>I was happy to find out that my last work trip before I leave my company would be in Washington, DC, not only because I have friends there, but because there was some serious nerdery I wanted to get up to in DC before moving across the country.
Some of the nerdery was serendipitous. I was lured to an Asian restaurant across the street from Ford’s Theatre by their vegan pho, only to discover they had a special of Lincoln’s favorite drink: Laird’s Apple Jack with homemade orange bitters. Let me tell you, the man was wise in many ways. Also the age-old question of what the hell he’s been drinkin’ is finally put to rest (it was not turpentine after all!)
Another case of serendipity, I was on my way to Mecca (aka The Library of Congress) when I saw on the map that one of the buildings was marked FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY. I literally gasped outloud, “No WAY!” During my regrettably short docentship at the The Rosenbach Museum (one bittersweet thing about moving), I would rattle off the various rare books libraries in the country whose collections Rosenbach had helped build. Widener Library at Harvard, the Huntington (featured in a recent entry), and the Folger Shakespeare Library. But I must admit that I had no idea it was in DC, and practically ran there once I realized it was a block away from where I stood!
I was not disappointed. I got to chat with the charming, southern gentleman docent before the tour. They have frequent Shakespeare performances in addition to the research library and public expositions. In addition to their permanent collection (which includes about 80 first folios like the one above, the most in any one spot in the world) they had a special exhibit on dreaming in Shakespeare. They had Shakespeare works, and famous and lesser known early printed works and manuscripts showing Elizabethian era concepts of what herbs and gems one can use to manipulate dreams, what one can do “to make one sleepe,” and even Elizabethian era dressing gowns.
It’s a really odd building architecturally, the outside being both a touch neoclassical like its surroundings and also built in the 30s; the docent called it “greco deco.” Inside was a charming mix of early industrial American bravado and Anglophilia. The docent huddled us into the middle of the room and dramatically pulled a curtain and this is what we saw:
…or at least this is what I saw from my smooshed perspective. I want to go to there. No fair 😉 It kinda makes me laugh though that a lot of these gorgeous research libraries save the prettiest rooms for researchers only, but then show the tourists the rooms through a window, giving the feeling of a zoo exhibit. They did that at the Library of Congress as well, but photography was not allowed as it disturbs the
animalsresearchers. Which is a pity, because gee, golly.
I could have almost been contented with just seeing the Folger, but I came for Mecca, and Mecca I shall see. I headed over to the Library of Congress, which was somehow far grander and beautiful in a way I didn’t expect.
So colorful and busy! Mosaics and paintings and allegory everywhere, my eye just kept catching all of these wonderful surprises.
The grandeur of it all was dizzying. And there were great quotes all over the walls. “The university of these days is a collection of books.” “Books must follow sciences and not sciences books.” But all of the best parts of the library were the parts where you weren’t allowed to photograph. There was a wonderful Lincoln exhibit (as most museums have this year) that included, memorably, his Bible that Obama used at his inauguration.
Walking through this place alone, I was honestly choked with emotion and patriotism. The most awe-inspiring for me was walking through Thomas Jefferson’s original collection, which was set up in a bit of a spiral, and you could walk on either side. Seeing how he arranged his books, and what he had, it really brought him to life as a person to me. I understand why projects like Librarything’s Legacy Projects are undertaken, or, more humbly, why people who care about books always check out others’ bookshelves in their homes. It’s like crawling around in someone’s head for a while.
Thanks dude, for letting me crawl around in your place, and your head, for a while. It was well worth the trip. Up soon: Nerdin’ in New York.