Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Rhein Vein: The Amazing Florescing Minerals of Amity, New York

 Amity is a hamlet of the Town of Warwick, New York
 This past summer [2012] I had the good fortune to meet Glenn Rhein of Amity, New York and to hear about his amazing mineral finds, particularly crystals that fluoresce under a short wave ultraviolet light emitter, on his property a stone's throw, excuse the pun, from where my own great grandparents, the Kiels, once owned a dairy, long known as the Feagles Farm, and where my grandmother and great aunts once traipsed fields that no doubt contained many samples of those same crystals some seventy to eighty years ago. "Who knew that such treasures lay in the ground," was the response from my great aunt Louise (nee Kiel) when I shared some of the photos I had taken of Glenn's finds.

The fluorescence of these minerals was not known to most; in fact, seeing the fluorescence requires a special short-wave ultraviolet light emitter. Fluorite, which is prevalent in this particular dig done in Amity, actually has exceptional fluorescing ability. The term "fluorescence" originates from a discovery by George Gabriel Stokes in 1852. He observed that fluorite emitted a blue glow when illuminated with visible light "beyond the violet end of the spectrum." Fluorite can fluoresce if held in sunlight then moved into the shade where noticeable color change can be seen . Fluorite emits a blue-violet color under short wave and long wave light.

Only about 15% of all minerals noticeably fluoresce. Fluorescence occurs when impurities known as activators exist. The crystalline structure of some minerals cause them to glow. Crystals temporarily absorb a small amount of light and an instant later release a small amount of it in a different wavelength. The ultraviolet light cast by short wave emitters, 100-280 nm, accentuates light released by these crystals. Novelty black lights are actually long wave emitters, 315-400 nm, and, therefore, are ineffective for revealing mineral fluorescence.

Normal light, crystals under a short wave ultraviolet light, and under long wave ultraviolet light. The short wave light reveals the brilliant colored light emitted by these crystals.
The crystals discovered by Rhein have a long history associated with Amity's history. There were finds in the 1820s and 1830s known to Europeans. An historical marker next to the nearby Crystal Inn marks the almost forgotten phenomena which had farmers, geologists, and fortune hunters scurrying into the woods with picks and shovels in hopes of hauling out giant crystals that were reputedly fetching thousands of dollars even a 150 years ago! The fact that such a high value was placed on some of these specimens made it necessary to keep much of the discoveries a secret, and there really is no documentation of what all was found and how much was carted away. Certainly, this new discovery is evidence of the breadth of discoveries that may have proceeded it.
Amity Minerals: Spinel bearing marble finds bearing rare Warwickite, Edenite and Clintonite dating to Grenville Age discovered here 1828-32.  

A specimen label for some Clintonite collected from Amity in the Town of Warwick, NY.
A sample of the many specimens collected during the 19th century  from Amity, Monroe and the surrounding area for the Ecole des Mines in France.
In this May/June issue of Rocks & Minerals magazine there is a feature story on New York State crystals in the Ecole de Mines collection in France.
 Less than 30 feet from Glenn's own home there is a huge pit that I visited with my son Gabe, who slid to the bottom and got his share of mud and water now filling its bottom. The handful of spinels Glenn fished out of a nearby puddle and dropped into my son's open palms paled to the importance he placed on the amount of mud he could take away from the site---a memorable day for all of us. It looked like a meteor crater, but it was here that Glenn extracted with a house-size back hoe on catepillar tracks what he has called the "mother lode", a rich vein of all types of crystals, some measuring four inches in diameter. Here and in the vicinity he has identified 19 different types of minerals which makes this something of a natural anomaly and a magnet for anyone who lives and breathes rocks and minerals, like George Gordianos of the Orange County Gem and Mineral Society, who accompanied me. Here we also saw samples of Edenite and Warwickite, which are two crystalline minerals named after our own neighboring Town of Warwick, where it was found, and the hamlet of Edenville.
A pit dug by Glenn Rhein with an excavator brought many important crystal finds to light.

An example of a giant diopside crystal in situ after excavation on the Amity property.
 The "Rhein vein" is actually part of a large marble belt that runs from Franklin, New Jersey, home of the famous "Franklinite", which we have a number of samples of on display at our Natural History Building, on to destinations north in Canada. In fact, if you come on over to Museum Village, there is a rather large display of many of these crystals, albeit more modest specimens, that were collected right in the vicinity of Glenn's recent finds by the late amateur mineralogist and archeologist Jack Webster, who actually spurred many on in the area, including a group of Boy Scouts from Troop 45 back in 1976 that he wowed with some of his collection, including myself, and spurred on to spend a whole lot of time hunched over looking for projectile points after the desirable combination of a spring plowing and a light rain to more easily recognize them. And Mr. Webster had a comprehensive collection of rocks and minerals from Orange County too, and a sampling of his collection has recently been unwrapped and been put out on display at Museum Village.

