ALPLM Acquires Papers of ‘Spoon River’ Poet
by Ian Hunt, Chief of Acquisitions and Research, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
In his classic work Spoon River Anthology
, poet Edgar Lee Masters offered “To this generation I would say: Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty. It may serve a turn in your life.”
This quote kept wandering about in my thoughts when, barely three weeks into my new position as Chief of Acquisitions at the ALPLM, I was asked by my colleague Phil Funkenbusch to contact a woman in Petersburg about some Edgar Lee Masters materials. Excited by the notion of expanding the Library’s collection of Mr. Masters, which included more than 100 manuscripts, books, and assorted ephemera, I immediately made the call to Petersburg to see what might be available.
What I quickly discovered was that this was not simply a handful of items but rather a massive collection of more than 300 manuscripts, unpublished poetry, scrap-books, 1st edition books, research material, and dozens of original photographs of not just Edgar Lee Masters, but his family as well. These items were held at the Edgar Lee Masters Home and Museum at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets, in Petersburg.
After months of discussions between myself and the leadership at the Masters Museum, it was decided that a partnership between the two institutions should be formed. The Masters Home would retain items that related specifically to the Home or to Petersburg while the research materials (including original manuscripts, unpublished materials, etc.) would be transferred to the ALPLM where they could be available to a wider range of scholars.
On August the 23rd of this year, Masters’s 148th birthday, a press conference was held to announce the donation. It was attended by the public, members of the Masters Home Board, and even Mr. Masters’s granddaughter, Catherine Masters, who expressed her happiness in the donation.
I would like to stress that rarely do collections of this size and scope become available, and it was only through the generosity of the Masters Home and Museum Board—specifically its President Kathy Olesen and board member Bobbie Lipsky—that this gift was possible. I would encourage you to take the opportunity to travel to Petersburg and visit the childhood home of Edgar Lee Masters to see first-hand where his noble ideas of truth and beauty took hold.