Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fifty Years, More or Less, in 1967

Mooresville Public Library's 50th anniversary of continuous operation could have been observed in 1966, since the town's Carnegie Library building was dedicated on January 27, 1916.  This benchmark could have been noted as early as May, 1962, because, 50 years earlier, the decision was made to fund and construct a taxpayer-supported public library.

It therefore seems strange that the Library's stewards chose May 7, 1967 as its quinquagenary (i.e., semicentennial) anniversary.  But there it is, in the Library's vertical files, and so we're stuck with the historical fact.

 MPL "More Than 50 Years" Celebratory Bookmark, issued May 7, 1967
(Click images to enlarge; use your web browser's zoom function to further magnify)

MPL "More Than 50 Years" Celebration Party
May 7, 1967

Why did Bonita Marley, MPL Librarian & Director, and the Library's Board of Trustees choose to celebrate the Library's "over 50" anniversary instead of just observing the event in January, 1966, when it would have been half a century since the Carnegie Library dedication?  No clear statements were recorded in the Board's minutes or other Library documents, so we are forced to make reasonable inferences.

Mrs. Marley and the Board were aware of the significance of May, 1912 in the Library's origin story--Bonita Conduitt had been a six-year-old child that year--and they further would have known about the steps taken between 1912 and 1915 to finance and construct the Library, as well as to maintain the temporary library collection downtown while funding and construction were ongoing.  Perhaps, then, they were including all of this history as part of their celebration in May, 1967.

There is, however, a better explanation.  Indiana celebrated its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary in 1966, and Mrs. Marley and the Board probably did not want to compete with the many state and local observances of Hoosier statehood by adding the Library's quinquagenary to the mix, when it would have gotten lost in the shuffle of state-wide historical celebrations.  Better to wait until 1967, when Mooresville's citizens could concentrate upon the Library's important historical milestone without distraction.

A flippant suggestion has been made that the Library Board and Staff simply "forgot" the 50th anniversary in 1966 (or 1962, depending upon your starting date) and held a late party to correct the oversight.  That won't wash.  Mrs. Marley vividly remembered the Carnegie Building's construction and opening--she was one of the Library's first cardholders, of which she was rightly proud--and local history was one of her hallmarks.  She had hired Mooresville historian Wanda Potts in 1966 specifically to safeguard the community's history, and both were keenly aware of the Library's longevity.  Neither Mrs. Marley nor Mrs. Potts would have overlooked such a significant accomplishment as 50 years of public service.

MPL Librarian/Director Bonita Marley (left) with former
MPL Librarian/Director Helen Hadley Ward (right) (1967)

Librarians Bonita Marley & Myrtle Keller at the MPL Circulation Desk (1967)

The "More Than 50 Years" party was quite a social event on May 7, 1967.  Many prominent local dignitaries attended the celebration, but, much more importantly for Mrs. Marley, "regular" folks (like you and me) were there to enjoy the cake and talk about the great times Mooresville's citizens enjoyed at MPL.  Perhaps "you" reading this were actually on the guest list that day long ago.  Sadly, I wasn't, because I was in El Salvador sitting across from an active volcano at that exact time (it's a long story).  The guest list is among the artifacts included in our Indiana Room vertical files.

We celebrate these anniversaries because not many institutions, public or private, survive half (or all of) a century.  So let's apply the "horseshoe tossing" rule as far as exact dates are concerned.  The important commemoration is the Library's uninterrupted service to Mooresville and Brown Township residents, whether 50 years ago, today, or, hopefully, in another century and longer.

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