The estimate on the age of this crystals is somewhere in the 800 million years ago range, according to Glenn, who has been a quick study of a collection that most mineralogist would take a lifetime to acquire. The crystals may have been formed when our local Mount Adam and Eve, composed of granite, pushed through an existing marble belt forming the kind of stuff you find in plentitude in Franklin. As Glenn went through a litany of identifications of these samples including "Augite, Phlogopite..." and the like, I realized all the homework I had if some of this find were to come to be on display at Museum Village.
 At Glenn's home, constructed of the hand-hewn beams from the original barn for the property that used to sit out next to Little York Road when I was a kid, every nook and cranny is seemingly filled with mineral treasures on display. Here he took Gabe, George and I into the back room and brought out the black light.

In addition to being a visual sensation of perfect tetrahedrons and octahedrons in natural light, many of these crystals fluoresce under a black light. There were some that glowed shades of blue and green, but the real show stopper was the hand size rock that lit up hot pink! There's a real wow factor with these minerals that Museum Village would be remiss in not presenting for its school visitors. The fact that has often been shared with me is that Orange County is a geologists' treasure trove yet the largest collection of rocks and minerals from this area is actually at the Ecole des Mines in Paris, France. Recently, Glenn and his wife Karen travelled to Paris to present some samples from their recent finds in Amity to the School of Mines, and they have been extremely generous with donations to a number of universities and museums across the country.

In the coming months, the museum plans to receive some specimens from the "Rhein vein" thanks to the generosity of Glenn and Karen, including some crystals that fluoresce, and both Glenn and George Gordianos have discussed with us the possibility of realizing a dark room within the Natural History Building at the museum that will provide an unforgettable experience for visitors of these natural wonders. We hope to have that in place by the Spring 2012 season.
Meionite & Diopside
Dig site


New York Tribune, Monday, May 17, 1875: "A Chase for a Mastodon"

New York Tribune, Monday, May 17, 1875 --- Triple Sheet, Page 3

Illustration --- Mastodon at the British Museum



Circumstances of Discovery of the Bones --- Views of the Neighbors On the Subject --- Rise and fall of fossil Stock --- Competition and Sale --- Mastodons in General and this One in Particular --- How the Interior Department Fosters Science.

[From a Staff correspondent of the Tribune] Otisville, N.Y., May 3.

--- This little hamlet, almost inclosed [sic] by a curve of the Erie Railway, 900 feet above sea level in the Swawangunk Mountains and 75 miles from New-York has just passed through its most exciting experience. For three years it has contained a first-class object of curiosity. The prospect of the sale of the Otisville mastodon prompted the visit of your correspondent , who was fortunate in arriving on the ground before the affair was concluded, and the lid closed over the fossil remains. Less than a mile north-east of the railroad station of Otisville (which is between Port Jervis and Middletown) there is a now noted swamp in a valley that runs east-north-east. In all this region hills and valleys constitute the principal features of the landscapes, and a morass at the bottom of a valley is rather the rule than the exception. The hills are of Laurentian or pre-Silurian rocks---among the oldest of earth’s formations. The valleys between them at some much later geographical period contained fresh water lakes, and these were gradually filled by vegetable growths and the soil washed from the surrounding hills. The result is a large number of peaty swamps or morasses, but there is only one of them, the one which is on the property of Mr. Andrew Mitchell that claims our attention. Some student of the laws of vegetable life can perhaps explain why swamps of this kind are covered so regularly with round clumps of grass rising above the surface , each clump reaching about the same dimensions---say 18 inches diameter and two feet height ---and each with its last year’s growth of grass-stems parting from a point near its center and drooping over its sides. If we suppose that a regiment of giants shoulder to shoulder, were sunk over their necks in this swamp, these clumps would represent their full plumed helmets. Beneath these plumes there was something stranger, though less mythical than giants; but Mr. Mitchell in digging there was in search of far more prosaic and practical matter. He wanted swamp muck to put on his land.

