Books: our friends, and a safe spot for history

By Linda Emley

I’m a collector and that is why I love my job at the Ray County Museum. Each room has a theme and is a collection of items and pictures that tell a story.
A few days ago I was walking down a hall at the museum and realized we don’t have a room dedicated to my favorite collection – books. Every wall in my house is lined with bookcases stuffed with books. Most of are history-related, but I do have religion, travel, gardening and many one-of-a- kind books.
My favorite authors, James Michener and Kurt Vonnegut, are opposites in style. Michener always took a place and wrote a fictional story spanning several generations and mixing history with fictional characters. Each event in his books happened to someone, though not to one family. I fell in love with Michener’s stories while watching the miniseries “Centennial” in 1978-79. I can still see Robert Conrad playing “Pasquinel.”
Kurt Vonnegut wrote fiction with hidden morals. One of my favorites is “Cat’s Cradle” and how the substance Ice-9 took over the world.
I seldom read a book cover to cover because it takes too much time. I’m always reading, but it’s usually researching something. It makes me sad that much of my reading is done on the Internet because I still love to sit down and hold a book in my hands.
I was wondering when the first book was written and after some research, I still don’t know since it’s hard to define what a book is. Do words written on an ancient scroll count? I found one source that claims the oldest book is a six-page, 24-carat gold Etruscan script found in Bulgaria that’s around 2,500 years old.
Many years ago, I read the Ray Bradbury book “Fahrenheit 451.” Paper burns at Fahrenheit 451 and this story is about a world without books. Books were banned, so people would memorize a book and it was their job to remember the story and keep the book alive forever. People would walk around reciting their story to themselves to ensure they didn’t forget it. What would our world be like without books? Most of our history would be lost forever if we didn’t write it down.
The oldest library in the world was in Assyria, and was known as the “Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.” After thinking about this library, I had to take back my previous statement about not having a room at the museum dedicated to books because we do have a “Genealogical Library.” It’s full of history books that tell stories about Ray and other counties, and many states and family histories.
What was the first book in Ray County? When Lewis and Clark slept here in 1804, they were keeping journals, so that may be the first book even to be on Ray County soil. When the first pioneers reached our county, they brought a few books with them. Many families had Bibles, but few had much more. I’ve read stories about the good-old days when they used the Bible to teach people to read.
If I was stranded on a island and could only have one book, it would be the Bible because it is full of wisdom and many history stories. I once made the statement that the Bible is one of my favorite history books. A friend didn’t like that statement, but it’s true.
When researching Ray County history, the 1881 Ray County History book is the best resource book we have. The 1973 Ray County History is the next best book for local history. There are several other books that contain local history, too.
Richmond has two libraries – the museaum’s genealogical library and Ray County Library. I’ve used both of these for many years and even more now that I spend much of my time looking for details for my history stories.
I’ve been a member of the Ray County Library Friends since 1992 and am the current president. We are now working on our annual book sale scheduled for the fall. If you have books that you would like to donate, please drop them by the Ray County Library. The library staff sorts donated books and some are added to the library collection, while others are saved for our book sale.
Ray County Library has a genealogy room that has a collection of books and microfilm. The new large-screen microfilm reader makes it so easy to copy and read the old newspapers. The next time you have a little extra time, stop by and look up some history.
It’s always fun to read one a local newspaper from the past. Pick a day and enjoy the local news on a big day in history, or choose your own birthday to see what the price of peanut butter was the day you were born.
You can also look at old newspapers at the genealogical library at the museum. Just last week we had a lady stop by from Oklahoma who was born in Richmond. She was sent to an orphanage when her dad died, and was only 4 and didn’t know much about her family. We were able to find info about her father from his obituary. We also located her birth announcement  in a newspaper and for first time in her life, she knew what time she was born and how much she weighed. I can still see the look on her face as her daughter read her the details of her birth. It was truly a moment in time that I will never forget.
In the next few days we will be changing the display in our showcase at Ray County Courthouse and the new theme is “Books.” Please stop by and check it out because I guarantee you will see some very interesting books. Some contain local stories, while others are really old.
And then we have some that are my favorites because they belonged to someone I love and that makes them priceless to me.

Have an historical book you’d like to share with Linda? Tell her about it at, or see her at the museum.

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