Andrew Mellon Library: Where the Historical Things Are

Photo by Lauren Canna/The Choate News

Located on the library’s second floor, the Harold L. Tinker Rare Books Room houses first editions of The Great Gatsby and Little Women.

The Andrew Mellon Library is many Choate students’ favorite place on campus. Its uniquely warm and cordial atmosphere welcomes all members of the community, who find themselves relaxed and comfortable in this space. As the center of many academic resources, the library houses various objects, such as portraits of the past heads of the school, the model of a ship housed in a glass case, and documents about the school history in the Archives. However, a relatively unknown aspect of the library is the special collections of books in honor of a few Choate alumni and faculty members.

One such collection is the John F. Kennedy ’35 Collection, which is found in the basement of the library. The JFK Collection was formed while Kennedy was President of the United States, and the collection marked the beginning of the Choate Archives. The collection contains scrapbooks, news clippings, and books about Kennedy, and they continue to be used by researchers who investigate his life.

The collection honors Kennedy’s lasting impact on the Choate community. Kennedy came back to The Choate School as a speaker for the 50th anniversary event, and he spoke about the importance of teaching the students public affairs, including the government and politics.

Shortly after the speech, then-Headmaster George St. John gathered faculty members to create a course called Public Affairs. This later evolved into American Political Institutions (API). “The API program is an important and lasting educational legacy of Kennedy that is being utilized within the school community to this day,” commented Ms. Judy Donald ’66, the school Archivist and an alumna of Rosemary Hall.

The Harold L. Tinker Rare Book Room is found near the Archives on the second floor of the library. The room has a unique old book smell, as it houses two major collections, the Adlai Stevenson II ’1918 Collection and the Haffenreffer Autograph Collection. Stevenson was an Illinois governor, presidential candidate and UN Ambassador. In honor of his work and contribution to the government, the school has a biennial lecture series in which an alumnus of the school gives a speech in front of the school.

The Haffenreffer Autograph Collection is comprised of old wooden bookshelves with glass slides. These shelves are filled with scrapbooks and autographed first editions of books, including The Great Gatsby and Little Women. The collection also houses samples of early American prints, books by Malcolm Lowry and the Concord Authors, and books by and about Stevenson. Most books in this collection were donated by Mr. Harold L. Tinker, a Choate faculty member who had a hobby of collecting rare first editions of 19th-and 20th-century American books.

Next to the Stevenson Collection is a smaller bookshelf, which is the Haffenreffer Autograph Collection. The collection was donated to the school by Karl ’58, Rudolf ’56, and David ’57, and it consists of famous autographs, documents, and pictures related to early American history. One of them is the leather-bound autographs, sketches, and hand-written documents of the early presidents, including John Adams and George Washington.

At the end of the hallway on the second floor, there is the Hardy Room, which contains a collection of first editions by and about English author, Thomas Hardy. The collections include The Return of the Natives, Far from the Madding Crowd, A Changed Man, and many more. The collection was also given by Mr. Tinker, and it is protected in the glass room cabinet.

In addition to specific rooms that keep the collections, study rooms on the second floor also have various collections. There is a collection in honor of Don Diebel ’85, who died in a car accident when he was 35. His family provided funds to make the study room and donated autographed books. Stanley Sanger’s Room has a collection for New Directions Publishing, which is an independent book publishing company founded by James Laughlin ’32. The collection contains various literature and poetry published by New Directions, and enclosed in the glass cabinet are the children’s books with intricate drawings, including Diary of a Goose Girl. The Wallingford Study Room has a collection of information about Wallingford, including history books, documents, and pictures. In the common space on the second floor, there are School Collections, which are books by Choate faculty members, including the dissertation of Caroline Ruutz-Rees, the first head of Rosemary Hall.

The challenge of the librarians and the school archivist, Ms. Donald, is to preserve and conserve these collections in good shape. “I hope that these collections are implemented into the school curriculum,” commented Ms. Donald. “It would be amazing to see students utilizing these valuable historical records to learn more about American literature and history.”

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