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The man who ate library paste~

3 min read

I think as elementary school children, we all knew a kid who ate the glue. Maybe curiosity got the better of us, and we too imbibed. Even though it was pretty gross, and probably pretty weird, it wasn’t dangerous was it?
It was fatal for a man, an unknown homeless who found himself starving on the streets of Goldfield, Nevada in 1908. Goldfield was a relatively new town, having just been laid out six years previously after pioneers from nearby Tonopah discovered gold deposits in the area. Over the next decade or so, the town proved extremely prosperous, but not for the gentleman in question.

As the story goes, the vagrant wandering the streets of Goldfield was rummaging through the trash outside the local library, looking for something to eat. But there was a problem: the best sustenance he came across was a jar of book paste. Inedible, of course. However, he started to eat what he assumed was a simple paste of flour and water and he would have found it surprisingly sweet, because in addition to flour and water, it was 60% alum. Alum was a chemical compound made out of sulfates and water designed to enhance the adhesive qualities of the paste. Although generally harmless, and even used a means of inducing vomiting, apparently alum is toxic if large doses are consumed. Unfortunately, the concentration was deadly.
When the townspeople found the deceased drifter, he was buried in Pioneer Cemetery, which was little more than a dirt patch. The grave was topped with a gravestone that stated what little they knew about him: “UNKNOWN MAN DIED EATING LIBRARY PASTE JULY 14 1908.”

Skeptics point to the fact that the grave’s red paint is too bright for being more than a century old and some ascribe the fresh paint to sympathetic cemetery-goers who regularly paint over the epitaph so that the unknown man can be remembered also in years to come. Moreover, others say the whole thing is just a local prank. In any case, the grave serves as a cautionary tale: don’t eat glue!

A little off-topic. There’s actually an interesting bit of history about the cemetery where Mr. Paste Eater rests for eternity. The original cemetery was established in 1905, right in town. It was the final resting spot of around 70 of Goldfield’s earliest pioneers. However, as the town grew, the idea of a cemetery just in the city center didn’t sit well with the people: the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Company came through town and stated that it was demoralizing for their passengers to step off their trains and the first thing they see be a cemetery. Similarly, it was considered bad taste for visitors of the Goldfield Hotel, opened in 1908 which, looking out the window, they saw directly the town’s burial ground.
So, a group of men known as “official ghouls” worked under the cover of darkness to move the bodies to a more suitable location, outside of town. 82 additional burials would be added to the original 70 pioneers, including a murder suspect who hanged himself and another man who was shot.

Author’s note: you can find the gravestone in the far southwestern portion of the graveyard, behind the Elk’s Rest section.

Sources: Letterology.com, Dangerousminds.net and me.

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