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Danny Kaye's Parachute

August 31, 2012

The Library of Congress's Music Division looks like the archetypal government institution. The walls are beige. There's little natural light. The staff cubicles and reader study desks are uniformly drab and quiet.

Yet I'm learning that this unremarkable-seeming place is a repository for all kinds of weird and wonderful things that belie the colorless aspect of the surroundings.

I'm not just talking about the panoply of fascinating and often priceless instruments, musical scores, photographs, letters and books that form the cornerstone of the Music Division's 20 million item-strong archive.

There are in fact dozens of bizarre objects lying around that might, upon closer study, reveal interesting details about the people who donated these items to the collection.

Here are some of my favorite examples that fall into this category:

Danny Kaye's parachute.
Niccolo Paganini's ravioli recipe.
Francis Scala's whiskers. (Scala was the leader of the marine band when Abraham Lincoln was in the White House).
Aaron Copeland's Rolodex.

I had a conversation yesterday with a guy, Chris, who works in the department that processes the new collections upon arrival at the Library. Chris tells me that it's not unusual for his team to find unlikely things in the boxes upon opening them. Apparently a shipment from the MacDowell Colony contained a bunch of leaves. And more than one container from a donor has featured human teeth.


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