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Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources

Print Materials

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. Search the Library's Online Catalog to discover a wide variety of materials relating to these traditions. In addition, some special collections are highlighted below.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) and Magic

Harry Houdini Collection imageMaster 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

An old-style woodcut by José Costa Leite (left) illustrates a fantastic tale of a woman who visits Hell and makes a narrow escape. AFC 1970/002:M01987. A cover in a more contemporary style by Sergio Lima (right) illustrates a cordel chapbook in the ghost stories.

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.