But in digging for the swamp muck Mr. Mitchell, according to the phrase most in favor in the vicinity, “found a 20-acre lot.” Penetrating the morass from what is represented as the lower side in the diagram, and cutting a pathway wide enough for the passage of two teams, he made his first discovery in January, 1872 at the point marked “a.” This consisted of two rib bones. Not recognized as of any value, they were thrown upon the top of the musk heap, and left there. Shortly afterward a vertebra was unearthed. Mr.Mitchell supposed these were wood; parts of trees, probably the roots, imbedded in the swamp. It is not unusual to find remains of trees in these morasses, but this swamp has yielded very few of them, the curious shape of the supposed roots interested Mr. Mitchell. He wished to bring them into the house, but Mrs. Mitchell objected to lumbering it with such rubbish, not did mend matters when Mr. Mitchell suggested that one of the curiosities might do duty as a spittoon, the circular shape and concave hollow of the vertebra giving it a striking likeness to that national utensil. So the discoverer put his curiosities in his barn, and went on with his digging. When other ribs were found and compared with the first, the notion dawned upon Mr. Mitchell that perhaps these things were bones. The vertebra, on his supposition, he took to be a foot. Led by a praiseworthy curiosity, he bought a book on anatomy, and soon became convinced that the bones belonged to an animal larger than a horse. In digging toward the left of his first discovery many smaller vertebra and ribs were found, but it was not until he unearthed a leg bone at “c” that the enormous bulk of the animal fairly dawned upon his comprehension.

Some interest had been excited among his neighbors, and the wiseacres of the village had already propounded their theories concerning these remains, when Mr. Mitchell’s spade dislodged the mighty arch of the pelvis (at “d” in the diagram). Here was a bone indeed. Through its capacious hollow a flour barrel could be thrust without rubbing the hoops. A tall man with arms extended across it could scarcely touch both edges with his finger-tips. The weight was near half a ton. Thenceforth Mr. Mitchell was famous. He was not long in ascertaining that he had found either a mammoth or a mastodon.

It is a trite remark of the moralist, that fame does not bring happiness. Mr. Mitchell’s experience accorded with the adage which declares that ease and honor are seldom bedfellows. He had not made his excavations like the grave-diggers of the Cardiff giant by night and in secret. The neighbors who helped in extracting the big bone spread the story of its dimensions, which grew as it traveled. Newspapers got hold of some of the facts, and touched up the details with a very free brush. An unusual of passengers on the railway stopped every day at Otisville, and the keeper of the station got the habit of stating the way to Mr. Mitchell’s house as a part of his regular business on the arrival of trains. Country wagons blocked the road around the house and from 50 to 75 visitors at a time became the daily experience of the Mitchell household. The proprietor of the bones was “interviewed” about them day and night. I couldn’t eat or sleep in peace. I feared that burglars would rob my barn. I didn’t know what to do with the people; they overran my house from roof to cellar. I dared not leave them with the bones, and I could not get them to leave the bones. Men and boys would loiter around and stare at them for hours together. And what I was most afraid of, was their wanting to handle the bones. I felt sure they’d do some damage.”

Letters of advice respecting the proper treatment of the fossils were addressed to Mr. Mitchell by scientific man who had read in the newspapers about the discovery. Prof. Marsh, by letter, urged upon him not to let the bones dry too rapidly, to keep them in the swamp muck as long as possible, especially not to let them be handled while wet, and that all handling was dangerous. Prof. Waterhouse Hawkins sent a precise letter of instructions as to the preservation of the bones by the immediate use of glue; he supposing it likely that these, like the most of mastodon bones, would crumble or break in fragments during removal and drying. The object of these letters was to save the fossils for science, without reference to their possession; but Prof.’s Marsh and Hawkins both sent their representatives at a later date to view the remains and report more particularly upon them, and these intelligent assistants communicated many cautions and some knowledge concerning bones to Prof. Mitchell; and it is fairly due to him here to say that he profited by the instructions, and that the world of science thence profits in turn by the jealous care which these fossils have been preserved.


Mr. Mitchell is a mason by trade, working when there is work to be had on buildings in New-York, and still dependent on his daily labor for support; but with Scotch frugality and industry he has acquired a little property. Since his discovery of fossils he has fairly mastered a general knowledge of anatomy and could now pass an examination on that science better than many college professors. Something of the fervor that burns in the scientific breast must have urged him to overcome the various obstacles he encountered. The water in the swamp gave him a great deal of trouble. There was a brook ( represented in the diagram by dotted lines passing partly through the excavation) which was right in his path. To drain it, he cut a deep ditch to the right of it (also represented by dotted lines) but this soon filled up and he was obliged to construct another at a greater distance. After the brook was permanently diverted, it became evident that a spring in swamp (at A in the diagram) was the chief source was the chief source of its water supply. At the time of the writer’s visit, the whole area of excavation, a space of perhaps 70 feet in longest diameter, was full of water. Only by incessant pumping by horse-power can the water be brought down enough to make digging practicable. Once when the water was gaining on Mr. Mitchell and his animals were worn out, the people in the vicinity organized what is known as a “bee” to help him. The day’s work of the neighbors was very effective in draining and digging, but it had the disadvantage of making every man in the village think he held some share in the bones, since he had helped at the bee, It was an ungracious task to keep such helpful visitors ar arm’s length, but events soon proved it necessary. One day Mr. Mitchell observed one of his neighbors---one of the old-fashioned kind that carries a heavy cane with a substantial ferrule, poking it among the fossils with the emphasis of Sir Anthony Absolute. Mr. Mitchell rushed to the rescue, but all too late; the ferrule had punched a hole through the pelvis bone. After that, a charge of 25 cents was imposed for permission to see the fossils, and had a wonderful effect in diminishing the numbers of the curious crowd.


