A Mastodon In Mount Vernon

A Mastodon In Mount Vernon

Mark Letzer
From the desk of
Mark B. Letzer

Volume 4 Issue 9
October, 2015

Dear Reader,

In 1808 painter and museum operator Charles Willson Peale finished a painting based on the discovery of a great creature unknown at that time.

"The Exhumation of the Mastodon" is considered one of the icons of American art, and it's currently hanging next to the enormous reconstructed skeleton of the mastodon we have newly installed in the Thomas and Hugg lobby.

For many years they resided in Baltimore's Peale Museum, but have been in the custody of the Maryland Historical Society for close to twenty years. The artifacts on display even include a case of original bones. We invite you to come and see it!

MdHS Installation, replica Mastodon. Digital photograph by James Singewald, 2015
MdHS Installation, replica Mastodon. Digital photograph by James Singewald, 2015

This month you'll also want to check out our special Maryland on Film II Day on Saturday, October 3 and our Used Book Sale running from Friday, October 2-Sunday, October 4. It's back by popular demand, after several years of amassing an enormous collection of books. You'll have over 6,000 volumes to choose from. Do not miss this great opportunity to build your library with some wonderful titles!

We look forward to seeing you this weekend. 
-Mark B. Letzer

A Mastodon in Mount Vernon

Exhumation of the Mastodon
"Exhumation of the Mastodon," Charles Willson Peale, 1806-1808, MdHS, MA5911

A new installation at the Maryland Historical Society illustrates Maryland's instrumental role in the natural sciences. Standing 10 feet tall by 18 feet long, a replica American mastodon (Mammut americanum) fills one section of the museum's Four Centuries of Maryland History gallery.

Beside the mastodon are cases displaying bones from the original animal that painter Charles Willson Peale unearthed in 1801, along with his seminal painting, "Exhumation of the Mastodon." The installation will be on view indefinitely.

Peale's mastodon was the first prehistoric animal skeleton ever assembled and exhibited in a museum, beginning a tradition that has thrilled children and adults ever since.

Charles Willson Peale and His Discovery

Charles Willson Peale was born on Kent Island, Maryland, in 1741. Peale was Maryland's preeminent "renaissance man" known best for his portrait paintings of significant Americans. But he was also a revolutionary soldier, a naturalist, a museum founder, and father to ten children - many of whom furthered his scientific and artistic legacy.

In 1801, with a loan from the American Philosophical Society and equipped by the Army and Navy, Peale led a mission to scientifically excavate and reconstruct two mastodon skeletons found in the Hudson River Valley of New York. "Peale was the first person to conduct this sort of scientific inquiry," Paul Rubenson, Exhibitions Manager, says. "When you think dinosaur bones in museums, that was his idea."

Peale captured the undertaking in his expressive and complex painting, "Exhumation of the Mastodon," which shows the project's natural challenges and Peale's scientific leadership. "You see the adverse conditions Peale and his team were up against," Rubenson continues, "There is a thunderstorm in the background. People are up to their waist in water. Peale himself the designed the water wheel behind them, which was meant to keep the ground dry. It's a huge story."

Peale completed the painting five years later. The Washington Post has called the painting 'a classic American mix of art, public relations, self-promotion and pure intellectual exuberance.' Doreen Bolger, former Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, called the painting her 'favorite work of Baltimore Art.'

The American Mastodon

MdHS Installation, replica Mastodon. Digital photograph by James Singewald, 2015
MdHS Installation, replica Mastodon. Digital photograph by James Singewald, 2015.
The American Mastodon was a prehistoric member of the elephant family. It existed alongside Native Americans and roamed the continent in herds until about 10,000 years ago, when it became extinct.

Peale's first mastodon went to his museum in Philadelphia and now resides in Darmstadt, Germany; the second came to his son Rembrandt Peale's museum here in Baltimore. The Baltimore skeleton was eventually disbursed and passed through many hands. In 1954, the Smithsonian Institution returned the remaining bones to Baltimore's Peale Museum. They are currently on display, with the mastodon, here at the Maryland Historical Society.

