The Secrets of J.P. Morgan’s Private Library

By Nancy Bilyeau

On March 27, 1902, leading architect Charles McKim had an appointment to see John Pierpont Morgan in Manhattan. Any time J.P. Morgan beckoned, people came running. He was the most powerful banker in America, the financier of railroads and the U.S. Steel purchase. That day McKim was astounded—and excited—to learn that Morgan wanted him to design a new building but not an office or bank. It was to be a private library to hold the banker’s overflowing collection of rare books, ancient treasures, sculptures, and paintings.

The library was planned for next door to Morgan’s house on Madison Avenue and 36th Street, McKim learned. As for its design, this was to be no simple collection of rooms to house books and other valuables. In his voracious collecting of valuables, Morgan seems to have seen himself as a Medici prince. So his library reflected that: McKim was hired to design an Italian Renaissance wonder built with Italianate marble, its rotunda boasting ceiling frescoes painted by Harry Siddons Mowbray that were fit for a cathedral.

1. Pierpont Morgan's StudyMorgan had so much to house there. He collected Old Masters paintings and sculptures, tapestries, Regency furniture, bronzes, jewelry, armor, metalwork, illuminated manuscripts, Gutenberg bibles, ancient Babylonian cylinder seals, and medieval metalwork with gold.

And then there were the books. He bought Charles Dickens’ original manuscript of A Christmas Carol, with the author’s revision notes in the margin. Morgan owned the sole surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Henry David Thoreau’s journals, Thomas Jefferson’s letters to his daughter Martha, and rare letters to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

One of his most cherished acquisitions was the Lindau Gospels. Its importance was suggested by the designation it held: M1.  The gospels were written by monks in the 9th century and the jeweled covers were considered the finest treasures of the Carolingian age. The way Morgan acquired it was significant. His scholarly nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan, sent a telegram in code to him in July 1899 saying that the Lindau Gospels, in the possession of the Earl of Ashburnham, could be purchased, and the British Museum could not meet the asking price. “Morgan could: he paid 10,000—nearly $50,000—for something that would be valued at millions if it came on the market a century later,” wrote Jean Strouse in Morgan: American Financier.

6-Pierpont-Morgans-LibraryJunius Spencer was also the person who told the banker about a prospective librarian: a young brilliant woman named Belle da Costa Greene, who was then working at the Princeton University library. Once she came to work for Morgan at his library in 1906, she took charge and not only cataloged his acquisitions but helped him pursue new purchases.

Morgan loved his private library so much that he spent most of his time there instead of the bank office at 23 Wall Street. He worked out of his study, also known as the West Room. As Herbert Satterlee, Morgan’s son-in-law and first biographer, later recalled, “No one could really know Mr. Morgan at all unless he had seen him in the West Room. This was because the room expressed his conception of beauty and color in varied and wonderful forms.” The study had an antique wooden ceiling, stained glass windows, and red damask silk covering the walls.

Much of Morgan’s collection of books was stored in the main library room. The walls, reaching to a height of thirty feet, were lined floor to ceiling with triple tiers of bookcases fashioned of bronze and inlaid Circassian walnut. Above were ceiling frescoes, many of them showing astrological figures. Morgan was a member of the mysterious Zodiac Club in New York, which never had more or less than twelve members. Morgan is believed to have met with astrologers as well as psychics.

Another remarkable feature of the main room was two secret winding staircases that allowed people to move between the levels of bookshelves and balconies. Two staircases, concealed behind bookcases at the corners of the room, could only be revealed by pulling a certain lever.

And this was but one of the secrets contained in J.P. Morgan’s sumptuous, magical private library…

Article written by Author and Editor Nancy Bilyeau

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Nancy BNancy Bilyeau is the author of the historical thrillers “The Blue” and “Dreamland” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” She is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada.

In “The Blue,” Nancy drew on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy, who studied History at the University of Michigan, has worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to “Town & Country” and “Mystery Scene Magazine.”

Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

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The Ghost of Madison Avenue 4 F3From the author of The Blue and the Joanna Stafford trilogy—a compelling mystery set in the faded glory of New York’s Gilded Age.

In this unforgettable story, bestselling author Nancy Bilyeau takes readers to J. P. Morgan’s private library in December 1912, when two very different people haunted by lost love come together in an unexpected way.

Helen O’Neill, part of a tight-knit Irish-American family in the Bronx, is only too happy to report to work at the spectacular private library built on Madison Avenue by millionaire financier J. P. Morgan. The head librarian, the brilliant and beautiful Belle da Costa Greene, had hired Helen away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she witnessed Helen’s unusual talent with handling artifacts.

