BUFFALO — Hidden upstairs in the library at the historic Occidental Hotel is a treasure that doesn’t at first appear to be anything significant at all.
It is a couch upholstered with torn white fabric, decorated with a curlicue pattern common at the turn of the 20th century.
Despite the horrendous tears in the vintage piece of furniture, which make it seem as though it’s perhaps not long for the hotel, it is a quite famous couch and is not going anywhere.
“It’s been ripped and not re-upholstered like the other ones because it was actually owned by President (Herbert) Hoover himself,” Amber Manning explained to Cowboy State Daily.
Manning is a tour guide for the hotel and a local historian. She’s also been helping to run Occidental Hotel’s restaurant, The Virginian, on weekends.
Hoover, it turns out, was such an avid fisherman he often had hooks and fishing lures in his pockets.
“When he would stand up they would rip the fabric of whatever he was sitting on,” Manning said. “So, we’ve left this couch in its original state.”
A National Geographic Connection
The torn couch is perfectly comfortable despite its tears, and a nice spot to sit and enjoy reading some of the Occidental Hotel’s guest library for a morning or an afternoon.
All of the library’s 2,500 or so books have been catalogued, so if one is seeking something in particular, it’s easy enough to find.
Among the curious books that can be found in the little library is a rather large collection of vintage National Geographic magazines.
It’s interesting because the Occidental Hotel had an indirect connection to the magazine through John Wexo, who writes educational animal books for children.
“His father worked there, or was affiliated with it in some way,” Manning told Cowboy state Daily.
Manning wasn’t sure if the enormous collection of vintage National Geographic magazines came about through that connection or some other. The magazines range from the 1940s through the 1970s and fill quite a large section of the library. An overflow shelf is also outside in one of the hallways with more editions.
The laundry room, which is next door to the public library, used to house a lot of books as well.
“That was John’s personal library,” Manning said. “He had some connections, and that’s kind of another reason why this hotel got back into becoming pretty famous, was because of that connection.”
Manning believes it was Wexo’s connections that helped put the Occidental Hotel on National Geographic’s radar.
That resulted in a listing as one of the top hotels to visit in 2011 and again in 2022.
Other Cool things To know About The Library
Glenda Bishop is the one who helped organize all the books in the library, arranging them based on topics in alphabetical order.
“It’s fun to go up here periodically to see how many are out of order,” Bishop told Cowboy State Daily. “That tells me that lots of people got up there and use the library. They leave books too, so I add them to the list and redo the list periodically.”
In fact, that’s one of her favorite activities in the winter months when things slow down a bit at the hotel.
Bishop put the books in order about two years ago. Most are stamped with John Wexo’s name, so she believes most came from his collection.
“I’m not sure that was always a library,” Bishop said. “There are hallway doors behind some of the bookcases.”
The variety of books is what amazed Bishop the most.
There are travel books about Greece, biographies and novels, books about war, books about archeology and geology.
“There are quite a few books about Butch Cassidy, and a shelf of like local history about the Basque community that is here in Wyoming around Buffalo,” Bishop said. “I was just astounded when I got up there and saw it all.”
There were even a couple of explicit sex instruction books, Bishop said.
“I kind of hid those so they wouldn’t be at eye level for kids to see,” she said.
There are also a few books that are quite old that Bishop has hidden away as well.
Even though no one in particular is watching over the books at any given time, Bishop said most of the guests do not walk off with any of them.
“I usually find them if I hunt around on other shelves or in the guest rooms,” she said. “The architecture and sculpture books seem to get changed around a lot long with the war books and early American history books. The section on birds and animals, westerns, and Native Americans are also often out of order.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.