The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library has a trove of macabre objects. (Photo illustration by Alexandra Angelich; photos by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

Inside the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library lie objects that would send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

In its 200-year history, the University has amassed an impressive collection of macabre artifacts. For this Halloween, we’re showcasing a few of the spookiest items on Grounds. From a book on witchcraft to a recipe for embalming, these items might raise the hair on the back of your neck.

No need to get too worried, though. The objects are safely stowed away in the library – for now.

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Replica of Yorick’s Skull From ‘Hamlet’

In “Hamlet,” the titular character finds the skull of the dead court jester, Yorick. Hamlet wonders, “Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?” The answer may be at the special collections library. Inside an unassuming gray case in the library is a replica of Yorick’s skull. It’s “definitely a spooky surprise,” said Kim Cull, McGehee rare book librarian.

A tiny human skull model
The replica of Yorick’s skull has a miniature version of “Hamlet” inside.

Vampire Hunting Kit

If you find yourself needing to fend off some vampires this Halloween, this miniature vampire hunting kit from Bo Press could come in handy. So far, there hasn’t been a need to use the kit, but you never know. It’s stocked with enough silver stakes to kill six bloodsuckers, a vial of holy water, a cross, a mirror and even some garlic. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s got nothing on you.

This tiny vampire hunting kit even has an axe for chopping off bloodsuckers’ heads.

‘The Discoverie of Witchcraft’

Special Collections has no shortage of books on witchcraft, but “The Discoverie of Witchcraft: Wherein the Lewde Dealing of Witches and Witchmongers Is Notablie Detected” might be one of the few that offers instructions on getting a little witchy. This 16th-century text begins by debunking witch-hunters and creates a taxonomy of magicians: “witches make infernal pacts, jugglers use sleight of hand like modern stage magicians, conjurers summon lesser spirits,” noted Felix Worthen, a student assistant in the library. The book even provides instructions on conjuring those lesser spirits.

a book with illustrations of knives
Unlike other treatises on witches, “Discoverie of Witchcraft” serves as a kind of instruction manual.

Windowpane From Edgar Allan Poe’s Room

No roundup of spooky items in the University’s collection would be complete without this piece of glass from Room 13 on the Range, where the poet and indigent UVA student Edgar Allan Poe purportedly lived. Student legend has it that he etched the following poem onto his window before he had to leave the University:

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

Maybe the crime was just his failure to pay tuition.

Rumor has it this shattered windowpane comes from the room Edgar Allan Poe lived in.

Dentures From the Collection of Edward Wilson James

Contrary to popular belief, the best early dentures were made from real human teeth. The sources ranged from robbed graves to poor people trying to make money to dentists’ own collections. These dentures came to the University in a set of wills, land grants and other papers. Who’s to say if someone is still looking for their dentures?

a set of human dentures
It’s not clear who these dentures, made from real human teeth, belonged to.

Burial Record Book

A funeral director from Wytheville kept this record of the more than 1,200 people he buried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He included everything from the cause of death to the cost of burial. There are also a couple recipes for embalming fluid, just in case one wasn’t enough.

You could say the recipes are to die for.

This burial records book has multiple recipes for all your embalming needs.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications