Authors, Episodes

15. Ten Spooky and Kooky Libraries

 

It’s a listener-inspired episode in which, just like in the movie Ghostbusters, the Book Owl discovers ghosts love spending their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

 

Ten Spooky & Kooky Libraries (Rough Transcript)

Note: I’ve made the transcript a little easier to read by providing section breaks with headers. Let me know if this works better for you who’d rather read than listen.

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Well my little ghosts and goblins, this episode is coming out only a couple days before the haunting holiday of Halloween, which means I’m required by podcast law to feature something spooky. As if we Americans aren’t already fearful enough over the upcoming election, right? 

Behind the Scenes:

Anyway….I already had an idea for this episode floating around in my brain, but then Helen Crawford listener and lead monster maker over at Crawcrafts Beasties stepped in and said, “What about an episode on haunted bookstores?” 

I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, it turned out that there really aren’t many interesting tales of haunted bookshops. I mean, there were a few haunted bookstores, but it was more just quips about cold spots in the building or the occasional book falling off a shelf. There were no real stories behind the stories. 

But the lack of bookstore ghosts didn’t stop my search. Because it turns out that just like in the movie Ghostbusters, ghosts would rather spend their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries. And let me tell you there turned out to be an overwhelming number of library hauntings, but I’ve picked a few of my favorite, funniest, and creepiest ones to share with you. 

Cheap Ploy to Get You to Join My Newsletter:

And if you’re on The Book Owl Podcast newsletter, as your bonus trick or treat this time around, you’ll get links to all the ones I had to skip over. And that also means this is the perfect time to mention that if you aren’t already signed up to the newsletter, there’s a link in the show notes. You’ll not only get bonus content with each episode, but you’ll also get a little owl-themed gift for joining the flock.

Alright, onto the episode and ten spooky libraries!

So since Helen is from Ireland, I thought it would only be appropriate if we start with a haunted library from the Emerald Isle.

Ghost in the Library #1

And that would be Marsh’s Library which the more I read about it, might just deserve its own full episode. This gorgeous book palace was founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh – which makes him sound like a Harry potter character — and this was the first public library in Ireland. 

Well, Marsh had a niece who he had raised and adored and whose relationship with a salty sea captain he vehemently opposed. The niece couldn’t help it, she was in love and eloped with her captain, leaving behind a note for her uncle telling him what she’d done. 

Of course, she didn’t want to be stopped before the two got properly hitched so she hid the note in a book. In a library. Marsh never did find the note. I’m not quite sure how he was seen supposed to know it existed, but after his death in 1713, something was seen wandering through the gallery, rummaging through book after book in search of the letter. And supposedly if you move between one gallery of the library to another, you can feel a spectral chill….

Ghost in the Library #2 

Hopping over to Norfolk, England, well this ghost story really drives home the stereotype of the British stiff upper lip, Keep Calm Carry on mentality. 

So we’re heading to the library of Felbrigg Hall. In the 1970s, the estate was acquired by the National Trust and it was up to David Muffon to put the place in order. So one evening (okay it could have been daytime, but evening makes it spookier), David’s at a desk in the library and happens to notice someone in a chair by the fireplace reading some books….then the someone finished his reading and faded away. 

Okay, at this point, even as a skeptic, I’d be letting out a horror movie scream and dashing the hell out of there. But not David. He just shrugs his shoulders and continues about his work, then later asks the butler if the house has any ghosts. 

To which the butler says, “Oh sure, we’ve got William Windham III who likes to raed by the fireplace.” The butler found this so normal he even set out books for the ghost to read…turns out Ghost William favored works by his old friend Samuel Johnson. Talk about a life long fan. Or is that an afterlife long fan?

Okay so let’s jump the pond because it turns out, American ghosts really love their libraries.

Now as some you know, Mr. Husband works at a library and there’s an ongoing joke that once you get a job at the library, you don’t leave. Turns out, that might be very true because I think at least a third of the stories I read were about the ghosts of former library workers. Most of whom liked to push books to the floor…which I’m sure after a lifetime of having to keep the shelves tidy means they are having a very satisfying afterlife.

Ghost in the Library #3

Mr. Husband also tells stories of a few, rare troublesome patrons, but in most cases, these folks leave the library premises when asked. Not so much in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library. See they used to have an old man who came to the library and was a real nuisance. Not one to let a little death stop his crabby ways, he is now haunting the library and continues to pester students and staff.

