bison

Roosevelt and the Eccentric Genius Behind the Curtain

Roosevelt and the Eccentric Genius Behind the Curtain

One of the great uncanny moments in the history of American conservation occurred at the Smithsonian Institution in 1887. Taxidermist, naturalist, and wildlife activist William Hornaday (1854-1937) was fussing over the last adjustments on his avant-garde glass box diorama that would display what he called “the finest and most complete series of buffalo . . . ever collected for a museum.” Hornaday was something of a prima donna. He had hung heavy curtains all around the glass box. Absolutely nobody would be permitted to see his taxidermical masterpiece until he determined that the bison display was ready for public viewing.

On an otherwise quiet day an uninvited stranger with an emphatic manner and a falsetto voice started asking questions from outside the protective curtains.