Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Devestat* (for Devastat*)

Just four days after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire, there was another devastating conflagration in the state of New York, this time at the Capitol building in downtown Albany. The fire destroyed virtually the entire holdings of the New York State Library, which ironically was only several months away from its planned move to a more secure setting in the new State Education Building across the street. Melvil Dewey had been urging a speedy relocation for some time, but upon receiving the awful news, he refrained from any righteous indignation, writing instead (in the simplified spelling style that he favored) to the library's director, James I. Wyer, on April 11: "...The bilding which is only the shell may burn, the books which were our tools may burn, but the chief thing, the spirit and influence of the State Library and the Library School, you cannot burn or drown or down. As wide as civilization bilds libraries, the influence of our library has reacht and will reach and no disaster can be more than a temporary interruption of its good work. I know in advance that you will find the old staff pure gold in this time of trial. If necessary they will work in water to the knees and live on crackers and cheese..." A crackerjack book has just been published by the new staff of the New York State Library, chronicling this terrible chapter in our institutional history. It's called The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911. There were 19 occurrences of today's typo in OhioLINK and 125 in WorldCat.

(Amateur photographer Harry Roy Sweney captured the Capitol inferno at 3:30 a.m. on March 29, 1911. The New York American paid $25.00 for the first print of this dramatic photograph. Courtesy of the New York State Library's Manuscripts & Special Collections and the New York State History blog.)

Carol Reid

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