Baltimore's Peale Museum built the replica skeleton for its groundbreaking 1992 exhibit Mermaids, Mummies, and Mastodons: the Emergence of the American Museum, which recreated Peale's original museum installation. Russell Graham of the Illinois State Museum cast the fiberglass bones from mid-western mastodon examples in that museum's collection. The mastodon group came into the collections of the Maryland Historical Society when it merged with the Baltimore City Life Museum in 1997.

Reconstructing the Mastodon

The mastodon skeleton is surprisingly lightweight; weighing up to 1,000 pounds, it is comprised of hundreds of bones joined together in 10 composite sections.

"Putting it up was a challenge," Rubenson says, as its platform height was too tall to fit into the exhibition space. Rubenson and a team of craftsmen assembled the mastodon by hand. They needed to re-engineer the entire base of the animal to make it shorter, while remaining stable. "The cosmetic platform had to be taken apart, board by board." He estimates the entire project took a month to complete!

You can see the Mastodon for yourself during our public hours: Wednesday-Saturday 10 am - 5 pm and Sunday 12 pm-5 pm. For directions, click here.

Our Used Book Sale Is Back!

Click to print 
Click to enlarge, and print & share with friends!

Back by popular demand! The Maryland Historical Society is hosting its popular Used Book Sale with Free Museum admission all weekend from Friday, October 2-Sunday, October 4.

Come peruse more than 6,000 titles, including a wide selection of Maryland-themed books, as well as popular fiction, reference, non-fiction, and much more for bargain prices. Lithographs, photo prints, antique and rare books will also be on sale.

Spend $10 or more during the used book sale and receive a free copy of In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland During the War of 1812, while supplies last!

Plus, Saturday, October 3 is our Maryland on Film II day, and between 10 am and 4 pm, we'll be screening 11 short films and videos, including a newly restored version of our film "The Great Hurricane of 1933".

In 2013, the National Film Preservation Foundation awarded the Maryland Historical Society a grant to preserve "The Great Hurricane of 1933," which captured the incredible destruction of Ocean City, Maryland.

Ocean City, MD. View of the damage after the hurricane of 1933, A. Aubrey Bodine, 1933, MC8230-A, MdHS.
Ocean City, MD. View of the damage after the hurricane of 1933, A. Aubrey Bodine, 1933, MC8230-A, MdHS.
S. Watts Smyth of St. Louis, Missouri captured the harrowing footage of the 1933 hurricane while on vacation with his family. The Smyths had driven fifteen hours in their brand new Cadillac LaSalle to visit the beach for their annual vacation only to be caught in one of the worst weather events in Maryland history.

On August 22, after four days of saturating rain, the hurricane made landfall. Heavy winds picked up and battered the boardwalk, pummeled the city with large waves, and destroyed the town's railroad bridge and fishing camps. The storm's greatest and most lasting impact was a 50-foot wide, 8-foot deep inlet that was carved through the barrier island by a continuous four day ebb tide, flowing from the bay out to the ocean. Three entire streets were submerged at the south end of the town. The destruction, in the end, proved a boon for the town. The inlet made Ocean City the state's only Atlantic port.

The resulting commercial and sport fishing boom greatly shaped the character of the Ocean City we know today, as vacationers flocked to the seaside town in large numbers to crab and fish, and dozens of hotels and restaurants sprang up to meet their needs.

We'll also be screening 10 other films dating from the 1930s to the 1990s. And did we mention FREE POPCORN?! You won't want to miss it!

Ticketing and Further Information:
Admission will be FREE all weekend! No registration necessary. For more details about our Maryland On Film II program, click here.

More Fall Events at
The Maryland Historical Society

Covert Catholicism in Colonial Portraiture:
Justus Engelhardt Kuhn's Eleanor Darnall, c. 1710

Thursday, October 1, 2015 | 6 PM

Presented by Elisabeth Roark, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art, Chatham University

Eleanor Darnall, Justus Engelhardt Kuhn, 1710
While Kuhn's portrait of Henry Darnall and his slave is one of the best-known images of colonial American art, the pendant portrait of his sister Eleanor has attracted little scholarly attention.

This lecture will reveal that Eleanor's portrait was not simply a status symbol, as many have assumed, but also Kuhn included symbols that reaffirm the Darnall's commitment to their faith during a time of heightened persecution of Catholics and the colony's rapid Anglicization.

The portrait's details, including the flowers, enclosed garden, and fountain, suggest Eleanor's metaphorical relation to the Virgin Mary and her future significance to her family as caretaker of the faith.

Ticketing and Further Information:
This event is part of our Francis Scott Key Lecture Series. Tickets are $50/lecture; $200/individual series; $325 couple series. The lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and there will be an open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres. To register, click here.

Tickets Now On Sale:
"The Mesmeric Revelations Of Edgar Allan Poe"


The Maryland Historical Society proudly announces a new remount of the popular immersive theater experience, The Mesmeric Revelations! Of Edgar Allan Poe. The two-hour experience invites audiences into a world that channels the spirit and characters of one of Baltimore's most treasured writers. Performances will take place Thursday-Sunday beginning on October 14, 2015 with new cast members, new characters, and new spaces to discover.

"We're calling this the Fall 2015 Edition of Mesmeric Revelations because we'll be delving deeper into the world we created in the Spring," says Producer and Co-Director Glenn Ricci. "We've added new details, new characters and will be introducing a second cast of talented performers. Most of the original cast will be returning as well, so any given night could be a very different experience from the last. We had a number of repeat visitors last time and intentionally created a world that rewards multiple visits. Some members of the audience may even be invited up to a space in the Enoch Pratt House that has been closed to the public for nearly four decades - and discover new secrets about the world's inhabitants."

The circa 1840s Enoch Pratt House was built during the last decade of Edgar Allan Poe's life. "The house is very much like another character to us," Ricci continues, "It was here when Poe was alive, so there is no place more perfect for these strange events to play out." The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in West Baltimore.

The Maryland Historical Society is grateful to the funding support of PNC Bank, which allowed for renovations to the first floor to make it once again accessible to the public.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Tickets for October dates to The Mesmeric Revelations! Of Edgar Allan Poe can be found by clicking here.

Baltimore's Next "Poe Toaster" Auditions
Saturday, November 7 | 8:30 PM - 11:30 PM

Hosted by the Maryland Historical Society,
in partnership with Poe Baltimore
Poe Toaster Flyer
Click to enlarge. Print and share!

Do you have what it takes to become Baltimore's Next "Poe Toaster"?

Beginning in the 1930s, a mysterious individual began visiting Edgar Allan Poe's original gravesite at Westminster Hall every year on the author's birthday, January 19th. Later dubbed the "Poe Toaster," the man began a tradition in which he would sneak into the cemetery at night while dressed in black clothing, a wide-brimmed black hat, and a white scarf.

Upon arriving at Poe's grave, the toaster would place 3 roses beside it before opening a bottle of cognac. The roses are believed to be in memory of the three individuals buried at the site of the Poe Monument: Poe, Maria Clemm, and Virginia Poe. After toasting Poe with a glass of cognac, the man would then place the bottle next to the grave before disappearing into the night. Sadly, the "Poe Toaster" has not appeared since 2009, but never fear, this long held Baltimore tradition will be reclaimed this fall.

On November 7, the Maryland Historical Society and Poe Baltimore are teaming up to host the Baltimore's Next "Poe Toaster" Competition. Along with their friends at Westminster Hall and The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe, the organizations aim to revitalize the bygone tradition of the "Poe Toaster", but with a new twist!

