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11 of the Most Unique Gifts Ever Given to IU

Gift tag that says, "To: IU"

The IU family is incredibly generous. And that generosity comes in many different forms: time, talent, and treasure.

But “treasures” can be wide-ranging, too—even a little unexpected sometimes. Here are just a few of the unusual items that donors have given to Indiana University.


Once used as a valet stand at a California seafood restaurant, the prow of the retired USS Indiana was donated to IU in 2016 and traveled across the country to its current home at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.


J.K. Lilly donated a lock of Edgar Allan Poe’s hair.

A brown curl of hair is displayed on a framed card.
IU is home to not one but two locks of Edgar Allen Poe’s hair. Photo courtesy of the IU Lilly Library.


More than 300 linear feet of records, audiovisual materials, and other memorabilia was donated to IU’s Black Film Center/Archive in 2014 by Mary Perry Smith, co-founder of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Included in the collection is the original grave marker of Oscar Micheaux, who in 1919 became the first Black filmmaker to produce a feature-length film. (The original marker was replaced with a more substantial one in 1988.)


The blooming of the Amorphophallus titanium is an extremely rare sight—and smell. Commonly known as the “corpse flower” (for the putrid scent its bloom gives off), the titan arum was a gift of the late Greg Speichert, former director of IU’s Hilltop Garden and Nature Center.

Nicknamed “Wally,” IU’s corpse flower drew crowds of hundreds when it bloomed in 2016.

Close-up of a green plant.
“Wally,” the corpse flower. Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University.


Retired professor Carl deGraaf donated his 94-acre farm to IU Southeast in 2017. Possible educational uses include water quality studies, sustainability research, an on-site pottery studio, geoscience studies of sinkholes, and more.


IU’s motto is lux et veritas (Latin for “light and truth”), so it’s fitting that IU is now home to the Center for Investigative Journalism. The center was established in 2018 thanks to a gift by Michael I. Arnolt, BA’67.


Phoenix Rising from the Ashes, IU Kokomo’s first sculpture, was created and donated by alumnus Bob Hamilton in 1963.

A silver sculpture that looks somewhat like a spade atop the grass, tilted 45 degrees, with a pointy beak affixed to the top.
Phoenix Rising from the Ashes was restored in 2019 in celebration of IU Kokomo’s 75th anniversary. Photo courtesy of IU Kokomo.


A pair of Spock ears worn by Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek VI was donated to the Lilly Library in 2017 by Ben Motz, a research scientist in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Two tan, pointy-tipped ears sit in a lined, golden box next to a signed photograph depicting Leonard Nimoy as the character Spock, and a certificate of authenticity from Paramount.
Leonard Nimoy was a member of Motz’s family’s synagogue, and donated the ears as an auction item for a temple fundraiser. Motz’s parents placed the winning bid as a gift for his birthday. Photo courtesy of the IU Lilly Library.


A recipe for old-fashioned apple dumplings (with the note “HBW wants this!”) is part of the Herman B Wells collection.


More than 30,000 mechanical puzzles were donated by Jerry Slocum.

A man wearing a blue button-up shirt and dark-rimmed glasses wags the arm of a wooden figure with shifty eyes.
“Woodrow,” the aptly nicknamed wooden robot puzzle from the Slocum puzzle collection, gets a helping hand from a Lilly Library staff member. Photo courtesy of the IU Lilly Library.


The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI received more than 18,000 pounds of Bradbury’s personal effects in 2013. The donation included Bradbury’s desk, three typewriters, and over 100,000 pages of literary works stored in 31 of the author’s filing cabinets.

Wooden shelves packed with books and other ephemera, such as a miniature dinosaur, monster mask, framed pictures, awards, and more.
IUPUI’s Center for Ray Bradbury Studies has recreated Bradbury’s basement office / library as it evolved in his Los Angeles home for more than half a century. Photo courtesy of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies.

What’s one thing you can NOT donate to IU?

Moon dust! Some lunar samples were once offered to the Department of Geology, but IU couldn’t accept them because all moon samples are property of the U.S. government.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of IMAGINE magazine.

Written By

Andrea Alumbaugh

A native Hoosier, Andrea Alumbaugh is a graduate of IU (BAJ’08) and a senior writer at the IU Foundation.

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