On the left one molar tooth of Elephas Primigenius. On the right one molar tooth of Mastodon Americanus.More leg bones and some belonging to the feet were found (at “a” in the diagram) and shortly afterward the most important discovery up to this time was made: the skull with the upper teeth still firm in their sockets---four molars, two on each side---was found in a complete state of preservation. Excitement on the subject now rose to fever-lient [?] . his neighbors assured Mr. Mitchell that if he would take the bones to Europe he could get a fortune for them; there were millions of greenbacks in that mastodon. Of course the hopes of the owner expanded like the reveries of Alnaschar. His estimates of value ranged far above slender scientific purses. Barnum was to have been among the competitions. But Barnum did not come. A half dozen colleges made polite inquiry as to the price and then waited for it to subside. The panic in the Fall of 1873 and the “hard times” following induced economy, even in mastodons. The owner began to realize that his bones were ceasing to be a curiosity. But last Winter, at 9 ½ feet below the surface he found two ribs, some vertebrae, and finally the lower jaw (at “h” in the diagram), which materially increased the value of the whole collection. The number of real competition had, however, dwindled to three, under the pressure of hard times; Connecticut, New-York, and New-Jersey, alone survived the panic. From each a representative of a possible purchaser had called to examine the bones and report on their value. The owner’s patience at length gave out; he boxed his curiosity, and determined to sell. Prof. Marsh was busy with the presentation of red Cloud’s complaints and the exposure of the Indian ring, but he recognized the fact that the mastodon was in a crisis.


The representative of New-Jersey started from New-York the same morning with Prof. Marsh, for Otisville,. The third competitor was represented by a resident of the village. Prof. Marsh took an express train, which did not count Otisville among its shopping places. The representative of New-Jersey took the accommodation train which stops at Otisville.“Cannot you let me out as we pass Otisville?” asked Prof. Marsh when the conductor took his ticket.“Absolutely impossible,” replied that functionary. Had he been a Sioux chieftain, doubtless Prof. Marsh would have ordered for him a big feast in his tepee. No such blandishments were practicable on the rail, in Orange County, and this letter cannot chronicle them. Nor would it be fair to suppose that a long and earnest conversation, held by the Professor with conductor, had anything to do with the circumstance of the engineer’s suspecting that he had a hot box on one of his wheels when near Otisville, and stopping the train to examine it. Suffice it, that the Professor got off at the village, had dined with Mr. Mitchell, and was deep in negotiations, when a visitor was announced.“Tell him I’m engaged,” said Mr. Mitchell.“He says he’s tho [sic] gentleman from New-Jersey, and he would like to see you immediately.”“Let us close this matter first,” said Prof. Marsh.“I see that my journey was useless. If I had known you were here I should not have come,” said the New-Jersey representative, entering the room some minutes afterward, and shaking hands with Prof. Marsh.


The bones were on exhibition in the village church. Science was doing service for religion. The show as part of a fair for the Sunday-school, and the price of admission to see the fossils was reduced to 10 cents. Despite the utmost efforts to keep the matter quiet a large concourse of citizens and small boys attended the removal of the boxes to the railway depot, there to be repacked under the Professor’s eye. No first born in its swaddling clothes was ever more tenderly handled by its mother. Straw beds in sacks were laid in the boxes, one for each side, top, bottom and end. The Professor’s solicitude about the softness of those beds exceeded that of the Brooklyn plaintiff. Great bats of cotton were tied around the teeth with firm tenderness:“Well, said a bystander, “he’ll never catch cold in them jaws.”“A whole day and all the sacking in the village were consumed in the operation. Of course it could not be kept quiet. Even the railway premises were not proof against popular curiosity. The officials could not keep the towns people out of the freight house:“Why,” said one of them,” I helped to raise that there bone out of the muck myself.”“Do you really think now, Professor,” said another, wistfully, “that creature lived before the flood!”I should think he might have been before this world,” suggested another. Whereupon an argument arose as to whether there was any world before Adam, the Professor being far too much absorbed to give heed to the dispute. As he was driving the nails of one of the last covers, a lady came into the freight-house.“Can’t I see it!”“Why, no, Madam, it’s all packed.”“Oh dear! dear! And I could have seen it any time, even yesterday!” She walked around among the boxes with a piteous air.“If you’ll come to New-Haven you shall see it when it is set up in the Museum. I shall be most happy to see you there, said the Professor. “But the gallantry of the remark did not touch her grief. She wandered around among the boxes, and from time to time repeated sadly the words, “I could have seen it whenever I wanted to.” As the last nails were driven that closed the pine coffin over the remains the church-bell tolled mournfully.“Freight, 1700 pounds, “said the railway agent. “But the skull, at least, ought to go as a deadhead,” suggested the Professor.


