“My library,” said Enoch Pratt, “shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color.” The Enoch Pratt Free Library central branch, at Cathedral and Franklin Streets, was built during the Great Depression and opened in 1933. Over the next few years, it will be completely renovated into a library for the 21st century. Except for one important item. On the library’s second floor, a fireproof steel vault, made by York Safe and Lock company of York PA, keeps many of the library’s treasures from its special collections safe and secure. The vault will be left as it is, although the items inside will be stored in a safe location during the renovations.
Inside its sturdy walls there are locks of hair from Edgar Allan Poe and his wife, Virginia, displayed in a golden frame, as well as a wooden nail from his coffin. Other items include a first edition of The Great Gatsby, autographed for his friend H.L. Mencken, and a walking stick that belonged to Enoch Pratt.
There are poems from 1773, written by Phyllis Wheatley, the first ever published African-American poet. Other rare items include a Babylonian cuneiform tablet from 572 B.C. and a 1796 almanac by Benjamin Banneker.
Items from the collection can be viewed by calling the library’s special collections department to set up an appointment.