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Mystery surrounds a 100-year-old book found in an historic Heber building

KPCW | Amber Johnson

It’s not a mystery book but a book shrouded in mystery. KPCW’s Amber Johnson has more about the discovery of a century-old treasure. 

You could say purchasing an historic building on Main Street in Heber was a novel experience for Mara and Tim Rosendahl. The reason? During renovations, an electrician stumbled upon a 100-year-old book in the attic’s tiny crawl space.

 “And then the electrician was up there and noticed this book and a couple of things," said Tim. "He found this little cap was up there that I think used to have gum and it would come with a baseball card. And then he found a beer bottle but it was probably from the 1980s. He wanted to hang onto that so we let him keep that.”

KPCW | Amber Johnson

The book’s cover and title pages were ripped off and despite being dusty and dog-eared, it was otherwise in good shape. After some investigative work, they determined the book was “Little Men,” the sequel to Louisa May Alcott’s popular book, “Little Women.”

There was only one identifier on the first few pages: a Wasatch County Library embossed seal.

Mara took “Little Men” to the library where historian Alice DeFriez happened to be working. She said the novel was first published in 1871 and although Mara’s volume appeared very old, it could be a first edition but likely not.

 “My best guess is it has to be at least from the 1930s because the library was not official," said DeFriez. "They had a fire where they had it in an old office building upstairs.” 

KPCW | Amber Johnson

And if it somehow survived the fire, it could have also been lost in the library’s multiple relocations in the early 20th century. But one of those locations was near the Ideal Theater, next door to where the book was found at 131 Main Street. 

Ken Sanders of Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City said the book has little value because of the missing cover and title page and that “Little Women” commands the most value of Alcotts’ works. Either way, Mara plans to preserve this century-old find in an acid-free display box.

She said the brick-and-mortar building was built in 1918 and has lived many lives: it was a cafe, a pizza joint, a vacuum repair shop and now an insurance company. "It's just kind of cool to think there's history to the building, that there's all these stories and like, did someone sneak up to the crawlspace? And did they read this book without someone knowing? It's just kind of cool to think about.”

No matter how much the book could be worth, it’s undetermined if the sum could cover 100 years of overdue library fees.