As we note the birthday of Andrew Carnegie, I thought I'd post here a little segment from my memoir Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct 2012). This tells about the opening of the Enid Public Library (a Carnegie), shown in the picture above--and reveals some of Enid's nasty racial history, as well. (I attended segregated schools. When we left Enid to move to Ohio in the summer of 1956--two years after Brown v. Board of Education--the Enid schools remained segregated.)
On Tuesday, 2 August 1910, the opening of the new Carnegie library was front-page news in Enid’s ten-cent Daily Eagle. But on that page it was far from the only story—or even the most prominent one. There was a political cartoon featuring Teddy Roosevelt, a story about a judge making a campaign speech on the courthouse steps. It was primary election day, and officials were expecting a heavy turnout. There were stories about a miners’ strike, Iowa crop conditions, the loss on 27 July of the revenue cutter Commodore Perry in the Bering Sea. Three youngsters had broken into a basement to steal beer, a vote on a ten-mill school levy was imminent; there were a couple of local deaths, some children had burned to death in a Philadelphia fire, and a drought was hurting folks in nearby Guthrie …
For the first time in days, there was no sensational story about Dr. Hawley H. Crippen, an English fugitive who had fled by ship from Antwerp with Ethel Clara Leneve, his “typist,” after some parts of the body of his wife, actress Belle Elmore, were found in the cellar of his house. The cops nabbed him in Quebec. (A sensational trial and execution would follow—as would a tasteless West End musical, Belle: Or, The Ballad of Dr. Crippen, in 1961.)
Inside the Eagle were stories about President Taft, ads for a remedy for weak bowels, for men’s suits ($3.50), for a Model-T ($1000). A railroad timetable showed the Enid–Denver roundtrip cost $20.85. Enid’s baseball team had squeaked by the invaders from Salupa, Kansas, 1–0; the Damn Yankees had topped the Tribe, 4–2.
But back on page one—on the far right margin, below the fold—was the headline, with two sub-heads:
THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY
SPLENDID NEW BUILDING DEDICATED TO THE PUBLIC
PROMINENT MEN AND WOMEN PARTICIPATE IN SHOWING PEOPLE THROUGH BEAUTIFUL ROOMS.
Several hundred people had toured the building the previous day, the day of its opening. The lobby, wrote the unidentified reporter, is a large high ceilinged room artistically ornamented and decorated with palms and pink roses. There was a receiving line of current and former library board members. Local notables conducted tours. Violinists sawed away in the fiery prairie heat. Punch was served. The library, the article concluded, is now open to the public and its pleasant environment furnishes an ideal retreat for the wandering book lover on these summer afternoons and evenings.
Unless you were black.
There would be no Carnegie Library in Enid for African Americans to use—not for decades. In fact, few Carnegies anywhere welcomed them. (Louisville, Kentucky, built a Carnegie branch for blacks only.) So Enid’s librarians later modified one of the classrooms over at Booker T. Washington, the all-black school in the all-black neighborhood south of Market Street. Took over some books. It would have to do.
But, sadly, just sixty-two years later--in 1972--the city allowed the building to be razed. The last time I was in Enid (about ten years ago), I saw an empty lot ...