Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Carl E. Akeley, Taxidermist and More

"Sue" is probably the most famous item the Field Museum has. The display says it's the most complete T. Rex skeleton anywhere, displayed in the main hall (the Stanley Field Hall) of the museum. Oddly, the skull in the main hall, attached to the rest of the skeleton, is a replica, with the actual headbone one story up as the centerpiece of its own display.

The signs claim the head is too heavy to attach to the skeleton. But couldn't it be propped up in some way? Guess that's not dramatic enough. The jaws have to appear free and ready to chomp on some European tourists.

A lot of people were taking photos of Sue. Only a few steps away, also in the great hall of the Field Museum, not nearly as many people were curious enough about these beasts to take any pictures.

African elephants, and a fixture of the Field Museum for about 100 years, it turns out. But for the few minutes I stood next to them, I was one of only a few paying them any mind. Sue was getting all the glory.

Yet they are remarkable creatures. So too was the man who brought them to the museum, Carl Akeley. According to the Field Museum web site: "In the late 1800s, Carl E. Akeley collected and mounted animals for Field Museum, and revolutionized the art of taxidermy. None are more famous than the "Fighting African Elephants" on display in the Museum's Stanley Field Hall. Akeley made two separate trips to Africa in 1895 and 1906. Akeley was also a photographer, and made thousands of negatives of the trips including villages and native peoples. Some of these photographs were used by Akeley in mounting the mammals he collected..."

The Encyclopædia Britannica offers more detail: "... during his associations with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (1895–1909) and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (1909–26) [Akeley] made five trips to Africa to study, hunt, and collect big game. In 1923, his book In Brightest Africa appeared. He died during his last expedition and was buried on Mount Mikeno in Albert National Park (now Virunga National Park, Congo [Kinshasa]), the first wildlife sanctuary in central Africa, which he had helped establish. His inventions include the Akeley cement gun, used in mounting animals, and the Akeley camera, a motion-picture camera adapted for use by naturalists, with which Akeley made the first motion pictures of gorillas in their natural habitat."

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