Saturday, October 2, 2010

Attica, Indiana

Friends: The Carnegies continue to give me a gasp of delight and wonderment when I round a bend and spot another. Part of it may be the miles of anticipation and the cumulative memory of all I've seen, but each is a stand-alone beauty and marvel. The one here in Attica is framed by a pair of fountains. A statue of a World War I soldier stands between them on the promenade to the entrance lined with bushes and trees. A two-sided plaque out front recounts the library's construction in 1904. Its interior is equally wonderful.

It registered nearly as high a wow-factor as the limestone Carnegie in Brazil the day before. It stood magnificently on a rise just outside the town's business district on a residential street. My first glimpse truly took my breath away.

The Carnegies are certainly well worth seeking out, not only for their architecture, but also to honor their importance, paying homage to what a significant event it was for each town to acquire a library back in the days when libraries were a rarity. The 1,689 libraries Carnegie funded in the US doubled the number of public libraries in the country at the time, justifiably earning him recognition as the  "Patron Saint of Libraries."

He established a library consciousness in the United States that is unrivaled anywhere else in the world other than Scandinavia and Iceland, regions of short winter days where reading is a great pastime. The Icelanders actually have a saying, "Better to be barefoot than without a book." That speaks volumes, as Iceland is a country with year-round inhospitable weather and geography. To be without shoes there would be an unimaginable hardship.

Carnegie's writings about the importance of libraries contain equally telling remarks about the essential nature of a library to a community. He wrote, "There is no use to which money could be applied so productive of good, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it." He considered the library "a never-failing spring in the desert."

He has inspired others to contribute to the construction of libraries. The huge county library in Hendersonville, North Carolina that replaced its Carnegie was funded by an anonymous grant of one million dollars. The expansion of the Carnegie in Worthington, Indiana was largely funded by a local benefactor. Various librarians have mentioned how the locals raised the funds for improvements to their libraries.

Telluride's extraordinary library, worthy of a community ten or twenty times its size, was funded by a bond issue that passed by just one vote, but now not one of those people who voted against it would want to admit it. It is the hub of the town, not only lending books and DVDs, but bicycles, and hosting innumerable lectures. There is a continual day-long stream of people taking advantage of it. Durango, too, has an exceptionally fine new library that is the pride of the community, though as with Telluride, the vote to raise the funds to construct it just narrowly passed.

Most of the Carnegies have the same portrait of Carnegie hanging, usually in the entryway, often at near ceiling level, keeping an unobtrusive vigil, as he would prefer it. The Rockville library has it on more prominent display above its checkout desk. The Rockville library had a warm and welcoming residential flavor, a block from its town square. It was greatly overshadowed by the grandiose limestone county building in the center of the square, comparable to the most lavish of French town halls. I took a slow ride around it to take it all in, and then did it again I was so awestruck. It alone warranted a visit to Rockville.

Though the Carnegie libraries of southern Indiana are a great attraction, there are other reasons to visit. Brazil was hosting its eighth annual Popcorn Festival this weekend in honor of Orville Redenbacher, born on a nearby farm in 1907, living until 1995. There is a present no-burn policy in effect, so no fireworks this year. One of the most popular events is the Redenbacher look-alike contest.

Coal City has an annual "Grouch Festival," where the town elects a grouch for the year. One is welcomed to the town by a sign that says "A town full of happy folk and one old grouch." The election is conducted during the Grouch Festival, a penny per vote. It is such an honor to be elected the grouch, that the present grouch drives around with a car that advertises himself as the town grouch.

Coal City came up with their town motto in response to nearby Clay City proclaiming itself the "Mayberry of the Midwest," inspired by the Andy Griffith Show's mythical Mayberry in North Carolina, the idyllic American small town, and one of the highest rated TV shows during its run from 1960-1968. The Andy Griffith of Clay City plopped down beside me as I sat on the sidewalk drinking a fifty cent can of Dr. Pepper from a nearby vending machine to welcome me to the town and to learn about my travels.

He told me Clay City had a small all-volunteer library, only open three days a week and without computers. The Brazil Carnegie was 20 miles to the north. He raved about the Brazil library almost as if it was his own, boasting of its limestone beauty. He told me the coal in the region was mined out five years ago, but there was still plenty of limestone, though not as easily accessible as it once was.

He said truck loads are presently going out headed to St. Louis for the construction of a church. It is the biggest limestone project since 9/11 when the Pentagon had to be rebuilt. He mentioned a business that had limestone carvings up ahead. I asked if they had statues of Bobby Knight. "I don't think so, but it would be a popular item if they did. A lot of people around here think he can walk on water."

As I biked out of Clay City the backside of the sign welcoming people to Clay City as the "Mayberry of the Midwest" said "Thanks for Visiting Clay City--Small Town/Big Pride." It is a motto that could apply to just about every town in Indiana, and not without justification.

Later, George


Stuart said...

These stories about Carnegie libraries are really interesting. I never heard of them before. I have heard of the Carnegie Endowment Fund, but the extent of his philanthropy is just amazing. When I was young, a library always was my favorite place to transport myself into a different world. I guess that's where I got my restless urge to see foreign countries and experience foreign cultures. Now I feel like I've visited many Carnegie libraries. Thanks, George.

estifallen said...

George, it is nice to check in and find out that you are cruising along through some beautiful country, finding some nice 'braries. Hope your tour is continuing along nicely!!