9. Virginia Woolf’s walking stick
Tucked inside a gleaming glass container is a walking stick owned by Virginia Woolf — considered by many to be one of the greatest modernist writers of the 20th century. Having written classics like To the Lighthouse and A Room Of One’s Own, Woolf’s literary legacy carries on to today, with the New York Public Library holding the largest collection of the author’s manuscripts and letters in the world. Suffering from several ailments throughout her life, including a suspected case of bipolar disorder, Woolf was often found using a cane to support herself as she walked.
Following the start of World War II, Woolf’s mental health began to decline, indicated by the increased focus on death in her diary writings. This would come to a head on March 28, 1941, when while walking along the River Ouse, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones. On display in accompaniment with the cane is a letter from Woolf’s husband Leonard to their friend Vita Sackville-West, written on the day she died. As Leonard laments, “[Virginia] has been really very ill these last weeks & was terrified that she was going mad again. It was I suppose the strain of the war and finishing her book. I think she has drowned herself, as I found her stick floating in the water. But we have not yet found the body.” Woolf’s corpse would eventually be recovered on April 18.