The One with Washington’s Face

Despite living within spitting distance of a dozen world-class museums, I haven’t stepped foot inside any of them in a long, long time. Problem is, once you live here for a while you tend to, well, live here. There are errands to run and clothes to wash and the little thing my friend V likes to call The Grind. This week, I decided to visit one of the perhaps lesser known museums in New York City: the Morgan Library.

The museum began as financier Pierpont Morgan’s personal library. He had this building constructed between 1902-06 in one of Manhattan’s toniest spots. Just to be clear, Morgan spent millions of (today’s) dollars using the finest of materials from around the world–to house his books.  Just to be crystal clear, my apartment would fit comfortably inside the east wing.

The Morgan Library

The inside is even more opulent. If Mr. Morgan entered through this portico, he would have been greeted by this inlaid marble and gold rotunda.

Morgan Library Rotunda

To the left of the foyer was Mr. Morgan’s study. (Sorry for the grainy photo. (It was quite dark inside with all the red damask lining the walls.) I could spend days in there and not see all the objects on display.

Morgan's study

Mr. Morgan was an avid collector of literature, historical documents and art in nearly every medium,. This was one of his favorite works.

Running Eros

Mr. Morgan wanted to have this statue “constantly in sight.” This statue of Eros was excavated from the ruins of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

All of it was lovely, but not the reason I went to the Morgan Library. Book nerds, hold onto your keyboards.

Morgan Library

Do you think they use the Dewey decimal system? (East wall)

Morgan Library

West wall

Three stories of books! This is my idea of utopia. Many of these volumes are first or rare editions, like the Darwin book below. There are two hidden staircases behind the walls to get to the upper shelves.

Darwin's Origin of Species

In addition to the books and artwork, Mr. Morgan also collected rare documents.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I –John Hancock must have taken note of her signature.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln.
How amazing to see Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting.
“The conflict will be a severe one…”

Beatrix Potter.

Beatrix Potter.
“My rabbit Peter is so lazy…”

Anyone who has been around this blog for a while knows that seeing the document below brought me such joy.

Henry David Thoreau. A page from Thoreau's journal, dated July 5, 1845, Walden Pond. "Yesterday I came here to live..."

Henry David Thoreau.
A page from Thoreau’s journal, dated July 5, 1845, Walden Pond. “Yesterday I came here to live…”

One last document. We go from the sublime…

George Washington

George Washington’s letter to James Madison, dated May 20, 1792 from Mount Vernon.

to the creepy…

A cast of George Washington's face. This is sure to give me nightmares.

A cast of George Washington’s face. This is sure to give me nightmares.


 

Great American Fiction Best short stories

 

 

Side note: I’m happy to say that one of my short stories, “Secrets of a Seamstress,” was selected in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. The story appears in a new anthology, available on Kindle.

 

 

 

 


Have you been to a museum lately? Any cool or creepy findings? 

Have a great weekend everyone! 

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39 comments

  1. We fear that same process happening to us here–we live, forget to visit the museums and galleries, all of which are free here. The walls of books are incredible. Wish I had seen that when I was there! Hope you and Reggie have an awesome weekend.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. I’m fortunate that I can get free admission into many local museums through my employer. And still, I don’t go as often as I would like.

      But you and Sara seem to be exploring all the nooks and crannies your new home. Isn’t that wonderful, when you’re seeing it all for the first time?

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  2. First of all, congratulations on being included in the short story anthology! That’s wonderful! You’re such an exquisite and deserving writer, I’m so happy for you. I don’t have a Kindle — you know how snail slow I am with technology; I only mastered using my 27 year old toaster a week ago. I’ll figure out how to access this, maybe I’ll just read it off my computer.

    Earlier this month, Milton and I blew through the Magritte exhibit at MoMA like a bad smell. We don’t hit the museums nearly enough, either. But the Morgan rocks! I love classic architecture. The building itself is a work of art. I was also impressed with the snippets of letters you’ve shared here. What meticulous penmanship! This illustrates how the ability to write in longhand is a dead art. It’s as if we’ve descended into adopting the indecipherable chicken scratch of those in the medical profession. Every time I see my pal Coco’s atrophied signature (usually on a bar tab) I wonder, “What the hell is that?” And she’s 20 years younger than me! What will her scrawl look like when she reaches my threshold of aged pain? Will she descend to just using a thumb print by then or follow my lead and sign her name with the letter x?

    Finally, your site’s new look is lovely. Today, you, and earlier this week, Kathy, both refreshed your templates. Maybe I should consider following your leads, but that would require doing something. Ugh. Thanks for the shout out and thanks for the shout out in your Itty-Bitty Book Reviews. To include me in the company of such illustrious humorists as Paul Rudnick, Sloane Crosley and literary god, David Sedaris, is an honor, but I hope they’re not insulted.

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    1. Thank you! I’ve been thinking about refreshing the look of the blog for about ever. I wanted it to look similar to my writing website. If I can actually apply the CSS I’ve learned over the years, I might try to tweak it more. Then again I could very likely end up shutting down the whole site, maybe all of WP!

      Have you read Paul Rudnick’s book? There were a couple of essays in there that I think you’d really enjoy. If we can actually get together soon I’ll have to give you my copy.

