Money can buy style. And also literary fantasy worlds.

J.P. Morgan didn’t make books, he made money. But he made so much money that he decided to start collecting books. Then he built a library to house his books. And hired his own personal librarian.

The Morgan Library (& Museum) is proof that money can buy style. The entire complex is an elegant assemblage of heavy velvet chairs, stately fireplaces with ornate cast iron firebacks, delicate stained glass windows, and soaring frescos. And the walls are covered in books. Shelves and shelves of books. Storeys and storeys of shelves and shelves of books.

Over the years Morgan acquired three Gutenberg Bibles (because one copy of the oldest printed book in the world is never enough), countless other illuminated manuscripts, fragments of original cuneiform (the oldest written language IN! THE! WORLD!), and a trove of other original texts, like the first (extra-sodomitical) manuscript of Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.

A letter from Hemingway rejecting George Plimpton’s interview request displays his characteristic style, but little of the tact of For Whom the Bell Tolls:

“I might say ‘Fuck the Art of Fiction’, which would give a wrong impression as what I would really mean was Fuck talking about it. Let us practice it and shut up.”

Standing in the main library chamber, ogling all the folios, it takes a minute to realise that there is no way of accessing the upper levels. The room has three levels of book shelves, all loaded with literary deliciousess. There are, however, no apparent stairs or ladders; no way to explore the full wonders of the library.

This is Morgan’s masterstroke. An elegant library may be a bookworm’s every delight, but he goes one step further. His library has secret passageways. Behind the shelves are concealed stairways that climb up to the curving walkways of the higher levels.

It was when I learned of these secret passages that I decided that the Morgan was not merely a repository of rare books; it is itself a giant, inhabitable novel, a work of fabulous, fictitious fantasy. A three-dimensional Poe tale. A garden of motherforking paths.

51 responses to “Money can buy style. And also literary fantasy worlds.

    • You can say that again! If it’s Fall or Winter, give me an electric kettle, a mug, a jar of Honey, and a supply of my favorite loose teas. If it’s Spring or Summer give me plenty of ice, a case of Pepsi Cola, and a tall glass. Along with both, sandwiches and snacks to sustain me…then give me a week or so and access to all of those WONDERFUL books. The Secret Passages sound fascinating, but once I’ve started exploring the books, I’ll quickly loose interest in anything else!

  1. Oh, BABY! Literary deliciousness AND secret passages? I’m so there.
    But I’m surprised that there isn’t a resident ghost or two. You’d think Morgan would have one. ;-)

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, too.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to encounter more than a mere one or two ghosts in this place. I imagine there are re MANY of them living in such a fantastic realm of books and histories, and magnificent,literary worlds…

  2. Intriguing library! Guess your post brings up the imp point that the literary arts need patronage and display like any other craft and needs to be made a fun pursuit as well in order to endure.

    • It’s sad how the interest books and bindings has faded over the years. Now there is the Kindle and the Nook, but neither device can give us the feel of leather bindings, paper pages, and the perfume of dusty, ancient volumes. For me, there is no sweeter fragrance, than the bouquet of an ancient library, with creaky, wooden floors, dusty, overhead, woden beams, and old, wood shelves, loaded from ceiling to floor, with old books! If I had been foolish enough to accept a job as Librarian in such a place, I’d NEVER go home! I love technology, and cool new gaddgets, but NO GADGET ever planned or made can equal my love for good books! If more people lost themselves in the pages of books, there would be by far fewer crimes, less interest in war and killing, or the desire to hate one another because we look a tad different.

  3. How incredibly cool…I can’t even imagine.

    And in dozens of years, where will all the ebooks go? Oh yeah…in the clouds, right?

    (Caveat: I say this…yet I’m publishing an ebook soon. I guess my point is, there’s a place for both in life…)
    :)

  4. This library would be a great setting for a gothic novel!! How did you manage to get in? Did you get to explore the secret passages? Please tell us more!

    • It’s open to the public! Admission is kind of steep, unless you have some kind of free pass – a separate post about that will come along eventually.

      Couldn’t explore the secret passages, but pretty sure we did figure out which book cases they were behind. Two of them are slightly different to the others…

  5. I wish that I would have been able to click ‘love’ this post. I would definitely love to visit that library, and, like Audrey, be locked in for a few days.

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  7. I want to live there! If only there were a passage to the wine cellar. It most certainly sounds like the most wonderful place in the world. Thanks for the great post!

  8. I would love to visit this place. The antique style and the fact that there are secret passages makes it more tempting to visit.

  9. Great post and this library/museum looks amazing. I wish I could have a library like that, secret passageways and everything! I had never heard of this, so it will definitely be on my list of places to see. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  10. Nice library! It’s a shame that it won’t be long before libraries in general will only be museums. The e-book is quickly killing the brick and mortar book stores and the printed book. Printers and publishers have been raping the authors for way too long and now with the electronic age they are being removed from the process. The downside to this is that books in print and libraries to house them will soon be replaced by a simple computer or tablet. You can access over one million books on-line now. Real estate is expensive and it soon won’t pay for these places to exist. As an author I love and hate this all at the same time. Please check out my latest e-book at http://secretsofabartender.wordpress.com/

  11. Now, reading your description, I hope Morgan is worthy enough to possess such a treasure trove. I hope he isn’t just a rich man with boredom and require attention. That place sure is a heaven… I agree. Wouldn’t mind getting locked in for a week or two.

  12. His money paid for a masterpiece of a library. Just reading this keeps me motivated to gain more and bless more people.

  13. They say if you access a persons library you access the persons mind (i feel like thats sorta true becasue its really how they reflect to what they read that defines them as indivisuals) but, what happens when all our ebooks get stored in “the cloud”, hopefully this cloud service can get integrated into something smarter than we believe. hopefully it can somehow connect us all by our interests. i would love if my sons son son read a book i read and reflected the way i did or better! (considering he can access my feedback) could be cool!

  14. Very Borges, isn’t it? Welcome to being poor in NYC and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! Glad I got to read this post, very interesting. I”d love to see this library.

  15. I would love to have something like this. I love books, libraries, secret passages and book ladders-amazing!

    • Thank you for sharing that link! What a fantastic library/museum Jay Walker has created! This is a prime example of putting one’s money to good use. However, as much as I’d love to own such a wonderful personal library, I also feel that this sort of thing, unless it is shared, is little more than a way of showing off one’s wealth and accumulated material possessions. I have nothing against wealth, if it’s acquired from scratch, through years and years of good, old-fashioned hard work. What I utterly DISAPPROVE of, are people like The Kardashians…four (or are there more than four?) greedy, self-important, show-offs, who were suckled on platinum pacifiers, clothed in silk and satin diapers, and doted on 24/7/365, handed EVERYTHING and ANYTHING their selfish little hearts desired, on a solid gold platter, no less than five seconds after they demanded it! Growing up, children like this, NEVER had to write letters to Santa, because whatever they wanted was given to them immediately after they asked for it! They always had the best, most current fashions, with matching shoes and accessories to wear to school. They carried bookbags of soft, hand-tooled leather, and fur coats when the weather was chilly. Their personal Chauffeurs drove them to school in stretch limosines.They never had to fear school bullies, because they had huge entourages of friends following them every day of the week. Being born into a monied family, means you will ALWAYS have plenty of friends.

      I’ve always felt that those with wealth, should do as much as they can, as often as they can, for those who have little or nothing. Princess Diana went out into the mine fields of Afghanistan and helped to disarm landmines. She visited hospitals and hugged AIDS patients, sans gloves or gowns to prove there was no danger in doing so. She gave free and often to charities. THAT is how I’d like to see ALL of the super rich behave! If you are going to spend millions to build a PERSONAL library, then spend an equal amount to build a lending library for those who can’t afford to have one of it’s like at home. Local Libraries all too often, these days, provide the ONLY source of entertainment many poor families can access…via free movies on VHS and DVD, Free music on Cassette and CD, Audio Books, Puzzles, Video Games and Game consoles, Computers and internet access ( despite the fact that time on these is VERY limited,) and of course, Books and periodicals. Sadly, these days, or government is pulling the funds for lending libraries, denying access to the only form of entertainment many poor families have. These government geniuses, ALL need to rethink their choices! I appologise if I sound as though I’m preaching, but I was raised in an old fashioned family who believed that sharing and caring for our fellow human beings is what God expected all of us to do.

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