Everyone knows October is the spookiest month of the year, and special collections libraries can be full of eerie and mysterious things to celebrate the spine-tingling season. I explored the stacks of the Clarke Historical Library and dug up some of our spookiest* archival treasures.
As a student assistant, nearly every day I am asked to pull a manuscript, a map, or other deeply hidden documents in the stacks. This means I am required to walk past the portrait paintings. Two, in particular, always give me the heebie-jeebies; one is of a young lady, the other of a young man. Neither one of them look particularly pleased to be kept waiting in the back of the stacks, their memories forever trapped in wooden frames.
I don’t know who they are, and I don't know what they want,
but I can feel their judgmental stares as I walk past,
though I have yet to catch them laughing to each other.
Sometimes, our research requires that we delve into birth and marriage records, and in particular, death records. Although these records would have been used for statistical purposes, they tell the stories of those who once lived and how their lives came to an end. The first time I discovered these in the manuscript collection, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these people were remembered beyond these books of records.
While working on the current exhibit, Photography: Process, People & Preservation, we had to do our fair share of digging through old photographs. Some of this research revealed a few unexpected photos labeled "necro-photography.” While these final photographs are a thoughtful way to commemorate the deceased, the images carry an unearthly feeling.
My favorite part of our whole collection occupies about a half of a shelf, and contains books about Michigan ghosts and haunted places. In another section of shelves, we have books that explore the histories of Michigan's mental institutions, from Traverse City to Kalamazoo. There are many more books just like these for you to dive into if you’re like me and are interested in Michigan’s spooky past.
It is likely that there are many more strange things waiting to be uncovered in the stacks of the Clarke Historical Library, and I'm looking forward to more discoveries. Am I proposing that the stacks are haunted? I am not in a position to say. Do I believe that there are memories that stay with some of the historical items that we collect in the back of the stacks? It is certainly possible. This library was, after all, designed to keep the collections safe, including their secrets.
*Level of spookiness may be relative to viewer of item