Goodbye Groundhog, Goodbye Fox

fox looking out window

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

This Friday, two of my very favorite items in the display cases have to go back home. The mounted fox and groundhog in The Nature Institute display will be making their way back to Talahi Lodge around lunchtime. I will be sad to see them go, but they have a job to do at TNI. It’s field trip time for local students, and the fox and groundhog (along with the great TNI staff) help teach them about hibernation.

Founded in 1980, TNI now owns and manages over 450 acres of protected land in Godfrey and Alton, including the Olin Nature Preserve, the Mississippi Sanctuary, the Kemp and Cora Hutchinson Bird Sanctuary, and the Heartland Prairie Project at Gordon Moore Park. Over the last 150 years, portions of the land have belonged to the Long family, who helped escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad; the YWCA for use as Camp Talahi; Jim and Aune Nelson, whose legacy continues with the Nelson Foundation; and John M. Olin. Historic landmarks like Hop Hollow and the Blue Pool lie within TNI property, and the Discovery Day Camp has been held at TNI’s Talahi Lodge since 1982.

YWCA Camp Talahi in the 1940s

The TNI display will stay up until next April, so you still have plenty of time to come in and see the rest of the items in the display case. I’m working on getting some replacement animals for the display, but in the meantime there are various animal skulls (skunk, coyote, and bison), monarch butterflies, beekeeping equipment, photographs from Camp Talahi and the Discovery Day Camp, and lots of souvenirs that Jim and Aune Nelson brought back from their travels around the world, including a kangaroo hide postcard from Australia and a salt hammer from Algeria.


Souvenirs from Jim and Aune Nelson’s travels

I’ve always loved natural history museums and been fascinated by taxidermy, and I have to admit that seeing the fox at TNI is what inspired this display in the first place. If you, too, are interested in the history and techniques of taxidermy, I urge you to check out the Stories from the Vaults series. Season 1, Episode 2: “Superlatives,” has a great segment on taxidermy at the Smithsonian Institution. The entire first season of Stories from the Vaults is available at the Downtown and Alton Square Libraries, call number DVD 069.5 STO.

Stories from the Vault

And for some weird but true taxidermy stories from around the world, go to this link: One of the tales describes the first duckbill platypus specimen sent to England. In the late 1790s, George Shaw, who was Keeper of the Department of Natural History at the British Museum, received a platypus pelt and sketch from Captain John Hunter. Shaw wrote a description of it in the scientific journal Naturalist’s Miscellany in 1799 but confessed that it was “impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practiced some arts of deception in its structure.” He used scissors to hunt for stitches in the pelt but found none. As we all know now, the platypus was not a variation of the Fiji mermaid.