In October of 1868, famed poet Walt Whitman visited Providence. He described the city as a “half-rural, brisk, handsome, New England, third-class town.” At the time, he stayed with Providence Athenaeum members on Congdon Street, and today, the library is showcasing a major exhibition of Whitman books and artifacts through January 5 of 2020.
“This is, to our knowledge, the most significant showing of Whitman works and artifacts in Rhode Island’s history,” shares Robin Wetherill, director of membership and external relations.
Most of the items displayed are from bibliophile Susan Jaffe Tane, who visited the library over 10 years ago and offered to share some of her collection after showing in Grolier Club in NYC. There are curios like a cast of Whitman’s hand and gold rings with locks of hair, alongside rare photographs and the Athenaeum’s first edition copy of his seminal work Leaves of Grass (purchased by the library in 1855 for just $1.25!). “This book is the first known copy to be acquired by a library, and its copyright information is handwritten by Whitman himself,” shares Robin excitedly, “so not only is the book incredibly rare and valuable, but the fact that it has remained in our collection for over 150 years and survived being handled and checked out by generations of library members is incredibly special.”
Walt Whitman: Poet of the Body runs through January 5, 2020, and open for viewings on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-6pm, Saturdays from 1-5pm, and by appointment.