I snuck in under the wire last Friday to see the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum before it closed yesterday. If you missed it, don’t feel too bad – there’s also an Alice exhibit at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts from now till mid January which sounds pretty cool. It’s the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication, which seems like a pretty good reason to put on some shows to me!
But as neat as the Alice exhibit was, the real star of any visit to the Morgan Library is the Morgan Library, so if you haven’t gone before, I highly recommend making a trip. Friday nights are busy, but for a good reason: from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., admission is free!
We made a stop in the gift shop to kill some time before free hours (I got a deck of cards with Jane Austen quotes on them), but on another visit I sat in the café and had snacks while listening to the live musicians who play every Friday evening. We passed them as we walked around on Friday, and the music they were making was lovely. The Morgan has a way of making a free night out feel very classy.
This might be because the library itself is extremely classy. It began as the private collection of Pierpont Morgan and was turned into a public institution after his death by his son, J.P. Morgan, Jr. Multiple original buildings are linked by a gorgeous interior courtyard that manages to feel spacious and welcoming (though that may have been because of the music).
We made two stops before visiting Alice: First, in “Mr. Morgan’s Study”, where we saw some gorgeous paintings, an illuminated book of hours, and this neat book vault.
From there we crossed the rotunda to visit “Mr. Morgan’s Library”, which is what all us book- and Beauty and the Beast– loving women aspire to one day have — only with comfy chairs and outlets. Floor to ceiling shelves, a fireplace, balconies, a Gutenberg Bible – even a bookshelf that apparently swings out to reveal the stairs up to the balcony. Two glass cases hold samples of the kinds of treasures that are in this collection.
On our way back through the rotunda we realize that there are two Revolutionary-era artifacts on display there: A mask made from George Washington’s face, and a letter penned by John Adams. I was exited to see both and, no, that has nothing to do with my minor obsession with Hamilton or the fact that I just finished reading Founding Brothers.
The Alice exhibit was crowded, so I ended up skipping through it fairly quickly. The most fascinating item was one I’d seen before, at the British Library in London: Lewis Carroll’s original handwritten manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. There were facsimile copies of the manuscript available to look at in the exhibit, and I took a few minutes to flip through one. Carroll’s handwriting was so perfect, and his drawings are so intriguing. The original manuscript belonged to the original Alice, Alice Liddell, till she was in her mid-seventies. She sold it to an American dealer, Dr. Rosenbach (cf. the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia — I heard some of this story when I went there a few years ago), who sold it to a private collector. Years later, Rosenbach purchased it again and sold it to a group of donors who wished to give the manuscript to the British Library as a gesture of goodwill after World War II.
I left the Morgan after about an hour of wandering – the crowd was getting to me – but I know I’ll be back. It’s too special of a place to not visit again, as I learned when I went to The Little Prince exhibit twice last year. Have you been to the Morgan lately? What did you think of it?