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 13: “Awful Murder and Mutilation of a Woman, in Whitechapel” (ca. 1875).
Believe it or not, this pamphlet is not about Jack the Ripper. The Ripper didn’t stalk the alleys of Whitechapel until 1888, fourteen years after this was published. This pamphlet describes a murder that was, in its time, as famous as those of the Ripper. Henry Wainwright was a bankrupt owner of a brushmaking business who murdered his mistress Harriet Lane. Wainwright had been living for over three years as both himself–with a wife and five children–and also as “Mr Percy King,” an alias he used for his life with his mistress who he “married” in 1871. When he lost his business and could no longer sustain his double life, he shot Harriet, dismembered her, and attempted to dissolve her body in chloride of lime.
Wainwright’s crime might never have been discovered if it weren’t for his former employee Alfred Stokes. A year after the murder, Wainwright asked Stokes to help him move some parcels from his warehouse. Stokes smelled a foul odor seeping from one of the packages, and, suspecting that Wainwright was stealing the human hair used in brushmaking, opened it. He found not hair but a human hand. He quickly covered it up and allowed Wainwright to get into his cab and leave. Stokes ran at a discreet distance behind the cab until he found a police officer willing to listen to his tale–which took several tries. When they opened the parcels, they found human remains and arrested Wainwright and his new lady companion, the dancer Alice Day. At the brushmaking warehouse, police found an open grave filled with chloride of lime, a hammer, a chopper, and a spade. They arrested Wainwright, along with his brother Thomas and mistress Alice Day as accessories. The arrest and trial filled the penny papers and scandal sheets for months. Victorians loved nothing so much as a good murder, and they followed the story with avid interest. The story had many elements that made it exciting–the double life of Wainwright and Harriet, his new mistress, the beautiful dancer Alice Day, and the dramatic nature of the crime’s discovery, including Alfred Stokes’ heroic jog after a murderer in a cab. This pamphlet from the Lilly Library’s collection is a rare relic of that time… though perhaps we are not so different today in our interest in morbid scandals and hidden crimes. Henry Wainwright was sentenced to death and hanged on December 21, 1875.
This pamphlet–which tells the whole story of Wainwright’s crime, trial, and death–can be found in the Lilly Library’s London Lowlife Collection. See the inventory here: http://go.iu.edu/Jax or see the digitized collection here: http://go.iu.edu/Jay (IU affliated users only).
Number 12: Theodore Dreiser’s death mask (1945)
There’s no question that death masks are creepy–they are wax or plaster casts of a person’s face made after they are deceased. The practice dates back to the middle ages and continued into the 20th century. Death masks served many purposes; in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were used to record the features of unknown corpses for later identification. More commonly, they were used as the basis for portraits or simply as a reminder of a beloved friend or relative.
The Lilly Library has several death masks in its collections, including Frederick Tennyson (Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s brother) and Clifford Odets. We also have a life mask (made while the subject is still living) of Abraham Lincoln. We chose to feature Dreiser because of his gloomy visage and reputation in life for being a rather nasty fellow. Along with the mask, the Lilly Library holds manuscript drafts of Dreiser’s Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth, a memoir of his difficult childhood and adolescence in Indiana, written from 1912-1915 but ultimately suppressed by the author, who came to have misgivings about the blunt quality of the work, especially his own depiction of teen sexuality. Learn more about the Dreiser papers here: http://go.iu.edu/JaH
Number 11: Photograph of Lizzie Borden (ca. 1889)
Lizzie Borden took an ax / And gave her mother forty whacks. / When she saw what she had done, /She gave her father forty-one.
Most of us have heard the story of Lizzie Borden at one time or another–it is one of America’s most famous unsolved murder cases. In 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, Andrew and Abby Borden–the father and stepmother of 32-year-old Lizzie–were brutally murdered. Actually, Abby was given 19 “whacks” and Andrew 11–one of which split his eyeball clean in half. Lizzie was acquitted after a huge public trial, the circumstantial evidence (a burned dress and hatchet) dismissed. Ever since then, people have wondered if Lizzie really did it. This photograph of Lizzie comes from the papers of Edmund Lester Pearson, a librarian who wrote several volumes of true crime in the early 20th century. He was fascinated by the Bordon case and collected this photograph, along with a letter, of Lizzie. The photo was taken around 1889, several years before the murder. Learn about Pearson’s papers here: http://go.iu.edu/JaJ or his books here: http://go.iu.edu/JaK
Stay tuned the next installment of Spooky Treasures on October 19th and be sure to follow us on Twitter @IULillyLibrary to see more images of these spooktacular items.
Education and Outreach Librarian / Resident Ghoul