(The following is a story written by Jon Munshaw, former intern in the Office of Communications, for the January-February 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. You can download the issue in its entirety here.)
Some unusual items in the Library’s non-book collections will amaze and amuse researchers.
Most people know the Library of Congress for being, well, a library. And being a library, there are tons of books. But along with volumes on bookshelves there are a number of quirky artifacts—to be found across all Library divisions—that are less well-known to Library visitors.
A piece of Tom Thumb’s wedding cake is preserved in the Manuscript Division. The 2-foot-11-inch man—star of the P.T. Barnum shows in the 1860s—married the similarly sized Lavinia Warren. Their nuptials created quite a media sensation when they wed on Feb. 10, 1863. The once edible artifact, now black with mold, still remains as a reminder of the occasion.
The Manuscript Division is also home to Amelia Earhart’s handprint, taken by palmist Nellie Simmons Meier in 1933—four years before the aviator disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. According to Meier, Earhart’s rather large hands indicated a love of physical activity and a strong will. The original prints and character sketches included in Meier’s book, “Lions’ Paws: The Story of Famous Hands” were donated to the Library. (You can read more about Earhart’s handprints here.)
The Music Division houses 26 strands of hair from composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The hair is part of the papers of John Davis Batchelder, a collector of musical autographs and manuscripts. Batchelder’s father received the hair from a friend who brought it to Beethoven’s funeral and almost got into a fistfight over its ownership. The Library also holds locks of hair from the heads of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The heaviest, and perhaps most poignant, item in the Library’s collection is a 400-pound beam from the World Trade Center, in the Prints and Photographs Division. Photographer Carol Highsmith put the division in touch with company officials in charge of recycling the steel from Ground Zero. The beam, which is stored off-site because of its size, was part of the Library’s Sept. 11 exhibition in 2002.