From the Archives
Forget the Gutenberg bible; it’s yesterday’s news, gone the way of other obsolete items like CD players, two-dimensional televisions, and anthrax filled envelopes. Harvard houses thousands of other amazing relics. Hunting through Houghton Library, the Peabody Museum, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) for the best stuff Harvard has to offer can result in some gobsmacking discoveries. Here are a few of FM’s favorites:
The world’s largest bird egg in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Standing 12.2 inches tall and 8.6 inches wide, it came from the now extinct Elephant Bird—the largest bird to ever walk among humans. Fresh out of the avian’s ovaries this thing would weigh close to 20 pounds. That’d be one hefty chick.
A mastodon skeleton. Most of us simply know the mastodon as the Black Mighty Morphin Power Ranger’s obscure pachyderm Dinozord. The specimen the HMNH displays is not only perfectly intact, it was also the central spoil of an actual 1840s murder of one Harvard graduate, George Parkman, Class of 1809, by another, John White Webster, Class of 1811.
John Harvard’s copy of “The Christian Warfare” by John Downame. This thing bubbles and oozes with Crimson pride. The 1634 book includes a note, which begins, “This book is the only one in the Library which, beyond a doubt, was given by John Harvard.” Indeed, this is the book that started Harvard’s multi-million book collection.
Locks of hair from Hawthorne, Byron, and Wordsworth. Seems like someone had a rather perverted poet fetish.
Everything else in Houghton Library. This includes: Charles Dickens’ walking cane, Emily Dickinson’s writing desk, Washington Irving’s handwritten revisions to “The Sketch Book”, John Keats’ personal annotated library, and Alfred Tennyson’s poetry notebooks.
Any interested student can ask to see the massive collection at Houghton Library—you know, that other library between Widener and Lamont, the one that’s not Pusey. Librarian Peter X. Accardo explained, “This library is theirs to use. Most students think Houghton is off limits. They see Houghton as a museum, but it’s really more like a working museum. These are our rarest treasures. Anyone with an academic interest can come to consult any of these texts.” Both Houghton and the HMNH have a series of rotating exhibits. Right now, William Makepeace Thackeray is in the spotlight at Houghton, while HMNH features a new New England Forest room. Hey Gutenberg, put that into any of the Peabody’s 1,960 tribal pipes and smoke it.