Each finalist will be given 3 minutes to perform as their own original vision and interpretation of the "Poe Toaster". This performance could be anything within the bounds of the imagination - a dramatic reading, song, interpretive dance - you name it, as long as it's connected to our dear friend Edgar. In the style of America's Got Talent or American Idol, three celebrity judges will comment on the performances, but the audience will ultimately decide on the winner. The newly dubbed "Poe Toaster" will then have the honor of "toasting" Poe, however he or she so chooses, at Poe's gravesite at Westminster Hall for his birthday in January 2016, as well as other events throughout the city during the year.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Entries must be received by October 23. Click here for complete rules and submission details.

To watch the November 7 competition, get tickets here.

Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Mason-Dixon Survey and the Restoration of the Bird Transit Instrument
Wednesday, October 14 | 6:30-8:30 PM

The Bird Instrument in its current state at the Governor's Council Chamber in Independence Hall, Philadelphia
The Bird Instrument in its current state at the Governor's Council Chamber in Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Join us we celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Mason-Dixon Survey and the remounting of the Bird Transit. David S. Thaler, PE, LS, F.ASCE, F.NSPE and author of The Mystery of the Transit in the Tower, will recount the process of restoration and remounting of America's most historic scientific instrument, the Bird Transit, which was famously used by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in their iconic survey of the Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania border. The Bird Transit will be on display at the Maryland Historical Society, as well as other documents from the Mason-Dixon Survey.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Tickets are $20/MdHS members; $30/nonmembers. Light refreshments will be served. To register, click here.

The Manor, a book talk with author Mac Griswald
Thursday, October 22
6:30-7:30 PM Lecture
7:30-8:30 PM Reception and Book Signing

The Manor
Join us as author and landscape historian, Mac Griswald relays her biography of a uniquely American place that has endured through wars great and small, through fortunes won and lost, through histories bright and sinister - and of the family that has lived there since its founding as a New England slave plantation three and a half centuries ago.

The Manor is a historical narrative that tells the story of slavery, emancipation, racism, prejudice and silent prejudice in New England through a single piece of land. Based on years of archival and field research, as well as voyages to Africa, the West Indies, and Europe, The Manor is at once an investigation into forgotten lives and a sweeping drama that captures our history in all its richness and suffering.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Tickets are $25/MdHS members; $35/nonmembers. Light refreshments will be served. To register, click here.

Green Mount Cemetery Tour
Saturday, October 31 | 10:30 AM-2:30 PM


Explore the lives of the people who shaped Maryland history on this special Halloween tour of Green Mount Cemetery and the Maryland Historical Society. Join Mark Letzer, MdHS President and CEO, on a tour of our galleries to learn about the great Marylanders of the past, including Betsy Bonaparte, Enoch Pratt, and John Wilkes Booth. Following lunch, visitors will motorcade to Green Mount Cemetery to visit the graves of these and many other famous Marylanders. A walking tour along the historic paths under fall foliage will highlight the people, legends and lore surrounding one of Baltimore's historic cemeteries.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Tickets are $35/MdHS members; $45/nonmembers. Boxed lunches will be served. To register, click here.

The Mourning After: Grieving in Style in the Victorian Era
Thursday, November 5, 2015 | 6 PM

Presented by Karin Bohleke, Ph.D., Director of the Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University

Victorias Children
Queen Victoria's Children in Mourning, courtesy Wikipedia
To modern eyes, the nineteenth century appears almost obsessed with the stages of grief and mourning as represented through the clothing of the bereaved.

Such an attitude reveals more about twenty-first century attitudes and does not yield helpful or productive insights into the past.

In fact, our nineteenth century forebears, through sheer necessity, had in a number of ways a healthier understanding and approach to the real pain associated with the death of loved ones and processing the loss afterwards.

This lecture will explore the traditions and culture associated with mourning in the nineteenth century confers a greater understanding of their lives and teaches a few lessons to the modern inquirer.

Ticketing and Further Information:
This event is part of our Francis Scott Key Lecture Series. Tickets are $50/lecture; $200/individual series; $325 couple series. The lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and there will be an open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres. To register, click here.

