‘Shadows From the Walls of Death’ is a Book that Actually Killed Some People Who Read It
This book can kill you, and that’s not an exaggeration.
Not by getting hit in the head with it…
No pistol pops out and shoots you…
No hidden knife suddenly shoots out and stabs you.
Just by reading it.
No, it’s not so scary that you’d die of fright.
You could die just by holding the book, looking at the pictures.
The book is titled Shadows from the Walls of Death, written by Robert Kedzie in 1874. Kedzie was a chemistry professor at Michigan Agricultural College (later re-named Michigan State University) in the late 1800s when he wrote the book.
According to Michiganology, with only 100 copies printed, the book was deemed to be so dangerous, that most copies were destroyed, all except four: one was kept at Harvard, another at the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Maryland, another at MSU, and the last one at the University of Michigan. Lately, a report says only two remain: the ones at MSU and UM. There is possibly another one at the Michigan History Center, sitting safely in a vault encased in a protective covering.
Why so dangerous? The full title of the book is Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers which describes the dangers of wallpaper whose colors where made from arsenic. Kenzie also mentions the deaths that occurred after exposure to the wallpaper. Okay, the description is one thing, but Kedzie went so far as to include actual wallpaper samples that contained the arsenic-laden colors…eighty-six samples, to be exact.....right there in the book! Some of the people who handled original copies of this book either unknowingly inhaled arsenic, or put their fingers to their lips after touching the pages. And died.
Why was arsenic included in the colors in the first place?
In 1775, a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele made dyes with copper arsenic which made the colors brighter and more durable. Also, using arsenic was a cheaper way to print wallpaper.
Sounds like a movie plot…but it really happened.
The remaining 95 or 96 copies out of the 100 were destroyed by the libraries who received them. The copies at MSU and UM are handled only with special precautions.
The gallery below shows a few of the wallpaper samples that were made with arsenic that were included as pages in the book. Dr. Kenzie himself passed away in 1902.