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Firestone Library Renovation Yields Unexpected Clues to University’s Past

VINTAGE FINDS: This 1957 Havana travel brochure was found in a study carrel during recent demolition work at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Along with other items ranging from an 1850s Oxford, England visitor’s guide to an old smoking pipe, the brochure is on display in a glass case in the Library lobby.

VINTAGE FINDS: This 1957 Havana travel brochure was found in a study carrel during recent demolition work at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Along with other items ranging from an 1850s Oxford, England visitor’s guide to an old smoking pipe, the brochure is on display in a glass case in the Library lobby.

At Princeton University’s Firestone Library, a 10-year renovation project currently underway has produced some unexpected clues to the past. Workers knocking down walls and dismantling old study carrels have come across evidence that students in the early days of the library, which was built in 1948, had more on their minds than the exams they were cramming for or the papers they were writing.

There is the copy of the magazine Foto-rama that was found in one carrel. “Wedding Nights are Not Important!” screams one headline. “Anita, Iceberg or Sexberg?” reads another, referring to the sultry 1960s actress Anita Ekberg. A brochure advertising trips to pre-revolutionary Havana has penciled-in additions to the copy. Arrows point to “my room” and “my girl’s room.” Next to one of the advertised offerings, another notation reads “not included: sexual diversions, female camaraderie.”

But the findings at Firestone are not limited to the mildly pornographic. On display in a large glass case in the library’s lobby are numerous items workers have discovered during the renovation. There is a color copy of a visitor’s guide to Oxford, England, circa 1850s. A seed packet from Farr Hardware Company of Nassau Street, which closed its doors in 1970, is included, along with vintage beer cans, an old smoking pipe, and an exam from 1959 with the handwritten promise: “I pledge my honor as a gentleman that during this examination I have neither given nor received assistance.”

Hanging behind the case is a drapery panel that was found inside a locked closet on the third floor, believed to be one of several that hung in Firestone’s original faculty lounge. Along with the draperies, workers came upon a couple of empty pickle jars, not surprising since the faculty lounge had some kitchen facilities.

Ted Munz is project superintendent for Massimino Building Corporation, and has worked on the Princeton campus since 1989. It was one of his workers who found the Oxford visitors’ guide, now in the Library’s Rare Books Collection. “When it went up on the website, they actually got a response from Oxford,” he says. “It’s pretty exciting. I’m a history buff, so I’m always looking for things.”

One of Mr. Munz’s most interesting discoveries was in another campus building, Brown Hall. “I found a wedding invitation from 1918,” he says. “When I started doing some research I found out that the son of the couple on the invitation had died just two weeks before I found it. Amazing.”

The Firestone renovation is targeted for completion in 2018. In six sections, it is currently in phase “2B,” according to Peggy Kehrer, Library Construction and Communications Coordinator. “When the guys started finding all these things, our idea was to do an exhibit that we can add to all the time,” she says. “John Walako of Rare Books and Special Collections arranged the exhibit and designed the cards identifying everything. We’ve made sure that all the names are blocked out.”

While her work at the Library takes place away from the lobby where the display case is located, Ms. Kehrer hears from colleagues that it has become a popular stop for people visiting the building. Recently, actor/director Woody Allen and his family took in the exhibit when he was on campus to speak at a Friends of the Library event.

According to Mr. Munz, it isn’t unusual to find relics of the past during this kind of renovation project. “The carrels are metal units and things can slip down the back,” he says. “And there are always things left in the walls and in unexpected places.”

Among the most recent discoveries is a postcard from Hawaii sent to one of the students. “I won’t tell you what it says,” Ms. Kehrer said, with a laugh. “It’s not exactly PC.”

The public is welcome to view the exhibit in the Library’s lobby. For more information, visit http://libblogs.princeton.edu/renovations/fun-finds/.

 

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