Cincinnati's Mercantile Library Featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not... in the 1930s

In a Ripley's "Believe or Not" column originally published in 1933, Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is highlighted for its astonishingly long lease — an unbelievable 10,000 years

click to enlarge The Mercantile Library - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Mercantile Library

In a Ripley's "Believe or Not" column originally published in 1933, Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is highlighted for its astonishingly long lease — an unbelievable 10,000 years. Touted as "the longest lease in the world!," the Mercantile's collector and librarian Cedric Rose says the clipping is from one of their scrap books.

"I believe it's from the Cincinnati Times-Star, which was owned by the Tafts and pretty pro-Boss Cox for a while," he wrote in an email. "It's oddly difficult to find digital copies of. But because of the Taft connection, they also gave us great coverage especially in that year — our hundredth anniversary."

As you can see in the Ripley write-up, Alphonso A. Taft — father of President William Howard Taft — is the lawyer who negotiated the protracted lease. It expires in 11849, at which time we'll all be reading books through psychic osmosis.

Monday Memories: We really were featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, alongside "The Man with the Iron Tongue"

Posted by The Mercantile Library on Monday, May 18, 2020

The Young Men’s Mercantile Library Association was founded on April 18, 1835 — almost 20 years before the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. A group of 45 working-class merchants got together in a firehouse and decided to pool their funds so they could buy books and thus improve their knowledge, network and telegraph to the public that they were part of an esteemed organization that was reading instead of downstairs at a bar or brothel.

The library’s first incarnation in downtown’s Cincinnati College building was destroyed by a fire. The building’s owners didn’t have enough funds to rebuild — until the Mercantile’s members raised $10,000, which they pledged to the effort in exchange for a 10,000-year rent-free lease (with the option to renew, naturally), drawn up by Taft. The second incarnation partially burned, and the Beaux-Arts building on the current site at 414 Walnut St. was eventually completed in 1904.

Today, only a handful of membership libraries still exist — and the Mercantile owes its nearly 200-year run in large part to that lease, Rose says.

While the library has been closed recently due the coronavirus pandemic, it will be reopening to members on Wednesday, May 20.

In a letter, library Executive Director John Faherty said, "We are following the State of Ohio’s responsible protocols for all businesses, plus providing some very Mercantile service. You will see most of these changes when you come in, but there are some things you need to know first: Everyone in the Library will be required to wear a mask. Access to the Library will be for members only. The first half hour of each day is set aside for people in the at-risk category. Our hours will be from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For the foreseeable future, all of our discussion groups and yoga will remain virtual. We will provide curbside service if you prefer to return or check out books without entering the Library. Call us when you arrive at the Library: 513-621-0717. We will be happy to run down."

The library is also removing chairs and asking guests to limit their visits to two hours and to use the provided sanitizing wipes. They have also suspended their food policy so you can no longer eat in the library. The Walnut Street entrance to the building will also remain closed, so enter through the Fourth Street entrance.

For more information on The Mercantile Library, visit

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