When people think of libraries and archives, their mind tends to think of books. Libraries are often set up for daily book lending, while archives often store documents of historical importance. But lurking in some of these book buildings are also a number of much stranger objects. Here are 10 of the strangest things to be found in libraries and archives around the world.
Related: Top 10 Stolen Artifacts On Display In Museums
10 a preserved mole
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) houses many of America’s most important documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. But it also houses the preserved skin of a mole. The small mammal was discovered in 2005 by a staff member reviewing pension case files approved by the Civil War Widows Certificate.
The subterranean creature found its way into the tent of Union soldier James J. Van Liew, who (for some unknown reason) captured it and sent its skin along with a letter to his “Dear Wife”, Charity Snider. Years later, in 1900, her Charity needed to prove that she was married to James to claim her Civil War widow’s pension, but she had no official documents (records were less consistent in those days).
While Charity had lost the letter that titled her “wife”, she showed it to her friends, along with the attached moleskin (which, for whatever reason, they latched on to). They were willing to attest to having seen the letter, and Charity sent the moleskin to the authorities as evidence. Whether or not the mole helped in her case is unknown, but she was awarded the pension.
9 A book made of cheese
by Ben Denzer 20 slices was created to question the definition of a book. Inside its traditional hardcover are not paper pages with words inked on it, but 20 slices of Kraft cheese. Although this art project is illegible beyond the few words on the cover, it is officially counted as a book. Six libraries currently own a copy, including the University of Oxford.
The Tufts University Library in Massachusetts also owns a copy, and Darin Murphy, head of the library’s fine arts branch, reports that the book is a topic of conversation among students. “They’re like, ‘What? You spent my tuition money on cheese? How much did you pay for it?’” says Murphy. “It’s a great teaching tool because it’s so provocative.” Although plastic-wrapped cheese pages will last a long time, they will break down much faster than paper pages, so your time to view the edible book is limited.
8 The hair of notable historical figures
It’s not uncommon for stray strands of human hair to end up in books, but some archives go a step further: They’ve specially preserved locks of hair from notable figures throughout history. For example, the British Library in London has a manuscript containing a decorative lining showing the hair of mary shelleythe author of Frankenstein (1818), and her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington has a bracelet made of Edwin Booth’s hair. Booth was a Shakespearean actor whose achievements were dwarfed by those of his younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
A lock of George Washington’s hair was found in an envelope in an almanac in the Schaffer Library at Union College in New York. The book belonged to Philip Schuyler, and the envelope said it was “from James A. Hamilton, given to him by his mother on August 10, 1871.” James was the son of Alexander Hamilton, and the hair was probably given to the family as a souvenir, as was common at the time. Although it has not been DNA tested, it is believed to be genuine.
7 death masks
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, has a small collection of death masks, which are plaster casts of a person’s face after death. The most famous death mask of him is that of Ned Kelly, the notorious outlaw and outlaw. The mask was made shortly after Kelly was hanged on November 11, 1880, and was later put on public display. It pandered to the public’s fascination with Kelly and served as a deterrent to other criminals. The mask was also studied to see if the bulges on his skull corresponded to criminal tendencies; this is known as phrenology and is now discredited as a pseudoscience.
Other libraries around the world also have death masks. The New York Public Library, for example, has those of the poets EE Cummings and James Merrill.
6 a spiritual trumpet
Many of the items stored at Cambridge University Library in England are, unsurprisingly, made of paper, but one particularly odd item is a cardboard spirit trumpet. Created for use during séances, a spirit trumpet would be placed on a table and then supposedly lifted into the air, emitting spirit voices and ectoplasm.
The Cambridge University Library Spiritual Trumpet was made in the 1920s by The Two Worlds Publishing Co. Ltd of Manchester. It is part of the archive of the Society for Psychical Research, which also has a photo of ectoplasm (which, of course, is fake) that was captured during a séance performed by the medium Helen Duncan. In 1944, Duncan was one of the last people to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1735.
