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Overdue book returned 96 years late to California library. ‘Scared to touch it’

Chris Kreiden started shelving books at a California library 30 years ago when she was in college.

In her three decades working at St. Helena Public Library, Kreiden told McClatchy News she’s never quite come across an overdue book like the one a mysterious man dropped off at the front desk in early May.

When a staff member first handed her the book, Kreiden, now the library’s director, said she knew it was old but didn’t quite realize how old.

“I was kind of scared to touch it,” Kreiden said.

The book, stamped “Property of the St. Helena Library Association,” was falling apart, according to Kreiden.

The inside of the book shows when it was due.
The inside of the book shows when it was due.

Inside the book was a slip of paper, noting the book was due to the library on Feb. 21, 1927, and that there was a 5 cent charge for each day the book was late, Kreiden said.

After taking the book to a board meeting to show others, Kreiden said she realized the book, Benson Lossing’s “A History of the United States,” was published in 1881.

“It dawned on me — it must have been part of the subscription library,” she said.

Before the city took over the subscription library in 1892, those wanting to borrow a book could either check out a book to read in a designated reading room or pay a fee of 25 cents a month to take books home to read, according to Kreiden.

Benson Lossing’s “A History of the United States” was published in 1881, according to Chris Kreiden.
Benson Lossing’s “A History of the United States” was published in 1881, according to Chris Kreiden.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God. This book has been through a lot of stuff,’” she said.

Kreiden said she passed along a tip about the book to the local weekly paper, The St. Helena Star, which published an article about the long overdue book.

From there, the story took off, she said.

So much so, it reached the mysterious man who dropped off the book at the library, Kreiden said.

The man, who will not be charged any late fees, told the library he believes the book was checked out by his grandfather-in-law, John McCormick, for one of his daughters, according to Kreiden.

McCormick, it turns out, was from one of the pioneering families of the area, Kreiden said.

The man stumbled upon the book while cleaning, she said.

“He came across a stack of old books. And he noticed one of those was from the library, and he just thought he would return it,” Kreiden said.

Prior to the man stepping forward, Kreiden said library staff wondered how far the book may have traveled over the past near century.

“We were thinking of all the places the book could have gone,” Kreiden said, “and it actually never left St. Helena or the Napa Valley.”

Now that the book is home, Kreiden said it’s found a comfy spot in a display case at the front of the library.

Benson Lossing’s “A History of the United States” sits in a display case at St. Helena Public Library.
Benson Lossing’s “A History of the United States” sits in a display case at St. Helena Public Library.

St. Helena is about 80 miles west of Sacramento.

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