St. Louis Museum
The museum was located on the third floor of Wyman's Hall on Market Street in St. Louis, Missouri, opposite the Court House. Near where this museum once stood is the current location of the Museum of Westward Expansion under the Gateway Arch.
According to The History of Science in St. Louis, Edward Wyman initially established the museum under the direction of J.P. Bates. Wyman collected natural history specimens for many years and was skilled in preparing and arranging the objects. Bates was also devoted to natural history, making frequent trips to Europe, South America, and the tropics to collect birds, quadrupeds, and other specimens. The museum held nearly 2500 specimens, many of which were speculated to not exist anywhere else in the country. Museum collections included curiosities from the East Indies and South Sea Islands, paintings and statuary, and minerals and shells.
In a contrasting article, The Living Museum states that Dr. Albert C. Koch opened the museum in 1836. Koch was a German immigrant from Saxony who settled in St. Louis. Koch's father was also interested in natural history and kept specimens in a cabinet in their home. In addition to Koch's scientific interests, he was also a museum proprietor with a flair for the spectacular who fostered a vaudevillelike atmosphere at the museum. Despite his showmanship, Koch played a significant role in scientific endeavors of the 19th century and his museum contained many important natural history collections.
Among the collections at the St. Louis Museum were a collection of American Indian costumes, weapons, pipes, instruments, and other items collected by General William Clark during his explorations of the Mississippi River with Meriweather Lewis. It is thought that Koch took possession of these items upon Clark's death. A second notable collection at the museum contained hundreds of fossils including one of the American mastodon. The fossils came from many locations, but most of them were discovered at three locations in Missouri. It was during excavations at Pomme de Terre River in Missouri between 1838 and 1840 that Koch found what came to be called the Missouri Leviathan, or Missourium. It was larger than an elephant with unique tusks. Later, anatomists found that this newly discovered specimen was merely a misassembled mastodon skeleton with a number of extra bones.
A museum specimen of particular note was a fossil, the Zeuglodon, which the Complete Guide to the St. Louis Museum called "the greatest fossil in the world." The Zeuglodon was discovered in 1848 in a field in Alabama. After it was extricated from the rock in which it was found, Dr. Koch purchased the fossil for the St. Louis Museum. The fossilized animal was amphibious and resembled a whale, alligator, and serpent. Only one other fossil of this animal was known to exist at the time, which was owned by the King of Prussia. Previously a Mastodon fossil was the largest one discovered, at 20 feet. The Zeuglodon measured 96 feet. Though some doubted the authenticity of the specimen, Professor Joseph Leidy, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania and Curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and Professor Silliman of Yale College both attested to the authenticity of the fossil.
Koch spent much of his time hunting fossils, and his time away from the museum lead to declining attendance. He was disappointed in the interest in his newly discovered Missourium specimen and some encouraged him to exhibit the specimen in Europe. This caused Koch to sell the St. Louis Museum in January 1841 and he left St. Louis. Koch toured the United States with his collections and later traveled to Europe where he exhibited the Missourium in London and Dublin. He later accepted an offer from the British Museum to purchase parts of his fossil collection, including the Missourium, for 1300 pounds. Today the Missourium is still standing in the British Museum, in correct anatomical order.
With Koch's departure, the museum fell on hard times and faded into history.
- Klem, Mary J. (1914). The History of Science in St. Louis. St. Louis, MO.
- McMilan, R. Bruce (1980). "Objects of Curiosity: Albert Koch's 1840 St. Louis Museum". The Living Museum. 42 (02, 03). Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- Complete Guide to the St. Louis Museum. St. Louis, MO: R.P. Studley and Co. 1859.
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