5 A brochure encased in concrete
Books are usually made to be read, but Wolf Vostell’s Betonbuch (concrete book) deliberately challenges readers. Vostell created 100 copies of his own book in 1971. Copy 83 of this impenetrable book is in the University of Chicago Library. Inside the concrete is supposedly a 26-page booklet titled “Betonierungen” (“Concretifications”), describing his other concrete art projects, some realized and some impossible to realize.
“I wanted to specify the city of West Berlin. I wanted to make the clouds concrete,” explains Patti Gibbons, director of collections management at the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, who has read the loose copy of the brochure owned by the library. However, Vostell was known for having a sense of humor, so there may be something entirely different buried within the concrete or even nothing at all. Despite several attempts to probe the concrete non-invasively, scientists have so far been unable to determine what is inside.
4 the tail of an elephant
The most requested item at Tufts Digital Collections and Archive is an elephant’s tail. Specifically, it’s the tail of a circus elephant named Jumbo, whose stuffed skin was donated to the university by PT Barnum, a founding member of Tufts. Jumbo, who stood 11 feet (3.4 meters) tall and weighed 5 tons (4.5 tons), became the university’s mascot, so current students want to see his tail (the only part what remains of the elephant).
Back when Jumbo was still complete, Tufts students “pulled on his tail and put pennies in his trunk for luck,” but eventually, his tail was accidentally ripped off. However, that accident is the only reason Jumbo still exists. While the tail was stored in the university archives, the rest of the body was burned in the 1975 Barnum Hall fire.
Although Jumbo’s tail is the only body part left, someone from the Athletic Department collected some of his ashes in a peanut butter jar. This is now used in a “passing from the ashes” ceremony whenever a new athletic director is hired.
3 Jack Kerouac’s blood
Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac is best remembered for writing On the road (1957), but before writing this iconic novel, Kerouac made an unusual promise for his aspiring literary career. While living with his parents in Queens, New York, Kerouac wrote “The Poet’s Blood,” a reference to the 1930 Jean Cocteau film, on an index card and then cut his finger to write “BLOOD” in blood on it. the card. which he then hung over his desk.
Kerouac allegedly performed this bizarre act “as a notice of his vocation.” He also wrote “Blood-stained rope used as a finger tourniquet, November 10, 1944” on the card. The bloody card, still attached to the rope he hung from, now resides in the New York Public Library in the Berg Collection.
This bloody act was not just one time either; Kerouac also wrote “BLOOD” on the first page of the still unpublished novel. I ask you to love melater renamed as galloway.
2 Paper Knife Cat’s Paw by Charles Dickens
Another rare item in the NYPL Berg Collection is an ivory paperknife with a handle made from a cat’s paw. The strange knife was owned by Charles Dickens, author of many classic Victorian novels, including A Christmas Carol (1843). The top of the blade, near the cat’s paw hilt, is engraved with “Bob’s Memorial CD 1862.” Bob, of course, being his dearly departed cat.
His daughter Mamie said that Bob would follow her father “around the yard like a dog and sit with him while he wrote.” This affection clearly went both ways because when Bob died, Dickens had his paw stuffed and glued to the blade for decoration. During Victorian times, pet taxidermy wasn’t that weird or unusual, but attaching a stuffed paw to a knife definitely was.
1 kkk robes
Cushing Memorial Library & Archives at Texas A&M University houses Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods embroidered with the names of people associated with the university. One of the prominent names is football player Dana X. Bible, who was the college’s head football coach in 1917 and then again between 1919 and 1928. He also served as head of basketball for most of this time. and had a brief stint as a baseball coach.
The university’s yearbooks have also been digitized, allowing public access to photos of students and staff wearing KKK robes, along with racist caricatures. David Carlson, dean of the library, explains that they refuse to hide the university’s historical connection to racism: “The mistakes of the past, while they may be mistakes, are mistakes we can learn from. If we hide them, we will never learn from them.”
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