Out of a hundred mastodons whose remains are discovered, it is safe to say that not more than one is on good condition. As a rule they have carelessly left their bones in strata not fitted to preserve them. Frequently the remains crumble at a touch. The perfect condition of the mastodon of Otisville is remarkable. It will stand probably 12 feet in height and perhaps 17 in length, when mounted. Its size and the character of the teeth indicate full maturity, if not extreme age. It is not quite so easy to judge of the age of a mastodon as of a horse by his teeth, but it can be safely said that this animal may have been a hundred years old at death. First-class mastodons can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Until this one is mounted, comparison with other specimens would be premature. The best of American mastodons was found by Dr. Koch in Missouri, and called by him “the Missouri Leviathan.” That skeleton is now in the British Museum; the engraving of it given above is reduced directly from Owen’s British Mammals. Dr. Koch circulated an absurd story about this skeleton, to the effect that the animal had been killed and partly roasted by Indians. This is thoroughly refuted by Prof. Dana in the last number of The American Journal of Science. Next in value to that specimen are the Warren mastodon now in Boston, on which Dr. Warren wrote a memoir, and the Cohoes mastodon now in the State Geological Cabinet in Albany. Two less known but almost equally complete specimens from Indiana were destroyed in Chicago’s great fire. A smaller mastodon discovered in 1844 in warren Co., N.J., formed part of the late Prof. Wyman’s collection at Cambridge, and now goes to the Boston Society of Natural History. The Otisville mastodon is at least the sixth that has been found in the swamps of Orange County.


Perfect specimens of the teeth in position in the jaws, are most desired by naturalists, to clear up doubtful points. Some years ago there was a large quantity of fossil remains found at Big Bone Lick in Kentucky. They constituted the best collection ever made of the jaws and teeth of the mastodon. They were sent to the Patent Office at Washington. A high official of the Interior Department found those bones in his way. He wanted more room. He had those specimens taken out of the Patent Office. They were sent to a bone-mill and ground up as fertilizing material. The loss to science is absolutely irreparable. Compared with this performance, the destruction of Prof. Waterhouse Hawkin’s fossil models by the Tweed Ring was an important piece facetiousness; money and skill can replace the models that were buried in Central Park, but the Big Bone Lick specimens were not made by man.


Though both the mammoth and the mastodon were elephantine creatures, they are easily distinguishable. The most prominent difference is in the tusks and teeth, but the American mammoth was a shaggy animal, while the mastodon had probably a smooth skin like the modern elephant. Of the two, the mammoth was the larger quadruped, the mastodon being stouter and on shorter legs, and probably more aquatic in its habits. The mastodon takes its name from its nipple-shaped teeth; the drawing of one of these and of a tooth of a mammoth ( Elephas Americanus ) is reduced from Dana’s Manual of Geology. The nipple-shaped teeth are principally made up of dentine, within which are separate lozenges of enamel. The Otisville mastodon has eight teeth, two on each side in each jaw. These teeth are about four inches thick, and each pair, as it stands in the jaw, is 11 ½ inches long on top. They look as though they could have crunched a good-sized tree without difficulty. The tusks of the mammoth are long and much curved, as is shown in the illustration; those of the mastodon are comparatively short and slender. In early life the mastodon had two small tusks in the lower jaw; one of these the male shed with advancing years; the female shed both. The absence of these in this Otisville skeleton inclines Prof. marsh to the belief that it was a female. Geologically speaking, the mastodon is an older animal than the elephant or mammoth, but the series of specimens already obtained of different species, indicates near affinity and probably common ancestry.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Where the Giant Ground Sloth, Mastodon, and Bison Roamed; Post Ice Age Orange County, New York

 In the winter of 1958, Roscoe W. Smith, founder and director of Old Museum Village of Smith’s Clove received a letter from David Baird, an assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology in Princeton University’s Department of Geology. There had been several letters of inquiry on the part of Smith in 1956 regarding an early plaster cast of a megatherium americanum, or what was more commonly known as a giant ground sloth from the post Ice Age period at Princeton’s Guyot Hall. Smith had received information that the university would eventually be de-accessioning the 1867 cast that had long been a teaching tool for classes in Vertebrate Paleontology, as there were plans to move the contents of Guyot Hall and raze the building for a new dormitory.