Helen soon discovers the Morgan Library is a place like no other, with its secret staircases, magical manuscripts, and mysterious murals. But that’s nothing compared to a person Helen alone sees: a young woman standing on Madison Avenue, looking as if she were keeping watch. In learning the woman’s true link to the Morgan, Helen must face the pain of her own past. She finds herself with a second chance at happiness—if she has the courage.

From the author of The Blue, the Joanna Stafford trilogy, and the soon-to-be published Dreamland, set in 1911 Coney Island, comes The Ghost of Madison Avenue, a story both thrilling and moving.

Praise for Nancy Bilyeau’s Fiction

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books”
—Alison Weir, bestselling historian and novelist

On The Ghost of Madison Avenue:

“The Gilded Age splendors of the Morgan Library come to life in this wonderful, warm-hearted tale of Christmases past, present, and future. Bilyeau weaves a wealth of gorgeous period detail into her ghost story of old New York, delivering genuine chills, family drama, and poignant romance with equal skill. A gorgeous holiday treat!”
—Mariah Fredericks, author of Death of a New American

On Dreamland:

“This fast-paced, engrossing novel from Bilyeau … gives readers an up-close and personal view of New York’s Gilded Age”
Library Journal, starred review

“Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Dreamland is a rollicking ride.”
—Fiona Davis, author of The Chelsea Girls

“A marvelous book!”
—Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of What She Left Behind

On The Blue:

“Definitely a winner!”
—Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network

“Fascinating”
—Ian Rankin, international bestseller

On the Joanna Stafford Trilogy:

“All the ingredients of the best historical fiction … will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans.”
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches

“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy and betrayal.”
Oprah Magazine

Cover Crush: Hostage to Fortune by Sarah Hawkswood

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While this cover isn’t outstanding-in my opinion-it’s extraordinary and jumped out at me. I feel like that is a bit of a contradiction statement I made. Ha! There is a bit of abstract imagery to this cover that shows a bigger picture to the story. The latter is why I chose this book as this week’s cover crush. -Stephanie.

Hostage to FortuneHostage to Fortune by Sarah Hawkswood

Allison & Busby

Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 12 Mar 2020

Description

January, 1144. Undersheriff Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed travelling on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem perfect as escorts, until they are captured by a renegade who kills for pleasure.

Against a backdrop of a hard winter and frozen River Severn, Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll are struggling to rescue the captive before a psychopath does his worst, the lord Sheriff loses patience, and Bradecote cracks under the pressure.

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated by Erin at Historical Fiction Reader 

Other book bloggers who participated in the great cover crushes series. 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Another St, Martin Press book I got approved to review through Netgalley from St. Martin Press! Goodness! I didn’t think I would be sent a copy…I am so behind on reviews. Its been tough focusing on reading lately but I am determined to get back on track. I started reading this one last night and although for me it didn’t start off with a bang, I’m curious about the story so far… -Stephanie M. Hopkins 

The Long CallPub Date 03 Sep 2019  

Description

From Ann Cleeves—bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—comes the first in a gripping new series.

“Ann Cleeves is one of my favorite mystery writers.”—Louise Penny

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. Once loved and cherished, the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back into the community he thought he had left behind, as deadly secrets hidden at its heart are revealed, and his past and present collide.

An astonishing new novel told with compassion and searing insight, The Long Call will captivate fans of Vera and Shetland, as well as new readers.

 

A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1) by Charles Fergus

astrangerherebelow

A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1)

by Charles Fergus

Hardcover, 304 pages

Expected publication: March 19th 2019

I just added this to my wish-list. I love the simplicity of the book cover and yet at the same time there is so much more to image. The scenery in the image draws me in…  It gives you an atmospheric feel of a mysterious primitive time in the past. I hope this story delivers because it sounds utterly fantastic and it take place in one of my all-time favorite periods. -Stephanie M Hopkins

About the book:

 

For fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, a fabulous historical mystery series set in early America. 

Set in 1835 in the Pennsylvania town of Adamant, Fergus’s first novel in a new mystery series introduces Sheriff Gideon Stoltz, who, as a young deputy, is thrust into his position by the death of the previous sheriff. Gideon faces his first real challenge as death rocks the small town again when the respected judge Hiram Biddle commits suicide. No one is more distraught than Gideon, whom the old judge had befriended as a mentor and hunting partner. Gideon is regarded with suspicion as an outsider: he’s new to town, and Pennsylvania Dutch in the back-country Scotch-Irish settlement. And he found the judge’s body.

