A motherlode of maps: Checking out the LA Public Library’s newly acquired collection

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There are lots of things we’ll never know about the late John Feathers, but one thing is clear: He liked maps. A lot.  So much so that he appears to have spent every moment (apart from his job as a hospital dietitian)  collecting them.  Apparently, he’d wake at 3 am to start the day, scouring the Internet for more. By the time he passed away earlier this year, he’d amassed an entire 950-square foot house stuffed full of them.

Maps aren’t just guides; they’re slices of history

His collection is now in the capable hands of Glen Creason, the map librarian at the LA Public Library. (Ever go to the history reference desk downtown? He might very well have helped you.) When he got the call from the real estate agent who made the discovery, he went to the house to assess the donation, and couldn’t believe what he saw: “When I came back to the library I was, like, high,” he said when I visited him this week to get a gander at the goods.

The gift exponentially increases the library’s collection and quite likely puts it in the top tier of map collections in the nation, he said: “The earliest road atlas we had was from the 20s. This guy had one from 1918. I really believe he tried to collect every map ever made. I mean, he has soil maps.  Nobody but a farmer would be that into it.  A 25 volume set of what the quality of the ground is like in Iowa in 1925.”

The house on Mt. Washington from which the maps were claimed, (Photo credit: Glen Creason) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Describing the exact scope of what Feathers collected is beyond Creason at this point, for sorting through all the maps would take weeks, perhaps months, with a team of people. A Milwaukee street guide from 1938. A road atlas from 1924, when the speed limit was 8 miles an hour.  The Gillespie guides and Rennie guides that predate the Thomas guides for LA.  Plat maps. Roller maps. Globes.

He hates that people are describing Feathers as a hoarder; Creason prefers to see him as someone who has tremendous respect for what he collected. (Though he admits that even he as a career map guy couldn’t imagine being so obsessed.)

“This makes up for all the strange things that happen here at the library,” said Creason, who says that in his 32-year career, he’s not seen anything like it.

Since the discovery, he added, “I haven’t been able to sleep past 6 am. There’s this elation that we found this tremendous gold mine of materials–and then there’s this kind of ‘oh sh**. I’m responsible for this.'” He’s posted tons of pictures of the vintage maps here.