Fourth Regiment United States Colored Troops Flag, 1863, Silk mounted on a wooden pole, MdHS, 2004.22
Fourth Regiment United States Colored Troops Flag, 1863, Silk mounted on a wooden pole, MdHS, 2004.22

Slavery and Emancipation in Maryland
Walking Tour with Baltimore Heritage

Saturday, November 7  | 10-11:30 AM

Around Mount Vernon Place, memorials in bronze and marble honor many slave-holders, such as George Washington, John Eager Howard, and Roger B. Taney, yet no statue recognizes the labor of the enslaved people who worked and lived in the neighborhood, for example like Richard Mack.

Join us for a tour uncovering the lives of enslaved people and slave-owners through stories ranging from violent politics of the Civil War and the revolutionary shift that occurred during emancipation.

Participants will meet at the Maryland Historical Society to tour the galleries, and then enjoy a walking tour around the Mount Vernon neighborhood with Baltimore Heritage.

Ticketing and Further Information:
Tickets are $15 for MdHS members/$25 NonMembers. Click here to register.

Turn Your Gift Cards Into a Donation!

Click to watch our short video!
Calling All Gift Cards! Turn your old gift cards or store credits into a donation through our new Gift Card Giving program! Gift cards and store credits from hundreds of different merchants are accepted, and your donation remains tax deductible! Cards must have at least $5 remaining on them to be accepted.

Follow this link to the special donation website, or drop off your cards in the museum store! Please note that gift card donations may not be applied to membership dues, museum/library entry fees, or event registrations. For more information on this new program please call the Development Office at 410-685-3750 x319 or email membership@mdhs.org.


Climb the
Washington Monument,
Get Half Off MdHS Admission!

If you climb to the top of the Washington Monument, first of all, good for you!

Second, you'll receive a sticker that is good for half off the price of Maryland Historical Society museum admission. While you're here, you can see the 1814 and 1915 Time Capsules that were unearthed from the monument this past year in our exhibit, "Treasures of the Washington Monument!

Simply present your Washington Monument admission sticker to Visitors Services when you arrive at the Maryland Historical Society.

Like History Alive? Share Us With a Friend!...

I hope you're enjoying our monthly History Alive! E-newsletter. If you have a friend or family member who might enjoy receiving up-to-the-minute news and information about our events and exhibitions (and, of course, our trivia questions), simply send them this link: www.mdhs.org/signup

And they can sign up!

Speaking of Trivia...

Trivia Time!

Ready for this month's question?

Charles Willson Peale passed along his curiosity for the natural world and his artistic talent to his many children who themselves would become noted painters and collectors. We mentioned Rembrandt Peale who founded a museum in Baltimore, but did you know that Peale named all of his sons after the master painters of the past?

Question: Name two of Peale's other sons.

Email us your answer, and you, too, could win a prize! Best of luck.

Until next month,

Mark Letzer

Mark B. Letzer
President, The Maryland Historical Society

This Month: From Our Friends

Artifacts and Cannons

Privateer Artifacts
And Cannon Mysteries
Wednesday, October 7
7-9 PM

Join MdHS Maritime Committee Member John Emond at Pride of Baltimore II Headquarters in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. See authentic privateer documents and artifacts from the French and Indian War through the War of 1812 including an original letter of marque and sword from the privateer Viper. Also on display will be documents proving American citizenship to try and stop British impressment on the high seas, a leading cause of the War of 1812. And you'll have a chance to view a New England town's auction list for items taken by an American privateer from a British armed merchant ship.

In addition, there will be two small cannons; one of them is of a type and age (late 18th to early 19th century) that would have fit well on board the original "Pride of Baltimore", Chasseur. Each has an interesting mystery that will be discussed. The evening concludes with a "history raffle" of several original newspapers. This lecture is presented by John Emond, a retired NASA program manager and collector of military antiques.

To register, click here.

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." The Society is located at 201 W. Monument Street and open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, and Sunday (museum only) 12 pm-5pm.