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"A museum? I came to Santa Barbara for the sun, the surf, the dolphins, the view of the oil derricks." Well, okay, but while you're there, take an hour or two for a walkabout of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.

Easily found right downtown; while you're walking down State Street, it's less than a block away at 21 West Anapamu. Don't even worry about remembering that name; just turn when you see the State & A restaurant, walking away from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on the other corner of State and Anapamu streets. It's only half a block down the street. It's open from ten o'clock in the morning to four in the afternoon, and admission is free (they won't accept a donation even if you try).

Inside you will find documents of historical interest[2] in the areas of government, science, literature, music, and others. Many of the permanent exhibits will be documents you've heard of (excuse the US-centricity), or related to them -- you'll probably learn something new about it. There will also be a temporary exhibit which changes every one to three months. (As of this writing, the temporary exhibit is letters and documents written by or relating to Juan and Eva Peron.) The permanent exhibits are actually reproductions, the originals being preserved in the Karpeles Library (the largest private collection of historical documents in the world). The temporary exhibits are often original documents.

As an aside to this raison d'être, the museum also displays paintings (not necessarily of a historical nature) from local artists, on a monthly rotation.

All of this is brought to you by David Karpeles. A one-time professor of mathematics, he became very well-to-do in the real estate boom of the 1970s (remember Buy a house with no money down?). In 1978, swimming in cash, he began acquiring important historical documents. (I assume, but don't know for sure, that he had long had an interest in history.) In 1983, he opened the first Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum near his home in Montecito, CA, a ritzy enclave bordering Santa Barbara. It was well received, but after comments that it was not particularly accessible, he opened another one in Santa Barbara in 1988 (on the former site of Oscar's nightclub). Since then, more have been opened around the country, and there are now seven[1] dotting the landscape.

The museums, in addition to being open to all comers every day, arrange tours for schoolchildren, and in many schools around the country, maintains a display case containing an historical reproduction, which is changed every two months. The Santa Barbara museum (and probably the others, though I don't know) also has an auditorium which is available for public lectures, the only caveat being that such lectures must be free to the public.

An assortment of what you might see there:

Government
  • The working copy of the Olive Branch Petition
    The Olive Branch was a petition sent to King George telling him, in so many words, you'd better be nicer to us
  • The cover letter written by John Hancock to accompany the Declaration of Independence
  • The official transmittal by the state of Vermont indicating that it had ratified the Bill of Rights, signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State
Science
  • An essay in Einstein's hand describing to the layman his theories of relativity; published in the London Times and the New York Times in 1929
Music
  • A page of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
    and, just like they say, with no corrections or amendments
  • The first draft of the poem America the Beautiful
  • A bill of sale for the rights to perform Chopin's Polonaise in A Flat Major
Literature
Famous People

The Karpeles Manuscript Library
Dedicated to the Preservation of the Original Writings of the Great Authors, Scientists, Philosophers, Statesmen, Sovereigns and Leaders from All the Periods of World History


[1] There are Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums in

[2] I've always wondered how some of these things get found. I'm talking particularly about the personal letters and such things, rather than the nation-building documents. I mean, if for some reason I become very interesting to the people who will come later, they presumably will not be able to find some of the things that I've written that have been very important in my life, simply because at the time that I wrote them, who knew that our descendants would want them? My biography will be rather sparse. So that's why I started daylogging! :)

P.S. If you visit one of these museums (especially as a result of reading this), please drop me a note about it. Thanks!

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