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Gallery of Oddities: Interesting Things in Harvard's Closets

Medical Mineral

medical mineral

(Image credit: © Warren Anatomical Museum, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Now with 50 collections, not including libraries, amassed over more than 350 years, Harvard has some strange these locked away. Some were brought out as part of a recent exhibit called Tangible Things. This avocado-sized rock is both mineral and medical. Rocks like this, that form within the human body, often around foreign objects, are called calculi. In 1871, a doctor removed this enormous calculus from a soldier shot through the sacrum at the Battle of Gettysburg.

A Fragment of History

fragment of Plato's Republic

(Image credit: © Houghton Library, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Some of the items have their own historical significance. This papyrus fragment contains a bit of Plato's Republic.

Clues to the Past

harvard collections

(Image credit: © Huntting-Rudd Family Papers, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, President and Fellows of Harvard College )

Other items are not significant in and of themselves, but tell us a little about life in the past. This letter, addressed to “my dear sister Bessie,” on November 4, 1855 is an example of cross-hatching, in which perpendicular lines of text overlap to save on paper and postage and prevent snooping.

A Literary Microscope

Mark Twain's microscope

(Image credit: © The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

This microscope belong to author Mark Twain, who, in 1905 began a work entitled, "Three Thousand Years among the Microbes," the autobiography of a cholera germ who was once a man but had come to infect a tramp.

The Slide Collection

harvard collections

(Image credit: © The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

The microscope came with a collection of slides, including these. Around the turn of the last century, gentlemen like Twain kept microscopes, which they used as a recreational and educational activity, according to Sara Schechner, curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Beetle Bracelet

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(Image credit: © Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

A bracelet or necklace made by the Naga people in India or Myanmar from 1913 or earlier.

Blondie's Board Game

harvard collections

(Image credit: © Baker Library, Harvard Business School, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

This board game from around 1940, called Blondie Goes to Leisureland, set the comic strip character Blondie out to collect Westinghouse appliances on her way to Leisureland. Westinghouse was the maker of the "Leisure line of electric home appliances."

An Ancient Footprint

harvard collections

(Image credit: © Semitic Museum, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

The footprint preserved in clay is a reminder of how long dogs have walked alongside humans. The print was laid down between 1500 and 1300 BC in the ancient city of Nuzi in what is now Iraq. The footprint was displayed in the Harvard Museum of Natural History beneath the watchful gaze of a stuffed relative.

A Spirit Message

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(Image credit: © Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

This 19th-century slate contains chalk spirit writing, messages from the dead supposedly conveyed through "automatic writing." This slate contains two notes, the first written to woman from sprit of remorseful minister and the second message from the sprit of brother Will to his dear sister.

Times Have Changed

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(Image credit: © Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University Herbaria)

This common mushroom was plucked from a manure heap behind the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1905.

A Century-Old Tortilla

harvard collections

(Image credit: © Economic Botany Herbarium of Oakes Ames, Harvard University Herbaria, President and Fellows of Harvard College)

This tortilla made from corn in Mexico in 1897 was collected as a botanical specimen and is considered an example of "economic botany."