CUMBERLAND – As an eighth-grader in 1949, Sally Moore borrowed Louisa May Alcott’s “Under the Lilacs” from the Prince Memorial Library.

When her family moved to Lewiston later that year, the book was swept up in the shuffle and packed away. As Moore got older, the worn, green canvas-covered book moved from her childhood bookshelf into her adult living room. It was a perfect prop for one end table.

Now, having seen Moore through her graduation, marriage and three children, the book is finally back in Cumberland.

Moore, 74, had been meaning to return the book for years, she said. She’d been thinking about mailing it when she found out that Patrick Williams, her volunteer director at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, was a Cumberland resident.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I had to do it,” she said last week, as she handed the book over to Thomas Bennett, the library’s director. “My conscience is clear.”

Books aren’t very often returned that late, Bennett said. “A woman called today with a book six months overdue, concerned about the fines and her reputation,” he said, and that’s about as late as they get.

Though the book can’t be re-shelved (it has a few torn pages after 60 years away from the library), Bennett accepted the book – and decided not to fine Moore.

Above handwritten and stamped dates on the book’s inside cover, the fine is listed at 2 cents a day. Over 60 years, Moore accumulated nearly $450 in overdue charges. At today’s rate of 5 cents a day for juvenile literature, it would have been closer to $1,100.

Despite being unable to re-circulate the book, Bennett said its return brings a small piece of history back to Cumberland. Though it’s not a first edition, the book is one of the original 600 bought with money left over from the Prince family’s 1921 bequest of $35,000, which built the red-brick, colonial-style library in 1922. A label inside marks it as book No. 166.

Despite technological advances over the past 60 years, Bennett said he could probably find a record of the book in the library’s basement, where piles of spiral notebooks – “the old way” of keeping track of books, he said – are archived.

Rather than stay at the library, where much has changed since 1949, Moore said as she glanced at the 1959, 1987 and 1995 additions to the original brick building, the book will go to the town’s historical society.

With the attention given to her long-overdue book, Moore suggested that maybe more people will bring old books back. Williams and Bennett joked that the opposite, in fact, might be true: Hold onto it for a few more years, they said, and you’ll be in the newspaper.


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