How This Rare Antique Book Could Kill Readers

Many libraries and collections house rare and valuable books, preserving these pieces of written history. However, you won’t find Shadows from the Walls of Death on display in more than a small handful of locations. Not only is the book extremely rare, but many copies have been destroyed to protect public health. It’s thought only four copies of the 1874 publication still exist.

At the time of the books publishing, arsenic was commonly used in decorative wallpaper by people unaware of the dangers. The book warns of the dangers then commonly used arsenic-pigmented wallpaper, containing samples of the paper to illustrate.

The book was created by Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, a surgeon and chemist, during the Civil War. At the time, it was well-known that arsenic was poisonous when eaten, but it also posed another, less-obvious danger: it was routinely mixed with copper to dye wall-covering paper for homes. The result was a book that could slowly poison readers due to the high levels of poison.

The United States National Library of Medicine has an online version of the book available to view without danger. But the MSU library in Michigan, which houses a copy, has restrictions on the public viewing the text. The pages have been sealed, gloves must be worn, and children are not allowed to handle the book at all.

Aside from the lethal samples, the book also contains horror stories of arsenic poisoning including the deaths of child who mistakenly removed and ate wallpaper. You can find out more about this bizarre deadly book at the Library of Medicine.