Found: 3 Poisonous Books in a University Library – Atlas Obscura

Beware of poisonous books! Manuscripts laden with what – arsenic?!

Read on, as the folks at Atlas Obscura tell a tale of bookish woe – one of the few times we have to warn you about getting too close to books. 🙂

Here’s part of the story; visit the link below to read the rest.

The librarians at the University of Southern Denmark weren’t looking for poison. They just wanted to read the scraps of manuscript used to make the covers of three rare books from the 16th and 17th centuries.When they put the books under X-ray analysis, though, they found they had a real danger in their hands, they write at The Conversation. The books’ covers were suffused with arsenic.

For years, in the 19th century, arsenic was considered dangerous to eat but safe enough to use in other ways, including as dye in postage stamps that were meant to be licked or in green dresses worn to fancy balls. It was regularly used as an ingredient in green paint, to help the color last longer. Now, though, we know that when arsenic is used in paint, it’s still very dangerous. It can form microscopic particles that can make their way into people’s lungs. In some circumstances, arsenic paint can even give off a poisonous gas.

One of the most dangerous books ever created was meant to warn against exactly this danger. In the 1870s, an American doctor tried to raise awareness of the hazards of arsenic-laced wallpaper by creating a book of potentially poisonous samples and sending it around to libraries. The intent was to help people identify dangerous wallpaper in their homes, not to poison librarians. Today, only four copies of that book still exist, and they’re treated very carefully.

Source: Found: 3 Poisonous Books in a University Library – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on July 13, 2018 at 7:06 AM  Leave a Comment  

A Glimpse of the History of Camping in Michigan |


For our first Thursday history/archives post this month (and a little “Friday fun” too!) we start with a great summer activity – camping in Michigan. If you have lived in our Great Lakes state and camped, or perhaps visited and done some camping in our great outdoors, then you know the beauty of our state parks as well as of our national parks, whether perched at a lakeshore, by a riverside, or deep in the woods.

Today (a Michigan news source) featured the history of camping in Michigan by taking us back to the old days of camping – the days of tenting but also of hard-shell campers. You will be impressed by the interesting article Emily Bingham wrote and by the fascinating pictures of campers on various parts of our state.

Here is the beginning of her article and a few pictures to get you started. Read the rest and browse the other pictures at the link below. And if you are scheduled for a camping trip in Michigan this summer yet (as my wife is at Lake Michigan in August), then “happy camping.”

Source: These old photos capture the history of camping in Michigan |

The Surprising Practice of Binding Old Books With Scraps of Even Older Books – Atlas Obscura

For centuries, an older manuscript sheathed a 1480 edition of the Vulgate. Courtesy Newberry Library

This article appeared in the Atlas Obscura email yesterday (June 14), and what a fascinating story it is concerning a former era of book publishing and binding – especially the example it features at the outset! But wait until you find out about the hidden sermons of St. Augustine that made up another book bound from other books.

Here are the opening paragraphs on this lost book-binding art and the treasures that it contained (Although I will say that I have found later examples of this in some 18th and even 19th century books in the seminary’s library, when the spine had begun to break down.).

Last year, Megan Heffernan, an English professor at DePaul University, was at the Folger Shakespeare Library and studying a folio of John Donne’s sermons printed in 1640. When she opened it up, she was surprised to find that the inside of the front and back covers were plastered with sheets taken from a book of English psalms. “I just thought, ‘How amazing is it to think about sermons sort of spending eternity rubbing up against a totally different kind of liturgical writing?’” she says. The texts’ creators didn’t intend for them to live together, but when the psalms became “book waste”—essentially, printed garbage—they could end up anywhere.

Suzanne Karr Schmidt, a curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Newberry Library in Chicago, jokingly describes these as “turducken books”—a book (or manuscript) within a book within a book. Repurposed scraps like these show up in several dozen places in the library’s collection, either as bindings, mends, or pieces used to reinforce spines.

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Conservators found this 10th-century fragment of a sermon attributed to Saint Augustine in a book from the 1500s. Courtesy of the Newberry Library

For more on this – and the St. Augustine fragment story – visit the link below.

As an aside, I recently purchased a Kindle copy of the Atlas Obscura book, and what a treasure-trove that is! If you haven’t subscribed to their daily (or weekly) emails yet and you are interested in this kind of information (geographical and historical wonders found throughout the world), do so.

