Library Premieres the Death Collection

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The Michael McDowell Death Collection, a recent acquisition of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, is now available for research use. 

The ominously-titled Death Collection is comprised of 76 boxes, and spans hundreds of years. The collection was assembled by horror novelist and screenwriter Michael McDowell during the 1970s–1980s and includes correspondence, photographs (including daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, and stereographs), memorial cards, jewelry, woven hair, scrapbooks, ledgers, newsclippings, and artifacts. In most cases the items in this collection were purchased by McDowell, or were given to him by friends and colleagues. The collection is strong in 19th-century post-mortem photography, and includes many examples of memento mori imagery. Other items of interest include invoices that document digging graves or constructing coffins that date back to the 17th century, memorial cards and mourning jewelry, and 20th century materials relating to the funeral industry, such as a traveling salesman's kit of tombstone designs, c. 1935, as well as flags and placards to be used on cars in funeral processions and a package of white gloves from the "National Casket Company." Larger artifacts abound in the Death Collection, too, including a sizeable collection of coffin plates that range in date from 1851–1937, and a centuries-old Spanish oil painting of a dead child. 

McDowell (1950–1999) was an enthusiast of the macabre, and made his living as a writer of horror novels during the 1970s–1980s. In 1988 he co-wrote the screenplay for Tim Burton's film Beetlejuice with Warren Skaaren, which was based on an original story by McDowell and Larry Wilson about a dead couple returning home. He went on to write screenplays for The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993 and Stephen King's Thinner in 1996. 

McDowell died in Boston in 1999. The finding aid for the Death Collection is available here: