Because Jackie Gleason was so famous and well known for his comedy, very few people are aware of his fascination with spiritualism and the occult. Over his lifetime, he had collected hundreds and hundreds of books, featuring topics from ghost possession to alien encounters. His glorious collection of the world and wonders beyond is housed here in Special Collections with an ephemeral presence that attracts students and researchers from all over the globe. These books have not only evoked curiosity but have also influenced other works of art and literature.
As for the man of the hour himself, exactly one hundred years ago on February 26, 1916, Jackie Gleason was born from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, and today, we want to pay homage to both him and his passions by showcasing our favorite pieces from his collection, which continue to inspire us and capture our imagination.
Wanderings of a Spiritualist by Arthur Conan Doyle
“This book is one volume of a trilogy by the famed Victorian author, who on the title page modestly describes himself as “author of The New Revelation, The Vital Message, A History of the Great War, etc.” No mention of his great masterpieces of detective fiction, or of the fact that he created one of the most famous and enduring characters in English Literature. Doyle was, in fact, an ardent seeker of truths, and a believer in the spirit world in all its manifestations. In his opening chapter he challenges all skeptics: “Should the reader have no interest in psychihc things—if indeed any human being can be so foolish as not to be interested in his own nature and fate—then this is the place to put the book down.
Those choosing *not* to put the book down will be rewarded with a juicy slice of Victoriana, complete with war stories, ramblings in foreign countries (in this case, Australia) and tales of the author’s encounters with interesting characters, both dead and alive. A “should” (if not a must) for all Sherlock fans!” – Cristina Favretto, Head of Special Collections
“Master Therion was a pen name of Aleister Crowley, known in the mid 20th century as the wickedest man in the world and often labeled a satanist. Crowley was an occultist, attempted ceremonies designed to summon demons, and developed a system of sex magic. Crowley’s beliefs and practices earned him widespread rebuke and condemnation. In The Book of Thoth Crowley designed a set of Tarot cards which are now among the most popular Tarot decks in the world. I chose this book for as much for its colorful backstory as for the hieroglyphs on the binding and the striking images Crowley helped create for each of the Tarot cards.” – Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian
The Principles of Light and Color by Edwin D. Babbitt
“A detailed description of chromotherapy and its effects on both the human body and the nature surrounding it, this book presents an interesting take on spiritualism wherein all living organisms are subject to the relationship between light and color. While the theory is one without any real scientific basis, there was a lot of effort to try and illustrate how color affects different levels of physical, spiritual, and mental harmony within the body. What caught my eye are the numerous diagrams that depict how light is broken up into a vivid spectrum and how each part of the spectrum holds a key to the ‘mysteries of life.’ What Babbitt saw within the vast spectrum of colors that are normally hidden to the naked eye is something I cannot even begin to comprehend, but it is quite the journey to try and wade through his convoluted logic.” – Yvette Yurubi, Senior Library Assistant
Fun-Master Gag File [Uncatalogued]
“Compiled by entertainer Billy Glason in the 1940s, these bound scripts contain an amusing collection of jokes and gags aimed at providing the budding emcee with tried-and-true material for a live comedy routine. Ranging from vaudevillian performance pieces written for multiple characters to one-liners, short stories, and topical jokes, the 144+ volume compilation (amended with several ‘encyclopedias’ and supplements) serves as a unique study of the different approaches to humor that reigned in Gleason’s era, many of which have provided a foundation for the way performance-driven comedy is created today. While Gleason’s book collection reveals a spooky side of the comedian that is unfamiliar to some, I choose the Gag-File to celebrate the studied on-stage comic persona that is most commonly associated with ‘The Great One’.” – Cory Czajkowski, Library Technician
As a bonus, one of the students who visited Special Collections recently with her Creative Writing class for a project, Carla Botha, was inspired by The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research from the Jackie Gleason Collection and created this lovely miniature artist book.
We happily invite you all to stop by the 8th Floor in the Otto G. Richter Library today and experience these treasures for yourself to honor the man whose influence continues to reach to parts unknown.