Ghost in the Library #4

Speaking of naughty ghosts, over in Tarrytown, New York, not long after his death, Washington Irving — who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow — began haunting the library of his home. Trouble is, unlike William Windham, Irving isn’t there for the books…he’s there because it’s a tourist attraction and he likes to pinch the bottoms of female visitors. 

Ghost in the Library #5

So let’s get into the creepy side of the stacks…over at the Sweetwater County Library in Wyoming, ever since the library opened in 1980, lights have been seen flipping on and off, and strange sounds reverberate through the building at night. In rooms with no windows, glowing dots are seen to flicker across the walls. 

See, it turns out the city planners didn’t pay attention to their horror film tropes and built the library over a freakin’ graveyard that had been the burial place mainly for Asian railroad workers. The graves had supposedly all been moved in the 1920s. Supposedly. 

Because in 1985, they found one remaining coffin. Yeah, I’m out of there already, but for those of you sticking around…it gets even more eerie. See, kids, there used to be these things call typewriters and the library had them for typing up forms and documents. But on occasion, the typewriters would type on their own. 

The library staff tried inserting paper to see if the ghosts had a message to convey, but the specters refused to commit anything to paper. Pretty smart that. But wait, there’s more because the creepy crawlies aren’t done yet! 

So once the library got computers, there was one that was a closed system, meaning it had no external inputs, and because of what it was used for it had no wordprocessor on it either. The librarian using it one day turned her back and when she turned back around her name was typed in large letters across the screen. Again, no external input. No word processing program. I’m scaring myself here.

Ghost in the Library #6

Speaking of typewriters over at the Old Palace Theater branch of Arkansas’s Saline County Library, employees have heard phantom footsteps, slamming doors, books falling from shelves, and paperback carousels rotating on their own. And, working late one night, Director Julie Hart heard the distinctive sound of a manual typewriter. Trouble is… the library had gotten rid of all their typewriters years ago. Damn typewriters are scary!

Ghost in the Library #7

This one isn’t super creepy, but it does prove that if you name your kid Millicent, you’re just asking her to eventually become a ghost. So the founder of Fairhaven’s Millicent Library was Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers. His daughter Millicent died of heart failure in 1890 when she was only 17, and he named the library after her. 

And of course she began haunting it. Patrons have seen her glowing blue form walking the halls. And at night, after the library’s closed, people have reported seeing a girl standing in the window of the turret that makes up part of the front of the building. 

But Millicent isn’t lonely in her afterlife. She’s also hanging out with a woman in black who runs her fingers along the shelved books, and a man dressed in a tweed jacket, purple bow tie, and small circular glasses who mops the basement floor. 

Ghost in the Library #8

Okay, want another creepy one? How about another horror movie classic: the evil curse! And you’ll find that over at the Peoria Public Library. 

See, the land the library was built on was once owned by Mary Stevenson Grey. And I don’t know if she hated libraries or just had a bad experience with a librarian, but in 1847 she pronounced a curse on anyone who occupied her land after she died. 

And if you don’t believe curses are real, well, three library directors have already met untimely ends. There’s E. S. Willcox, who in 1915 was run over by a streetcar; there’s Samuel Patterson Prowse, who was doing nothing more exciting than attending a library board meeting in 1921 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. And in 1924, Director Dr. Edwin Wiley committed suicide by taking arsenic. 

Now, I don’t know if the Peoria Library is covering something up, but since those deaths, supposedly no other library directors have died under mysterious circumstances. Still, employees do report seeing the ghost of Prowse hanging around the basement.

Ghost in the Library #9

Enough with creepy, let’s get to my second favorite, which is funny and kind of sad too. So the front portion of the Old Bernardsville Public Library in New Jersey was once the Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War. 

The innkeeper’s daughter was Phyllis Parker who was in love with a British spy. The spy was hanged in 1777, and to make sure Phyllis didn’t forget her transgression, the body was delivered in a coffin to the tavern. 

Phyllis suffered a nervous breakdown and was never the same again. Then, starting in 1974, Ghost Phyllis began showing up in the rooms of the library where the tavern once was. But she was a good ghost who never caused any trouble and seemed to be a welcome addition. So much so that they issued her her own library card.

Despite this, Phyllis slowly stopped making appearances and one of the last times she was seen was in November 1989, when a 3-year-old boy saw a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room. Not put off one bit, he stopped and said hello to her. Maybe Phyllis knew her time was up because only a couple years after this final appearance, the library moved to a new location.

