To celebrate Halloween, we’ll be counting down thirteen of the weirdest, creepiest, and most unusual items found in the depths of the Lilly Library’s collections. Among the most beautiful and hallowed books treasured by collectors throughout generations, we’ve accumulated some objects that also excite the dark side of our imagination… and what better time to revel in the dark, strange, and fantastic than Halloween? We’ll be posting all thirteen here on our blog, but you can also follow us on Twitter @IULillyLibrary to see more images of these spooky treasures.
Number 10: “As a hungry Eagle was Seeking for Prey…” (ca. 1734-1745)
The Lilly Library is well known for its vast collection of children’s literature, and most of this literature is delightful, whimsical, and charming. However, our modern-day view that children should be protected against the grimmer elements of life is not one that is always reflected in items crafted for children in the past. This card—handmade on Dutch paper by a mother for her children—shows an eagle swooping down on a helpless infant. The back of the card reads:
As a hungry Eagle was / Seeking for Prey, / He spy’d a young Child in / A Cradle that lay; / The Mother was absent, / And no creature by, / So the Baby he Seiz’d, and / Flew up to the Sky: / The Child cry’d and Scream’d, / But his Tears were in vain, / For his Life, was soon ended, / And with it all pain.
While it may seem cruel to read such a rhyme to a child, this card taught two important lessons to its 18th-century audience. First, don’t leave your mother’s side, and second, the inevitable end of life brings a release from pain and suffering. Even in wealthy families, infant mortality rates were high–childbirth was a dangerous undertaking for both mother and baby. Children needed to be taught to understand and accept deaths in their families. We can also imagine that a precocious child might delight in and even laugh at this rather morbid image.
This card comes from one of the Lilly Library’s most remarkable collections, the manuscripts of Jane Johnson, which consist of teaching tools made by hand by Johnson for the basic primary and moral instruction of her four children. They offer a rare peek into the life on an 18th-century family and portray a mother’s sense of how to entertain children as well as introduce them to the discipline and pleasure of reading. Read more about the Jane Johnson collection here.
Number 9: Stereoscopic Skin Clinic (1910)
Another of the Lilly Library’s major strengths is its collection of medical books, dating back to such landmarks in the history of medicine as the second edition of Johannes de Ketham’s Fasciculus Medicinae (1493) and the first edition of Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica (1543). More recently added to our holdings is a spectacular array of dermatological books and atlases. This item from the dermatology collections was devised by entrepreneur Selden Irwin Rainforth in early 20th-century America to aid American doctor in the diagnoses of skin disease. The stereoscopic device allowed viewers to see two nearly identical photographic images in 3-D. This set, the first edition of the device, includes 132 cards, each with a listing of the disease’s symptoms and notes for treatment. Ailments include psoriasis, eczema, acne, scabies, and syphilis. This device was invaluable to doctors who, without today’s methods of collaboration and knowledge-sharing, might very well encounter a patient with an ailment that they had never seen. Certainly photography revolutionized the literature of dermatology. See all books in the Lilly Library’s dermatology collection here.
Number 8: Manuscript of “The Ash-tree” by M.R. James (before 1904)
Our list of spooky treasures would hardly be complete without at least one truly terrifying horror story… and no one wrote terrifying horror stories better than M.R. James, English antiquarian and medieval scholar best remembered for his chilling ghost stories such as “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” “A Warning to the Curious,” and “The Ash-tree.” In “The Ash-tree,” Sir Richard Castringham inherits a country estate, only to discover that his ancestor condemned a woman to death as a witch, and she cursed the estate before she died. The root of the evil is in the ash tree outside his window. In one of the story’s most spine-tingling moments, Richard sees something abhorrent emerging from the tree:
“And now you would guess, so deceptive is the half-darkness, that he had several heads, round and brownish, which move back and forward, even as low as his chest. It is a horrible illusion. Is it nothing more? There! something drops off the bed with a soft plump, like a kitten, and is out of the window in a flash; another — four — and after that there is quiet again.”
You’ll have to read the story yourself to discover what these accursed things might be. The Lilly Library holds both the first edition of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), in which the story was first published, and also the manuscript draft—with corrections in James’ hand—of the story itself. The manuscript can be found in the Lilly Library’s English Literature mss.
Stay tuned the next installment of Spooky Treasures on October 22nd and be sure to follow us on Twitter @IULillyLibrary to see more images of these spooktacular items.
Education & Outreach Librarian / Scream Queen