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Venturing inside Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Karpeles Manuscript Library. Don’t sleep on it. Photo by Joshua Swainston

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On a sunny Thursday afternoon a group of inquisitive patrons enters an ornate park-side building. As they do so, they ask, "What is this place?" Thomas M. Jutilla, the museum's director, gladly tells them that they have stepped into the Karpeles Manuscript Library. The visitors' eyes light up as they realize they've found something genuinely special.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library's website details that the organization behind the Tacoma museum was founded in 1983 by David and Marsha Karpeles, "who created the museum(s) to stimulate interest in learning, especially in our children."  The 10 museums owned by Karpeles - located in cities from Buffalo, New York, to Santa Barbara, Calif.- serve as portholes to the Karpeles's vast manuscript library. The library itself is noted for being the largest private collection of manuscripts in the world.

The building that holds the Tacoma location of Karpeles originally served as a World War I veterans hall. Built by Mr. Henry A Rhodes in 1931, the building is a remembrance to his son, Lt. Edward B. Rhodes, who died in battle. The main room, which now houses the Karpeles Museum's traveling exhibits, maintains a stage and a floating floor on springs - a remnant of its first incarnation as a dance hall for the veterans. The windowpanes are thinly cut rock with a milky finish. Above the door and between the entry and the main room hangs a painting depicting American Foreign Legion and WWI vets with the building in the background.

Jutilla mentions that the building was specifically chosen for the Karpeles Museum because of its proximity to Wright Park and the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. Since the Karpeles Museum's inception, the three entities have shared a symbiotic relationship. All three locations are free year-round, and since they are in such close proximity they share many on of the same patrons. Approximately 20,000 visitors a year enter the Karpeles Museum, some no doubt from an overflow of curious parties enjoying the other attractions.

Running until Aug. 31, the Karpeles Museum is showcasing a collection of Sigmund Freud's work while crafting Theory of Dreams. In temperature-controlled oak cases, you find the real work in Freud's own handwriting. The museum provides a description of each piece that explains the work and translates Freud's German.

Seeing the manuscripts in person is an exhilarating joy. Unlike reading the words in a text book or seeing images online, the work and its every detail rests right in front of you.  

"It's like a time capsule. I see Napoleon‘s work and I see a red stain on it and I wonder if it‘s blood," speculates Jutilla. "These are time capsules of life."  

Coming up in September and continuing through the end of the year, the Karpeles Museum will showcase an exhibit titled Presidents of the Continental Congress. At the beginning of 2012 the exhibit changes again, bringing in The Boy Scouts.

A second room at the museum houses a permanent exhibit of maps detailing the American expansion up the West Coast and into Alaska. One specific work features incorrect geographic locations of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in proximity to the North American continent, as well as depicting a giant lake over most of what is now British Columbia.

Karpeles Manuscript?Library Museum

Open Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
407 S. G St., Tacoma

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