Duluth home to world-famous manuscript museumMany Duluthians drive by the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum every day. Few, however, have been inside. Their loss.
By: Beth Koralia, Budgeteer News
Many Duluthians drive by the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum every day. Few, however, have been inside. And they should. It’s free.
Dr. David Karpeles founded the museum roughly 17 years ago. There are nine other Karpeles Museums located throughout the country. The largest is located in Santa Barbara, Calif.
So, how did Duluth end up with one of these museums? Lee Fadden, the first (and current) director of the Duluth museum explains: “David Karpeles grew up here. I went to school with him. He was smart. Very sharp.”
Fadden mentions he and Karpeles dated a pair of sisters at the same time.
“[Karpeles] saw that the building was for sale by the Christian Scientists,” he said. “They originally did not agree on a price, so he agreed to allow them to use the basement as a meeting place for three years without rent.”
Later, at a class reunion, Karpeles asked Fadden to head up the Duluth museum.
“I told him I had to think about it,” he recalled.
Karpeles pre-selects and arranges each of the exhibits. He also writes the descriptions and background for the documents.
“In the summer, we get many tourists: 200 to 300 per month,” Fadden said. “In the winter, it gets quieter.”
The Duluth museum’s director divulges that it isn’t as many visitors as they would like, but “we don’t do a lot of advertising.”
With free admission, one might wonder how the museum supports itself.
The Duluth location rents out its lower level to St. Luke’s Hospital and, according to Fadden, Karpeles makes up the difference if the museum is short.
Once they have visited the museum, Fadden says, people come back “time and time again.”
“The hospital brings in a lot of business,” he said. “We have a lot of repeats come back several times during the year.”
The manuscripts are acquired by Karpeles, who purchases the documents from firms on the East Coast or from other private collectors. With more than 2 million pieces, Karpeles has the largest private collection of documents and manuscripts in the United States.
“If the price is right, he’ll pick it up,” Fadden shares. “Some of the pieces are very valuable.”
Fadden says the museum changes exhibits every four months.
“We used to change every three months and never repeated, but now this exhibit and the next will be repeats,” he said. “No repeats in 17 years shows how big the collection really is.”
Fadden’s favorites include documents relating to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln.
“Our medical exhibits go over well,” he added, “especially since we are across the street from a hospital.”
The museum often sends copies of the original documents to schools.
“Schools like that,” states Fadden, pointing to the thank-you notes displayed proudly on his wall.
The museum cannot send the originals, however.
The pieces are much too fragile to be transported frequently.
Viewing the text in its initial format is still important for understanding history.
Fadden explains: “It is more important to view the original [manuscript] because you can see corrections and changes. When you just read the text, reprinted in a book, it doesn’t have the same weight.”
Howard Larson, an attendant in the museum, reveals that his favorite document is “a letter from the president you haven’t heard of.”
Larson believes Karpeles’ mission to dedicate his documents to the public is “very nice.”
The tour is self-guided; each narrative is playful, easy to understand and informative.
“Just follow the description,” suggests Fadden.
What you will see
The current exhibit seeks to provide literal answers straight from the text of the Bible to those ever-persistent questions: What does God look like? Why does God allow innocent people to suffer and die? How did Noah survive the flood?
One highlight of the “Literal Bible” exhibit is a Bible printed on Johannes Gutenberg’s “movable type” equipment in Germany circa 1462.
Excerpts from the first edition of the King James Bible are also on display. Each page is printed on paper made from cotton. This version of the text sprang from a collaboration of 50 people.
The exhibit also includes the Proclamation of the Holy Crusades, a decree of Pope Lucius III, which kicked off the holy crusade of Richard the Lion-hearted and others.
There is also a sampling from the Book of the Dead, which was not just one gilded book, but rather several, ordinary paper documents. A “book of the dead” could be commissioned by any well-to-do individual as an instruction manual (complete with clues and maps) for use in their journey through the afterlife.
Many of these documents share similarities with the Ten Commandments, such as forbidding theft, murder, etc.
The exhibit suggests that Moses may have received inspiration for the Ten Commandments from certain inclusions from the Book of the Dead.
The oldest copies of the Epistles of Paul, a letter from “the president you never knew,” a few stone tablets and replica ships are on display as well.
The “Literal Bible” exhibit will be on display through the end of August.
The next exhibit will feature Darwin’s manuscripts. The exhibit will highlight the documents that include his famous conclusions regarding appearance of modern species, such as giraffes, through time.
If you can’t make it, many of the most famous documents that the museums own may be viewed online at www.rain.org/~karpeles.
NEWS TO USE
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, located at 902 E. First St., is open between noon and 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays (closed major holidays).
Duluth freelance writer Beth Koralia last covered Northeast Minnesota Beekeepers for the Budgeteer. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.