As Baird would point out in his correspondence with the founder-director, “every 19th century museum of distinction had one of these casts as its centerpiece.” Over time, the Princeton cast, which is 13 feet tall and had first been exhibited at Nassau Hall in 1876 on the Princeton campus, had become something of a rarity as competition for museum space, greater availability of actual skeletons, and periodic shifts in choices of what life to emphasize from pre-history had unfolded over time. The actual skeleton from which the cast was made came from a discovery in the 1830s on the River Luxan, near Buenos Ayres. The bones were, as of 1959, divided between the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, and the British Museum.

 Smith’s inquiries about the Princeton cast were motivated out of his ongoing plans to create a museum within a museum. The contrived 19th century museum or cabinet of curiosities on a large scale was one of 30 buildings at the museum that housed collections accrued largely by Smith himself. Particularly, the Natural History building showcased one of the most complete examples of a mastodont americanum, or Mastodon, ever exhumed. Orange County is actually the birthplace of vertebrate paleontology, as the first mastodon exhumed and eventually assembled was by Charles Willson Peale under the sponsorship of Thomas Jefferson in Montgomery, New York. At this present date, the remains of sixty nine different mastodons have been unearthed in New York State.
This is the plaster cast of the giant ground sloth at Museum Village. The theory is that the claw bone excavated in Orange County was incorporated into this cast, as the whereabouts of the identified real sloth claw is not known.

In 1952, during the construction of New York’s Route 17, which is proximate to Museum Village, Smith’s “Harriman Mastodon” was discovered in a meadow owned by Mrs. Edith Loostron when contractors Garcia and John Leinweber of Warwick were cleaning and widening a drainage ditch with a gasoline engine driven shovel or loader." The bones were exposed, "washed up" and taken "to Arden House, owned and used by Columbia University and shown there. No particular interest being shown, they then took them home to Warwick. The Warwick Dispatch photographed them and published a short news article and picture of the bones." Mith learned of the find and made arrangements with Mrs. Loostron to dig for the rest of the bones and to have all that were found. "The American Museum of Natural History was contacted and told of the find and asked if they could furnish an expert to supervise the excavating" and removal of bones. W.E. Fish from the museum quickly responded and exhumation of the remaining skeleton moved ahead.

There were already remains of mastodons in the collection at this point, as any such remains were always being sought. Among these was a tusk that Smith had acquired in 1925. There would also be other finds, including another nearly complete mastodon uncovered during work on the twin lakes in Monroe, also in proximity to the museum. This mastodon would eventually make its way to Germany where it remains.

The exhumation of a mastodon was still quite an endeavor in 1952, as it had been for Peale back in 1801, with the necessity for hoisting equipment and water pumps. By today’s standards, there was much manual labor involved. Existing film footage in the museum’s collection illustrates the necessity of dozens of men with spades in hand and knee deep in mud. For the assembly of the mastodon skeleton and its preservation the American Museum of Natural History was sought out, and Dr. Edwin S. Colbert and George O. Whitaker were engaged to take on the project. It was Whitaker who eventually supervised the reconstruction in the newly created Natural History building at the museum. The project was completed in 1955.

Whitaker would also be integral to the sloth project. Getting him for the project was seemingly not that easy, as he was much sought-after. Various projects detained him temporarily for the pressing task of removing the sloth from Princeton in 1959, including the assembly of a 65 foot sauropod dinosaur for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. A number of years before a piece of what had been conclusively identified as a piece of a megatherium had been found only a mile from the Museum Village site in a meadow of black dirt, and Smith had acquired this for his museum. This was a rare find, as no other remains of a ground sloth had been found or since this find.

The rarity of ground sloth remains in Orange County is largely attributed to the fact that this quadruped was attracted to highland terrains where trees were available for sustenance. These regions were not a good environment for long term preservation like the mastodons that had ideally been encased in a layer of marl, or clay, under the areas’ black dirt. It is this black dirt and marl that are the remains of glacial lakes of the post Ice Age period. What is often overlooked by laymen visitors is the fact that mastodon remains, including Museum Village’s own nearly complete specimen assembled in its Natural History building, consist of bone remains rather than fossils. This is a phenomenon whereby bone tissue, as in the case of earlier dinosaurs, was replaced by minerals which subsequently solidified into a rock form over the course of millions of years.

The mastodon, nor the sloth, are dinosaurs; they are early mammals that were actually hunted and eaten by modern man more than 10,000 years ago; in fact, one theory argues that the mastodon, which was dwindling in numbers from environmental conditions from a radical increase of the earth’s temperature in a short period, was hunted to extinction by Paleolithic Indians that had recently migrated to North America, including Orange County, New York. This may be true of the sloth as well, but more conclusive is the fact that the terrain which the sloth preferred was not the kind of terrain that would sustain its skeletal remains after death for tens of thousands of years. Other animals and climate conditions would have erased almost all signs of the sloth in a short time.

