Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

10 Fun Things in AMNH's Memorabilia Collection

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

Everyone knows that New York City’s American Museum of Natural History has incredible collections of everything from dinosaur fossils and bioluminescent fish specimens to ancient Chinese robes and meteorites to hippo skulls and rare books. But what people maybe don’t realize is that the museum has a unit—the Research Library’s Memorabilia Collection—devoted to cataloguing its own history, including scientific equipment, old exhibits, and the personal collections of notable contributors to the museum. The Memorabilia Collection is housed in an off-the-beaten path section of the building near one of the museum’s rare book rooms. Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director of the Department of Library Services, let us poke around—under close supervision, of course.

1. Vintage Cameras

When you first enter the Memorabilia Room, you notice almost an entire row of shelves devoted to vintage camera equipment, including some large format cameras, and viewfinders. Much of it still works!

2. Lemur Bust

This bust of a “lemuroid primate” came from a long closed exhibit created by a museum curator, William King Gregory, called “Our Face from Fish to Man” (Gregory also wrote a book on the subject). The display—which went up in 1929 and would definitely not be considered accurate or politically correct today—included a number of busts, starting with a Devonian shark and ending with the bust of an “Australian bushman” and, finally, the head of a classic "Greek Athlete," which can also be seen in the Memorabilia Room.

Like most objects in the Memorabilia Collection, the bust is stored in a custom box constructed for it in the Library’s Conservation Lab.

3. Radiolarian Model

This beautiful model of a Radiolarian—tiny protozoa, found in the ocean, that come in a wide variety of shapes—was made by a glass blower at the museum. Written on the inside of the box is "Haeckel," for Ernst Haeckel, a scientist who published a book on these organisms in 1862, and the person for whom this species is named.

3. Microscopes

A collection of vintage microscopes were left to the museum in 2009 by Ronald Wilkinson, a Washington DC-based collector of rare books and scientific equipment. To avoid having to lift the delicate scopes out of the boxes, the museum’s conservators built some boxes with transparent removable front panels: simply have a look, or lift off the top and slide the front up and out.

4. Plaster Hadrosaur and Stegosaurus

Think of a dinosaur—any dinosaur. Chances are the image you’re conjuring up in your mind was drawn by famous dino illustrator Charles Knight, who worked at the museum in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He made these models of a Hadrosaur and a Stegosaurus out of plaster during that time.

A number of Knight’s paintings from the late 1800s and early 1900s also recently made it to the museum’s collection. They were mounted on thick artist’s board that contained acid, which was leaching into the paintings; the museum’s conservator painstakingly shaved off the board, then used an ultrasonic welder to seal the artwork in layers of mylar for protection.

6. Planetarium Pieces

The original Hayden Planetarium, designed by the New York City-based architects Samuel Breck Parkman Trowbridge and Goodhue Livingston (they also designed the Stock Exchange!), opened in 1935; it was dismantled in 1997 to make room for a new, state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 2000. The museum saved some very distinctive art deco wall sconces and architectural fragments to document the building—including pieces of the exterior stonework from the old planetarium—and stored them in the Memorabilia Collection.

7. Polar Bear Diorama

In the early- to mid-1900s, the Museum had a School Services Department that took things like this miniature polar bear diorama to public schools (objects, photographs, and lantern slides went out on loan, too; you can see one of the trucks they went out on for delivery here).

This diorama has both a front and a top window for more natural light; Baione believes these little traveling dioramas were created in-house.

8. Uncle Cosmo Signage

When the museum was renovating to put in the new Hayden Planetarium, workers discovered a false wall. Behind it was an old sign, featuring a character called Uncle Cosmo, that invited visitors to learn what they would weigh on other planets in the “Your Weight on Other Worlds” exhibit. Today, visitors to the museum can still step on scales in the planetarium to find out what they’d weigh on “other worlds.”

9. Plaster Model of Chrysalis

The museum’s most famous naturalist and taxidermist, Carl Akeley, sculpted this plaster model of a man—who resembled Akeley—emerging from a gorilla. The resulting bronze statue, Chrysalis, was initially refused a place at the National Academy of Design (which had commissioned it) on the grounds that it lacked merit, according to the New York Times. Chrysalis was instead unveiled at the West Side Unitarian Church during its “Evolution Day” in April 1924. Akeley spoke at the unveiling, stating that “his purpose in creating the statue was not to depict humans as ascending from beasts, but rather to defend the gorilla and other animals against the charge that they were somehow ‘bestial.’” Akeley died just two years later in Africa working to save the mountain gorilla; the bronze statue can now be found at Chicago’s Field Museum.

10. Seed Pod

It’s not just glass and plaster models and old equipment in the Memorabilia Collection. There are also things like a monkey seed pod—again, in a custom-made box—which doesn’t smell very good. Baione guesses that the pod was once part of an exhibit, and since it was in good condition, it was retained and made its way to the Memorabilia Collection.

getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.


By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.


The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.


More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.


The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.


While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."


The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."


Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.


To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.


In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"


When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.


After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."


Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.


Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.


Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.


The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.


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