In addition to thousands of books neatly arranged on the shelves of the Mason City Public Library, there are treasures most library patrons never see.

2003-04-05T00:00:00Z In addition to thousands of books neatly arranged on the shelves of the Mason City Public Library, there are treasures most library patrons never see. Mason City Globe Gazette
April 05, 2003 12:00 am

Thousands of photographs, letters, pieces of statuary and other items relating to the history of Mason City or North Iowa have been given to the library over the years by people who didn't know what else to do with them.

"There was no museum for years in town. Who knows where this stuff came from?" said Terry Harrison, the library's archivist and historian.

"It was probably in the Carnegie Building and came over here. There was no place to display stuff. I think the library came to be the repository."

In a suite of offices in the west wing of the library, Harrison presides over a treasure trove of historical articles, including 100,000 photographs of Mason City, newspapers dating back to the 1850s and rare books.

Among some of the oddest treasures hidden away in the archives are the BunaBs (pronounced BEWnab) of Orville K. Snav.

Snav Enterprises was the concoction of a Mason City man named Al Crowder.

"That's a character. He was completely fake," Harrison said.

The library has an "inset press" invented by Crowder.

"Anybody who bought one of his inventions became a vice president in the company," Harrison said.

Crowder taught music in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the early 1930s, and came to Mason City in 1939. He taught music at Vance Music Store and at Carleton Stewart Music Co., and sold musical instruments.

He died on March 10, 1981, at the age of 77.

The archive is home to what Harrison describes as the oldest non-governmental manuscript dealing with Mason City. A store ledger dates to 1855.

Harrison, wearing gloves to protect the fragile document, leafs through its pages.

"Anybody who is anybody is in this book," he said.

The large brown leatherbound ledger was started by James Jenkinson, reportedly the first storekeeper in Mason City.

It's a wonderful document showing how people lived and what they paid for the necessities of life, Harrison said.

"A pound of coffee and a dozen eggs were the same price - 20 cents," he said.

Jenkinson was an English immigrant who came to Mason City around 1853.

"A lot of what's going on here is barter," Harrison said, pointing at various entries in the ledger. "There is some foreign currency passed here. They probably had a safe. A store like this was more than just a store."

The archives also has a copy of "The Grand Army of the Republic" dated 1899. The book is full of Civil War service records written by soldiers who fought in that war.

The archives also contain a Knights of the Ku Klux Klan membership certificate and sash.

Harrison said there was Klan activity in Mason City throughout the 1920s.

Stereoscopic slides of Mason City dating to 1872 give an interesting view of what the town looked like 130 years ago.

Memorabilia from one of the most notorious crimes in Mason City can be found in the reading room of the archives.

Mounted in a glass case is a piece of bulletproof glass from the First National Bank Building guard station. The glass was shattered on March 13, 1934, when the John Dillinger gang robbed the bank.

Visitors can also see nails that were placed on the roads out of town by police in hopes of puncturing the tires of the fleeing robbers.

The archives are open to the public by appointment.

But there are many things that are not available for public viewing.

One of the most impressive is a bronze statute formerly a part of the lighting display at the City National Bank of Mason City.

The sculpture, nicknamed "Old Mercury," was done by renowned sculptor R.W. Bock to specifications set by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the bank building in downtown Mason City.

Old Mercury is one of four statutes that were used as light fixtures in the bank. Former Mason City School superintendent Hugh Gilmore purchased three of the lights in 1955. He donated one to the library, gave another to the Harvard Club in Los Angeles and kept the third.

Ghosts in the Attic: Treasures at the Mason City Public Library

By PEGGY SENZARINO, Of The Globe Gazette

The whereabouts of the fourth statute is unknown.

Bock, a native of Germany, studied for three years in Berlin and then in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts before emigrating to Chicago with his family. Bock set up a studio in 1891. His later designs were influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School style.

Bock died in 1949 at the age of 83.

According to Greek mythology, Mercury was the son of Zeus and fostered abundance and prosperity, a fitting image for a bank.

Bock omitted Mercury's winged feet. In the statute, Mercury was meant to look like a plant rising out of the ground.

Old Mercury is stored in the library's safe.

Other items in the safe include a hair wreath allegedly containing the hair of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the smallest book in the world, a Bible dating to 1884 and a McGuffey Reader.

Hair wreaths constructed almost entirely of human hair were manipulated to resemble flowers and leaves. The pieces were normally woven following a loved one's death as a memorial.

Ernest Kallay, library director, said other than a notation from an unknown library employee, there is no proof that the wreath was made with Lee's hair.

The McGuffey Reader dates to the mid-1850s. In rural America, the McGuffey Reader was often the only exposure people had to world literature.

The library also has several other primers from more than 100 years ago.

"That's the way kids used to learn their ABCs in colonial times," Kallay said.

A copy of The Lord's Prayer measuring less than half an inch is said to be the smallest book in the world.

Kallay also found a small copy of the Bible attached to a wooden lectern by a chain.

"It was necessary to chain Bibles to the lectern to keep them from being stolen," Kallay said.

He smiled as he pulled out a copy of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. The book is very large and had elaborate engraved illustrations.

"These are spectacular. I saw this once in Richmond, Va.," Kallay said.

Copyright 2015 Mason City Globe Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Comment Policy
Keep it clean. Avoid language that is obscene, vulgar, lewd or sexually-oriented. If you can't control yourself, don't post it.
Don't threaten to hurt or kill anyone.
Be truthful.Don't lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any other sort of -ism that degrades another person. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK, and forgive people their spelling errors.
Let us know if it's getting out of hand. If you see offensive comments, don't quote or respond to them. Please use the "Report Abuse" button to bring it to our attention.
Share what you know, ask about what you don't. Give us your eyewitness accounts, background, observations and history. What more do you want to know about the story?
Stay focused, and ask questions. Keep on the story's topic.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Follow Us

activate-button-3 FULL ACCESS

Deals, Offers and Events