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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Sheeps Heads, Petrified Frogs & Other Curios


When Wisconsin and its Historical Society were still young, citizens eagerly donated objects to its "cabinet of antiquities," hoping to build its collection into a rival of older and more prestigious East Coast institutions. Their enthusiasm, however, often outpaced their taste or judgment. Here's a very small selection of the items donated during the year 1875. See if you can tell which ones were truly valuable:

- a $3 continental bill dated Feb. 17, 1776, paid to John Ormsby of Vermont for revolutionary services, preserved and presented by his descendants

- a cone of sugar pine tree, very large size, from the Nevada Mountains, Mariposa County, 50 miles southwest of Yosemite Valley, from Mrs. Daniel Jackson, Evansville

- head of a Rocky Mountain sheep with large heavy horns, from James M. Stoner, Colorado

- a small petrified frog taken from a boulder of sand rock, eight feet below the surface, in digging a cellar for Peter Young, Madison

- two bottles of water, one from the Dead Sea the other from the River Jordan, from Dr. C.B. Chapman

- a pewter platter, part of the marriage portion of the bride Eunice Marshall when married to Capt. Samuel Enos in Dec. 1735 at Windsor, Conn presented by her great grand-daughter, Mrs. E. D. Pardee, Madison

- a common wooden chair formerly the property of President Fillmore, one of a set with which he commenced house-keeping about 1826

- a copy of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863, printed on wall paper, from Henry Joy

- a specimen of bread made by the Pueblo Indians, from Geo. H. Pradt

At the time, the state's historical museum was presided over by Mr. Isaac Lyon who, "at the venerable age of eighty-one, has for another year given his undivided attention to the care of the cabinet and its exhibition to visitors and strangers always eliciting the warmest expressions for his kindness from those who visit that interesting department." It was then housed in the south wing of the (third) Capitol and looked like this or, from a different angle, this.

The donations weren't only bizarre bric-a-brac, though. In 1875 the Society also received on deposit one of the largest and most valuable collections of archaeological objects then in existence. Frederick S. Perkins of Burlington, Racine Co., donated more than 9,000 stone rollers, pestles, knives, scrapers, awls, pikes, spear, lance, and arrow-heads, and 150 ancient copper tools, making the Society museum one of the most important archaeological research collections in the country. "The stone collection is simply wonderful," beamed Society director Lyman Draper, "while the copper one is confessedly unequalled in the country."


:: Posted in Curiosities on July 5, 2006

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