Ohio History Journal

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This essay proposes to lay a ghost--not a very important one,

but in its day, its brief day, a ghost that aroused partisans and

parties, and involved men in high places.

It is the ghost of Cincinnati's first library. We might doubt

that it ever existed, even as a mere proposition, outside of legend,

except for three meager records which have managed to survive

for more than a century. Two of these are brief notices of meet-

ings of a group of citizens, published in the Western Spy and

Hamilton  Gazette,1 Cincinnati's weekly newspaper which so

rarely printed local news; and the other is a document, brown with

age, which was drawn up at the first citizens' meeting and cir-

culated as a subscription list.2 These three records seem to say:

In February and March of 1802, Cincinnati's patriotic and cul-

tivated citizens assembled and did duly establish a public library

of the subscription type.

The most weighty of these records is the subscription list.

When, in the 1860's, Robert Clarke, publisher and book seller,

came into possession of this subscription list, he was thrilled as

bookmen rarely have the opportunity to be thrilled. The list was

thrilling to him from any one of a number of points of view, not

least of which was the happy chance of its survival from the

rough frontier days.

To the autograph collector it contained as fine a collection of

signatures as early Cincinnati could have produced. Leading off

the list was the graceful, flourishing "Ar. St. Clair" of the North-

western Territory's governor, and there followed the signatures

of such men as Peyton Short, son-in-law of John Cleves Symmes;

Jacob Burnet, whose many political offices included that of judge


1 Western Spy and Hamilton Gazette, Feb. 13, and March 6, 1802.

2 Robert Clarke MSS., Vol. 2, p. 141 (Library of the Historical & Philosophical

Society of Ohio).