Two hundred miles away on Interstate 90, the Cleveland Public Library beckons to the bibliophile. A librarian friend recently tempted me with the colorful brochure of its many special collections. Thanks to both librarians and citizens, cookbooks, baseball, corporate annual reports and dogs are the subjects of a few of the offerings.
My family visited the Cleveland library to view the chess sets in the Chess and Checkers collection, donated by John G. White (1845-1928), a benefactor of the library and president of the board of trustees. The library owns more than 100 chess sets, and displays about 30 at one time. They are ancient and rare, as well as modern and mass produced, and come from around the world.
My favorite was a set of salt and pepper shakers, titled Sultan Peppah. An appropriate shape of shaker represents each piece on the board. A lover of china, I also enjoyed the 19th century set produced by the Meissen China company, a set of small figures, painted in the finest detail.
There are late 19th century travel sets. A small leather booklet with tiny pockets held miniature figures in place during bumpy carriage rides on a rough road. They are at least as small as the magnetic travel sets my children played with on long drives south on smooth roads to visit grandparents (pre-iPod/handheld game days).
In the wide hall leading to the collection room at the time of our visit was an exhibit of women chess players from around the world, dating back to the 19th century. This collection includes photographs, books written by the women, documentation of games and tournaments, and an all-white chess set created by Yoko Ono called "Play It by Trust."
The centerpiece of CPL's chess collection, however, is its chess literature, a collection rivaled only by The Hague Library in the Netherlands. Materials are available upon request at anytime.
Fortunately for my children, 6 o'clock arrived, and we were forced to leave before viewing the Foreign Literature and Language collection's copy of "Harry Potter" in Portuguese or the Thai/English Pictorial Dictionary. Patents for the zipper, Monopoly, Slinky and snowboard in the Patents and Trademarks collection are left for another visit.
October brings Octavofest (octavofest.com), a citywide celebration of all things related to bookmaking, and a library's answer to Octoberfest. The CPL will be participating for the second year. Making books, the experience of the feel of the paper and reinventing the book are all part of it. "Octavo" refers to the size of a book. It means the standard sheet of paper for the book is folded eight times, an appropriate celebration for what used to be the eighth month of the year.
A full sheet, or elephant folio, is what Audubon used to make his birds life-sized. CPL has a collection of those, printed in Cleveland, as well.
The exhibit in the John G. White Special Collections Corridor for Octavofest is "Exquisite Expression: The Illustrated Art of Pochoir and Stenciling." Pochoir is a French word and refers to a certain type of brilliantly colored stenciling created by the Chinese 1,000 years ago.
The original building of the Cleveland Public Library is a grand one, built in 1925 at 325 Superior Ave., between East Third and East Sixth streets. The library existed 56 years before that without a permanent home. Entering through its original copper doors puts you in a lobby with marble floors and offers the choice of ascending matching marble staircases on either side or going straight ahead into a high-ceilinged, magnificent reading room where you are immediately blanketed by the appropriate hush.
There are elevators, but don't miss the chance to climb the marble stairs and look over the railing for an overhead view of the beauty below as you head up to the special collections on the third floor.
A visit to the new addition next door, the Louis Stokes wing, is an architectural experience of an equally amazing, although much different, ilk. Built in 1997, modernity welcomes you into the building with colorful mosaics on sculpted walls. It is a testament to new beauty as the main building is to the old. Short on time, my family dragged me out of this building before I had the chance to rise to its cylindrical top and see its view down to earth. This building has six of its 10 floors open the public. An underground passage connects the two buildings.
Between the old and the new on street level is the Eastman Reading Garden, open while the weather is good. (Call ahead to check.) The garden was designed by Maya Lin of Vietnam Veterans Memorial fame. It provides benches and low walls to sit on while reading, surrounded by greenery, in the heart of downtown. It is peopled by a troop of bronze figures about a foot high, sculpted by Tom Otterness. Boys and girls, men and women, these figures are reading and carrying books under their arms. Some are spilling out onto the sidewalk. Some are building the garden gate, hoisting the letters to the top that spell out the words of poet Tan Lin for the visitor to arrange into poems of his own making.
The library (www.cpl.org) is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. during the school year.
>Off the books
The morning after our library visit, we had breakfast in a Middle Eastern cafe in Cleveland's Little Italy. It sounds strange, but Little Italy is a great place for all sorts of marvelous, gastronomical discoveries.
The Algebra Tea House (www.algebrateahouse.net), 2136 Murray Hill Road, offers a wonderful selection of food, not all of it Middle Eastern. Sit at the counter or one of the carved wooden tables, each one different, and each carved by the owner, who is behind the counter cooking your order. And, small surprise, patrons can play chess on those tables as they eat or drink, choosing from the long list of coffees and teas from around the world. (The coffees and teas are also sold by the pound and taste good with the freshly baked Middle Eastern pastries on display at the counter.)
Just down the road is the Murray Hill Market (www.murrayhillmarket.net), 2072 Murray Hill Road. Open since January, it is a tiny market with modern offerings but a charming, old-time flair. Open on Sunday afternoons, it is a good place to stop for a sandwich for the drive back to Buffalo.
If it's a gorgeous day and you are ready for an outdoor activity, visit the Lake View Cemetery (www.lakeviewcemetery.com ), about a mile east on Little Italy's Mayfield Road. A delight for graveyard junkies, many political figures are buried here, the most famous being President James A. Garfield, a Cleveland native. His monument is a domed building with a circular stair leading to a porch with a beautiful view of Lake Erie. It is free and open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 through Nov. 19.
The graves of John Hay, personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln and secretary of state to President William McKinley; John D. Rockefeller; and prohibition agent Eliot Ness, subject of the 1987 movie "The Untouchables," can also be found on a wander through this outdoor museum, as it is described in the cemetery's brochure. The grounds are open every day and tours are available.
>Places to stay
Our favorite place to stay in Cleveland is the Holiday Inn (www.hiexpress.com), 629 Euclid between East Ninth and East Sixth streets, a converted bank built in 1895. The hotel retains its marble floors in the lobby and hardwood floors in the rooms. Tall, mullioned windows provide panoramic views of downtown Cleveland.
Another reasonably priced downtown hotel is the Embassy Suites (www.embassysuites.hilton.com/cleveland), 1701 E. 12th St., between Chester and Superior avenues.