Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Nantucket Atheneum

The Nantucket Atheneum (1 India St, Nantucket, MA) is the public library for Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Greek Athenium was a school in ancient Rome for the study of arts. The Nantucket Atheneum offers free access to millions of books, films and music as well as over 1,000 programs for all ages year round. The iconic building, built in 1846, is located in the heart of downtown and features art and artifacts important to the island's maritime history as the center of whaling. The library also provides a free wifi signal, computer access on the second floor and an inviting garden.

The Nantucket Atheneum evolved from the Nantucket Mechanics Social Library and the Colombian Library Society, which were both founded on the island in the early 1820’s. These two social libraries joined forces in 1827 to become the Universal Library Association, which moved in 1833 to a renovated Universalist Church at the corner of Federal Street and Pearl Street. In 1834 the library was incorporated as the Nantucket Atheneum, a private membership library with eighteen-year-old Maria Mitchell as its first librarian.

In the spring of 1841 Nantucket banker William C. Coffin traveled to New Bedford to attend an anti-slavery meeting. There he met a 23 year old runway slave named Frederick Douglass who briefly spoke to the meeting. Impressed by the young man’s composure, Coffin invited Douglass to attend a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention at the Nantucket Atheneum that summer. Douglass accepted and on August 11, 1841, at the urging of convention organizers, he rose nervously and addressed the audience.

It was the first time Douglass had given a formal speech and his remarks so ignited famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s passion that he rose and addressed the audience.

“Have we been listening to a thing, a piece of property, or a man?” he yelled.

The gathering of 500 people shouted back “A man! A man!”

“Shall such a man be held a slave in a Christian land?” Garrison then asked. “Shall such a man ever be sent back to bondage from the free soil of old Massachusetts?’

The crowd stood up and shouted “No! No! No!”

After that meeting Garrison invited Douglass to join the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and travel the country on a lecture circuit. Douglass spent the rest of his life speaking and writing in favor of ending slavery and, in time, his fame and influence would surpass his mentor Garrison.

The Great Fire of 1846 destroyed the original library building and virtually all of its collections. The Atheneum was rebuilt on the same site in 1847 and became a free public library in 1900. A significant renovation of the Atheneum took place in 1996, including the addition of the Weezie Library for Children.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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