Of course, every library holds a great deal of sensitive material – works which have unfortunately inspired violence, such as political manifestos, controversial religious texts, and so on. But what about a book that could actually be physically dangerous to handle?
This is the story of MSU’s toxic book, a work that was produced not out of a desire to cause harm, but out of an altruistic concern for public safety.
Shadows from the Walls of Death came about due to the work of Robert C. Kedzie, a distinguished Civil War surgeon and professor of chemistry at MSU from 1863 to 1902. In this seminal study, Kedzie described the deadly effects of the arsenic-based pigment known as Paris Green, a popular coloring agent in 19th century wallpaper. Literature included with our copy summarizes his findings:
Kedzie showed through chemical analysis that the Paris Green
pigment was poisonous and that it was only weakly bonded to the paper. As a result, it detached from the wallpaper
easily, floating into the air as fine dust particles. Those who breathed in the poisonous dust
suffered from bronchitis, rheumatism, weight loss, severe headaches, and
Kedzie immediately reported his findings to the Michigan Board of Health. To spread the word about the dangerous pigment, widely used throughout the country, he cut up samples of the arsenical wallpaper and bound them together in books. Kedzie produced 100 such volumes, which he sent out to state libraries along with his scientific data and conclusions.
Before long, Kedzie’s shocking study had made its mark, and Paris Green was banned from use as a wallpaper pigment.
Most of the 100 copies of Shadows from the Walls of Death were eventually destroyed due to their poisonous content. MSU Special Collections houses the only complete copy of the wallpaper book known to have survived, and it sits unassumingly on our vault shelves.
Fortunately, our conservators have worked to lessen the threat of this deadly arsenic-laced volume. Each wallpaper specimen has been individually encapsulated to protect library staff and patrons.
from NPHC at Michigan State. our first painting was vandalized only four hours later, so we repainted it- and camped out the entire night to keep watch. the last picture is my contribution, two quotes from Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra’s mother, rolled into one. I took this picture the next morning.
Why America Will Miss Jon Stewart on The Daily Show
12 more days of laughter are ahead. We have 12 more opportunities to take a look at the world around us and scream in pure jubilance and enjoyment before one of our greatest sources of laughter turns out the lights, walks off into the sunny horizon of retirement and leaves us nostalgically looking back at what became of a second-class attempt at humor that rose to become a phenomenon. Over the next three weeks, we, the consumers of television, will witness yet another goodbye to yet another legend of late-night T.V. Those 12 days will go by quickly, and they will be hard to take because, on that final Thursday night, the world of television bids Jon Stuart Leibowitz a much earned farewell and an even more deserving “thank you.” Here are some of the (many) reasons we will miss Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Jon Stewart began his tenure on this Comedy Central show in January of 1999, taking over for Craig Kilborn when he left the program to take the wheel at CBS’ Late-Late Show. At that time, the show featured one clear-cut star (Kilborn) and many talented supporting cast members with a small to moderate amount of potential. Enter Jon Stewart, and years later, we witness not only his rise to fame, but also the seemingly sudden onset of stardom for some of this generation’s biggest stars of the small-screen, most notably Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Since their time with Mr. Stewart, including one of the greatest Daily Show segments that there ever was, Even Stevphen, they have moved on to their own smash-hits themselves, with Carell headlining the American version of BBC’s The Office, and Colbert launching a Daily Show spinoff, The Colbert Report, a show that became an even bigger pop-culture icon than its parent-program while having (slightly) lower ratings on the Nielsen scale (according to an Uproxx.com article from June of 2014). With other famous rises such as Jon Oliver, now the host of his own mock-news program on HBO, and young, budding correspondents such as Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper (Michigan represent!!!!), Jon Stewart’s reputation of fostering new talents in the world of comedy will march on long after he gives his final “moment of zen.”
Jon Stewart is not just a great talent scout. If that was my only source of applause for his tenure, it would be ridiculous for me to honor him at all. What Jon is is a great comic with an excellent flare for the ridiculous and slapstick. On numerous occasions, he has found a way to tie serious news into quirky, yet satisfying material, which is why so many people, young and old, have cherished his work over the past 16 years. He tied the Sound of Music into a crazy (and real) comparison of Obamacare to apartheid, called out “The Donald” on his recent comments on Jon McCain with an excellent set of Trump impressions, and has consistently serenaded us with songs about the world that make us laugh, cry, and beg for him to say the magic words “we’ll be right back”. His job description can be simplified to “be funny.” He not only fulfilled that task, but exceeded it. Jon Stewart didn’t just “be funny;” he made us laugh.
Comedy is an escape. It has been for me, and it is for thousands millions of people around the world. It helps us enjoy ourselves, but also to cope with the tragedies of life. One of the many things that Jon Stewart did amazingly well was step back from comedy to save our souls, preserve our good will, and help us heal our wounds. From the terrible incident that occurred at Charlie Hebdo in France to America’s worst day, 9/11, Jon Stewart used his format as a stage not for his own agendas or opinions, but as a way to help his viewers cope with some of the horrors that fog the light out of our lives. In the end, it does not matter how much talent you have or what you have the ability to do, but how you use those talents and abilities to help others. Clearly, from start to finish, that was something Mr. Stewart held true to himself.
Finally, Stewart’s run on The Daily Show revolutionized late-night television and launched a new format to great heights. Jon Stewart is to mock-news what Johnny Carson was to the Late-Night format: A game-changer, the benchmark against which all others are measured. When he arrived at this Comedy Central program, it was a slapstick operation based on making “news” out of comedy, mocking the ways in which the mainstream media reports on the stories of the world. Creative as it was, Kilborn’s Daily Show lacked substance. When Jon Stewart arrived, he quickly realized why, nearly quitting the show because of a staff that was…difficult. As we know, he stuck with it, and slowly but surely molded the program into what it is today, taking it from “a character-driven fake news program to a news-driven fake news program” (Uproxx.com, 2015). That transition gave the show its edge. It was smart, witty, and engaging. For my generation of quick-fact finding, social media searching, 24/7 grapevine information transfer, this new format of comedy not only saved Late-Night television from fading with my parents’ peers, but kept my peers politically savvy and prepared to be the watchdogs of the world’s future.
In 12 days, The Daily Show will be handed off to Trevor Noah, as will a format that has changed the landscape of late-night television. With great power….well, you know how this cliche goes. When we get to that final Thursday, it will be a sad one, a melancholy look back, and a moment of pride for one of the best of a generation. But, like so often before, one can be assured that Jon Stewart’s final ride will leave us exactly the way he intended: Mindful of the world we live in, smart enough to ask questions, and thoughtful enough to do so for the betterment of mankind.