In addition to the claw bone of a sloth, Smith claimed that during the exhumation of the Harriman mastodon “several other small bones” were discovered. and these he states were identified by the American Museum of Natural History as “bison bones”, which Smith adds “so I suppose we can believe that buffalos roamed this country in bygone days.” The bison bones are mentioned several times in Smith's correspondence with Dr. Glenn Jepsen of Princeton, but no other documentation has been found to verify this. To this date, the paleontology community have no documented giant bison finds in Orange County, NY. Further research will be done, as this may be an important unpublished discovery.

Given the limited remains of both the sloth and bison, Smith had been motivated to secure life size plaster casts to supplement them for the sake of especially young visitors who, it was believed, would otherwise take little away from the experience of seeing a few fragments of the large post Ice Age mammals. Initially, Colbert expressed concern about the use of plaster casts, as he believed they alone would serve as unconvincing evidence to the public that such creatures existed; it is authentic bones or fossils alone that are the required evidence he would argue. Colbert did eventually concede that in combination with the actual bones, a plaster cast may serve a role until some future discovery provides an alternative.

In November, 1959 Smith had arranged for Whitaker, two trucks, and his Museum Village crew with “lots of rock wool, padding, timbers, step ladder, tripod, rubber tired rollers, and rope to do the job” of moving the plaster sloth skeleton to Monroe. In addition, Smith himself had been persuaded by staff to remain behind “because my people thought I might interfere or suggest methods for handling it.” It is likely that Smith regretted this concession as he would receive a call from Dr. Jepsen from Guyot Hall on the day of the move that a mishap has occurred, and in a letter from Smith to Dr. Colbert of the American Museum of Natural History he elaborated that “the skeleton got away from them (his crew and Whitaker) before the wood frame was fastened to it and after it was partly dismembered, and fell backwards. You can’t imagine the damage it did to the plaster.”

Plans were made for the repairs soon, and Whitaker made a “promise… [to] come in his spare time and do the finishing” of the plaster repairs. Smith sought others from New York to assist. The repairs were accomplished, and to this day the sloth stands where it was completely re-assembled in 1960 with visible repairs resulting from that day’s mishap. They are concentrated in the upper part of the skeleton, including a number of ribs..

By March of 1960, in a follow-up to Dr. Jepsen, Smith reported that George Whitaker was still at work on the repairs of the sloth, and it was anticipated that the damaged ribs would be entirely repaired after yet another future weekend of work. At Princeton, Guyot Hall had since been torn down, and, ironically, in excavating the site ‘a fossil bone of the reptile Clepsysaurus, a 275,000,000-year-old ancestor of the modern crocodile, had been found!

A Brief History of the Exhumation of the Harriman Mastodon, by R.W. Smith

A Brief History of the Exhumation of the Harriman Mastodon, by R.W. Smith (1957)

The Harriman Mastodon is housed in the Natural History Building at Museum Village in Monroe, NY. The following is a transcription of a typewritten draft of a narrative about the exhumation and subsequent re-assembly of the Harriman Mastodon skeleton from the archives at Museum Village. In our effort to gain intellectual command of our holdings that are both impressive in their quantity and quality, we are bringing to light after many decades these wonderful documents that provide insights into the museum's development and the origins of the collection.

The mastodon bones were found June 15, 1952 in a little black dirt meadow in back of on Route 17M at Harriman on land owned by Mrs. Edith Loostron by contractors Garcia and Leinweber of Warwick when they were cleaning and widening a drainage ditch with a gasoline engine driven shovel or loader.
From left to right: Harry Langlitz, Christian Schmick, and John Leinweber with the Harriman Mastodon that they uncovered while excavating a gas line. This photo was given to me by Bill Schmick, former Road Superintendent of the Village of Warwick, at the Village Hall one day shortly after I took on the position of director of museum operations at Museum Village. 
The ditch was originally dug by hand shovel many years before and had gradually filled with sediment or dirt. The gas shovel had a wider bucket than a shovel and the bones were so close to the old hand made ditch that their scoop or shovel threw out one-half of the lower jaw, two leg bones and a rib. These were picked up and washed and taken up to Arden House, owned and used by Columbia University and shown there. No particular interest being shown, they then took them home to Warwick. The Warwick Dispatch photographed them and published a short news article and picture of the bones.

