Tuesday, January 28, 2014

State Librarian Caleb Tillinghast and his Encounters with Charles J. Guiteau

The State Library recently came across an interesting article in the 6/17/1886 issue of the Boston Daily Globe titled “Theft and mutilation: dangers to which all libraries are subject.”  We were pleasantly surprised to find that one of our own long-running State Librarians, Caleb Tillinghast (1879-1893, Acting Librarian; 1893-1909, State Librarian), whose bust is prominently displayed behind our reference desk in room 341 of the State House, was interviewed for a portion of the article.

Tillinghast, while patient and reasonable, was a no-nonsense librarian devoted to the library and its collections. When a volume of citations from Supreme Court decisions went missing, a book that he describes as “not very valuable” and “easily replaced,” he saw it as an opportunity to make an example of the theft. He made unceasing efforts to recover the book and, after some months, Tillinghast’s persistence paid off; the missing volume was retrieved from a lawyer’s personal library—a lawyer who fled Massachusetts soon after. Unfortunately, the book was defaced with new stamps and the culprit’s signature in multiple spots, but Tillinghast kept the book and considered it a “memento” of the experience.

Charles Julius Guiteau
(image from Wikipedia)
The reminiscences of his encounters with Charles J. Guiteau are easily the most fascinating section of this article.  Guiteau, who assassinated President James A. Garfield in 1881, visited Boston briefly around 1880 and frequented some of the libraries in the area—including the State Library.  Tillinghast was immediately wary of this new patron, whom he describes as sometimes using the room as a “loafing place.”  Guiteau was generally left undisturbed unless he fell asleep, which “Mr. Tillinghast would not tolerate.”  It wasn’t until the patron removed his “dirty pair of culls and placed them on the table” that the librarian privately questioned Guiteau about his intentions.
…Guiteau took the inquisition pleasantly, and, producing a card that announced his profession as law and his experience as ten years, said that he was studying “government and politics, with a view to entering the field in the coming campaign.”  As the future assassin seemed sincere the librarian told him that he was welcome to the privileges of the library on three conditions, i.e.: He must not loaf there, not lodge there, and not perform his toilet there.  Guiteau promised to comply, and took no offence, but his visits soon ceased.
The State Library has a large collection of Massachusetts historical newspapers, including the Boston Daily Globe, which covers the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  For further information regarding newspaper accessibility, you can contact us by phone at 617-727-2590 or via email at reference.department@state.ma.us.  We are open 9:00am until 5:00pm, Mondays through Fridays.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department