Jack Gantos

May 2010

By Mary Warnement

Jack Gantos is a regular patron and supporter of the Boston Athenæum. He considered joining when a young man, but his wages as a short order cook and valet parker (among other jobs) did not allow for extras, even though he thought our membership fees “fairly priced.” He found many congenial reading spaces in Boston and worked for many years in Bates Hall at the Boston Public Library but eventually had to look for a new haven in the face of rampant cell phone use. “I could tolerate the homeless and the mad, but the rude were just too much…So I went back up to the Athenæum and joined and have been delighted to find such a nourishing community.”

“When I stand on the outdoor balcony of the 5th floor and turn toward Park Street I can look into the window of Walter Lorraine’s office where he worked at Houghton Mifflin Publishers at #2 Park Street. In that office is where Walter agreed to publish my first book in 1975. I haven’t traveled very far but it is now 40 books later.”

The Boston Athenæum at 10 ½ Beacon Street is not far from Houghton Mifflin’s former home at 2 Park Street; however, the distance from his first book to his most recent can seem to stretch as far as the imagination, and Jack’s stretch seems infinite. The ability to write what people would want to read “from cradle to grave” is a rare one, but Jack Gantos possesses it. When you can barely turn the pages, you can laugh at the antics of Rotten Ralph, his feline creation. Once in school, you have the sympathetic company of Jack Henry and Joey Pigza. As you approach adulthood and grope to find your way, you can turn to Jack’s memoir of his own young adult self, Hole in My Life. Through it all, you will have the pleasure of enjoying his wit and extraordinary ability with words.

All of Jack’s quotations are from a brief memoir written as a response to our archivist’s call for members’ memories. He summed up his sense of belonging to this institution:

“Of course people go to a library to read books, but when you go there day after day you begin to read the other people as if they were books, too. And the reverse is just as true. But to be ‘read’ by such good readers results in the comfort of being well known.”

All members are welcome to submit memories on the Archive web page.

If you want to learn more about Jack’s biography and bibliography, you can check out his beautifully designed website. Then perhaps you can check out some of his books and get to know him really well.


Walter Muir Whitehill

March/April 2010

By Mary Warnement

Walter Muir Whitehill (1905-1978) was Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenæum from 1946 until his retirement in 1973. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from Harvard and finished his PhD at the University of London in 1934 for his thesis on the architecture of medieval Spain, not published until 1941. In 1936, he became the assistant director of the Peabody Museum in Salem which he left in order to serve in the navy during World War II. After the war, he came to the Boston Athenæum where he found his home, a base from which he participated in, or, more accurately, led nearly every New England cultural institution or society, and became the epitome of a prolific author. David McCord’s unorthodox description of him presents a more interesting picture than conventional biography would and aptly introduces this necessarily abbreviated list of his many publications:

Any friend of Walter Whitehill is aware of certain things which he likes, dislikes, or abominates. He has obliged me—at my request—with a small but select list of these opposites. He likes beauty and clarity of language, brevity and punctuality; dislikes jargon and long-winded meetings. He likes the prose style of Samuel Eliot Morison and The Book of Common Prayer; dislikes the writing of educationists and liturgical experiment. He favors classical scholars, Egyptologists, medievalists; dislikes all “social scientists.” He likes Gibbon, saints, and nearly all dogs, dislikes C.P. Snow, reformers, nearly all “do-gooders.” He likes the view of mountains, but not climbing them; the streets of London and Copenhagen, but not a lake bordered by summer cottages. He likes music at home, Gregorian music, Mozart, Haydn & Co.; dislikes the Boston Symphony programs, unaccompanied polyphonic music, rock—which he generously calls rock music. He likes Chinese calligraphy, a mastery of technique, the architecture of A. Palladio, the sculpture of Bernini; dislikes paint slobbered on canvas, “self-expression,” the architecture of Le Corbusier, the sculpture of David Smith. He likes good book design and printing, dislikes (as I violently do) eccentric margins and unjustified lines. He likes staying at home; dislikes going to the opera or theatre. He likes books; dislikes television; likes clubs, a small dinner, eating at a table; dislikes most restaurants, cocktail parties, picnics and buffets; likes Naval officers; dislikes real estate promoters.

A bibliography speaks for itself; but the few scattered samples taken chronologically which follows will give the reader at least a notion of the spread of Walter Whitehill’s interests—interests by no means limited even to a dozen disciplines. [David McCord, “Walter Muir Whitehill,” Bulletin of Bibliography vol. 30, no 3 (1973): 114.] 

Selected Bibliography:
Classification followed by call number

Spanish Romanesque Architecture of the Eleventh Century
London: Oxford University Press, 1941
Cutter: UDHX .W587 .s

The East India Marine Society and the Peabody Museum of Salem; a sesquicentennial history
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, 1941
Cutter: U65Sa +P31 +zw

A Boston Athenaeum Miscellany: Catalogue of an Exhibition in Honor of the Visit of the Grolier Club on February 11, 1950
Boston, 1950
LC: + Z881 .B738

Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., 1885-1951
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, c1952
Cutter: 65 .L8964 .w

In collaboration with Ernest Joseph King. Fleet Admiral King, a Naval Record
New York, W. W. Norton, 1952
Cutter: 65 .K5817

Portraits of Women 1700-1825.
Boston Massachusetts Historical Society, 1954
LC: N7634 .M3

Boston Public Library: A Centennial History Cambridge
Harvard University Press, 1956
LC: Z733.B752 W5

Boston: A Topographical History
Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959
LC: F73.3 .W57 1959
(A second edition was published in 1963 and 1968, and a third edition appeared in 2000.)

Captain Joseph Peabody; East India merchant of Salem (1757-1844)
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, 1962
Cutter: 65 +P3125 +e

Boston in the age of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966
LC: F73.52 .W5

Dumbarton Oaks; the history of a Georgetown house and garden, 1800-1966
Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967
Cutte: UGS6RG .D893 .w

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: A Centennial History
Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1970
LC: N520 .W5

Boston Statues
Barre, Mass: Barre Publishers, 1970
LC: + F73.64.A1 W45

Massachusetts: A Pictorial History
New York: Scribner, c1976
Cutter: 964 +W587 +2

Palladio in America
Milan: Electa, c1976
Cutter: UF .P17 .pa

Boston Artists and Craftsmen at the Opening of the Twentieth Century
Baltimore: New England Quarterly, 1977
Cutter: 96 .7N42 (v.50)