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The human-skin book

Boston Athenaeum, 10 1/2 Beacon St., Beacon Hill

James Allen was your basic early 19th-century burglar and highwayman. In 1833, he tried robbing John Fenno, Jr. of Springfield on the Salem Turnpike. Fenno resisted and Allen shot him - but Fenno lived because the bullet was deflected by a suspender buckle.

Allen was eventually caught and sent to jail, where he wrote an account of his life called ''The Highwayman.'' Allen admired Fenno's bravery in standing up to him and decided that on his death, Fenno should get a copy - bound in his skin. When Allen died in 1837, his body was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital, where enough skin to cover a book was cut off and then delivered to a bookbinder, who died it gray and added some gilding before shipping it to Fenno. Later, a Fenno descendant donated the volume to the Athenaeum.

More info:

Narrative of the life of James Allen - The Athenaeum Library's catalog listing for the book.



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