Once again, I went to the Newberry Library’s annual book fair and couldn’t control myself.



Actually, that’s not entirely true. You should see how many I put back! I had nine volumes of a ten volume 1908 Edgar Allen Poe set that I decided–VERY PAINFULLY AND WITH GREAT WILLPOWER–to leave behind because one was missing. I know I will live to regret that one. Still, there’s a lot of great stuff here. One in particular had some surprises inside.


Dark green with gilt, but hard to tell because my lighting is awful

Dark green with gilt. My lighting is awful.


title page

I have a small collection of these: Tennyson, Moore, Longfellow, etc. It’s not that I have a thing for stuffy bearded old man poetry–there’s just something about them that appeals to me. So I saw this one on the table and grabbed it. I loved the inscription inside:

inscription 1882

(It’s a little easier to see if you click on it)

But as you can tell, it’s extremely faint and hard to read. Minor creepiness factor: Clara Belle had the same birthday as my mom, October 18th.

As far as I can tell, it says:


Presented to

Clara Belle (SOMETHING)

On her

Twenty Seventh Birthday

By her husband

William B. (SOMETHING)

“But upon (open?) SOMETHING is true SOMETHING

So much the SOMETHING spirits (?) SOMETHING


How good! How kind! And SOMETHING SOMETHING”

‘Tis bliss to meet

And pain to part!”

Astoria, Illiois October 18, 1882


If you are a professional interpreter of 150 yr old faded messy handwriting, please help me out. In the meantime, I did a little Googling. Astoria was (is) a tiny frontier town in west central Illinois. There was an influx of new residents a few years before this was written due to the new railroad. There was also a sizable Quaker population in the area. I tried to find names that might match this couple in the Astoria cemetary but didn’t find anything. I just can’t make out the last name. It does start with an “A”, right? Arnassey? Aranlissy? No idea.

Since I am now the owner of a small piece of these peoples’ marriage, I already felt like I had an obligation to figure out who they were and maybe get a clue as to how their book ended up in the Newberry.

THEN I FOUND THIS: (cue the scary music)

long brown hair

A giant chunk of Clara Belle’s hair? It’s tied with an old blue thread.


brown hair

Possibly William’s hair??



blonde hair

Definitely a small child’s hair…


And this tiny pressed flower:



And this extremely creepy shadow made by…I dont know what. I want to say it looks like a giant pair of old scissors that were left lying on the page for a very long time. Which conjures up images of dusty abandoned Victorian houses with terrifying porcelain dolls staring from atop a yellowed bedspread…or that might just be me. You can see in some of the pictures that the hair and flower left marks on the pages. This was the only other page I noticed that had a mark but nothing to go with it. What does it look like to you? Please say a giant pair of scissors used to cut the family’s hair and then left for years pressing the book open.

weird shadow


Obviously the book did not change hands very often since 1882. If it had gone to a bookstore or to multiple private owners they probably would have found these things a long time ago. Makes me wonder who donated it to the book fair. A descendant of theirs, perhaps?

In case you are wondering (and you probably are, if you got this far, since that means you are my kind of biblio-nerd)–yes, the poems on the page seem to correspond with the hair. I would tell you for sure what they say but the book is downstairs on the shelf in a dark room and after all this talk of absent scissors and porcelain dolls I am way too chicken to go down there and get it.

(ETA: Or you could click on the picture and read it. See, I would have know that obvious thing right away but my tech skills are below average. Which I suppose is why I likes books and not, say, I dunno, building model cars and PCs. Or making iPad apps. Whatever the kids are doing these days. I don’t know because apparently I spend all my free time buried up to my eyeballs in moldy books filled with dead people hair.)

UPDATE! Thanks to Witcharchne’s comment (and superior eyesight), I found Clara Belle, maiden name Harry, born October 18, 1860, died 1937, married to William Barton Fennessy (1857-1943). Both buried at Elmwood Cemetary in Litchfield, Illinois. No information about their child(ren). Montgomery County’s Historical Society has an information-packed website with old photos that’s fun to poke around in but unfortunately no additional info on this family. Glad to see the happy couple lived together into old age. I can now sleep at night knowing the book is probably not haunted by a tragic love story, but that a happy little piece of someone’s life is enriching my shelves.


Written by Stephanie

Lit lover, history aficionado, baked goods enthusiast, INTP, writer of many things, mom to three.



You’ve been able to make out much more than I can, but I wonder: does it say “twenty seventh birthday” or “twenty second birthday”? It looks like the latter to me.
Also, is there a ribbon bookmark attached, or somewhere one may have been attached? That was my first guess when I saw that unknown mark.
Awesome find! I wish I came across stuff like this at book sales. Best I’ve found so far is some Lady’s (with a capital L) personal bible. No hair inside though.


You are absolutely right about her age. It says twenty second. And there is no ribbon anymore but you’re probably right about that too–a ribbon bookmark makes sense! I bet that’s what it was.


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