Tabletop Tuesdays: Getting Clue’d into the mysterious murder of Jane Stanford in July 2022

August 16, 2022
Kathleen M Smith
Image of the modified game board

In 1905, Jane Stanford died of strychnine poisoning while traveling in Hawaii. Books such as The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford by Robert Cutler (2003) and, most recently, Who Killed Jane Stanford? by Richard White (2022) explore the suspicious circumstances of her death by examining archival records and surviving documents, many of which are here in the Stanford collections. These fascinating historical investigations examine the motives and opportunities of those who surrounded Jane Stanford and who might have benefited from her death.

Games can let us relive and replay history with different outcomes. A new event series in Hohbach Hall, Tabletop Tuesdays, showcases Stanford Library’s extensive game collection, including new creations that infuse well-known game dynamics with a dose of history and Stanford’s archives. Kristin Valenti, Exhibits Coordinator for the Silicon Valley Archives, reimagined Clue™ by incorporating historical figures from Jane Stanford’s social circles, along with foods that she ate on her last day. The Stanford mansion served as the scene of the crime. She updated the game cards (to check off which people and potentially-poisoned foods were ruled out) with dramatic historical newspaper clippings on the back.

The game began in a leisurely fashion as all detectives assembled, some struggling to coordinate secrecy within teams of two around a small table. Those joining too late for the first round of game play perused the archival records and historical books on display around the game table. Accusations flew through the air as player-figures slipped in and out of secret passages, and Zac Painter (Interim Head of Terman Library) emerged as the victorious sleuth with his masterful summary of the perpetrator, murder weapon, and location—and he was proven correct! A lively conversation about the effects of strychnine poisoning followed the game.

Want to try your hand at solving the murder of Jane Stanford so her spirit can finally rest in peace? You can check out our version of the game for use in Hohbach Hall.

People playing a game