Making things even tougher is the way the judge’s death stirs up vivid memories of Gideon’s mother’s murder, the trauma that drove him west from his home in the settled Dutch country of eastern Pennsylvania. He had also discovered her body.

At first Gideon simply wants to learn why Judge Biddle killed himself. But as he finds out more about the judge’s past, he realizes that his friend’s suicide was spurred by much more than the man’s despair. Gideon’s quest soon becomes more complex as it takes him down a dangerous path into the past.

Every Single Secrets by Emily Carpenter

Me in Summer time 2017I’m a little over half way through reading this book for review and I want reality to go away so I can spend my whole attention to the story! Have you ever felt kinship with a story? I’m half way through this one and its making a profound impact on me and the fact in takes place in the state I live in helps to. Hehe…

There are so many secrets in this book and the suspense is killing me! I want to know now!! Emily Carpenter is an amazing southern suspense writer. I want her to crank these stories out faster! Haha…

Last time I say her at a book event I told her I envisioned her writing a story set in Hilton Head that takes place in the early 1900’s. I wonder if she will…? She has such a grasp for atmospheric and character driven stories.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Every Single Secret IIAbout the book:

Expected publication: May 1st 2018 by Lake Union Publishing

In this harrowing psychological thriller, a young couple must save their relationship by doing the unthinkable: sharing their darkest secrets…

Emotionally guarded Daphne Amos always believed she’d found a kindred spirit in her fiancé, Heath. Both very private people, they’ve kept their pasts hidden from the world, and each other, until Heath’s escalating nightmares begin to put an undeniable strain on their relationship. Determined to give their impending marriage the best chance of succeeding, Heath insists that Daphne join him on a seven-day retreat with Dr. Matthew Cerny, a psychologist celebrated for getting to the root of repressed memories. Daphne reluctantly agrees—even though the past is the last place she wants to go.

The retreat’s isolated and forbidding location increases her unease, as do the doctor’s rules: they must relinquish their keys and phones, they’ll be monitored at all hours by hidden cameras, and they’re never to socialize with the other guests.

One sleepless night, Daphne decides to leave her room…and only then does she realize that the institute is not at all what it seems—and that whatever’s crying out from Heath’s past isn’t meant to be heard. It’s meant to be silenced.

Book Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Friend Request II

MARIA WESTON WANTS TO BE FRIENDS. BUT MARIA WESTON’S DEAD. ISN’T SHE?

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria–or whoever’s pretending to be her–is known to all.

My Thoughts:

When I finished this book, my whole perspective changed about social media and who you accept back into your life after years and years of not hearing from people. I kid you not. After I got through the first chapter I was completely creeped out but I couldn’t stay away. I HAD to know everything that was about to happen. A few times, I had to put the book down because of the suspenseful content. However, that is a good thing, right? I have to admit, I was pretty tense reading this story and as I understand it, this is the authors debut novel. Just, wow! Friend Request is just about the best thriller I have read all year.

The story reminded me how much teenagers can be so cruel and the consequences that come after by that cruelty. Louise boggled my mind as her story unfolds. She is an adult but is still very much stuck in the past and when the past comes a knocking full force, instead of just telling the truth to the police, she creates more danger for herself and the people around her. I’d have to say that is the thrill and suspense of the story however, and it was told really well. There were some twist and turns I didn’t see coming and the ending was so sad but a good conclusion to the story.

I will certainly be more careful what I share to the public!

I have obtained a review copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

I have rated this book four and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush: Murderous Mistral by Cay Rademacher

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

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Murderous MistralMurderous Mistral (A Provence Mystery) by Cay Rademacher

St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books/Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 19 Sep 2017

Description:

International Dagger Award shortlisted author of The Murderer in Ruins, Cay Rademacher, delivers a beautifully atmospheric new story with a captivating main character in Murderous Mistral: A Provence Mystery.

Capitaine Roger Blanc, an investigator with the anti-corruption-unit of the French Gendarmerie, was a bit too succesfull in his investigations. He finds himself removed from Paris to the south of France, far away from political power. Or so it would seem.

The stress is too much for his marriage, and he attempts to manage the break up while trying to settle into his new life in Provence in a 200-year-old, half-ruined house. At the same time, Blanc is tasked with his first murder case: A man with no friends and a lot of enemies, an outsider, was found shot and burned. When a second man dies under suspicious circumstances in the quaint French countryside, the Capitaine from Paris has to dig deep into the hidden, dark undersides of the Provence he never expected to see.

My thoughts:

I love the colors and the overall layout of this cover. I have not read any stories by this author and look forward to reading this one. I enjoy a murder mystery!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Erin’s latest cover crush HERE.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush: -Coming Soon!

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum

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