Music and Poetry, Truth and Romance: The BPL

The Boston Public Library

As part of my company’s goings on, we had a lunch tour of the McKim building (1895) of the Boston Public Library. Our tour guide was the lovely Ms. Nancy Stutzman. You could tell she loved the library and that she loved talking about the library everyday. We, being book people, were all over it.


My impression of the tour was that it would be of the library and it’s services (which I also would have been interested in), but we didn’t even go near the addition that was built in the 1970’s. Instead I got a beautiful history of books and architecture that makes me want to live there all over again. It was gorgeous. I was nerding all over the place.

I want to work there so I can go inside and explore all the locked rooms and nooks and crannies. Not get glares from the guard for touching locked door handles.

The McKim building is the one with all the beautiful marble. Marble everywhere. The main staircase was donated by the Massachusetts infantry in remembrance of the fallen’s service in the Civil War.


Map Room and High Tea

They serve high tea on the weekdays for $22.50 per person, plus 18% gratuity. Maybe a little pricy for my current economic status, but I would love to bring my mom.

There is also the Map Room Café, which I have been meaning to go to. You can get lunch and sit in the Map Room with its gorgeous vaulted ceilings or bring it out to the courtyard. It’s only open from 9-5pm but there’s a possibility of making private dinner reservations.

The Courtyard

Our first anecdote was about how the drunk female Bacchus (Bacchante) scandalized patrons in the 1900’s. She’s featured holding her baby in an awkward position while dancing around drunk. Gives the courtyard more of a party feel, don’t you think?


There are lunchtime concerts every Friday in the courtyard at 12:30pm.

The Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room is on the 3rd floor and you have to take a gorgeous old golden elevator to get there. The third floor is all peeling walls; it has a very artsy feel to it. But no air conditioning. If you look at the picture below, they still use card catalogs for the materials up there. The seats are numbered and the librarian will bring the material you want right over to you.


The rare book room is kept in perfect condition in comparison to the rest of the third floor. It was John Adams’ presidential library, and was the 2nd largest collection of books owned by a private citizen in the colonies. One of the only collections of philosophy and religion at the time.

One of the interesting things about this collection is that it contains a ton of John Adams’ own writings in the margins of his books. I could never stand noting on my books in college, but Adams had no such qualms. It’s great insight into his mind, as they were personal notes venting his opinion on the material.

The rare book man said that even 1000 years later, you can still see the pores of the animal skin used to bind books. It still breathes. Great story idea there. Also reminds me of the Book in “Hocus Pocus”.

Also featured in the rare book room, was an exhibit on Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. I have always had a fondness for EBB. Maybe it’s the name. The exhibit featured a bronze cast of the couple’s hands, locks of hair, and early printings of their poetry and love letters.

They put a very rare item on display every few months. Right now it’s a copy of the first folio of William Shakespeare. The binding was redone in the nineteenth century, but the date of the book was 1623!

The Sargent Gallery

John Singer Sargent was commissioned by McKim (the architect) to decorate a hall on the third floor. He was primarily a portrait artist so his murals here and his work at the Museum of Fine Arts were the first he did on such a large scale. The paintings depict the history of Judeo-Christian religion, starting with Paganism to Judaism to Christianity.

He died in 1919 before he could begin painting The Sermon on the Mount, so one wall has been left white and incomplete in his honor. Interestingly, he embedded leather into his murals to create texture and a three-dimensional feel. Really interesting to look at if you’re into art.


There are quite a few galleries, not all of them open, and all are palatial. If you ever wanted to pretend you were royalty all you have to do is walk around in awe. I have this fantastic urge to rent a ball gown and pretend I’m Cinderella.

The dark green marble was brought in from Belgium. Mirror images of the marble were made by slicing it in half. There was also a gallery that was a deep rich red color made entirely of marble.




So, I am thinking about my life choices and how I could spend my life at the BPL. I highly recommend the tour if you’re in town.

Tours meet in the McKim Building Lobby

  • Mon 230
  • Tues, Thurs 6pm
  • Wed, Fri, Sat 11am


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