We’ve had a blast counting down thirteen of the spookiest treasures at the Lilly Library. We hope you’ve enjoyed delving deep into our stacks to learn more about these unusual items. Every treasure tells a story, and each of these spooky items opens the door to a fascinating collection, full of potential for research, wonder, and discovery. And now, we present our final and favorite spooky treasure to celebrate Halloween!
Number 1: Edgar Allan Poe’s hair (1848 and 1849)
The Lilly Library has two locks of Edgar Allan Poe’s hair. Both are from the collection of J.K. Lilly, Jr. Poe was one of Lilly’s early collecting obsessions. He initially focused on collecting first editions of Indiana authors, but in 1927, he fixed his eye on a more ambitious prize: Poe. In The J.K. Lilly Collection of Edgar A. Poe, David A. Randall (the first Lilly Librarian) writes, “Poe was, and is, the glamor boy of the American collecting scene. The decision was an audacious one, considering the youth and inexperience of the collector, the times, and the competition to be faced. Yet in the short space of about seven years he was able to bring together one of the finest Poe collections ever assembled.” This collection includes numerous editions of Poe’s books (including inscribed first editions), runs of magazine and periodicals with Poe contributions, letters, signed legal documents, artwork, the only known full-length daguerreotype of Poe, and the crown jewel of the collection: a previously unrecorded copy of Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. It is believed that only approximately 50 copies of this small pamphlet were printed in 1827, and they were attributed only to “A Bostonian.”
A lock of Poe’s hair was included in a black tin box of letters that Poe wrote to Sarah Helen Whitman which Mr. Lilly purchased from Max Harzof of the firm of G.A. Baker. The hair is a chestnut-colored curl, tucked into an envelope which reads “Mrs Sarah Helen Whitman / Providence / RI / Sent to me on the evening / of Nov 8th 1848. Sarah Helen Whitman, a sort of 19th-century version of the modern “Goth” girl, was known for wearing black clothes and a coffin-shaped charm, holding séances at her house, and writing transcendentalist poetry. She was briefly engaged to Poe until she received an anonymous note at the library claiming that he had returned to drink (which he had sworn off of as a condition of their engagement). David Randall describes their courtship as “brief and violent … during which both parties were often alternately or jointly hysterical.” In a letter dated November 7th (the day before the hair was sent), Poe writes to her, “If you cannot see me—write me one word to say that you do love me and that, under all circumstances, you will be mine. Remember that these coveted words you have never yet spoken—and, nevertheless, I have not reproached you.” Whitman destroyed most of the final letter that Poe sent to her. The only fragment she kept (also in the Lilly Library’s collection) reads, “I blame no one but your mother.” Several libraries and museums have clippings of Poe’s hair, but to our knowledge, this lock sent to Sarah Helen Whitman is the only extant sample cut while he was still living.
The second lock of hair in the Lilly Library’s collection was sent in 1849 to “Annie” Richmond (Mrs. Nancy Locke Heywood Richmond) by Maria Clemm, the mother of Poe’s cousin and wife Virginia Clemm, who died (aged 24) in 1847. Richmond befriended Mrs. Clemm in the hopes that she would bequeath Poe’s papers to her when she died. She also claimed (probably falsely) to have had a romantic relationship with Poe that overlapped with his courtship of Sarah. This lock of hair is encased in a pearl-ringed brooch inscribed on the back with Poe’s death date. It was almost certainly clipped from Poe’s head after he died as a souvenir.
Both locks of hair are popular items in the Lilly Library’s collections; many students and visitors enjoy a frisson of excitement when they see this bodily relic of the past alongside Poe’s handwriting and the books that made him famous in their original physical form.
Education & Outreach Librarian / Your Ghostly Halloween Hostess