Selected Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources at the Library
The Library of Congress is home to an array of resources on the folk customs, fine art, pop culture, and literature of Halloween and Día de Muertos. Collections range from classic film clips from "The Bride of Frankenstein," "Nosferatu," and "Carnival of Souls" to recordings of storytellers spinning yarns about ghosts and witches. There is even documentation of spooky séances with the great Harry Houdini, iconic artwork of Edward Gorey, and the timeless poetry of Robert Burns.
Special Pop-Up Exhibition: Oct. 27–Nov. 1, 2017
The Library of Congress is presenting a host of tricks and treats with an autumn pop-up exhibition of more than 200 collection items that embodies seasonal traditions of fantasy and folklore. Making a variety of rarely seen collection items more accessible to the general public, "LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery" will show-and-tell the intriguing tales of Halloween and Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, through a variety of treasures representing a wide range of resources within the Library. Learn more »
The exhibition will be on display October 27-31, from 11am-4pm, and November 1, from 11am–2pm, in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but are not required.
Learn More About It
Begin exploring materials at the Library of Congress on the topics of Halloween and Día de Muertos online. Here are some places to begin your journey:
Highlights from the Library's Collections
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
Master magician and escape artist, 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 addition, the McManus-Young Collection, numbering 20,000 items, includes publications and pictorial material relating to magic.
- Harry Houdini Collection (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)
Publications, scrapbooks, and other material relating to spiritualism and magic.
- Variety Stage: Harry Houdini (digital collection)
143 photographs and 29 related items of personal memorabilia that document Houdini's career.
- Harry Houdini, Master Magician (Topics in Chronicling America)
A sampling of articles from historic newspapers
- McManus-Young Collection (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)
A rich survey of illusion practices, conjuring, ventriloquism, fortune-telling, spiritualism, witchcraft, gambling, hypnotism, automata, and mind reading
- Things Magical in the Collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division [PDF, 1.01 MB]
An illustrated guide to the Library's magic collections by Leonard N. Beck
Literatura de cordel
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.
PRINTS & PHOTOGRAPHS
The Library's rich visual collections feature a wide variety of fine prints, photographs and other materials related to Halloween and Day of the Dead traditions and celebrations. Search the Library's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) to view a wide variety of visual materials celebrating these traditions.
Edward St. John Gorey (1925-2000)
The Edward Gorey Collection, comprising 802 items (467 books, 89 periodicals, 92 posters and theater-related materials, 147 items of ephemera, 7 works of art, and 25 reference documents) collected by Gorey expert Glen Emil, is now housed in the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) and Calaveras
Posada was a Mexican illustrator known for his satirical calaveras (from the Spanish word for "skulls"). After his death, Posada's illustrations featuring skeletons would become closely associated with the mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Photographic Documentation of Halloween Traditions
Several collections housed in the Library's American Folklife Center feature Halloween traditions and celebrations.
- Jai Williams Collection
This collection documents the D.C. High Heel Drag Queen Race, a Halloween tradition in the Washington DC area (AFC 2016/016)
- Pinelands Folklife Project Collection
A field project undertaken in the 1980s, the collection contains approximately 80,000 photos, hundreds of which document Halloween traditions (AFC 1991/023)
- #FolklifeHalloween2014 collection
Photographs taken by a diverse cross-section of Americans that document local Halloween traditions.
Can you take a photograph of a ghost? Claims of capturing a spirit with the camera lens were made as early as the 1850s, when photography was relatively new to the world. Learn more about the techniques employed by photographers to capture ghostly images, and view images from the Library's Prints and Photographs Division.
SHEET MUSIC & AUDIO RECORDINGS
You can find plenty of titles in the Music Division’s coffers that tell of the lighted squash with which we celebrate All Hallows Eve. Printed music at the Library includes horror movie scores such as “Dracula’s Daughter Theme” (1936) and an assortment of Halloween-themed sheet music, including “When That Vampire Rolled Her Vampy Eyes at Me” (1917).
Tales of the Supernatural
The American Folklife Center has a wide variety of spoken-word recordings containing tales of the supernatural, as well as audio recordings of thousands of traditional folksongs, including many with supernatural themes. There are hundreds more such songs to be heard in the Folklife Research Center or AFC's online collections at loc.gov.
- "The Hair-Raising Tale of 'The Witch Who Kept a Hotel'," Folklife Today Blog, October 24, 2017.
- "Bessie Jones Tells a Spooky Story: 'Married to the Devil'," Folklife Today Blog, October 11, 2017.
- "Spooky Stories for Halloween," Folklife Today Blog, October 29, 2015.
- Tales of the Supernatural (American Folklife Center finding aid)
- Listen to a Ghost Story (collected by John and Ruby Lomax, American Folklife Center)
- "Creatures of the Night," Inside Adams Blog: Science, Technology & Business, October 31, 2012.
MOVING IMAGE MATERIALS
In silent films, the walking dead, vampires, and masked predators of 19th century novels came to life, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu created a new visual language. In the sound era, horror films developed an effective but familiar style, making later, innovative films like The Mask, The Masque of the Red Death, and Night of the Living Dead all the more frightening. The Library's Moving Image Research Center provides accesss to films dating from the early days of motion pictures to the present.
The Library presents film screenings both in Washington, D.C. and at its theater in Culpeper, Virginia.
More About Films at the Library