Basements and Bones (Two Quickly Emerging Themes of the Lost Museum Project)

By JESSICA PALINSKI
Skeletons of a lion (foreground) and a pig (background) which were very likely part of the Jenks Museum Collection.

Skeletons of a lion (foreground) and a pig (background) which were very likely part of the Jenks Museum Collection.

In April of 1870, just one year before John Whipple Potter Jenks began the dialogue that was to result in the creation of the Jenks Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, The Brunonian (Brown’s student newspaper) ran an article stating that “A cabinet of comparative anatomy is essential to any college… Brown has only one ghastly skeleton, two or three small charts, and a few promiscuous bones!” These sentiments, which mirror current student interest in a natural history collection at Brown, are particularly interesting in light of the unceremonious dismantling of the Jenks Museum roughly seventy years ago.

Today, Christine Janis of the biology department speaks wistfully of the Jenks collection, which she believes would have been an incredible resource for students over the intervening years. Though most of the original collection was dispersed or destroyed, Brown retains a collection of skeletons and bones worthy of note.

Christine displaying the fossilized mammoth tooth.

Christine displaying a fossilized mammoth tooth.

According to Janis, who generously gave interested students access to the basement where these bones are housed, much of Brown’s current collection formerly belonged to the Jenks Museum. Though most of the skeletons and taxidermy pieces housed in her space aren’t labeled, Janis is able to guess which pieces came from Brown’s former museum. In addition to pieces salvaged from the Jenks Museum, the biology department’s collection also contains materials purchased at the disbanding of Princeton University’s own Museum of Natural History.

A collection of birds with labels dating back to 1878 were certainly part of the Jenks Museum.

A collection of birds with labels dating back to 1878 were certainly part of the Jenks Museum.

Though the materials tucked away in the basement are nothing compared with the former glory of Jenks’ complete collection of taxidermy and skeletons, many of which were hunted and prepared by Jenks himself, the class of 1870 can rest assured that Brown’s current collection consists of more than a few promiscuous bones.

A cabinet full of mink skulls in the basement of the biology building at Brown.

A cabinet full of mink (and other) skulls in the basement of the biology building at Brown.

(Unless otherwise credited, photographs courtesy of Jessica Palinski)

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