Books hold more secrets than just stories

The Halifax Public Library finds notes and other treasures hidden between book pages.

You make your way to the local library to get your hands on the newest literary sensation. As you near the checkout desk, you peel your eyes away from the page and notice a stray piece of paper poking out the top.

Tugging on the corner reveals it’s in fact a long-lost postcard.

This is one of the many examples of the hidden gems that library staff find in books, says Christina Covert, Halifax Central Library’s circulation supervisor.

“The normal Kleenex, grocery receipts, bills, bank statements — those we see all the time,” says Covert.

A quick walk around the library’s third floor results in a new bookmark, a postcard and tiny sugar-packet-sized drawing being added to the collection of forgotten items.

Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)
Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search of books at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)

Covert says she’s seen everything from toilet paper and condom wrappers to government cheques stuck between pages.

For important items, such as debit and credit cards, the library tries to track down the owner. If their efforts turn up empty, the library typically holds on to items for about a month before throwing them out.

Then there are little notes purposefully stuck in a book’s spine.

“I especially like the ones where people recommend a particular book,” says Covert, “Like, ‘If you like this then you might also like that,’ type of thing.”

Although the library doesn’t condone leaving things in books, sometimes it’s hard to prevent.

“If it’s on a small piece of scrap paper, we won’t notice unless it falls out,” says Covert. “Books can go for month and months without us knowing someone’s put something inside it.”

Kasia Morrison, a spokeswoman for the library, says last fall she saw a book and there was a note in it stating the book had come all the way from Iceland.

Flipping through the pages reveals it’s the property of the Library and Archives Canada, and was last checked out in 1987. Morrison is unsure how – or why – it ended up at the central location.

“Someone wanted to clear their library conscience and return it,” she says with a laugh.

Safe to say, the note was anonymous.

Covert’s favourite note actually came from a children’s book. “It was a list of someone’s goals. ‘When I’m 30, I will have done this’,” she says.

“It was in big letters, some were even backwards,” she says with a smile.

Unfortunately, not all notes are as heartwarming.

“I’ve seen books with notes discouraging people from picking up certain authors,” says Covert.

And that’s if they haven’t defaced the book completely.

“Use your imagination for what you could possibly find in a book. If you can think of it, someone is going to do it, and you can find it if you look hard enough,” says Covert.

Local author digs deep into mystery on Oak Island

Author and retired miner John O’Brien connects Nova Scotia’s Oak Island to the ancient Aztecs.

For more than 200 years, Oak Island off the coast of Mahone Bay has been at the centre of a mystery that has attracted international attention, all because of what is supposedly buried along its shores. Following the discovery of the Money Pit (a massive, man-made pit thought to be the location of buried treasure) in 1795, the mystery of Oak Island has fascinated the world.

On Wednesday evening, the second floor theatre of the Discovery Centre on Barrington Street was full as local author and retired miner John OBrien described his attempt to understand whats buried on Oak Island and how it got there. His new book, Oak Island Unearthed, explains his theories and claims to offer evidence to back them up.

“The evidence that they have, the carbon-dating and what not, has totally, almost been ignored. It’s so hard to put the puzzle together,” said O’Brien, who has been interested in the mystery of Oak Island since he was a child.

The Money Pit has been central to the treasure hunt since it was first discovered. An intricate system of rock and lumber, OBrien explained its composition using a glass of water and a plastic straw. He said that the unearthing of the pit is what allowed the ocean water that had been kept out since its construction to finally flood inside. He also said that this was done to deter any treasure hunters, and that the pit is a distraction from where the treasure is really hidden.

“There was tons of coconut fibres found on both surface and underground…this is the only indication of where these people came from,” said O’Brien. “Coconut fibre don’t come from the Vikings. It don’t come from Europe. It comes from the south.”

OBriens theory on the mystery dates all the way back to the time of the Aztecs, when he says the ancient kingdom was looking for a place to hide precious artifacts from incoming Spanish invaders. He believes that hiding place was Oak Island. O’Brien suggests that the Aztecs had previously discovered the island while searching for a type of blue clay that they highly valued and was easily accessible from the shore. 

“There’s no way they’re going to hide it close by… so they picked a place in its history. They had a pigment called Mayan blue. They used it to paint their pyramids, their temples. Anyway, I’m down on Oak Island, being a mining man, and I’m watching the drilling that’s going on there… they kept hitting this blue clay.”

Toward the end of the presentation, an audience member asked why OBrien was so eager to share the location that he believed to be the site of the treasure.

“Nobody’s ever solved the mystery of Oak Island,” answered O’Brien. “I don’t have the money to get a company to go down there and do that. I just wanted to… put my idea out. I’m not hiding anything. It’s there, that’s where I say it is. Someday if they do some work and it’s there, they’ll say, ‘Hey, that guy was right.’ That’s probably all I’ll get out of it.”

Nowadays, the island is privately owned, and OBrien says that legal and financial restrictions could restrict any treasure on the island from ever being discovered, if there is even one to find. But he seems confident that there is something worth looking for on the island.

Nobody would do that much work,OBrien said, to hide marbles.