Spooktacular events in the Library

What a year! We’re publishing some stories about the biggest happenings from the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Halloween this year is certainly different from usual, though the Library is circulating some rad craft kits for the holiday (sorry — all have been claimed!) and hosting an Augmented Reality Halloween Workshop! The story below gives some fun detail of spooky events from Halloween past!

A display case showing an animal pelt, book with sharp teeth, grizzled-looking animal head, and other items.

A raccoon coat and tail, from the Marion DuPont Scott Sporting Collection, a leather book, Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems, edged with shark teeth, from the James Whitcomb Riley Collection in the Clifton Waller Barrett Library, and a miniature book bound in black calf suede and leather with colored leader onlays and shaped into the head of a hound by fine bookbinder Jarmila Sobata for The Hound of the Baskervilles: Conclusion & Retrospection, the McGehee Miniature Book Collection

The Library celebrated Halloween 2019 with a pair of events inspired by UVA’s favorite resident of the West Range, Edgar Allan Poe. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library featured Poe’s poetry and supernaturally- tinged tales of madness together with other bone chilling items in an exhibition, “What Lies Beneath: The Macabre and Spooktacular of Special Collections,” while the Library Student Council, in partnership with local business Cville Escape Room, created a haunted escape room. The escape room invited teams of undergrads to the main library to solve clues and puzzles in a mystery that began with a note from a fictional “Dr. LeGrand” saying he would give Poe a hand in paying his gambling debts if the mystery were solved.

Visitors to the exhibition in Special Collections were welcomed by a life-sized cut-out of Poe and ravens perched atop a display case of Poe-related items: an elaborate popup edition of his poem, “The Raven”; a miniature edition of his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” complete with a beating replica of a human heart; and a broken windowpane (left) from Poe’s purported West Range room upon which he supposedly etched the lines,

O Thou timid one, let not thy
Form rest in slumber within these
Unhallowed walls,
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.

Rare, unique, and haunted objects filled every exhibition case: a copy of Oliver Cromwell’s 17th century death mask; a leather-bound volume (edged with shark’s teeth) of “Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems” by James Whitcomb Riley; a fierce hound’s face, part of the binding for the miniature book, “The Hound of the Baskervilles;” and a piece of the skull of Revolutionary War soldier James Steele, who had the bone fragment sabered from his head by a British soldier at the battle of Guilford Courthouse but survived to tell the tale.

In the haunted escape room game, teams of up to 10 students gathered at the bust of Poe in the main lobby and took turns going into the unfamiliar surroundings of the Mount Vernon Room on the second floor. There they found the game’s props: rags soaked with fake blood, illustrations of skulls and other body parts, a periodic chart of the elements, and 10 locked boxes with clues and puzzles set around the room. One clue for opening a box was revealed by breathing on a mirror to make the word “heart” appear.

Each team had 45 minutes to use strategy, creativity, and logic to find clues, solve puzzles, and open locks to uncover the meaning of Dr. LeGrand’s mysterious note. The fastest completion time was less than 22 minutes; the average about 30 minutes. Students posted their photos and times on Facebook. And what did they find in the last box when the final clue was solved? Dr. LeGrand’s hand! The one he said he would give to help Poe pay his gambling debts.


A chart shows sign language symbols next to a bloody rag and a handwritten note

Mysterious clues from the 2019 Haunted Escape Room, hosted by Library Student Council.

A black glove and several lock boxes sit in front of a large Periodic Table of the Elements

Mysterious clues from the 2019 Haunted Escape Room, hosted by Library Student Council. The event was held in the Mt. Vernon Room in the main library (now closed for renovation).

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