Ghost in the Library #10

And I’ve saved my favorite ghostly tale for last. And this tale really does have a tail because its about a ghost cat. Unless he’s Manx. 

Anyway, this is at the Doris and Harry Vise Library at Tennesee’s Cumberland University. So in March 2001, the director of the library, John Boniol, said a cat came floating across his office floor. He said it wasn’t walking, it was gliding and none of the feet touched the ground. It then vanished into the boxes that were under his desk. Which sounds like your typical cat. 

But that’s not the only ghosts in the Vise Library. John reported eerie sensations in certain rooms and a former librarian used to play peek-a-boo with the ghost of a little girl. I’m not sure if that’s creepy, or just says a lot about what it takes to get through a slow day in library land.

So, what about your area, any haunted libraries you know of? Have you felt any icy fingers tickling your spine while you roamed the stacks? Let me know!

Update Time:

So, now it’s update time – As for writing, as I record this I’m about halfway through the first draft of the third book of my Cassie Black trilogy, and by the time this comes to, I am hoping I’ll be almost done with that draft. I’m pushing to get the book, and the trilogy completely revised and edited by the end of the year, and I think I’m going to be cutting it pretty close, but it will be nice to have them all put together and ready to publish in the first part of 2021.

And as for the podcast, well, not much to report here. Thanks to everyone who’s been commenting on the episodes and as ever, if there’s a strange bookstore, quirky author, or other book related topic you want covered, don’t be shy about letting me know!

Signing Off:

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. If no ghosts and goblins snatch you up at your local library, I will hoot at you next time.

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Episodes

14. Will Authors Go Extinct?

 

It’s October and that means all things spooky…and I can’t think of anything scarier than AI pushing authors to extinction. Find out how real the risks are, and what you as a writer or a reader can do to save the species Homo authoris.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

Episode Transcript (or roughly so)…

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So it’s episode 14 and, because this is normally around the time of year Mr. Husband and I are off traveling, I had planned on doing something related to travel books (which I still plan to do), but I recently posted an article on my writing blog that got a lot of attention and since it is book related, I thought it would make a great topic for the podcast.

So, if you have read that post, this will be a bit of a rerun (I’ll be adding my own snarky comments in, though so it will be a tad different), but for those of you who haven’t read it, I hope this gets your brain cells thinking about books, about authors, and about the future of writing.

So, jumping right into it today, the question is: will authors go extinct?

And this was on my mind for a while because while working in the garden a couple weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of The Career Author Podcast.

In this episode the guys, who are J. Thorn and Zach Bohannan, were chatting about technology and publishing. I kind of expected it to be about software like Scrivener which is a writing program that helps you keep things super organized and makes shifting scenes and chapters very convenient, and Vellum which is a book formatting program, but it turned out to be WAY more…and WAY scarier.

The technology they ended up focusing on was AI (artificial intelligence, in case you didn’t already know). And specifically AI that learns from books being fed into it, then can spit out an entire novel…a novel it has written itself based on the tropes and writing style used in the books it gobbled up into its creepy little AI brain.

Now, the book lovers out there are probably thinking, “What? AI can’t do that.”

Well, it kind of can. It’s already being used to write various types of articles that end up getting published by big news agencies such as Associated Press, Forbes, and the LA Times, as well as smaller agencies looking for cheap content for their websites.

It’s known as Automated Journalism and the main reason it exists is because why would you want to pay a bunch of pesky reporters who demand weird things like salaries and benefits, when you can simply grab an AI-generated article?

And to give you an example of how rapidly-generated content can drive down salaries for writer, some of the magazines I’ve written for have paid up to $500, $700 for an article. But I’ve also written web content where the articles were just as long as those magazine articles, and they paid me around $15…and that’s considered high. Many of these web content factories will pay under $10 for an article, but AI could drive down even that small amount. And I’ll get into this concept a little more in a bit.

But back to books. Right now, (I think) there’s only been one serious attempt for AI to write a novel and it didn’t go well. But this is AI we’re talking about, people. It’s job is to learn and it learns QUICKLY. It won’t be long before it cranks out a readable novel you won’t be able to distinguish from a human-written novel.

Which, as an author, is scary. And it was to J. and Zach who predicted that the job of “author” as we know it might go extinct.