      Like

  3. I was enjoying your post. Reading about your experience, feeling inspired by the great works, missing NYC. And then WHAM! There was a little tiny post-script on your story. Congratulations – so excited to see you recognized as a Great American Writer!

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  4. WOW!!! First off, congratulations, Jackie!! I am so thrilled for you! That must be terribly exciting. Have you stopped pinching yourself yet?
    Second: aren’t those handwriting samples fascinating? Thoreau’s is so sprawly and spread out. Potter’s illustrations are adorable. And QEI’s signature says a lot, doesn’t it? Is that Hancock’s sig above hers? Wonder if he signed first or second – no telling, I guess.
    You have to kind of admire Morgan for creating this kind of place.
    Congrats again. I can’t stop smiling for you.

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    1. Actually I still can’t believe my story was included in the anthology. This piece is historical fiction. In my experience, historical short stories have a difficult time finding homes in literary journals (and forget about magazines). So it was an extra special surprise.
      Do you find that to be the case also?
      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. It means so much coming from a fellow writer!

      Like

  5. Oh my, that is amazing about the anthology!! Congrats, Jackie! You so deserve this.
    Now I want to know when your novel will be published?

    This library gave me chills–the good kind. I have to see it the next time I’m in NY.

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    1. I think you’ll love the Morgan. What I found enjoyable was that the art on display is limited and so you can really engage. At museums like the Met or MOMA there is so much to see it can be overwhelming. (Bonus: the Morgan is much less crowded too!)

      Ha! I’d love to know if my novel will be published also. My agent is working on it. 🙂 This story is actually an excerpt of the novel.

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  6. CONGRATS! What a terrific bit of news.

    This is so true…I realized that, whenever (rarely) I go to a NYC museum I am always surrounded by…tourists. Duh. Because we’re all working or exhausted. I avoid the crowds at MOMA and very rarely head into the Met for the same reason, although I love it when I get there.

    One of my favorite NYC museums (do you know it?) is the Japan Society. It’s really special: quiet, special exhibitions only, on a calm block in the East 40s, with a fantastic 1960s church (attended by UN folk) next door.

    http://www.japansociety.org/

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    1. Thank you for introducing me to the Japan Society. I poked around their website and was really intrigued. I’ll keep an eye out for upcoming exhibits.

      Speaking of serene museums and Japan reminded me of my favorite place at the Met: the Japanese garden. It’s tucked away in a sort of hidden area on an upper floor. It’s a good spot for a break from the crowds.

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  7. Very cool- to both items! I have a Nook instead of a Kindle. I wonder if I can still get the anthology? I will have to check it out. Congrats! =)
    I think the cast of Washington’s face is actually cool. My son was talking about Washington the other day and talking about what a giant of a man he was for his time. I’m going to show him this. The next time he visit’s his friend in NYC maybe he can see it for himself.
    In my virtual fantasy house there is always a two story library with one of those wheelie ladders.
    And a big comfy chair!

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  8. I am very, very, VERY jealous of your visit to the Morgan Museum. It was instrumental in the research I did for my last WIP (the journals collection — some of which is online). It’s been one of the highest places on my list of places to go in NYC next time I’m there, and now I am even more looking forward to it. I absoutely love looking at handwritten documents, and you included some amazing ones (the Washington face not so much…haha). BTW, I know exactly what you mean about “The Grind.” Mine is the Atlantic Ocean and beaches, five minutes away, and I barely notice now when I drive by…

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    1. I agree — seeing those old documents is amazing. I was particularly taken with the page from Thoreau’s journal. To see his handwriting! (It’s just not the same with emails.:P )

      I’m so intrigued at how the journals collection came into play in your last WIP! That’s my kind of research. Was this for Desired to Death?

      Like

  9. Congrats on the short story! That’s awesome. And can you sense that I’m drooling. Three stories of books. Wow! I recently went to the British Library for the first time since I moved here two years ago.

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  10. Ooh, Jackie. This was so much fun. Thanks for sharing (and for the chuckle: “Book nerds, hold onto your keyboards.”) I can’t imagine having the dough to purchase those pieces of history from around the world. And all those BOOKS. Wowee wow wow.

    And big ol’ congrats on your short story win. That is fantastic news! Keep writing!

    (Oh – why is it that we do tend to ignore the tourist destinations when they’re right in our back yards? The Biosphere 2 is literally right down the road from me and it took me 5 years to finally get in there. And boy was I glad I did!)

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    1. I know I always just assume that I’ll have time to get to the _______________ (insert whatever cool local thing you’d like to do).

      Usually I only get to these fun sights when someone comes to visit. So you’ll just have to come to NYC so I can go. 🙂

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  11. I would like to pitch my tent in that library and never leave – how beautiful!

    And how wonderful that your short-story was selected for such an honor. That is MAJOR- woot, woot, woot!

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    1. Thanks so much Peg! It was a pleasant surprise about the story.

      The library is really stunning, and it’s wonderful that the family turned the collections into a museum and research facility so other people can enjoy it.

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  12. Congrats on the anthology inclusion. SO exciting!

    As a book nerd, I heeded your warning to hold on to my keyboard. But it wasn’t enough. Loved ALL the pictures! What a cool excursion (for book nerds).

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    1. Thanks very much! And congrats to you as well. I have your story all lined up for “pleasure reading” this weekend, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m happy to hear that you’re working on fiction again.

      Like

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