A few months ago I was walking past a thrift store when I noticed several cartons full of books piled on the sidewalk. The shop was emptying their shelves for a special event and giving away the items they deemed unsalable.
It was starting to rain, so I glanced through the books, selected three that appeared interesting, stuffed them into my bag, and hurried home. When I got inside I gave them a closer look. One of the books was about classical music (I gave it to a musician friend), another was about vitamins (it turned out to be too wet to save).
The third book, however, was something else entirely: dark, small and slim, in rather poor condition with the words “Album of Love” embossed on the cover. I picked it up, flipped it open, saw a name, Fannie C. Ashmore, written inside the cover and an illustration on the first page followed by quite a few blank pages.
I assumed that it was a fancy old blank notebook or an empty photo album, but when I looked further, I saw that some of the pages did have writing — spidery words formed with an old-fashioned fountain pen. The inscriptions (mostly poetry) were by several different hands, but all of the messages were addressed to Fannie, and I realized that it was some sort of autograph or friendship book.
A few items were tucked between the pages: a scrap of paper with Fannie’s name and town, Trenton, New Jersey, one of her calling cards, a bit of a dried fern and two newspaper clippings concerning the death of Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers, who lived in Ewing and died in the battle of Monocacy Junction “in his youth, away from home … in the fierceness of battle.”
One of the inscriptions in the book was to Fannie from her “coz, Alex G,” and with a bit of online research I learned that Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers died July 5, 1864 and is buried near Trenton at the Ewing Church Cemetery.
I couldn’t imagine how the book that was once so important to Fannie wound up in a thrift store, or why it was discarded, or even how it managed to make its way to this city, but I thought that the little Civil War era book would be of value to someone. Unfortunately, I don’t know who, or where, or how to find them.
Over the past few months, I’ve tried to locate an historical society, museum, or similar instituation where the book would be appreciated, but the places I contacted never seemed to be quite the right fit. A couple of people offered to “take it off my hands,” but I didn’t want the recipient to act as though they were doing me a big favor — I wanted it to go to someone who’d be happy to have it.
Finally, it occurred to me to offer the book to the library in Trenton, Fannie’s hometown. I had a long conversation with a librarian who told me that similar books were a fad among the girls who attended the Normal School (a teacher’s college) in Trenton around the time of the American Civil War. She was delighted to accept my offer and will be giving Fannie’s little book a safe and secure new home in the Research Department’s Trentoniana Collection. She also expressed her hope that somehow, someday, a descendant will walk into the library and ask to see Fannie’s little book.
Perhaps, someday, they will. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
Trenton Free Public Library
14th New Jersey Volunteer Regiment
New Jersey Civil War History Association: History of the 14th Regiment
National Park Service: Monocacy National Battlefield
Friends of the William Green Farmhouse: Alexander B. Green
Report of State Normal School, Trenton, 1864