I leaned over the display case, squinting my eyes in order to read the regal handwriting. It was a hand-written account from the logbook of the RMS Carpathia from the night of April 16, 1912. That was the ship that brought aboard survivors from the Titanic.
It was chilling in its factual notations based on the carnage that we all known occurred in the North Atlantic that night. But I wasn’t in any Titanic museum or traveling exhibit. I was in a little known museum in Rock Island, Illinois with no connection at all to the Titanic or the ocean.
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The Karpeles Manuscript Collection
This was one of 10 Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums to open in the United States in recent years. It is a project of David Karpeles, a wealthy real estate investor from California with a passion for original writings that have had a profound impact on society.
Surrounding the Titanic display case were dozens of similar climate-controlled, security-enhanced cases with hand-written letters, original drawings and first drafts by Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Darwin, Poe, Wordsworth and all of the great names of literature are included in Karpeles’ collection of more than one million manuscripts. It is the largest privately held collection in the world. There’s an original hand-written draft of Harry Potter when J.K. Rowling was sitting in the coffee shop creating her best-sellers.
Small Town Museums with a Big Presence
Karpeles has chosen to share his collection with others not in the great cities of the world, but in smaller communities in the U.S. As a result, the works are available to individuals who might not otherwise have the opportunity to study the works of these great writers.
Those communities include: Rock Island, Illinois; Fort Wayne Indiana; Shreveport Louisiana; Charleston South Carolina; Santa Barbara California; Jacksonville Florida; Newburg New York; Rochester New York; Duluth Minnesota; Alvin Texas; Tacoma Washington; St. Louis Missouri.
And, Karpeles has further chosen not to build a new structure. Instead, his company has found old, abandoned buildings in fading neighbors in order to truly revitalize and benefit the communities in which he has brought these great works.
And, admission is always free. I figure the man deserves a few words from me, although my manuscripts may never find a place in his museums.