Mark Twain’s roots run deep with the Mississippi and this part of Iowa, so it’s fitting that the Quad-Cities’ newest museum would open with an exhibit focused on Twain. Manuscripts and letters from Twain, real name Samuel Clemens, are the headliners for the opening Monday of the new Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Rock Island. But they’re not the only pieces in the museum. There’s a piece of opera history from Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” And there’s a school mark sheet from a student whose professors included Nobel laureates Max Planck, who originated quantum theory, and Albert Einstein, who developed the general theory of relativity.
In a maiden Quad-City exhibit, original works by Mark Twain are going on display in Rock Island.
When the new Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum opens to the public Monday, it will feature the famed author and humorist, including documents in his own handwriting.
The former First Church of Christ, Scientist, 700 22nd St., is becoming the country’s 12th Karpeles Museum and the first in Illinois.
David and Marsha Karpeles, California real estate magnates, opened the museums to house what is described as the world’s largest private collection of important original documents and manuscripts.
Their collection includes the original draft of the Bill of Rights and Einstein’s description of his theory of relativity, among other famous pieces.
“Twelve exhibits are assembled each year, and they are rotated to the various museums each quarter,” said John Snow, director of the Karpeles in Rock Island. “Some things in the collection are too valuable to ship, so they aren’t included in the rotation.
“The insurance (company) won’t take that liability.”
The items for the Twain display were stored in a safe until Snow and others could place them in the 25 exhibit cases that pepper the floor of the church’s former lobby.
“It’s all in protective sleeves,” he said of the collection. “From what I understand, there’s not a lot of extra care needed in placing them for exhibit, because they’re already protected. You can expect to see everything from documents dealing with his life to his actual writing.”
The Twain pieces will remain on exhibit through the end of the year. In January, they will be replaced by a collection Snow described as documents focusing on detectives.
The pieces all are written pieces, he said, adding, “You won’t see Abe Lincoln’s top hat or Samuel Clemens’ pen.”
After the museum’s opening, workers at the former church will move upstairs to the sanctuary, Snow said.
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“I have no idea what kind of electrical and plumbing problems we’ll have up there,” he said. “Those have been our issues, so far, because of the age of the building.”
When the sanctuary is finished, it will be made available to the public for meeting and lecture space. Access to Karpeles Museums always is free, he said.
“When everything’s all finished, we’ll do something on a grander scale, maybe a ribbon-cutting ceremony,” Snow said. “Monday’s opening is a soft opening. We’ll be ready.”
Situated in a neighborhood that recently saw the historic Lincoln school building razed after sitting empty for decades, the museum’s opening in this long-vacant church building brings big value as “a way to preserve some local history” and serve the community, Rock Island’s new community and economic development director Jeff Eder said.
He said the city had no plans to demolish the old church structure, but the longer any building sits vacant, the worse its condition.
“It’s nice to see an old building like that getting taken over by a responsible group,” Eder said. “They’ve come in and stabilized that building.
“I think the neighbors are excited about it. They’re very interested in going through it and seeing how they are preserving the building.”