By Maureen Hart
I love writing about travel and places I’ve been. But while castles in Spain and ancient monuments in Rome are quite exciting, sometimes a day trip close to home can show you things just as amazing.
Last June, my book group read The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, which is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the young woman who took over as librarian for the billionaire J. Pierpont Morgan at a time when women did not usually hold such important positions. That is not even the most amazing thing about Bella though. She was a black woman who passed as white in an era when she would not even been allowed to enter the places she visited to obtain items for the library, much less hob nob with the upper crust of society in their mansions on Fifth Avenue.
Suffice it to say that her exquisite taste and knowledge, financed with Morgan’s money, combined to create an amazing repository of such valuables as folios of Shakespeare (one of Morgan’s most sought-after and treasured acquisitions), original scores by renowned composers such as Mozart, medieval and renaissance artwork, and of course, more ancient manuscripts and books by Geoffrey Chaucer and many writers. Even the brass bell from his sailing ship, the Corsair, has pride of place in the more modern entry way to the Museum.
Having spent the previous month gaping over Botticelli’s in the Ufizzi Gallery and Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David in Florence, you would think this comparatively small library/museum would have been a let-down for me. But in fact, it was exquisite. Morgan didn’t collect for sheer volume, he collected things he loved that reflected his special interests.
And he constructed the perfect building to house his treasures—filled with historic architectural features such as the stained glass ceiling in the library room itself, as well as archways, fireplaces, windows and rooms as fine as anything on the continent.
We were a very giddy book group to be able to see the Morgan buildings and artifacts for ourselves after reading the book that described how all of this was accomplished.
Visiting the Morgan Library takes a bit of planning, as you must purchase tickets in advance for a certain time of admission. This keeps crowds at a very reasonable size, which is a big plus when you want to take your time looking as ancient artifacts or the covers of books which are literally priceless.
We had also hoped to visit it’s much-praised restaurant, but it has been closed recently, and so we just had tea in the solarium cafeteria and ate downtown after our visit.
IF YOU GO:
Built in 1924, the Morgan Library & Museum, formerly the Pierpont Morgan Library, is a museum and research library in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. It is situated at 225 Madison Avenue, between 36th Street to the south and 37th Street to the north. PHONE: (212) 685-0008 for more information or reservations.