Source: The Surprising Practice of Binding Old Books With Scraps of Even Older Books – Atlas Obscura

A Bookstore of a Million Books! John K. King in Detroit, MI

Our “Friday Fun” item this week takes us to the other side of the great state of Michigan and a fabulous bookstore waiting to be explored. The massive store is King Books in Detroit, a treasure trove of tomes rare and regular waiting to be browsed, purchased, and read.

I am ashamed to admit I have never been there. Baseball has drawn me to Tiger stadium in the Motor City but books have not drawn me to King. Yet, that is, for it is truly on my agenda, maybe even this summer. After all, a trip farther east is planned, and that could easily be on the route. Time (and wife) will determine whether I am successful or not. 🙂

Here’s the introduction to a brief video on the bookstore with the owner, John K. King. Ah, what a visionary bibliophile! If I wasn’t a librarian, I think I would have a bookstore. Enjoy! And visit it yourself sometime. Along with a baseball game. Now, THAT’S a dream trip – baseball and books!

Detroit – Inside a formerly abandoned factory on Lafayette Boulevard is a treasure-trove of stories waiting to be discovered. Those driving by John K. King Used and Rare Books might have thought there is probably about a million books inside. They would be correct. This bookstore has around million books in over 900 categories.

For the owner, John K. King, books are a fine piece of art. “You enjoy it, you read it, you appreciate it, you can touch it, you can smell it, I mean it’s just a wonderful thing to have in your hand.” In this age of digital books, the paper version still plays a significant role. King mentions that traditional books need no battery or won’t break when dropped. He continues “it’s just a tactile part of it […] to do that electronically just seems so different from what people have been doing for hundreds of years.”

One of the key features of the bookstore is the rare book section. Located in a different building, this section has rare first editions of Tolkien and Hemingway, signed Matisse books, and even a page out of the Gutenberg Bible, which was the first book printed using movable type around 1455. Patrons that are financially frugal might be surprised by the price tag for these rare editions.

Published in: on June 1, 2018 at 10:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

Time for Cubs Baseball! A Tough April So Far


Now that college basketball season is over, we can turn our attention to American’s great pastime – baseball! Specifically, Chicago Cubs baseball!

After starting the season with away games (Florida, among other places – good idea!), the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field for the first time in the new season this week. Monday was supposed to be their home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but conditions were not so great, as you can see.


April baseball in the northern cities can be brutal, but that doesn’t mean the players and fans can’t have fun, as the next two images prove (also taken at Wrigley on Monday.



But Tuesday, April 10, the Cubs opener went on! But the Bucs (Pirates) spoiled that by winning 8-5. The Cubbies rebounded the next day, winning big, 13-5. On Thursday, the Pirates triumphed again, 6-1, a game played in 70 degree (F) weather. Crazy, I know, but that’s baseball in April.

Today the 2016 World champions (who can forget?!) lost again, this time to the Atlanta Braves 4-0, ending the day with a 6-7 record so far in the young season. We will not lose hope so early in the year; we have great expectations for this team once again. So, on we go.

And in spite of the slow start and poor hitting, we did have a bright spot this week. Young second baseman Javier Baez had two two-homer games, prompting a fine bullpen dance for the first time in 2018. Enjoy the video of the belt and the jig!

Published in: on April 13, 2018 at 10:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers – Atlas Obscura

Around the world, tiny towns have made bookstores their speciality.

For our “Friday Fun” post this week, let’s do a little traveling around the world and visit some small towns that cater to bibliophiles – book lovers like you and me.

It may be cold and snowy in West Michigan (yes, it really has been that here this first week of April!), but warm and quaint spots all over the globe beckon us to quench our thirst for all things bookish.

How about that lovely little bookshop in Bredevoort, Netherlands pictured above?

Or this unique one in St.-Pierre-de-Clages, Switzerland?

Or this collection of book sellers in Kolkata, India?

Below is a part of the article by Atlas Obscura describing these culturally rich book towns. To read the full article and tour some more towns focusing on books, visit the link below.

What makes a book town?

It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale.

At this point in the article, “AO” asked questions of author Alex Johnson whose book Book Towns is just out (March, 2018).

What surprises people about book towns?

I think people are surprised that there are so many around the world. When I tell people here that there are 30 or 40 around the world, they’re taken aback. It’s one of those slightly hidden things. When people pick up [my] book, they’ll be amazed at how widespread it is.

So many of your books have to do with books. It seems like you love them! Why do you keep coming back to writing books about books?

I think there’s so much to do with books, apart from reading them and enjoying them. Book lore and book history and everything around them, to do with libraries or culture, I think it centers so much of civilization. It’s the physical nature of them. It’s the smell of them. That feeling of ownership, once you’ve read it and you own it. I think books are very comforting.

