An Almost Human Look of Intelligence

By JESSICA PALINSKI

This week’s article in the Providence Journal isn’t the first to address Brown’s former museum of Natural History and Anthropology. In 1893 an article covering the Jenks Museum made mysterious reference to “a plaster cast of the head of Mr. Crowley, wearing an almost human look of intelligence.” This perplexing tidbit left us wondering: Who is Mr. Crowley? Why does he wear an almost human look of intelligence? What is he doing in our collection?

Recently Kate Duffy uncovered the answer through dogged research and steadfast inquiry. According to the The Pet of the Menagerie, an article published in the November 30, 1884 issue of the New York Times, Mr. Crowley is a chimpanzee, the first, in fact, ever exhibited in the United States.

Mr. Crowley at Dinner

An illustration of Mr. Crowley at dinner, from “Mr. Crowley the Chimpanzee” by Oliver Thorne Miller.

According to Mr. W. A. Conklin, Superintendant of the Central Park Menagerie where Mr. Crowley lived from 1884 until his death in 1888, “I am really almost a convert to the Darwinian theory, and that little brute over there is the cause of it.”

Unsurprisingly, Conklin wasn’t the only citizen charmed by Mr. Crowley. In 1886, the New York Times, which frequently chronicled the exploits of Central Park’s chimpanzee, published an article about his bride. Miss Kitty O’Brien, a chimpanzee hailing from the “wild regions above the falls of the Congo,” was provided with “an entire stateroom for her use on the trip across the Atlantic.” Sadly, Mr. Crowley only enjoyed the benefits of Miss O’Brien’s companionship for a year before succumbing to pneumonia. Acccording to the Times, Mr. Crowley’s mate “would sit there by the hour with her face pressed against the cold iron and shower sympathetic glances at her miserable lover.”

After his unfortunate demise, Mr. Crowley’s body was sent to the American Museum of Natural History where it was donated to science. At the time it was common practice to taxidermy popular animals for display in the Museum, and to create plaster casts for use in other natural history collections. One example? Our very own Jenks Museum.

For more information on Mr. Crowley, check out Mr. Crowley of Central Park by Henry Starkey Fuller, available as a free Google e-book.

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