History on the Move
It's not looking so great today. The ornate paneling and high vaulted ceiling are still here, but the chandeliers are dimmed, the carpets are gone, the furniture stacked up and covered in plastic.
Graffagnino leads me into the neighboring Rare Books Room, the inner sanctum where the library's most precious treasures are laid on a massive wooden table for donors and dignitaries to admire. It is magnificent on most days. Today, though, most of the Clements' priceless collection of early Americana has left the building.
Some pieces, like a 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus, were collected by U-M regent William Clements himself. Others were added by Graffagnino and his predecessors as director. Now they're all being unpacked at an office building on Ellsworth Rd., where the library will be for the next two years.
On the table where rare books are usually reverentially displayed sits one of the ugliest bowls I have ever seen.
"This thing was in the ladies' restroom," says Graffagnino. "It may be worth millions of dollars for all I know. I assume [it dates from the] early twentieth century. It's got cracks, it's got holes. It's hideous." And he laughs a great big laugh.