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BUFFALO'S CULTURAL TREASURES

Arguably, Buffalo's single greatest cultural treasure is Mark Twain's handwritten manuscript of the novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Even more than our pearls of architecture, history and archaeology, it transcends time and place and still echoes strongly in the world of ideas.

But it doesn't stand alone. Manuscripts handwritten by James Joyce -- "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake" -- preside over a relatively inaccessible collection of rare books and poetry at the University at Buffalo, a stunning collection of first editions key to the history of science resides at the downtown library and beautiful examples of the printers' art dwell among historical documents at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

The literature here is priceless. But we don't do a good job of displaying these treasures, sharing them with the world or enjoying them ourselves.

That may be about to change. The John R. Oishei Foundation is spearheading an effort to construct a new hub for this city's often-overlooked literary masterworks, one that will celebrate them instead of shelving them.

It's a great idea.

The project calls for improvements at UB and the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, but the greatest change will be wrought at the home of the Historical Society -- an aging Pan-American Exposition building that needs work anyway, and will be brought up to climate-control standards as a major exhibit center. The building would house an interpretive multimedia center and an elegant reading room that would host rotating exhibits of the treasures held by the other facilities.

The Oishei Foundation deserves credit for spearheading this effort, encouraging the formation of the consortium to plan and build the new hub, and committing to a major portion of the still-unmeasured funding. This is a project that can be done quickly and at a manageable scale, while still showcasing Buffalo internationally and -- even more importantly -- making this region a better and more interesting place to live.

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