And before you shout, “But that’s impossible. Writers will always write. Readers will always read.” Well, taking an example from the guys, that’s probably what book binders once thought. Now, the only book binders are artisans on Etsy. And really, looking across the board, plenty of other jobs have been made extinct (or mostly so) by advances in technology.

Now, I’m not a Luddite. I love my Mac, I love playing with programs to make book covers and format my books, I love being able to download audiobooks within minutes from the library and to stream yoga videos to work out the kinks at the end of the day. But I still have enough wariness over AI to think this extinction could become a reality.

Think about it. What does generating products by machine do? Just think in general about something like shirts, or furniture, or anything else that used to be handcrafted. And I’m going to go a bit into the world of economics here, but don’t be scared, we’ll come back to books as quick as we can.

So first, machines speeds up the process of manufacturing and that adds more product to the market. Second, it drives down prices because there’s an easy abundance of cheaply made product (cheap mainly because you get to get rid of most of those expensive humans). Third, it creates a uniform (dare I say, cookie cutter) product.

All three of these combined are the perfect ingredients to kill off the species Homo authoris.

So let’s look at each of those three things a little more closely and see how it relates to writing and books and extinction.

First we have speeding up the process. There’s already human authors blowing me out of the water by being able to whip up books in only a few weeks, but even that pace is going to seem slow when a trained AI can churn out a book in only a few minutes.

Now, I’m not one to complain about more books. I love books! But it’s already a crowded market out there for authors. There’s something like nearly a million books self published in the US every single year.

But AI’s productivity could flood that market with books, making it even harder for human authors to get discovered. And with retailers often favoring new releases, well, AI will easily win that game and push even the fastest author to the bottom of the heap.

Next we’ve got driving down AI prices. A certain store named for a certain river has already encouraged a race to the bottom of ebook pricing, and some customers will scoff if a book is more than 99c, although many indie authors have been able to resist this by successfully pricing books at $4.99 or more.

But if AI can crank out book after book, it’s going to have plenty of product, and with volume comes low prices. Sure, the first AI books will seem like novelties and people might pay higher prices for them, but before long, I can see AI books rarely being placed above that 99c price point.

And once again, human writers who have bills to pay and buy wine risk losing this low-price competition. Remember, a 99c book on that retailer, nets the author a mere 34c…on which we have to pay taxes, dropping the actual take-home royalty to around 15 to 20c.

If we’re priced out or have to price so low we can’t keep up our wine habit)as well as squeezed off the virtual shelves, well, let’s just say resource and habitat loss is a key factor in any extinction.

Next, we’ve got to look at that cookie cutter product. If AI learns to write from books it’s fed, it’s going to create books similar to those books. Which is fine. We all take inspiration from books we read.

But here’s where I stop blaming AI for writers’ future extinction because this third point got me thinking about how some writers are already “training” readers.

I listen to a lot of writing podcasts and read plenty of books on the writing craft, and I am constantly hearing/reading about the expected “tropes” in certain genres. If you write genre X, you must have A, B, and C to satisfy readers because readers expect to see A, B, and C, and they’ll give you crappy reviews if you don’t have those exact things.

And yes, I understand certain tropes make a story work. You’re not going to have a romance novel without two people working their way around a relationship. You’re not going to have a thriller or horror novel without some sort of really bad guy.

But what drives me bonkers is when authors are advised to include very specific scenes, very specific actions, very specific character types and character motivations to satisfy their genre’s tropes.

In other words, writers are advised to make cookie cutter books.

I’m Not Saying I Don’t Like Cookies, But… I can’t tell you how many indie-written books I’ve picked up that are cookie cutter versions of each other or of other more popular books.

But does the fault go to the writer or to the reader?

Because maybe that’s what readers have been lulled into expecting…Don’t think too hard, just grab that book that looks like the past three books you’ve read. Don’t expect the unique. Don’t expect the unexpected. Expect the same story you’re familiar with because why risk discovering something new? Why take the chance you might not like it? Stick with what you know. Keep eating those same cookies.

And the same goes for book covers. I participate in a few author-sponsored promos every month and in those promos are on average, let’s say, 50 books. And well over half the urban fantasy books will have the exact same cover… an attitude-filled, twenty-something-year-old on a bright blue, green, or purple background with black around the edges and shiny text for the title (most of which are almost the exact same font).

