Libraries are quiet places, which allows visitors to the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library to occasionally hear the distant strains of a violin playing a romantic Strauss waltz. The purported violinist, Jacob Frank Cramer, the library’s former caretaker, died in the library’s basement apartment in 1936.
Little is known about Cramer’s early years. Born in Baltimore in 1857 to German immigrants, he moved around the Midwest as a railroad laborer, and the 1911 Houston City Directory lists him as a resident. He found work at Houston’s Carnegie Library in 1913, and when the ornate Spanish Renaissance-style Julia Ideson Building—named after the city’s first librarian—opened in 1926 as the city’s central library, Cramer moved into the basement apartment and dedicated his last 10 years to caring for the building as a security guard, gardener and handyman.