Little Bits of History

Mastodons

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2010

Mastodon skeleton

December 25, 1801: The first complete skeleton of a mastodon found in the US is placed on display at the Philadelphia Museum, located next door to Independence Hall in the old US capital. Charles Willson Peale, a true Renaissance Man, was the owner of the museum as well as the man who supervised the excavation of the skeleton found in the Hudson River Valley. He placed the newly mounted bones in the “Mammoth Room” in his museum and it was an instant success.

Peale was also an artist and loyal American. He painted portraits of John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and of course, George Washington. In fact, using sketches from seven different sittings, Peale painted around 60 portraits of the Father of our Country. Peale married for the first time at the age of 21 and he and his wife had ten children before she died. He married again the next year, and he and his second wife had another six children.

Besides portraiture and procreation, Peale was also interested natural sciences. He opened his museum with his paintings and with specimens from the natural world. He was also involved with carpentry, dentistry, optometry, shoemaking, taxidermy, and authored several books. His museum was renamed Peale Museum and moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Maryland where it still stands.

Mastodons resembled but were distinct from the wooly mammoth. They first lived in the North American region about 4 million years ago and became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Ice age man hunted the mastodon and may have contributed to its demise. The beast resembled a furry elephant with both tusks and a trunk. The animal was about 8-10 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed in at about 4-6 tons. There is some evidence that tuberculosis was also a causative factor in its extinction.

“An ideal museum show would be a mating of Brideshead Revisited with House & Garden provoking intense and pleasurable nostalgia for a past that none of its audience has had.” – Robert Hughes

“I never can pass by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York without thinking of it not as a gallery of living portraits but as a cemetery of tax-deductible wealth.” – Lewis H. Lapham

“I seldom go into a natural history museum without feeling as if I were attending a funeral.” – John Burroughs

“We don’t just want the blue-haired old ladies as members of the museum. We want new, young people, younger than me, in their 20s, to pay attention to history.” – Jim Robinson

Also on this day, in 1950 the Stone of Scone was stolen.

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