About fifteen minutes after the bones were found, I learned of the find and on June 21, 1952 I made arrangements with Mrs. Edith loostron, owner of the meadow land, to dig for bones and to have all found. Of course great interest was shown by the people of the Village and especially by the school children who flocked to the scene and all wanted to dig for mastodon bones. Night and day watchmen were employed to protect the area and digging for bones and photographing commenced immediately.

The American Museum of Natural History was contacted and told of the find and asked if they could furnish an expert to supervise the excavating and taking out [of] the bones. Mr. W.E. Fish came immediately and digging started. The entire skeleton was unearthed at a depth of about four feet on a clay bottom. It was difficult to keep the children from digging and finally we let them do so and paid them small amounts for bones found by them. The excitement was great, and it was soon discovered that several children were finding and hiding bones nearby in the bushes and afterward taking them home or giving [them] away or selling them.

Orange County [NY] has long been noted as the home of mastodons because of the large number of bones being found in various parts of the county. Seldom have more than a few scattered bones been found, and we are told it is because of the Ice Age scattered them as the ice caps moved down the valleys.

The particular spot where this mastodon was found was in a low place with higher ground surrounding the site and the bones stood where the animal fell and all were within an area of about 25' x 30' square.

I tried to be on the spot while digging was under way, and it turned out to be very fortunate that I was there because I soon found that quite a number of bones of the mastodon had found their way to nearby homes and to Central Valley, Oxford, Greycourt, Sugar Loaf and to antique shops in Newburgh and New York City. The children kept informing me of bones being found and clues of their whereabouts. It was evident that the children were trying to make it a free-for-all, and it was almost impossible to prevent the pilfering of bones.

In fact the digging was so easy in the soft black dirt that sticks were used by children to move earth, and a number of bones were taken before it was found out through more honest children whispering bone information to me. These clues were all immediately run down and the bones secured, one being in an antique shop in Newburgh, and I paid $5 for it.

Several vertebraes [sic] were traced to a workman's car at the nearby hamlet of Sugar Loaf. They were being carried around to exhibit them. We secured them without difficulty. One bright boy, spreading his hands far apart to illustrate a long bone, asked what I would give if he found such a bone. I told him that all the bones were mine, as I had paid for the privilege of digging and securing them but I would pay something for any bone found. This did not satisfy him, and he asked the question several times. Of course, my curiosity was aroused by his persistence, but I did not realize that he had already found the bone and had taken it to his home on the old Hance place about a mile away.

I have already mentioned of being told by some of the children who had seen bones taken by other children, and it again happened in this particular case. A boy told me that this boy had found this bone and taken it to his home. I also learned that he was told that he could get $25 for it if he took it to New York City. Of course I immediately started for this boy's home. I stopped the car in front of the house and walked around the corner toward the back door. There he was on his knees with a scrub brush and pail of water scrubbing the mud off a large leg bone. Of course he was quite surprised to see me, and I picked up the bone and took it to my car. I offered him a $5 bill but he would not take it so I went home with the bone. A few minutes later I drove again to Sugar Loaf on a lead or tip for more bones and found some in an apartment on the second floor of a home occupied by the boy's sister. The boy had just arrived from his home in Harriman, and I told him I had given the money to his brother. Quick as a flash he said, "What-you gave the money to my brother! He will spend it before I can see him." He asked to be taken back home immediately and on arrival he found that his brother had actually spent the money.

During the entire digging for the bones we took pictures in order to show the bones as they were being uncovered. There were many spectators standing around the fenced in area watching the digging progress. Excitement was at a high pitch as the digging uncovered the end of the tusks, leg bone and continued along the tusks. I was also watching the progress as the American Museum expert, Mr. Fish exclaimed, "There is the head, " and so it was. The head was carefully uncovered by use of trowels and immediately swathed in plaster paris dipped burlap as the pictures show. It was completely swathed or covered and carefully placed on a heavy wood platform as shown in the pictures and pulled up an incline timber track with a power winch to the truck body and transported to our home garage as also were the other bones. Shortly afterward they were moved to the basement of our home where work benches were installed and the work of cleaning and restoration commenced by Mr. Fish and an assistant from the American Museum of Natural History during their vacation time.

Shortly afterward the restoration work on the rest of the skeleton was done by Mr. Charles Lang, a retired American Museum of Natural History expert who did part of it in my basement and the major part in his own shop at Fairlawn, NJ. His work was very expertly done, and I wish to express my appreciation to him for his great assistance.
The forging of the iron frame work to support the mastodon bones was accomplished by taking sections of the animal's bones to the American Museum of Natural History workshop [ where materials were fitted to size.] As the framework was completed for a section of bones, another section was taken down and the completed section returned to Museum Village where it was erected on....1955 by Mr. ...and an assistant came to Museum Village and erected the complete skeleton where it has been viewed by many thousands of museum visitors.

R.W. Smith