Source: Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on April 6, 2018 at 9:56 PM  Leave a Comment  

Seminary News – March 2018

For this next-to-last day of March 2018 we take the opportunity to bring you some news from PRC Seminary hill. It has been a long and busy month, with another large chunk of the semester completed. That included the first practice preaching sessions and mid-term exams.


We started the month with our last major snow storm – and it left a scene of beauty unmatched all Winter.


At first it was cloudy and gray, and yet, still magnificent.


But then the skies cleared and the sun broke through, and it became even more spectacular.


Even the early daffodils were confused.


But life goes on – including our Friday grilled lunches – even if two students are finishing up an exam. 🙂


And the deer reappear, only to flee when no man pursues.


This week started (8 AM Monday morning) with a special “meditation” on suffering for Christ’s sake by Prof. R. Cammenga, from seminary via Facetime to fellow Christians attending a conference in Myanmar (7 PM there) led by Rev. Titus and facilitated by John Van Baren of Hope PRC. Very special to hear the people sing Psalter #64 in Burmese and then hear Rev. Titus translate Prof.’s talk and prayer.


Then on Wednesday we were favored with the annual visit of Mrs. Jane Woudenberg’s 4th-grade class from Heritage Christian School (Hudsonville, MI).


The students heard a talk about the seminary and its purpose from Prof. R. Dykstra.


After that, they received a brief tour of the building.


And then, of course, it was time for snacks (provided by the room mothers) and fellowship.


These visits are always a highlight for faculty and students – a great encouragement, and an opportunity to perhaps kindle in the hearts of some of the young boys a desire to serve as pastors in Christ’s church. For this we labor and for this we pray.

Are YOU praying for this too?

Published in: on March 30, 2018 at 9:57 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Best Things Found Between the Pages of Old Books – Atlas Obscura

Time for our “Friday Fun” item for this week, and for that we turn once more to Atlas Obscura, that global geographical gem that often features things library and bookish.

Back on February 19 of this year they listed the above-titled item. Having asked their readers to share their best stories about things they had found between the pages of books, hundreds responded with tales of their odd, strange, and amazing findings. What followed was an entertaining list of their “surprising discoveries.”

I have picked out a few of them to highlight, but be sure to visit the link at the end and find out many more. Here are a few to get you started:

Not just money … really old money

An old family Bible contained an envelope with a note on the outside saying, “Grandfather’s revolutionary war pay.” Inside was a colonial currency bill and a signed receipt for its payment for service in the Connecticut 2nd Continental line. —W. Kevin Dougherty, Brackney, Pennsylvania

Forgotten tickets

A 1967 Red Sox World Series Ticket, unused in mint condition. —Robert Bolduc, Boston, Massachusetts

Lost pets

I was about eight years old and had a small goldfish bowl with one goldfish in it on top of a small bookcase in my room. One day he just disappeared and we couldn’t figure out where he went, until the day I was reading one of those books and found a petrified goldfish between the pages. —Rebecca MacLeod

Secret devices

A World War II hidden radio —Ron G. Woering


Found in an old hardcover book about the siege of Fort Sumter, on the discount rack outside of Second Story Books in Dupont Circle. A faded tan piece of construction paper, torn along the bottom edge, as if hastily ripped out of a notebook. Yet the text is carefully typed and dripping with the hope and excitement you’d expect from the title at the top: “MY TRIP AROUND THE WORLD.” It spans from 1970 to 1982, and has our unknown adventurer deep-sea fishing, hunting tigers, sailing distant seas, touring Europe and Asia, and ultimately arriving in San Francisco, where the plan is to, “Sell boat buy land and start cattle ranch.” —Bruce Falconer, Washington, D.C.

So what have you found inside (used) books you had purchased? I can report that what I have mostly found is bookmarks and newspaper clippings. But I am always on the lookout for those truly unusual and special items!

If you have a story to tell, please do!

Source: The Best Things Found Between the Pages of Old Books – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on March 16, 2018 at 9:35 PM  Leave a Comment  

Friday Fun, Catton Style: Playing the Benzonia Orchestra with a Bad Pompadour

For our Friday fun post today we take you back to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia.

retro-mens-1950s-hairstyles-short-pompadourThe chapter I just finished last night, “Interlude with Music” (chapter 8), includes a humorous section in which Catton describes how, as a mediocre violin player in the local orchestra, he sorely wanted to at least look like a dashing, debonair young man – complete with a pompadour. If you look that up in the dictionary, you will learn that a “pompadour” is a hairstyle “in which the hair is brushed up high from the forehead.”

