New York, 1952
The smell of books lingered in the air as card catalog drawers clinked closed and creaked open. Dena Epstein walked through the golden light bouncing off the stone walls. She might have felt at home in any library, even if she had never been there before. On this day in 1952, she found herself in the New York Public Library, a monument to curiosity and learning in the heart of Manhattan. Dena had studied music and library science, and had worked as a music librarian. At thirty-six years old, her career as a librarian was temporarily on hold as her husband worked a government job and she took care of their children.
Not working in a library didn’t seem to suit Dena, though. She wanted to engage her mind, she wanted to have interesting things to think about. Unanswered research questions nagged her. One of those questions made her come to the library from her home in New Jersey.
You never know what you'll find in a box.
Belair Aug 25th 1864
Today, Maryland is thought of as the Mid-Atlantic, with barely any relationship to the south. But the fact is that the state is south of the Mason-Dixon line, and before Washington, D.C. brought transplants from all over the United States, I've seen references to suburbs like Kensington and Silver Spring as being "sleepy southern towns." More importantly in the context of today, Maryland Emancipation Day, this was a slave-holding state, a fact that many people seem to forget when talking about Frederick Douglass, a fierce abolitionist who was enslaved and worked in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore City, or Harriet Tubman, a heroic Underground Railroad worker born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. During the Civil War, the state also had
many southern sympathizers, including the man who shot Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth (like Annie Davis, a resident of Bel Air, Maryland).
"Slave Statistics," a record of the enslaved people in Maryland and their owners at the time of emancipation exists for some counties in Maryland, but not for Harford. I haven't been able to find anything else about Annie Davis in a brief search. I want to thank Mr. C.R. Gibbs and the Reginald F. Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture for the Maryland Emancipation Day Lecture, where Mr. Gibbs shared this powerful letter.
Come in, the stacks are open.
Away from prying eyes, damaging light, and pilfering hands, the most special collections are kept in closed stacks. You need an appointment to view the objects, letters, and books that open a door to the past.