And we as indie authors are told this is exactly what we’re supposed to do. Make a cover that matches genre expectations. Make the cookie cutter version even if your book looks the exact same as everyone else’s because otherwise readers won’t know that’s the story they want to read.

You know what happens to my eyes when I see those covers? I pass right over them. They all look the same to me. Call me the odd man odd, but I’m more drawn to the well-done, unique cover that makes me curious about what’s inside. I appreciate the author who’s trying to stand out, trying to be different, trying to catch my eye.

And it’s that desire for the unique, for the something special, for the original thought (even if inspired by another author) that human writers should be training readers to seek out.

Because if we keep training readers to only want the same old story in the same old package, Ai can do that in the blink of an eye and authors really will go extinct.

After all, AI can crank out those page puppies far faster than any human and they’re bound to do it cheaply sooner or later. There’ll be no point to us human writers if readers remain satisfied with the same cover, the same characters, the same story, the same cheap price point over and over. And over and over.

Sure, a familiar story is fine now and then, but shouldn’t we be seeking new twists, shouldn’t we be encouraging new ideas, and new glimpses into the world? We should crave what does make us human, which is our crazy amount of innate creativity and curiosity. (Okay, I know other creatures are creative and curious, but shut up, I’m on a roll here.)

So What Can We Do?

We can’t stop the progression of AI technology (unless we can hire some Luddites to break the machines like they did the weaving looms back in the day). To be honest, most of us have absolutely no say in the rapid advance of something we find more than little creepy.

But what we writers can do is stay unique. We can write something without the crutch of strict tropes. Build a new world. Tell a tale that is completely new, not one that follows the same outline everyone else is following. Create a cover that stands out, not one that blends in. Be brave enough to make the regular price of your hard work to more than 99c.

And readers, you have a job to do too. Like I said. Seek out the unique. Step out of your book comfort zone. Don’t grab that 99c book with the same old cover, opt instead for perhaps a $3.99 one that looks a little different (if you can afford it, of course. If you can’t, ask your library to carry that book.).

And get to know the human behind the book. Sign up for an author’s newsletter if they have one, follow and interact with them on social media, get to know them (without being a stalker, of course). If they sell books directly to readers, purchase from them.

Because the more you get to know just how much work goes into those non-cookie cutter stories, you will appreciate a human-made book more than ever.

And that understanding, that appreciation, might just keep us writers from going extinct…or at least delay that extinction until I make my first million. HA! That’ll be the day!!

Okay my little humans, go forth and read and write, be different, expect unique, and use your minds!!!

Alright, time to get off my soapbox and share some updates.

As for writing, speaking of covers, I’ve finally honed in on the style of cover I want for my Cassie Black trilogy, I’ve also figured to titles for the three books, and I am pretty darn close to nailing the descriptions. Oh, and my first draft of book three is progressing quite nicely.

And as for the podcast all I have is a reminder that this show is supported by you. I specifically chose not to go with a free podcast service because they insert ads willy nilly. But this show does eat up a fair amount of time and I can’t justify keeping the show going if it doesn’t get a tiny amount of support from my listeners. So, if you’re able, please consider buying one of my books, treating the Book Owl to a cuppa, or simply using my Amazon Affiliate link the next time you’re doing a little shopping. And you’ll find all those ways to support on the book owl podcast dot come slash support.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Episodes

13. Around the World with Nellie Bly

 

Like what you hear?

 

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Episodes

12. Hanging Ten with Agatha Christie

OOPS!!! (Update) – Just in case anyone thinks I’m a complete idiot….I misspoke and said World War II broke out in 1914, instead of saying World War I. (Insert self-deprecating eye roll.)

Like what you hear?

 

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Episodes, Museums

11. Chester Beatty’s Marvelous Manuscripts

A rich guy goes around buying up a bunch of stuff. That’s not exactly news, is it? Well, when the guy is Chester Beatty and his shopping expeditions ended up creating and preserving the most extensive collection of ancient papyrus, Middle Eastern illuminated manuscripts, and many other book-related treasure, it draws attention.

In this episode of the Book Owl Podcast we explore how Chester got bit by the collecting bug, how he earned his wealth, and how he thumbed his nose at the British Museum and moved his goodies to Dublin, Ireland.

 

Links mentioned in this episode…

Like what you hear?

