How about the first book to show the human skeleton (a 1543 Renaissance volume) in one nook and Edgar Allan Poe's handwritten manuscript for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in a neighboring cranny?
Where else but Philadelphia? To be specific, the galleries of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1300-1314 Locust St., where these treasures and some 250 other rare books, manuscripts and works of art will be on display starting tomorrow and continuing through Sept. 25.
The staggering exhibit - free to the public - is called "Legacies of Genius: A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries." It is the result of three years of dreaming, planning and fund-searching whose roots actually go back to the spring of 1985. It was then that Ellen S. Dunlap, curator of the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and Marie E. Korey, the Free Library's rare book librarian, began a series of monthly meetings among rare-book curators of local libraries. Out of that came the 16-member Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries.
Special collections libraries are just that - libraries with important and often extremely rare books and manuscripts. Often, the treasures sit virtually unknown by all but the most dedicated scholars.
During an early meeting of the consortium, Edwin Wolf II, librarian emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia, remarked "Gosh, Philadelphia doesn't know what it's got!" It was, in effect, the library version of moviedom's Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland line: "Hey, we could put on a show!"
Mickey and Judy needed an empty barn and a few props. Wolf and friends needed a lot more.
First, the curators' collective had to decide which pieces in the libraries' vaults would be selected for the exhibition. And when and where it could he held. And - not least of all - how it all would be funded.
The answers were not easily found. The display itself, which evenutally would cover 5,200 square feet of Historical Society/Library Company space, had to be designed and built. Security had to be provided for the priceless objects - after all, 16 libraries were trusting their greatest treasures to the planners. And a number of related symposiums and workshops had to be organized.
Of the project's $770,000 budget, $530,000 came from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Additional support came from corporate sources, other charitable trusts and foundations and private individuals.
And once you visit the exhibition, you'll know why James Green, curator of printed books for the Library Company, has said the design of the show is one of the finest he's ever seen. Rare book experts and corporate, cultural and city leaders who attended Wednesday night's private preview seemed to agree. Some 400 of them snaked for hours through the intriguing maze of plexiglass displays created by Elroy Quenroe of Baltimore.
Some of the treasures drew larger clumps of oglers than others. It required some patience to get close enough to read - in his own hand - the pencil- scribbled telegram Ulysses S. Grant sent to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to announce the end of the Civil War. "Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Va. this afternoon on terms proposed by myself" Grant wrote at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The dramatic maze leads viewers through the exhibition's 13 sections, beginning with The Art of the Book and continuing through Literature, Children's Books, Women's History, Religion, Afro-American History, Discovery & Exploration, Natural History, Physical Science, Medicine, Art & Architecture, American History and Philadelphiana.
It was curator Wolf's challenging task to choose the show's more than 250 pieces from the countless objects in the collections of the 16 participating libraries. Many of the consortium members have planned their own mini- exhibitions in conjunction with the show - so some of the treasures Wolf had to leave out still can be viewed at satellite locations.
Here is a sample of what you'll be able to see, beginning tomorrow, at ''Legacies of Genius: A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries":
* Do you have a family Bible or prayer book? Look at one from the mid-13th century - a Psalterium, or book of psalms - complete with 48 illuminated miniatures illustrating the life of Christ.
* Dream the impossible dream while wondering how a copy of Cervantes' Don Quixote survived intact from the early 17th century. In 1865, Daumier used crayon and wash to capture Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza questing across a Spanish plain.
* If you still have your childhood copy of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," feast your eyes on one of the original 250 copies printed at Beatrix Potter's own expense and presented to her friends as Christmas presents in 1901. The Free Library owns the copy and more than a hundred original Potter drawings, including "Young rabbit from life" a pencil-and-watercolor study of one of her two pet rabbits.
* In 1900 Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Catt kept a photographic record of the progress of the women's movement. Her six picture albums were donated to Bryn Mawr College by her estate, and one is on display in the exhibit's Women's History section.
* Three questions - not the now traditional four - were asked at the Passover Seder of a community in Old Cairo around the year 1000. The questions are recorded in an 11-page codex containing the Haggadah, the Passover service. Almost 1,000 years old, the pages are plain, unembellished and still extraordinarily clear.
* In late spring 1789, a Philadelphian named Mathew Carey printed, "by order of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery," 750 copies of an English engraving titled "Plan of an African Ship's Lower Deck." Shortly thereafter an additional 1,500 copies were ordered to be sent to the president and the members of Congress. One look at the plan - which shows a slave ship crowded, sardine-like, with bodies - is enough to chill the blood.
* Eadweard Muybridge is considered the "Father of the Motion Picture." He came to the United States from England in the 1850s and became famous as a photographer of animal movement. In 1887, under the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania, he used a series of cameras triggered by timers to create more than 12,000 action photographs of animals (from the Philadelphia Zoo) and people (including clothed and naked students, athletes and models
from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). Some of the fascinating results are displayed here.
* By the time Copernicus realized in the mid-16th century that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the solar system, his life was almost over. As he lay dying, his controversial work, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" ("On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres"), was published. The work, perceived by the Catholic Church as an attack on the literal veracity of the Bible, was condemned in 1616. The exhibition's copy is dated 1566.
* A lovely woman's spine and ribs are exposed - in three colors - in an illustration that is at the same time beautiful and bizarre. It is part of ''Myologie Complette en Couleur et Grandeur Naturelle . . ." printed in Paris in 1746. The three-color printing process was new in the early 18th century, and this ground-breaking anatomy book, according to the show's catalog, makes up in beauty what it lacks in accuracy.
* English artist/poet William Blake illustrated both his own works and those of others. "The Number of the Beast is 666" is a frightening watercolor painted about 1805 for Blakes illustrated "Book of Revelation."
* "The Farmer and his Son's return from a visit to the CAMP" is the title of the ditty. It begins, "Father and I went down to camp/Along with Captain Gooding/And there we see the men and boys/As thick as hasty pudding . . ." That's right, the illustrated poem is "Yankee Doodle," seen on a 1775 broadside thought to be the first printing of what is now one of the most well-known of American songs. At the exhibit, you will be looking at the only known copy of the broadside, with its woodcut illustrations of marching soldiers.
Interested? Once inside the Library Company, you won't want to stop
winding your way through the display's amazing maze. And you most likely will come away agreeing with Joseph Addison's 1711 comment in The Spectator, in which rare-book librarian Marie Korey found the title for the exhibition: ''Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn."
IF YOU GO
Legacies of Genius is at the Library Company, 1300 Locust St. tomorrow through Sept. 25. Hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesdays, 1 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Closed Mondays. Admission is free to the public. Info/guided group tour rates: 546-5588.
The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries: The Academy of Natural Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Annenberg Research Institute, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr College Library, Historical Collections of the Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Free Library of Philadelphia, Haverford College Library, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Presbyterian Historical Society, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Ryan Memorial Library of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Swarthmore College Libraries, Temple University Libraries, and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.