Beyond the Books: Harvard Libraries’ Quirkier Collections

Angie Peng

A view of Widener Library from University Hall on a sunny Friday afternoon on a rare quiet moment when there are no tour groups gathered in front of the landmark.

It's common knowledge that Harvard's libraries house the country's second largest book collection. To those of you unimpressed by shelves upon shelves of dusty tomes, these more eccentric acquisitions may pique your interest. We at Flyby have compiled a list of the quirky, the bizarre, and the questionably useful relics found in Harvard's libraries.

A lock of Nathaniel Hawthorne's hair

In a note that accompanies this unusual artifact, Hawthorne's publisher J.T. Field explains: "Here is a golden curl which adorned the head of Nathaniel Hawthorne when he lay a little child in his cradle. It was given to me many years ago by one near and dear to him..." For fans of the author, or anybody with a creepy hair fetish, this relic may tickle your fancy.

Bathing trunks

These articles of clothing circa 1890 to 1930 may have belonged to members of Harvard's early swim or crew teams. Something tells us they're not your brother’s board shorts. Check these out to gain a better appreciation of the evolution of men's aquatic fashion.

Le Whif Breathable Chocolate

In 2009, Professor David A. Edwards developed Le Whif, canisters that contain tiny particles of chocolate that can be inhaled. By "whiffing" these particles, you are able to taste chocolate without actually acquiring the calories that usually accompany the sweet treat. The canisters come in flavors such as chocolate raspberry and chocolate mint. Unfortunately, the "whiffable" chocolate cannot be sampled in the library. Le womp.

Musket balls from the Revolutionary War

These incendiary items date from 1775, when Continental soldiers were housed at Harvard in Mass Hall, Hollis, Stoughton, and Holden Chapel. While Hollis Hall was being remodeled in the late 1950s, five gray musket balls, thought to date from the Revolutionary War, were found between the floorboards in the hall. Please do not use checking out these as an excuse to "bomb" your next exam.

Brick from Widener Library

One of the collection's more mundane items is a brick that blew off of Widener during a storm in 1989. While we at Flyby are not quite certain of the brick’s utility, perhaps it would be useful to reflect on some existential questions. If a brick falls off Widener during a storm, will anybody hear it?

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