Part I: A Bit of Mystery

Several months ago I ordered up an antique Esperanto book over the internet. The seller was throwing in a bonus book to sweeten the deal—some sort of text book. In English. I didn’t care about that; I was just looking forward to getting my Esperanto fix and savoring the fact that I would become the proud owner of a book that many Esperantists have heard about, but have seldom seen. Good for me! But when the package arrived I understood immediately why the seller had sent the bonus book along. The smell! Before I even had it fully unwrapped from its acid-free paper wrapper, it hit me: the unmistakable stench of mildew. The little text book, titled Seventy Lessons in Spelling, was a miserable wreck that clearly had spent several years, maybe decades, in somebody’s damp basement. I opened the decaying cover gingerly. The title page revealed original copyrights of 1885 & 1899. And how can you simply toss such a relic in the garbage can with the orange peels and egg shells? It’s a little piece of history, if a derelict one. I didn’t want it in the house (where it could infect the rest of my books), but I couldn’t bring myself to consign it to the garbage either. This was clearly the same dilemma that inspired the seller to send it to me in the first place. He very neatly passed on the problem to unsuspecting me. Well played, Anonymous Book Dealer. Well played.

What to do? Sell it? In its condition, it certainly had no value. Donate it to the museum for their school house display? They wouldn’t want it for the same reasons I didn’t want it. Leave it in a public place where someone might pick it up and love it? It didn’t seem likely.

Eventually inspiration struck. On the inside cover, the original owner had written his name and address in careful cursive script. I doubted, based on the age of the book, that he could still be alive, but perhaps his descendents might be interested in owning the book, not for its contents, but simply to have a sample of their ancestor’s handwriting and a record of his address. I myself would love to find a book that had been owned and studied by my grandfather or great-grandfather—to have a relic of him, his life and time. Perhaps, using the skills I’ve acquired through my highly developed sense of historic snoopiness, I could find a trace of this man’s family. Here is the information that I had to start with, and I emphasize that this was the only information I had. Everything that follows started with just this name and address:

Edward Deutch
1223½ Geary St.
San Francisco, Cal

I was anxious to see where this inscription would take me. If anywhere.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Op
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 00:40:59

    Bravo…..You are so clever…and thoughtful!Missing you DAILY. We MUST see each other in June!Yours always,


  2. Pernicious Panda
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 13:46:13

    Hi OP. I'm just concentrating on living through my bout of student teaching in April. That's coming right up–yikes! But, yes, once I can see light at the end of the tunnel, it would be good to try to make some June plans.Hey, guess what. Brookings Harbor High School has TWO openings for English teachers. Hmmm.


  3. g'd
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 09:16:57

    Eeeeeew, mildew. BUT, there are ways to rescue the book. Check with a book archivist. Progress through chemistry. Good luck. Your students will be blessed to have you student teach – blessings abound.


  4. JoJo
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 17:20:52

    Hey we used to live off of Geary Street, when we lived in SF! Did you send it there then? Did you google the address to see what it is now? I bet it survived the great quake of 1906. Actually, I just checked google maps and there are churches there now. IT's right off Van Ness, closer to downtown than where I lived.


  5. Pernicious Panda
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 17:58:34

    D,Mildew, yes. Unfortunately, I don't think it's worth saving–would cost more than you can buy it for on eBay.JoJo,You're getting ahead of the story! Stay tuned!


  6. Margaret
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 08:48:54

    That would be an impossible book to throw away, although I hate mildew smells. Yuck. Your solution was brilliant! BTW, how is school going??


  7. Margaret
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 08:53:03

    I don't know why my comment didn't get posted: this is a fascinating story and I love how you pursued it. I would have trouble throwing a book with that much history away, although mildew smell is awful!


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