Recently I got to be an extra in a shoot for the film Sons and Daughters of Thunder about early abolitionists. That brought me to the facility where they were shooting which is a pretty amazing place in its own right. As I’m always looking for amazing places to share, I thought you’d want to know about this one too. (You can see me in the blue dress with the tan shawl up against the white railing near the back.)
Karpeles Museums Around the Country
I had never heard of the Karpeles before this, but apparently he made his fortune in a combination of real estate and business dealings. He is a famous mathematician, having invented according to the website: “While at General Electric, David created the first operating optical character recognition program. This program automatically read the handwritten figure amounts on bank-checks and printed that amount magnetically on the margin of the check. Developed an artificial intelligence program allowing personnel to question a computer using unrestricted English language. The program analyzed the syntax of the question, determined the meaning and gave the appropriate answer.” Meanwhile his wife, Marsha, who he married in 1958, held many socially prominent and philanthropic positions. Today she serves as President of Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museums.
The couple started collecting documents in 1979 and the collection is amazing including some pieces that I was shocked ended up in private hands at all. Again according to their website: “The Karpeles Manuscript Library preserves the largest private collection of original Manuscripts in the world. The museum was founded in 1983 by David Karpeles and Marsha Karpeles who created the museum to stimulate interest in learning, especially in our children. All of the Karpeles Manuscript Library services are free.”
Their is also a portion of their collection digitized and available on their website:
Karpeles in Rock Island
The museum I was at is located in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a smaller urban area than houses most of their sites. It’s located in a former Christian Science Church that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “It was designed by architect William C. Jones of Chicago in the Palladian style, it was built between 1914-1915. Its exterior walls are of brick covered by Bedford limestone. Its superimposed front portico is supported by six 2 story columns with egg-and-dart capitals. Its dome actually consists of 2 domes: an outer dome and an inner dome which are separated by a space for lighting fixtures and maintenance. The inner dome consists of some 8,000 colored fish scale glass panes on a wooden support structure. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1998. ”
I tried to find the National Register of Historic Places file on the building to link to, but I couldn’t find one for the building. I think it was probably included as part of the Broadway Historic District rather than as an individual property, but that particular file has yet to be digitized so I’m not sure.
Find out more at their website:
And On Their Facebook:
Read a local article about the museum:
Each document I saw was permanently encased in Mylar and resting flat on a bed. There was no special lighting on the case and I’d be willing to bet the cases were UV protected. An informational sign was posted over each one. There were roughly 20 documents on display at any one time and only the documents on display were onsite. The collection rotates through the museums with this particular batch of documents being about or related to the Civil War. Among the documents on display was a handwritten copy of Dixie by its composer Daniel Decatur Emmett, Abraham Lincoln ordering a blockade on Virginia and North Carolina ports, and a description of life at Fort Sumter including a swatch from the Fort Sumter flag.
No matter what their current topic is I think it is worth your time to head over to Karpeles Museum in Rock Island, or one of the other sites if it’s closer to you and see what they have.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.