgan and Knish is unintentionally superior to that of Bynner and Ficke when writing as themselves. After the truth was exposed, critic Jerome Eddy wrote a letter to Reedy’s Mirror suggesting the “real Bynner and real Ficke” emerged because they were no longer censoring themselves, thus enabling them to write more freely and unrestrained. Freudian psychology at work. An excellent point was made by Jane Heap, of the Little Review, who wrote, “I confess to a deep ignorance of the nature of the hoax. If a man changes his name and writes better stuff, why does that make the public so ridiculous?”

I might have found the whole affair cruel had I been around at the time. People just want to fit in and feel a sense of belonging, don’t they? There have always been folks who find allure in snobbish exclusivity and that’s their right. Who decides what authentic art is, anyway? All fun questions to consider.

One can compare and contrast the work of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davidson Ficke with their pseudonyms here at SLPL. In addition to the Spectra book, we own many poetry volumes published under their real names, both before and after the hoax. Bynner even wrote another book as Emanuel Morgan in 1920 titled Pins for Wings. He once commented of his alter ego Morgan, “I find now I write like him without the slightest effort- I don’t know where he leaves off and I begin. He’s a boomerang!”

Opus 2

Is the antelope
Over the hills;
Is the wounded deer
Bleeding in rills;
Is the heavy bear
Tearing at meat;
Is the mastodon
Vanished complete…

And I am the stag with the golden horn
Waiting till my day is born.

Emanuel Morgan

Opus 200

IF I should enter to his chamber
And suddenly touch him,
Would he fade to a thin mist,
Or glow into a fire-ball,
Or burst like a punctured light-globe?
It is impossible that he would merely yawn and rub
And say – “What is it?”

Anne Knish