Unearthing The Mastodon


He, too, believed in Charles Willson’s lofty idea of what a museum should contain, but the era was against him. Barnum was on the rise, and the museum business was becoming show business. It is a measure of the museum’s fortunes that the mastodon—the salient attraction for so many years—was sold to a museum in Darmstadt, West Germany. There it stands today, despite damage suffered in the Second World War.

Edmund Peale, grandson of the founder, presided over the last years and dispersal of the collection. Most of it went to Barnum in 1850. Edmund then set out to sell the museum’s portrait gallery and was with it in Cincinnati two years later when he collapsed and died. He was found to be destitute, his only assets a book of autographs and a gold brooch containing a lock of Napoleon’s hairthe last of the old museum’s exhibits to remain in the family. The portraits were returned to Philadelphia, where most of them are now at Independence National Historical Park.