This post is part of a series written by Alison Hobbs, curator of the 2017 Archives and Special Collections exhibition, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
In my first week as the Graduate English intern in Archives and Special Collections, I was offered the opportunity to select for myself the theme of the Fall 2017 exhibit. Completely unfamiliar with the collection, I dived in, requesting items that I thought I might find interesting. As a voracious reader, many of the first items brought up from the basement for me to examine were books: Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Rudyard Kipling, the Brontë sisters. Inspiration struck, however, when I delved into our wonderful collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe.
On a personal note, I have a very distinct memory from childhood of watching a television program in which two women were murdered in their home by what I thought at the time was a gorilla. Needless to say, I was mildly traumatized by this image. Leafing through the pages of Tales of Mystery and Imagination thirty odd years later, I found it – not a gorilla, as I had mistakenly believed, but an orangutan wielding a razor! The program I had seen all those years ago was a dramatization of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Instantly, I was determined that this murderous orangutan must be part of the exhibit.
Although it did not happen immediately, an exhibit shaped around mystery began to form as I examined our editions of The Moonstone, The Red House Mystery, and The Best of Sherlock Holmes. Our Head of Archives and Special Collections, Cynthia Becht, made some wonderful new purchases with the exhibit in mind, including first editions of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I became mildly obsessive over a number of mysterious items in the collection, especially a pendant containing a lock of William Wordsworth’s hair. Considering all the ways we as human beings have considered the idea of “mystery,” the exhibit grew to include the idea of religious mystery, the wonder of exploration and discovery, the mysteries of science, and the evolution of the detective story.
The exhibit is designed to be both incredibly informative but also wonderfully fun. We hope that everyone who visits the exhibit will enjoy the mysteries we have shared and explored, and perhaps even involve themselves in the mysteries that we, as yet, still cannot solve!
Alison Hobbs, graduate student intern and curator of Tales of Mystery and Imagination.