Mississippi State University officials say the somewhat unconventional trip former President Ulysses S. Grant’s collection of official documents, personal letters and other artifacts took to Mississippi should formally conclude this winter when a new addition housing the papers at Mitchell Memorial Library is expected to open.
Barring unforeseen construction delays, the fourth-floor addition to the library — a $7.2 million project that will house the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library Gallery and other space supporting the collection — is expected to open in either November or December, Grant collection coordinator John Marszalek said.
Marszalek, Grant publications editor Louis Gallo and assistant editor David Nolen updated Starkville Rotarians on the project Monday and outlined their vision for the 21,000-square-foot addition. Floor plans show the new space will feature separate areas for exhibits, research, archival processing and storage.
Researchers and visitors alike will be able to tour the facility and “hear from Grant in his own words,” Nolen said, through interactive and museum-quality displays.
The collection is currently housed in a comparable amount of library space.
“At any given moment (now), we may have a Pulitzer Prize-winning researcher in the room, and then here comes a group of fourth graders from Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School to look at the artifacts,” he said. “You’ll really be able to get a feel for the Grant story (in the new addition).”
Marszalek, a Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus at MSU and the executive director and managing editor for the Ulysses S. Grant Association, said he’s often asked how Mississippi became a contender to host the former Union Army leader’s estimated 17,000-linear-foot collection. An out-of-court settlement and gag order between the Ulysses S. Grant Association and Southern Illinois University precludes Marszalek from discussing the specifics of the exchange.
He recalled a conversation between Mark Keenum and a reporter based in Illinois, in which Marszalek said Keenum joked, “If it wasn’t for Mississippi, nobody would have heard of Grant.”
“We had a meeting with Keenum (about the collection’s upcoming grand opening). He said, ‘Here’s what I want: I want a grand opening that will not only be great for the university, great for the community and great for the state, but I also want something that’ll be great for the nation,'” Marszalek said. “He wants this to be a major thing. When your president takes that position, most people usually listen.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch