Newberry Library trying to get word out... about itself

September 29, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Newberry is one of the world's greatest research institutions, but it has never really tried to attract crowds.

That is about to change.

The Newberry Library on the Near North Side was established in 1887 and opened in its present building in 1893. It all happened because Walter Loomis Newberry left more than $2 million to create the institution.

The library has always been a place for scholars and researchers, and until now, the masses have not been invited in.

"Over the years it's become pretty clear to us that fewer people in the Chicago area know about the Newberry Library than we think should," said Newberry Library President David Spadafora. "So, we're trying to get the word out about what we are, what we do, what we have here."

ABC7 was given a tour to places in the Newberry that cameras have never before been allowed, all in an effort to help tell the story of 1.5 million books on topics that researchers would love to get their hands on.

"Great humanities works, history, literature, art and music," said John Brady of the Newberry Library, "from the middle ages up to the middle 20th century."

You cannot check any of these treasures out of the Newberry, but you can read them at the library and study them. Works like the first compiled works of Shakespeare from 1623, a first edition copy of Ulysses signed by James Joyce, or more than 500,000 maps from around the world through the ages.

"We have maps - the earliest map is from about 1420 - and we have them right up to, say yesterday morning," said Curator of Maps Bob Karrow.

It is one interesting item after another, founded by a man who died an interesting death while sailing to France in 1868. That's when Walter Newberry almost lived forever.

"The old legend is that because he died at sea, his body was preserved in a large vat of brandy or some other alcoholic beverage in order for it not to decay," said Spadafora.

So head on over to the Newberry and sign up - and say "hi" to good old "pickled Walter."

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.