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‘Baby Jesus’ finds the way home to Bethlehem after 40 years

A library book due in 1980 was returned a couple of weeks ago.

This sort of thing happens a few times a year, and this particular case was not a recent record. Last May the Donegal County library in Ireland received back The White Owl, checked out in 1937 (82 years overdue).

The all-time record is a biography of an archbishop of Bremen, checked out from the Sidney Sussex College library (University of Cambridge) in 1668 by Colonel Robert Walpole, father of Britain’s first Prime Minister, and returned in 1956 (288 years overdue; the late fees were waived).

But the book returned this month was Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus! and the library in question was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was due December 18, 1980, a week before Christmas, and was returned on New Year’s Day 2020, a week after Christmas, not to Bethlehem but for some reason to Nazareth.


The Nazareth librarians were at first puzzled, having no record of such a book, until they noticed that the checkout card in the back said it was from Bethlehem Area Public Library, and finally sent it back where it belongs.

Bethlehem Area Public Library has no records from before computerization either. Executive Director Josh Berk says such an old children’s picture book would normally have been purged from the collection, but now that this book is a celebrity, with many requests, he supposes there is nothing to do but slap a barcode on it and let someone check it out. The library would gladly waive the 20 cent per day fine (which would amount to $2,800) for the story about where the book has been all this time.

Robert Eckert is a longtime member of the Underground Bunker community and author of the historical novel The Year of Five Emperors.

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