The Full Transcript (or Roughly So…)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Okay, so we got a little silly in the last episode, but it’s time to get back to, you know, serious business with the story behind a book-filled wonderland that Lonely Planet has called one of the best museums in Europe, and was honored with the Museum of the Year Award in 2002. And after having visited this place myself a ew years ago, I have to agree…although, a bit later I’ll explain what NOT to do when you go there.

But before we start exploring, I just want to say how much I loved all your comments from Episode 9 when we went rolling along with the Bookmobile. And this episode really did kick up some happy memories for you guys. Both Teresa and LaVelle recalled how excited they’d were to see the Bookmobile coming to their neighborhoods. And Jonny of the Jaunts & Haunts blog shared his memories of the Bookmobile, but as we chatted back and forth he also stirred up my own memories when he mentioned the little Scholastic book catalogs you’d get in class. I could spend hours with those things! Also, Tierney of Tierney Creates said our mutual love of the Bookmobile makes us fellow book geeks…an honor I will gladly accept.

Anyway, thanks so much for your comments, and keep them coming. I’ll throw the links in the show notes, but you can comment any time on the Book Owl Podcast blog, on Instagram, by email, or by responding to the newsletter that goes out with every episode and that you should really subscribe to.

Okay, let’s go check out this museum everyone’s raving about. The museum in question is the Chester Beatty and it’s located in the fine city of Dublin, Ireland. 

I’ll get into what you’ll actually see there a later in the episode, but basically this museum houses 25,000 highly artistic manuscripts, rare books, and the world’s most extensive collection of texts on papyrus. Don’t worry, not all 25,000 objects are on display, but what is on display will knock your book nerdy socks off.

Now, as I said, this place is called the Chester Beatty and everything on display is something he collected during his lifetime. But who the hell is Chester Beatty? As I said, I’ve been to the museum, and I still had no idea who he was, so researching this episode was a wonderful bit of discovery.

So Chester was born in 1875, and he was not born into wealth by any means. I mean this guy built himself up from a fairly modest background. In 1898, he graduated from the Columbia School of Mines, which does not like a terribly interesting course of study, but anyway he knew about mines and he needed to put that knowledge to use, so he headed west to Colorado…where like any college grad, he got a grunt job. And in the mining world, that meant digging and clearing rubble from tunnels.

But Chester was no slouch and within only five years he was part of the management team of the Guggenheim Exploration Company, which kind of makes it sound like he should have been going to Antarctic or something, but no, sorry still just Colorado. In this position he not only earned his normal wage, but he also got sort of a profit-sharing deal. So, by the time he was 32, our Chester was a millionaire.

So, I won’t overwhelm you with all the details of his career, but by 1908, he’s left the Guggenheim operation, he’s returned home to New York, and he’s set himself up with his own very profitable consulting business for mining engineers. What could be better? He’s doing great, right? Well, Chester’s life takes a sad turn when his wife of 12 years dies of typhoid.

It’s really too much for Chester. He can’t bear to be in the house they shared any longer, so not long after her death, he packs up the kids and moves to a house he’s bought in London’s Kensington Gardens…swanky! About a year after moving to London, Chester remarries and it really is a great match because they both turn out to be avid collectors.

See, even as a kid Chester loved to collect and he’d go to auctions and bid on rock and ore samples from mining expeditions to add to his collection. While he was in Colorado, he also started collecting stamps, Chinese snuff boxes, Japanese figurines, and most importantly for this episode, ancient documents on papyrus and Islamic manuscripts. And while his career in mining did require some travel, it was really some health troubles that helped him satisfy his pack rat nature.

Chester had some trouble with his lungs and a dry climate helped with that, so he would winter in places like Egypt, but he was also vastly rich, so on his way home, he’d pop over to Japan and Southeast Asia, you know, as you do.

Anyway, back to the thread of the story. As I said, Chester was already raking it in, but when he moved to London he joined a mining compact. During the 1920s the members of this compact took a risk on some mines in Zambia and the Congo. Well, the risk paid off and they discovered copper. The already rich Chester was now super duper rich…and using that money to travel more and add to his manuscript collection.

By now Chester is fully infected with the collecting bug, and by the 1930s he had a strong reputation as a reputable collector. He only bought the finest pieces of work. To help him out, he had agents and advisors who made sure what he was buying was authentic and from trusted sources. This network of agents and his own searches gathered illuminated copies of the Quran; manuscripts from the Mughals, the Turks, and the Persians; as well as ancient works written in Armenian, Greek, Burmese, and more.

And Chester wasn’t just snatching these things up like some crazed Scrooge McDuck swimming in his room full of gold coins. Okay, that was a bad analogy because you can’t really swim in manuscripts, but you get the idea. He wasn’t just buying these texts to say, “Haha, look what I’ve got.” He actually consulted with people on how best to preserve them and in 1934, he converted a portion of his Kensington House into a library and gallery for people to look at these amazing works which were probably from cultures that most people at the time thought backwards or uncivilized.

Oh, and I mentioned his wife was a collector too. Her passion was for antique furniture and paintings, and she actually preserved several pieces of original furnishings that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

But back to Chester. He’s rich. He’s got lots of stuff. He’s got a stellar reputation as a collector. And he wanted to share his findings. So starting in the 1920s he worked with and shared his finds with the British Museum. And all along he’d been planning on leaving his collection, which was pretty substantial and worth a ton by this point, to the British Museum when he died.

Then, kind of a double whammy of things got on the wrong side of Chester. First up, as with most rich people, he didn’t like taxes. In the 1940s, Britain changed their tax structure in a way that Chester didn’t really like. But the thing that really pushed Chester too far was the hiring of a new director at the British Museum. This guy didn’t not agree with Chester’s involvement…involvement in his own collection, mind you. The new director questioned the quality of Chester’s collection, he insisted he would have the final say in everything, and he insisted the collection only be shown in the British Museum. 

Well, Chester didn’t like this one bit. Go figure. So, in 1950, he took his collection and his vast amounts of wealth, and moved to Dublin…partially because Ireland had a much more favorable tax structure and partially because his son was already living in Kildare County.

Unlike the British Museum, the Irish weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Chester put his collection on display in a purpose built library/museum in a suburb of Dublin and opened it to share with the public in 1953. But that wasn’t the end of it. Chester also bequeathed his entire collection to the people of Ireland. Not too shabby a gift. And a big FU to the British Museum.

The Irish, possibly learning from the British Museum’s mistake, showed their appreciation. Chester not only was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of Ireland (this was in 1954), but when he died in 1968, he was the first private citizen to be honored with a state funeral. 

So in 2000, the original library was closed down and the collection moved into its own gallery in Dublin Castle. And I have to say, if you’re ever allowed to travel again and you’re in Dublin, get yourself to this exhibit. First up, it’s free which means you’ll have money for a pint of Guiness. Second, it’s incredible.

It’s been described as one of the best collections of Western, Islamic, and Southeast Asian artifacts. And while there are a lot of religious texts on display, the religion is not what’s emphasized, it’s the art and the calligraphy and the beauty of the texts themselves. 

There’s two main exhibits, Arts of the Book and Sacred Traditions, and you might also catch a rotating exhibit, but what you’ll see includes Greek papyrus from the third century, Japanese scrolls that seem to go on forever, Biblical texts in various languages, illustrated texts from the Middle East and Moghul India on religion, medicine, and astronomy, A full collection of Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, and yes, Chester’s snuff boxes from his Colorado collecting days.

Now, here’s where we get to the warning, one thing you must not do if you ever do get a chance to go: Don’t make my mistake and forget your glasses. I could see well enough to enjoy the art of the illustrations, but I could not read a damn thing on any of the display information thingies. 

Anyway, like I said, it’s free and you shouldn’t miss it, but since most of us can’t get to Dublin right now, you can satisfy your curiosity by taking a virtual tour of the collection on the museum’s website, which is really a stellar site and you can read it in Gaelic if you’re so inclined. And I recommend cracking open a Guiness as you spend some time on the virtual tour, you know, just to add to the experience.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for Chester and his fabulous collection. I’ll have the links in the show notes for everything so you can check out the museum and take that virtual tour, but right now, it’s time for quick update.

And I will make this quick because we’ve already gone on a fair bit of time. The big news is I have mostly finished Book Two of my Cassie Black trilogy. Hoorah! I was really scared heading into this draft because there was a lot of missing stuff that needed filled in, but I squeezed my brain hard enough and the words eventually popped out. In other news, I’ve been having a big think and taking in some good advice and I’m rethinking my entire approach to writing, including scaling back on some things, pushing harder on others, and honestly, I’m feeling really excited about putting it all into place, even if it is going to take a bit of a mindset shift.

Anyway, if you want more of my writing news, I’ve got a link in the show notes for that newsletter.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com