A trip to see some rare books and manuscripts turned into a rare experience, indeed, for a busload of friends of the UC San Diego Libraries who traveled to San Marino for a day at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The group's tour guide was David S. Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library, who began the morning with some background about Henry Huntington and how this Southern California institution came into being.
Huntington first fell in love with the area when he came to California from the East Coast on railroad business for his uncle in 1892. Ten years later he bought the Shorb ranch and moved to Los Angeles with the idea of helping to make it a significant cultural and commercial center. He developed an interurban railway and built electric power systems to support the city's future growth.
His passion, however, was books, and at the age of 60 he sold much of his interest in the railway system and turned his attention to collecting. Eventually he married his uncle's widow, who shared his interest in books, and over time, he bought 200 entire libraries that form the core collection of the Huntington's research resources.
The high point of the day for the UCSD group was following Zeidberg to the inner sanctum, the Avery Conservation Center, to see some of the library's most prized possessions. Among them was the original manuscript of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography that contains his advice to "eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation" and his note explaining a gap in his narrative: "Affairs of the Revolution occasion'd the interruption." The group also got to see the manuscript of "Kidnapped," handwritten by Robert Louis Stevenson, a royal proclamation signed by Queen Elizabeth I, a letter written by Charles Dickens to his illustrator and a drawing by Michelangelo.
Since the group visited on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Zeidberg displayed a letter the president had written to Ulysses S. Grant and what he called Lincoln's signing of his own death warrant -- a small card granting permission for his bodyguard to have time off during the time when he planned to attend a play at Ford's Theater. A document signed by John Hancock ordering George Washington to take command of the Continental Army is so fragile that it has been sealed in mylar using high-pitched sound rather than heat or adhesives.
After lunch in the Rose Garden Tea Room, the group dispersed to explore the rest of the Huntington's collections. Some went back to the library to view the Gutenberg Bible, medieval illuminated manuscripts, Shakespeare's folios or the current exhibit on Los Angeles poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. Others went to the galleries to look at British and American paintings and decorative arts or took in the "Taxing Visions" paintings of poverty and depression now on display at the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries. Some visited the pagodas in the Chinese garden or strolled among the Japanese house, temple gong tower and moon bridge in the Japanese garden.
"You had to make choices," Estelle Milch said, smiling as she boarded the bus at the end of the day. She and her husband, Jim, had opted to visit the desert garden. "There was just too much."
All photos by Guy Iannuzzi
A letter from President Lincoln granting permission for his bodyguard to take time off the night he went to Ford's Theater. Zeidberg calls this document Lincoln's death warrant.
Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassat (1897) is one of the many gorgeous paintings in the Huntington's collections.
A "Wanted" poster calls for the arrest of John Wilkes Booth and his henchmen following Lincoln's assassination.