This being National Library Week, I offer a post about our hometown library, here in rural Somerset County, Maryland. When you check out a book at the Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library on Main Street in Crisfield, look up to the right and you’ll see a large urn set in a niche carved into the wall. Below it is a plaque honoring Lilyan Stratton Corbin.
Lilly Ann Corbin was born near Crisfield in 1882. Her parents were dirt poor and divorced by the time she was a teenager. They never sent her to school and when the parents separated Lilly Ann got sent away to live with relatives. She dreamed of being an actress.
The relatives were kind and sent her to school, but she couldn’t handle being in first grade at age fourteen, so she dropped out and took on work housecleaning to make extra money. At age 15, Lilly Ann bought a one-way ticket to New York City. She attracted the attention of a Wall Street banker her helped her get an education and taught her what he knew about investment banking.
He died and left her a small fortune. She pursued her dream to be an actress and took the stage name Lilyan Stratton. She married a year later to an actor who was also a philanderer. He squandered much of her money, but in a day when women hadn’t even gotten the right to vote yet, Lilyan went to Reno and got her divorce.
Shortly thereafter she married Alfred Oppenheim, a dutch immigrant who had lost everything in World War I. They were very happy. Lilyan built back her fortune, became a world traveler, wrote four novels and never forgot her home and kin in Crisfield.
Tragically, in November of 1928, Lilyan was driving her niece in an open car in New Jersey. Her scarf blew over her face blocking her view of the road. She lost control of the car, hit a tree and the car burst into flames. The two women were burned to death.
As a tribute to his wife, Alfred (who took on Lilyan’s last name Corbin because his was too difficult to pronounce) brought Lilyan’s cremated remains back to Crisfield as she had requested. He built a mausoleum in her honor on the piece of land where Woodson Elementary School now sits. Alfred also offered to build a library for the town in Lilyan’s honor, as the library was house in a dusty room inside city hall.
Vandals looking for valuables raided the mausoleum and damaged the building. The building of the library was getting underway (funded by Alfred Corbin). The facade of the new library was changed to resemble a mausoleum. Lilyan’s ashes in a beautiful bronze urn were moved from the damaged mausoleum to the new Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library. In the 1980s the special niche was carved into the wall for the urn. Across the room is a painting believed to be Lilyan Corbin. Two of her novels are said to be housed in the library.
The following is extracted from “Lilyan Stratton Corbin” by Woodrow T. Wilson
Thus ended the life of a fabulous woman who was born in poverty, victim of a broken home while still a child, became a first grade dropout at the age of fourteen and, at the same age, started life on her own, single handed and without assistance. One can but surmise the great mentality and ambition this woman possessed that caused her to accomplish in the remaining thirty two years of her life success as an actress, investment banker, authoress, philanthropist, socialite, and world traveler. Success in any one of these or comparable fields is more than most people ever achieve.
The Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library in Crisfield is the only library in Maryland that also serves as a mausoleum.
Happy National Library Week 2011!
Resources used: A Biography: Lilyan Stratton Corbin, by Woodrow T. Wilson; Somerset Herald, February 3, 2010; A Lady of Many Talents, Brice Stump, Daily Times