Nearly a century after it was last borrowed, a library book finally makes its way home. A man has returned an overdue copy of A History of the United States to a California library 96 years after it was originally checked out.
In interviews, the St. Helena Public Library director told news outlets that mystery surrounds the homecoming of the rare find. An unidentified man dropped off the book at some point in the last week with no explanation as to its previous whereabouts.
“One of my staff members brought it, came up and said, ‘Oh, somebody had returned that book,’” Chris Kreiden, the library director, told CBS Sacramento. “And they thought it was really cool. It was a really old book. We didn’t realize quite how old it was—it was falling apart.”
The book was last checked out in 1927, during a bygone era. Back then, Calvin Coolidge was in residence at the White House. Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. The first feature-length movie with sound became a box-office hit.
Regrettably, the book’s current physical state is severely deteriorated. “It doesn’t have a spine anymore,” the library director said, showing off the worn-down tome in a video call. The tattered pages are loosely held together by a threadbare binding, and the cover is faded and unreadable.
To preserve the book from further damage, the Napa County public library has chosen to display the book in a glass case. Visitors and local patrons can view the historical artifact on exhibition at the building’s front entrance. “I’m afraid to touch it,” Kreiden confessed to CBS outlet KOVR.
Originally published in 1892, the book is older than the library that currently houses it. A History of the United States was one of the first tomes available back when the library started as a subscription service in the 19th century. Members paid 25 cents a month for the luxury of borrowing a book to read in a designated reading room.
“All of us are just, you know, wondering where the book could have been for so long, you know, from being checked out in 1927,” the library director told journalists. “To have it be from this library from that far back is really incredible.”
Since the identity of the man who returned the book remains a mystery, the St. Helena Public Library can only guess where the book has been for the past century. “He didn’t give his name. It wasn’t somebody that she recognized,” the director added. “Other staff have no idea who this gentleman is. So, we’d love to find out more about the story.”
According to Kreiden, library staff allege that the unknown man mentioned his father in passing, “but we didn’t catch anything else.” This has led to speculation that, initially, the book was checked out by the mystery man’s father or grandfather, and their descendant has now chosen to rectify a 96-year-old wrong.
If the prospect of an exorbitant past-due bill was stopping the patron from returning it before, they have nothing to fear today. As the library has chosen to waive the late fees, the mystery man will not be charged with the estimated $1,700 that he would have had to pay otherwise. “Maybe that’s why the person waited to bring it back,” wondered the newscaster who broke the story on morning television.
For those unable to visit and view the book in person, fear not. The St. Helena Public Library has uploaded pictures of the display to social media, detailing the books’ history and mysterious return. There is even a yellowed note that warns borrowers: “This book may be kept for two weeks.”
In their Instagram caption, the California public library celebrates this unlikely happy ending: “How amazing is this! 96 years ago, someone checked this book out from our library. It just goes to show it’s never too late to return your library book.”
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.