Talk about freewheelin’: A Bob Dylan LP recently found its way back to a Cleveland library roughly 48 years after a teenage patron checked it out, becoming a wholesome, viral story in the process.

The long-lost record was a copy of Dylan’s 1970 double album Self Portrait. In 1973, Howard Simon, then an eighth grader at Wiley Middle School in Cleveland Heights, checked out the LP from the University Heights branch of Heights Libraries. It was due back in June 1973, which means Simon returned it during the right month — he was just off by a few years.

The story began making the rounds last week after Heights Libraries published an article about it on its blog. Sara Phillips, manager of the library’s University Heights branch, said the oddly shaped package caught her eye when it arrived in the mail.

“I got a package in the mail from San Francisco that was record-shaped and — lo and behold! — it contained a record from our collection that was due back in June 1973!” Phillips said.

Simon said he recently found his illicit copy of Self Portrait sandwiched between two other Dylan albums from his personal collection, Nashville Skyline and New Morning. (Good on him for organizing chronologically!) He included a charming apology note with his overdue return.

“As a recent retiree, I am taking the opportunity to turn my attention to some of the many vignettes of life that by dint of career and family have been neglected these many years,” Simon wrote. “In that context, I am returning with this letter an overdue item (by my count, approximately 17,480 days overdue as of this writing). ... It’s quite late, and I’m quite sorry!”

Simon confessed that the Self Portrait sleeve “isn’t in great shape,” explaining that it “has moved with me (in succession) from University Heights to Chicago, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Berkeley, back to Chicago, back to Berkeley, again to Chicago, Sacramento and finally San Francisco. I’m pleased it’s survived at all.”

As penance, Simon — who is a musician himself — also remitted $175 to the library (“a tithe, if you will”) to cover his theoretical late fees, along with a copy of his own album, titled Western Reserve.

Phillips said Simon’s $175 gift will likely be used as a donation to Heights Libraries, because the actual Self Portrait LPs “are in great shape” — and because the library doesn’t actually charge late fees.

“The funny thing about this is that we don’t charge overdue fines anymore — as long as we get the item back, we see no need to penalize people,” Phillips said. “We’re grateful that Mr. Simon returned the record. I’d [say] we can now call it even.”


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