Now listen to Catton describe his sorry experience as the Benzonia violinist with an uncooperative head of hair:

Probably I ought to have taken heart from something John the barber had said to me a few years before this obsession took hold of me. John was a dedicated socialist, and while he trimmed my hair he used to give long lectures on socialism. …Anyhow, one day John was working on my hair when he discovered that I had a double crown, which he said was a great rarity and something to be proud of, because it meant that I could part my hair on either the right side or the left side, at my choice.

‘I tell you,’ he said, gesturing with his scissors, ‘Rockefeller with all his millions couldn’t buy that.’

What Rockefeller with all his millions actually did was buy a wig, but I did not know that at the time and could not speak of it. But John had given fair warning: I could part my hair on either side, and if I left it alone it would part itself down the middle, but some sort of part it was going to have no matter what my intent might be. The smooth, sleek, sophisticated pompadour I could not have.

I came to my senses, at last, after one of our orchestra concerts. We had gone to Frankfort to play, and my problem was at its worst. Frankfort was more like a city than Benzonia was – not much more, actually, because it was also a small town, but compared to Benzonia it was a metropolis – and here if anywhere I ought to look like a debonair youth who had risen far above his country-bumpkin origins. But circumstance was against me. As an earnest violinist of moderate capacity I was something of a head-jerker, and when I  fiddled my way through my assignments I used much body English; and the constant head-wagging, of course, destroyed any chance that my sleek, slicked-down hair-do would stay in place. Things were especially bad that night. Luckily, as it then seemed, there were quite a few brief rests indicated in my score, and whenever one of these came, I would lay my bow down and run my hand desperately over that triply accursed crop of hair. All in all, I had a busy evening.

When the concert ended I started out of the building, violin case under my arm, and I came up behind a couple of local people who were exchanging greetings. One of them asked the other how he had enjoyed the concert, and the man replied that he had hardly noticed it – ‘I was so fascinated watching that young violinist trying to get his hair straightened out that I didn’t pay much attention to the music.’

I was crushed, of course, and for the first time I realized that I was in a fix. There I was, the young musician who was on public display every time the orchestra performed, building up my ego by the fact that I was undoubtedly the center of admiring glances; and it had not entered my monkey’s head that those same glances took in every detail of my frantic attempts to keep my hair in order. I gave up, with a regular Fort Donelson surrender, and next morning I combed my hair with a nice part on the left side and forgot about being a young man about town. It was a relief to me and unquestionably to many other people [pp.161-62].

waiting-train-catton-1987This was another section of the book that had me laughing out loud several times. I continue to enjoy this “good read” very much. Perhaps this little story will bring a chuckle to your soul and mouth too. 🙂

Published in: on March 2, 2018 at 10:11 PM  Leave a Comment  

Miscellaneous Winter-time Meanderings

On this Friday, we post a little fun in photos for our readers, which we will call miscellaneous meanderings, because I have a collection of miscellaneous pictures that I have taken this winter while meandering here and there. So, join me as we move about randomly, enjoying this, that, and the next thing. At least I did 🙂


Of course, we have to show some pictures of our seminary animal friends! This was taken during our January thaw.

And then we got hit some with some major snow again.


With several grandsons involved in winter basketball, we took in a few of their games. Future CCHS Chargers are they.

And we have seen the current CCHS Chargers play a few games too – including last week at Calvin  College against South Christian. A certain quartet was privileged to do the national anthem. 🙂

Last night we took in Heritage CS’s “Fine Arts” night, which included this fine piece by our granddaughter, Laelle – a budding artist.

And Mr. Dan Van Dyke’s room included awesome book summaries in poster form. Yes, I was pretty excited about these!

Speaking of books, here are a few miscellaneous items related to such real, printed-on-paper things:

A book snowman made at Herrick Library in Holland, MI (thanks to Bob Drnek for the photo!)

A few more bookplates from books in the Letis collection found in the Seminary library.


And a few examples of title pages with wonderful publisher ensigns – a distinguishing mark of publishers in the past, and still today, though not as elaborate as these.


And how could we forget on such days that we do still have our Friday grilled burger/brat lunches. Tim Bleyenberg at Sheldon Meats is our supplier. Once you’ve had his meats, you will not need to go elsewhere. The best!



Have a wonderful weekend!

Published in: on February 23, 2018 at 8:19 PM  Leave a Comment