Our books have great stories

Our books have great stories—in more ways than one.

UPDATE: News from the castle!

At every sale the Friends of the Library volunteers are happy to help good books find good homes. Sometimes, that means sending books back to their rightful homes before the sale even opens its doors.

An interesting pamphlet from 1850 came our way as a donation for the Spring 2016 Sale, The Life and Confession of Ann Walters, the Murderess. One of the court cases mentioned in this salacious little pamphlet, that of Mary Runkle, is from nearby Whitesboro, NY, and volunteers were sure it would appeal to patrons interested in local history.

A quick look over the pamphlet revealed it to be from Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library, and a check of Yale’s library catalog showed it was still listed as part of the collection. After a few phone calls Yale confirmed that the pamphlet had never been deaccessioned, and, what’s more, that it was sorely missed.AnnWaltersFront

“Murder trial pamphlets are a rich source for studying popular culture and the history of the book, as well as legal history. Trials involving women are especially valuable for the study of 19th-century gender roles,” said Mike Widener, the rare book librarian at the Lillian Goldman library.

Last year Yale was forced to borrow a copy of The Life and Confession of Ann Walters from another library for a 2014-15 show at the Goldman Library, “Women and Murder in 19th-Century America”, because Goldman’s own copy could not, at that time, be found.

We mailed the Ann Walters pamphlet home, and the Goldman staff were thrilled to get it back on their shelves.

Walters draws her knife and prepares for bloody murder.

Walters draws her knife and prepares for bloody murder.

It’s not hard to see why: its cases are more fantasy than fact, and make great reading. Ann Walters is accused of more than a dozen gruesome stabbings, and while the accounts of her crimes are, according to Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law, “generally considered to be fictitious” (the same crimes, detail for detail, often word for word, are attributed to Walters, to a woman named Sophia Hamilton, and to yet another woman, Mary Jane Gordon; the crimes are reported to have taken place in England, in Maine, and in Maryland, during the 1810s, the 1820s, and the 1840s… though court records are always mysteriously lacking) they provide insight into the 19th-century zeitgeist: “Readers may easily perceive that [Walters] location was in a slave state [Maryland] where morality is not very exalted, as such a course could not have been carried on in a free state so long, without meeting the eye of detection.”

FurstensteinerBibliotheksmallAnother homeless traveler of a book that came our way for the Spring 2016 Sale is a gorgeous vellum-bound copy of Anton Ernst Burckhard von Birckenstein’s Auserlesener Anfang zu denen höchst nützlichen Mathematischen Wissenschafften published in 1731, a richly illustrated set of essays discussing the best angles of attack for taking out various Hungarian fortresses and castles by means of artillery fire. Some of the book’s engravings are the best extant images of these castles, now either much altered or destroyed. A stamp on the title page, “Fürstensteiner Bibliothek,” marked it as the property of the library of Schloss Fürstenstein, an imposing castle (today called Zamek Książ) in the mountains of what is now Poland.

During World War II the contents of the library were plundered, first by the Poles and then by the Soviets,

Castle Ksiaz.

Castle Książ.

and scattered far and wide–even as far as Ithaca, New York. Of the 64,000 books that once lined the library shelves only two have been returned to the castle. We sent Birkenstein’s book on its way back to Książ, where its return was met with great joy.

The custodians of the castle hope to one day restore the library and archives to their former glory, and FOL volunteers are pleased to have played a small part.

UPDATE: News from the castle!