Original image

11 (Extra) Special Collections in University Libraries

Original image

Usually when we head to the library, we're looking for something relatively mundane, like a common book or a periodical. Step into a library's special collections, though, and you'll find all sorts of offbeat offerings. From puppets to porn, here's a look at some unusual special collections one can peruse in reading rooms around the country.

1. Kidney Literature

Yearning to learn more about your kidneys? Head to the University of North Carolina's Carl W. Gottschalk Collection. The 12,400-item collection houses legendary medical professor Gottschalk's passion: historical items related to the study of kidneys. Gottschalk's medical research focused on the kidneys, and throughout his life he managed to collect texts, engravings, woodcuts, and other relics on the subject that dated back to the 16th century.

2. Glass Eyeballs

Not to be outdone, UNC's rival Duke has an interesting medical collection of its own. When the Duke History of Medicine Collections underwent an internal audit last year, it found a number of interesting stockpiles in its holdings, including boxes of glass eyeballs and old surgical saws that date back nearly 400 years.

3. Showgirls

Could a library collection that focuses on showgirls be anywhere other than UNLV? The school's collection of showgirl-related memorabilia includes drawings and costumes that have been used in some of Vegas' racy entertainments. And yes, there's nudity, but the collection's website notes "[I]t would be a misrepresentation of that history to ignore topless showgirls and their costumes. In the context of this exhibit the object is the costume, not the woman wearing it."

4. Dean Martin

Showgirls aren't the only Vegas institution immortalized in UNLV's special collections. The school's library also has a special exhibition that focuses on stalwart entertainer Dean Martin's career at the Sands and other casinos, including early pictures of the Rat Pack yukking it up on stage.

5. Puppets

puppet-libraryIf you're like me and feel just a little creeped out by puppets, you might want to steer clear of UC-Santa Barbara's library. The Betsy Brown Puppetry Collection features everything you could ever want to see—possibly in your nightmares—related to puppets. The collection—which is named after famed puppeteer Betsy Brown—includes puppet plays, materials related to puppet design, photographs of puppets, and even puppet periodicals. If you can't find the puppet materials you're looking for here, try McGill University's Rosalynde Stearn Puppet Collection, which contains 171 puppets of its own.

6. Witchcraft

If you're looking for a particularly obscure spell, Cornell might have some answers for you. The Cornell Witchcraft Collection includes over 3,000 titles that examine the history of persecuted witches. Although the collection—which the school started assembling in the late 19th century—focuses mostly on the theological aspects of treating witches as heretics, there are also Latin volumes on demonology and graphic depictions of the torture of suspected witches.

7. Baby Books


For centuries parents have been keeping meticulous records of their children's early years in baby books, and UCLA has an amazing special collection of these treasured mementos. The Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library has been working on building a collection of these memory books from the 19th through 21st centuries to help shed light on trends in early childhood care and children's health. The collection includes everything from books that haven't been filled out at all to diligently completed books. Where has the school been able to round up so many baby books? You guessed it: eBay.

8. Bloodletting

UCLA doesn't just have baby books, though. The school also houses a collection devoted solely to bloodletting. The materials inside cover everything from the difficulties of applying leeches (you can try to dump them onto the patient out of a wine glass, but some will just stick to the glass) to pictures of the required instruments for a good bloodletting. Sure, the practice has been out of favor for well over a hundred years, but if it ever catches back on, head to Los Angeles to get up to speed.

9. Patent Medicine Ads


UCLA's libraries sound like an absolute goldmine. In addition to the aforementioned collections, it also houses a terrific set of patent medicine advertisements.


How can you pass up a chance to look at ads for products like A. Danforth's Great Vegetable Pain Destroyer or Merchant's Gargling Oil, which is good for burns, scalds, flesh wounds, hemorrhoids, toothaches, and "many other diseases incident to man and beast?" They're all online here, and they're absolutely worth checking out.

10. Libertine Literature

What's libertine literature? To put it bluntly, it's old smut. Princeton has a large collection of early English pornography, including what it calls "two of the earliest substantial pieces of pornographic writing in English." Some of the material in the collection dates back to the 17th century, but it also contains items like Venus Miscellany, a 19th-century publication said to be America's first pornographic newspaper. Sounds a little more exciting than the average trip to the periodicals room.

11. Magic

Princeton's other unusual collection focuses on magic. Carl W. Jones, a 1911 Princeton grad, built up an impressive library of scrapbooks regarding the performance of magic in the U.S., and when he died his wife presented it to his alma mater. In addition to covering regular magic, the collection includes a number of rare early texts on witchcraft, including the 16th-century book De Praestigiis Daemonum, an influential text on demonology.
* * * * *
Does your local library have a great special collection that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments!

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios