Mr. Bland's Evil Plot to Control the World
In the dusty realm of big-league map collecting, one man cut a darker figure than his milquetoasty colleagues. Armed with an X-Acto knife and an arsenal of fake identities, he systematically ransacked the nation's libraries, hoping in his own peculiar way to dominate the globe. It's mine, I tell you — all mine!
By Miles Harvey
The grand stack room of Baltimore's George Peabody Library, an elegant chamber built in 1878 and now run by Johns Hopkins University, has been aptly described as a "cathedral of books." Rising 61 feet from its marble floor to its glass skylight, appointed in ornate cast iron and gold leaf, suffused with the smell of moldering volumes, the place indeed radiates a sense of the sacred.
On the afternoon of December 7, 1995, Jennifer Bryan, curator of manuscripts for the Maryland Historical Society, was doing a little research inside the grand stack room when she started to get a bad feeling about a fellow patron. The man in question was sitting across the way from her, looking through some books that were obviously very old.
There was nothing unusual about his appearance — quite the contrary. A studious man in his midforties, wearing a blue blazer and khaki pants, he could have been mistaken for half the scholars who walk through the library's doors. He was a withdrawn, slight-framed person with a biggish nose, smallish chin, reddish hair and mustache.
Yet the man kept looking over his shoulder and flashing her "surreptitious" looks. Her suspicions soon deepened. "I just happened to look up and over in that direction and thought I saw him tear a page out of a book," she remembers. "And I thought, well, now what do I do? Do I say something, or did I just imagine that?"
As time went on, the man seemed to grow flustered by her stares. Finally, he stood up and pulled open a card catalog drawer, purposely obstructing Bryan's view. For Bryan, that was the last straw. She got up and reported him to Peabody Library officials.