There’s a lot more hair than you think stored at the Library of Congress.

James Folta

April 24, 2024, 1:15pm

On April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed an Act of Congress that moved the U.S. capitol from Philadelphia to Washington, forever denying us the spectacle of Congressmembers being regularly heckled by Philly sports fans. In the move, Congress would lose access to Philly’s libraries, so the Act also appropriated $5000 for buying books and “fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.”

With that small sum, the Library of Congress was founded and since has grown into one of the world’s largest, housing approximately 173 million items. The Library is full of not just books, but also music, maps, art, newspapers, and more. They’ve got an idea Carl Sagan jotted down to take a cellist out on a boat to listen to whale songs. They’ve got a recording of a guy talking about the time he saw a UFO. They’ve got phone books. They’ve got leaflets from a guy who lost some cash. And they’ve got Thomas Jefferson’s pasta maker, proof that throughout history, everyone comes back from study abroad a little more annoying.

There’s a lot in the Library. I took a spin around the collections and gathered a few things of interest for the discerning literary blog reader.


The Smallest Printed Book in the World
In 1985, this bound edition of the children’s rhyme Old King Cole claimed to be the smallest in the world. Smaller than a penny, this might be a more manageable heist item for any National Treasure sequels.

Also, One of the World’s Largest Published Books
This five-foot by seven-foot, 133-pound book is bigger than most of the kids that live in my building, but unlike the kids in my building, this book is a “visual odyssey across the last Himalayan kingdom” of Bhutan. This book no longer holds the record for largest book available for sale, which is currently a kid’s book titled, very on-the-nosedly, I Am Texas.

Yes, there’s hair in the library. More than you’d think. They’ve got a pretty raggedy-looking clump of Jefferson’s hair, Walt Whitman’s hair and his friend Pete’s hair, and the hair from a soldier who died in the Civil War. If you’re looking to go in the other direction with your hairline, the LOC also has a great photo of a ‘90s hair replacement ad.

Movie of an Athlete Exercising with a Wand While a Dog is Watching
Thomas Edison’s company produced a bunch of movies, and I cracked up at this one of a guy from a Newark gym doing some wand workouts. Definitely some great moves to try out next time you’re doing wand stuff at the gym. It also looks like they woke up a napping dog while filming this? Let the poor guy nap! Don’t bother him with your wanding!

Movie Etiquette Cards
Trying to keep people from acting up in movie theaters seems like a forever problem, and this collection from 1912 and this one from 1907 of movie theatre slides are very fun. They’ve got complaints that we’d recognize today—stay seated, no talking, take off your huge hat—but also got some weirder ones. I like this one imploring men to not spit on the floor, and this pretty intense one reassuring folks that the theatre isn’t screening anything nasty. My favorite is this one, though, which would make a great meme, or a good tattoo for anyone who’s decided to leave the movie industry.

Recorded Poetry and Literature
The LOC has a huge collection of recordings from poets and writers, including Audre Lorde, Louise Glück, James Baldwin, and recordings from East Village poetry nights. Lots to love here.

An 1800 Rhyming Ad for a Kid’s Bookstore
The ad features eight lines of poetry about what books can be found in the “juveline book store,” but has no information about where the store is located, though you can spy the name of the shop in the background of the ad’s image.

Bubble Books: The Book That Sings
Speaking of kids’ books, the LOC also has a very early audiobook, The Bubble Book. Packaged to look like a book, the 1917 Bubble Book contained the text of nursery rhymes as well as a record with those rhymes being sung. As the essay above notes, this was not just entertainment, but also meant to help kids learn to read.

The First Use of the Word “Blurb”
The comedy writer Gelett Burgess coined the term “blurb,” which appeared for the first time on the dust jacket for his book Are You A Bromide? The cover features an image of the shouting “Miss Belinda Blurb in the act of blurbing,” and continues with a long parody of the overinflated language that we all know and love/loathe/tolerate from book cover copy. Not sure if anything else holds up in Burgess’ book, but the line “when you’ve READ this masterpiece, you’ll know what a BOOK is” really got me.

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