The general collections at the Library of Congress contain a multitude of books and publications that depict the Halloween, Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and autumnal traditions that are celebrated in the United States and around the world. The Library has thousands of digitized books that you can search. You can also search the Library's Online Catalog to find out about a wide variety of printed materials relating to these traditions that we can't place online.
Remember that in addition to information about the holiday, there are thousands of books on themes appropriate to Halloween, such as ghosts, witches, vampires, and the Devil. Whether you're searching digitized books or the catalog, searching separately on terms like these will help you find exactly what you're looking for.
Even that doesn't exhaust our print resources, though. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division contains many fascinating old and rare books on supernatural themes. For example, De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus (“Of Witches and Divining Women”), pictured at right, may be the earliest illustrated treatise on witchcraft. It was published in 1489 by German legal scholar Ulrich Molitor. The entire book is online at the Library, and you can also read about its history and impact in one of the blog posts linked below!
Below we're highlighting digitized books, some books from the catalog, some newspapers, and a few special collections which were featured in the Library's 2017 Halloween exhibit. Enjoy!
Books from the Catalog
Witchcraft in Incunabula and Early Print
Master magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini, died on Halloween. In 1927, the Library received 3,988 volumes from his personal collection on psychic phenomena, spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, and more. In A Magician Among the Sprits (1924), Houdini wrote that he had "accumulated one of the largest libraries in the world on psychic phenomena, Spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, etc., some of the material going back as far as 1489." His collection includes prints, playbills, printed ephemera, periodicals, and many volumes of pamphlets on such topics as card tricks, mediums, hypnotism, handcuff escape methods, and chalk-talking. Of special note are over one hundred unannotated scrapbooks containing theatre notices and news clippings on subjects of personal interest. Houdini's theatrical collection was sold after his death to Messmore Kendall and later donated to the University of Texas.
In addition, the McManus-Young Collection, numbering 20,000 items, includes publications and pictorial material relating to magic.
Literatura de Cordel (literally “Literature on a String”) is a genre of chapbook literature native to Northeast Brazil. The genre takes its name from market stalls where chapbooks were strung on clotheslines for the perusal of customers. Cordel literature consists largely of popular poetry, which can be sung to folk tunes and illustrated by woodblock prints, line drawings, or cartoon art. Although Halloween and Día de Muertos are not themselves common themes of cordel literature, the genre features a lot of supernatural tales, making the chapbooks a rich source of stories and images appropriate for Halloween.
The origins of chapbooks can be traced to the medieval poetry of Europe, which was transmitted orally throughout the continent by troubadors and minstrels. Gradually, as written communications spread, this oral tradition was set to music and came to be reproduced in handwritten chapbooks, often with a woodblock print as cover illustration.
The cordel collection at the Library of Congress holds both the ‘traditional’ paper chapbooks as well as cordel issued only in digital form. Cordelistas have been quick to give permission to archive, as this provides them with a back-up copy of their site.