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Missing California State Library book returned 103 years later

The granddaughter of the man who originally checked out the book found it while she was cleaning.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — It's easy to forget to return a library book, especially when a patron checks out multiple volumes at once. One book took about 103 years to make its way back to the California State Library.

The book was a biography of Capt. John Smith, who inspired the character featured in the Disney film "Pocahontas."  According to California State Library Information Services Section Head Stephanie Manansala in a video posted on social media, the book was originally checked out at a soldiers and sailors library in 1917.

California State Library Communications Manager Alex Vassar said Ernest Garfield Coffee died at the age of 98. His granddaughter found it as she was cleaning her home while staying inside due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Vassar said the California State Library purchased millions of books in 1910 but that they are not looking for people to return books that were also missing from that time.  Service members checked out millions of books to take their minds off World War I.  

Coffee brought the biography to Portland, which is where he worked as a shipyard worker until WW1 ended in 1918. The book continued to travel with Coffee from Portland to Vallejo in 1931, where he lived for the next 35 years.

"Very cool to see the book as it travels through time, up and down the Pacific Coast, and through three generations of a family," Vassar said.

For those who are wondering, the California State Library did not charge a 103-year-old late fee to coffee's family.

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