Any really old library accumulates many weird books in the course of its existence, and weird stories connected with them as well. Harvard University’s library is no exception, and the most interesting of all these stories of probably a rumor that three books at its disposal are bound in actual human skin.
The story itself is not a new one – first it appeared in the Internet back in 2006, and was dedicated to three books kept in three separate libraries on the University’s campus. It, as expected, attracted a lot of attention from lovers of macabre details, but gradually died away. But about a month ago it surfaced again, and again produced an uproar – so much of it, that Harvard’s authorities decided to investigate the matter to finally find out whether there is any reality underneath this myth.
Yes, up until now nobody knew for sure what these books were actually bound in. One cannot define the material by eye, and until recently there were no trustworthy techniques that would allow any definite conclusions.
Thus, one of the books was subjected to a new method of identifying proteins developed in the last 20 years, and it was found that, alas, the macabre legend is simply a legend after all. The leather the cover was made of turned out to be rather trivial sheepskin.
What makes this story more interesting is that the idea that it was bound in human skin was not by any means groundless – there is an inscription inside the book which quite unequivocally states that it was bound in the skin of Jonas Wright who was flayed alive by Wavuma (presumably an African tribe). Wright’s friend was given the book, the most prized of Wright’s possessions, and his skin to bind it, by Wavuma’s king.
So either the sheep was named Jonas Wright, owned a book and was flayed alive by African tribesmen, or there is something else behind this story. Perhaps the book was originally really bound in the skin of hapless Mr. Wright and was later rebound (the books were costly in the past, and it was by far more logical to get it a new cover if it got damaged than throw it away). Or, perhaps, it is an age-old joke by somebody with a rather dark sense of humor – after all, black comedy wasn’t invented yesterday.
We probably will never find out the truth, but what we know is clear – yet another grim but interesting mystery is replaced by boring facts. Perhaps two other books from Harvard’s library are really bound in human skin? The university’s officials don’t seem to be in a hurry to analyze them as well.