Monday, July 10, 2017

The George Peabody Library, a cathedral of books

There was no shortage of attractions on my Baltimore-to-see list, however being that we were in town for the Latvian Song & Dance Festival and had tickets to a half-dozen concerts, theater productions and other events, we knew going in that realistically we would be able to fit only one or two places into our schedule. Attractions such as the world-famous National Aquarium and Port Discovery Children’s Museum were crossed off as we knew we would want to dedicate more time to explore them than we would have available, while the City of Baltimore Conservatory and Hampton National Historic Site were struck from the list because we didn’t want to have to spend what little time we had in the car.

The first destination was an impulse, but retrospectively an easy choice – the world famous George Peabody Library. In 1857, the philanthropist from Massachusetts founded the Peabody Institute and dedicated it to the citizens of Baltimore. The Institute combines the free (but non-circulating) public library, a lecture series, a conservatory of music & an art collection, and today is part of Johns Hopkins University.

The Peabody Library building was designed by Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind and opened in 1878. In the stack room, five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies rise 61 feet to the latticed skylight, while stately gold-scalloped columns, decorative railings and classical embellishments touched with gold-leaf provide an environment worthy of the wealth of information contained in the over 300,000 volumes that are contained in the library. The Victorian research collection includes books dating from the 15th century. Tables and chairs are arranged on the black-and-white marble floor, and study areas are tucked away in the nooks and crannies below the 2nd floor balcony.

Only the first floor is open to visitors, but we took full advantage of the opportunity to wander around in the soft morning light that was streaming through the skylight: opening a book, paging through the card catalogue, resting in one of the well-worn wooden chairs. Once we had our fill of the stacks we took a look around the Exhibition Gallery, where pieces from the Johns Hopkins Libraries collections are on display.

The dramatic architectural interior of the library has certainly achieved a sort of notoriety in recent years, appearing in dozens of Pinterest-geared lists such as “10 of the world’s most beautiful libraries.” While it remains open (and free) to visitors, there are set hours that the library is open to the public – see website for more info. During evenings and weekends the library is transformed into a wedding and event venue that makes me think of the Hogwart’s Great Hall

The George Washington monument

The Peabody Library is located in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, a National Historic Landmark District and a city Cultural District. Mt. Vernon is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, the name honoring the Mount Vernon home of George Washington. The original Washington Monument that commemorates the 1st president of the US is just across the street from the library. Also nearby are the Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Historical Society, which has two time capsules from the Washington Monument on display (1815 and 1915). 

Boy and Turtle Fountain (1916) with Washington Monument

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