Karpeles Museum Interview

Jackson Mainellis

One of the lesser known attractions of Rock Island, the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is a historical hot-spot boasting an impressive collection of famous manuscripts. Located at 700 22nd Street and housed inside a remodeled Christian Science church, the museum is a free source of history for the public to enjoy, housing famous documents and parchments such as the original report letter from Captain Rostron who rescued the Titanic survivors, Charles Darwin’s notes on evolution, Charles Dickens’ chapter summaries of his books, and until recently, a piece of cloth from the Wright Brothers’ first flyer. The goal of the museum is to preserve and present these important manuscripts for everyone to enjoy, a mission started by Dr. David Karpeles and his wife Marsha Karpeles in the 1970s that his children continue today through this museum and the thirteen others scattered across the United States. The Karpeles family also seeks to better the areas in which they start manuscript museums by repurposing historic buildings such as the former church in Rock Island. This is done to clean up and give new life to buildings the areas have lost to time.
Margie Cain is one of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum curators. Cain believes strongly in the history and goals of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums and has been working there since 2013. When asked why she chooses to work there, she says, “I think it’s because I love old buildings and collections like these and that I think it’s important that people get to enjoy history like this. This place exists to make sure we don’t lose our history and instead allow people to enjoy it and see how far we’ve come.”
Cain also mentioned some of the most notable documents currently at the museum. Several of them are from famous ship captains such as Captain Rostron—these manuscripts are displayed with a model of their ship beside them. Another section is dedicated pivotal medicinal breakthroughs. A notable manuscript here details the discovery of penicillin, which is displayed with a petri dish of the antibiotics. A small side room away from the main display area is dedicated to scientific advancement manuscripts. Much of the room has to do with Samuel Morse and his Morse code, with documents explaining the code and telegraph communication alongside multiple types of telegraphs.
Once I had seen all the displays, Cain allowed me to go to the upper level of the building and view the congregation area. The upper level of the museum—the sanctuary of the former church—is breathtaking and still intact. Many pews crowded the room, facing an organ and stage up front, underneath a sunlit dome to top it off. The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Rock Island is truly a beautiful and important historical place that anyone can enjoy.