New Exhibit: Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre

Fall is coming to campus! Leaves will be changing color, there will be a crisp cool breeze and longer nights, and Halloween is right around the corner! To help you get into the mood for the spooky season visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to explore our latest exhibit in Special Collections and University Archives titled Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre.

Mysteries, monsters and the macabre have plagued our minds for millennia. Medieval creatures lurking in the depths of the sea. Ghastly gothic tales of murderous guilt. An unexplainable 15th century code rumored to provide the key to immortality. Memorializing the dead with plaster casts. A curious purple vampire with a compulsive urge to count all he sees. These are a few of the intriguing stories you’ll uncover when literature, folklore, and history converge in the Special Collections exhibit Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre.

Vampires, demons, ghosts, and monsters spawned from tales of folklore and fiction speak to our fascination with things that go bump in the night and a desire to understand the unknown. At the same time, the real life persecution of women and outsiders highlight the horrors that can take place when fear overwhelms reason. This exhibit features materials from Special Collections at the University of Maryland related to witches, alchemy, ghosts, the afterlife, the underworld and its demons, as well as monsters and the many forms they take in our collections.

Interesting items on display in the exhibit include the death mask of German playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht 1898-1956).  Death masks are wax or plaster casts of a mold taken from the face of a dead individual, and are often used in making portraits, busts, or engravings of the deceased.

You can also see a “life-size” depiction of the Maryland Wolf Man, also known as Dwayyo. Dwayyo is part coyote/hyena with a frightening, high-pitched screech who is rumored to terrorizes residents of Frederick
County, Maryland.

There are also items on display from the Rare Books collections, including an oversize edition of Actes and Monuments, printed in London in 1596. This book is a compilation of the stories of Protestants who were martyred/killed at the behest of the Catholic Church. Illustrations of women, men and women being burned at the stake are printed alongside the stories of their persecution. It highlights the cruelty of religious persecution in 16th century Western Europe. You can also view the pages of Letztes Testamnet by alchemist Basil Valentine, printed in 1667. It includes illustrations of the twelve keys, which may divulge the secrets to creating the philosopher’s stone. The philosopher’s stone was said to turn ordinary metal into silver or gold, granting the possessor immortality. Or take a close look at the skeleton Zodiac man illustrated in a 16th century miniature Book of Hours. Also on display are Medieval sea monsters from Conrad Gessner’s Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium, printed in 1560 and dragon-like snakes from Charles Owen’s An Essay Towards a Natural History of Serpents, printed in 1742. Both of these natural history books showcase a fascinating mix of fact and fable and the creatures illustrated within often appear otherworldly to modern eyes.

For those with more modern interests, the temporary urn once used to store the ashes of Modernist writer Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) is also on display alongside a manuscript draft of the poem “Haunt” written by her close friend, Dada artist Elsa von-Freytag Loringhoven (1874-1927). Small books can also give a fright to readers, like the Armed Forces edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, pocket sized to fit in a soldier’s uniform during World War II. A miniature edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven on display, designed by book artists Emile Goozairow in 2021, is scarcely largely than a quarter.

Not everything will give you chills in Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre. Exhibit cases outside the Maryland Room highlight kid-friendly monsters and items from Special Collections. You can laugh along with Count von Count and Herry Monster, illustrated in early editions of Sesame Street Magazine found in the Children’s Television Workshop record in our Mass Media and Culture collections in Hornbake Library. There are also several editions of Nancy Drew mysteries featuring stories that center on suspected ghosts and hauntings that may have a logical explanation once Nancy Drew is on the case. Poetry from Ted Hughes (1930-1998) and Ogden Nash (1902-1971) feature the loveable monsters Custard the dragon and Nessie the monster, both with adorable tales that speak to the endearing nature those we may label “monsters.”

To explore this exhibit, visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library.  Contact us to learn more about Special Collections and University Archives at UMD!


Mattie Lewis and is a student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program and Graduate Assistant with the Katherine Anne Porter Collection at UMD.

Victoria Vera is a student in the Master of Library and Information Science program at UMD and a graduate student assistant in Literature and Rare Books Collections, Special Collections and University Archives.

Items on display in the exhibit include:

Nancy Drew Mysteries: Secret of Shadow Ranch By Carolyn Keene, 1994. Dana Girls Mysteries: The Haunted Lagoon by Carolyn Keene, 1959. Dana Girls Mysteries: The Witch’s Omen by Carolyn Keene, 1979. Dana Girls Mysteries: The Ghost in the Gallery by Carolyn Keene, 1975. Nancy Drew Mysteries: The Haunted Bridge by Carolyn Keene,1937. Sesame Street Magazine, 1980 & 1989. A Halloween Scare in Maryland by Eric James, 2014. The Ghosts of Rowan Oak: William Faulkner’s Ghost Stories for Children by Dean Faulkner Wells, 1980. Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia illustrated by Gris Grimly, 2009, Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness illustrated by Gris Grimly, 2004. Nessie the Monster by Ted Hughes, 1974. Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash, 1959. Witchcraft at Salem by Chadwick Hansen, 1969. The Mirror of Magic by Kurt Seligmann, 1948. The Complete Gypsy Fortune Teller by Robert Pelton, 1970. Actes and monuments of matters most speciall and memorable, happening in the church, with an vniuersall history of the same by Maister Iohn Foxe, 1596. Zodiac Man, Early Printing and Manuscript collection, c. 1502. Witchcraft Magic and Alchemy by Grillot Day Givry, 1931. Fr. Basilii Valintini Benedicter ordens Letztes Testament by Basilius Valentinus, 1667. Witch Hunting and Witch Trials collected and edited by C. L’Estrange Ewen, 1929. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven design and drawings by Emile Goozairow, 2021. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus Armed services ed. by Mary W. Shelley,1945. Djuna Barnes’ temporary Urn, 1982. Bertolt Brecht Death Mask, 1956. “Haunt” by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, c. 1920. Ghost Stories of M. R. James selected by Nigel Kneale. Lithographs by Charles Keeping, 1973. Two Tales : Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and illustrated by Barry Moser, 1984. Edgar Allan Poe: Illustrated Tales of Mystery and Imagination edited by Robert Klanten and Hendrik Hellige, 2006. The Vampyre by John William Polidori, 1819. Devils, Demons, Death, and Damnation by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, 1971. The Aeneid in Opera Virgiliana by Virgil, 1529. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, illustrated by David Plunkert, 2018. An Essay Towards a Natural History of Serpents by Charles Owen, 1742. Nomenclator aquatilium animantium by Conrad Gessner, 1560.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s