Shakespeare, Longfellow, Sugar Creek Gang, President McKinley: Every book has a story beyond the story

old books.jpgAs much as I love the feel, scent, and perfect appearance of a brand new book (especially my own), I have an affinity for antiquarian books. There’s something about the musty smell; tattered, torn, dog-eared and stained pages; and ornate hard covers that grip my heart and stimulate my imagination.

Questions arise. Who were the readers? Where was the book first purchased? Was it a gift, and if so, from whom and why? For two decades I collected antiquarian books; nothing of monetary value; mostly sentimental. I’ve scoured through them in search of hand-written, scribbled notes on the pages, or bits of paper tucked between. I’ve found a frayed vintage bookmark and a yellowed pressed flower. Never found any $100 bills. When we moved three years ago, I downsized my collection, and kept those with personal significance.

The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters – It’s a 1912 original edition with illustrations and photos (including one of the supposed iceberg). I found it in an antique store during the height of my Titanic obsession in the mid-1980s. The front cover has detached, but I don’t intend to repair it so it maintains its time-worn integrity. I’ve read the book many times.

The Works of Shakespeare – This was in my Great Aunt Gladys Butler’s collection. It was originally presented as a gift to her mother, Minnie Notton Butler, which would date the book to the late-1800s. I wasn’t able to find a copyright date, but there might be a couple of pages missing after the gold-embossed hard-cushioned cover.

The 750-page book has gold-edge pages that are almost as thin as those in a Bible, and the print is tiny, possibly 6-point type. It includes a memoir of Shakespeare, his will, and a glossary of all those Ye Olde English words and phrases. There are illustrations of Juliet, Silvius, the Death of Cleopatra, King Richard, the Witches, etc. I looked for the book on the internet, but did not find one among the hundreds shown, which makes me wonder about the rarity of it. One can hope! Have I read it? Nope. Paged through it? Yes.

Minnie pageThe Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Copyright 1883. This also belonged to Minnie Notton Butler. What fascinates me is whoever gave it to her wrote Minnie’s name and date of the gift (May 31, 1894, the year she graduated from high school) in elegant and detailed calligraphy. Again, the pages are gold-edged and the type is small. There are many illustrations and a dozen pages of notes that are as difficult to understand as Longfellow’s works! I found the volume for sale on the internet for $5-$12. Have I read it? Nope. Paged through it? Yes.

Illustrious Life of William McKinley, Our Martyred President – Copyright 1901 (the year he was assassinated. This 460-page book, purchased in an antique store years ago, caught my attention as McKinley is in the Butler family genealogy. He had no surviving children, so I am not a direct descendant. (Note: The hero in “Embracing Hope” is Drew McKinley—not a coincidence.)

The book has numerous engravings made from original photographs. The first photo on the inside flyleaf was taken just hours before McKinley was shot twice in the abdomen by a crazed anarchist. McKinley died eight days later. The author was Murat Halstead, who described himself in the intro as a personal friend of McKinley’s for 30 years and author of “History of the War Between the States”, “The Story of Cuba”, “Story of the Philippines.” His writing style is formal, yet emits his emotion.

As readers would expect, the book is a comprehensive look at McKinley’s life and the times at the turn of the century: personal history, political climate, the assassination, national and world grieving, and a section on his Christian character. At the end of the book are the details of the trial of the assassin, who was executed by electrocution 45 days after McKinley’s death. I have read the book? Yes, although I skipped some of the political chapters.

The Sugar Creek Gang Series – Author Paul Hutchens wrote 36 volumes (1940-1970) of the wildly-popular Christian books geared for boys ages 9-12. The “gang” of youngsters embarked on many adventures, always learning valuable lessons on faith-filled living. My father, Paull Butler, was gifted with 11 books between 1944-46 from his parents, Garth and Hazel Butler; his Aunt Gladys; and his sister, Doris Butler. The titles sum up the adventures: “The Sugar Creek Gang in Chicago”, “We Killed a Bear”, “The Sugar Creek Gang Flies to Cuba” (Really!), “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes Camping”, “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes to School”, etc.

The series has been made into audio books featuring the voice of Paul Ramseyer, a Christian radio legend at the Northwestern College Radio Network in St. Paul, Minnesota. I worked with Mr. Ramseyer when I was in public relations at Northwestern (1993-2005); I was also an alum there. I knew of Mr. Ramseyer for years as my family faithfully listened to the radio network. So how did Paul Ramseyer end up narrating the Sugar Creek Gang books? Paul Hutchen’s daughter Pauline, was married to Rev. Kyle Wilson, who was on Northwestern’s pastoral staff. Ta da!!

And there you have it: the stories of my antiquarian collection of books. Will my humble paperback/Kindle romance ever attain such status a century from now? Naw. Then again, I do have three granddaughters and a great niece……


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