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About Mysterious America

This column, hosted by our own Dr. Seymour O'life, goes out of its way to bring you the bizarre, strange, uncanny, and just plain mysterious places that dot this fair land. Perhaps it is a huge Buddha statue in New York or a state park in Pennsylvania, where the stones ring like bells - each month is always a peculiar jewel when it comes to Mysterious America.

The Pember Museum of Natural History

33 West Main St, Granville, NY 12832 • 518-642-1515 • Tues-Fri 1-5pm, Sat. 10am-3pm • Groups by appointment

PemberOutsideThis was the sixth time we were traveling to West Dover, Vermont for a Backroads’ Summer Squeeze. This year would split the group between the Gray Ghost and Kitzhof Inns, and all were looking forward to the bucolic riding that area has to offer. Since we try to offer suggestions for interesting stops along the way, I asked the good Dr. O’Life if he had any hidden spots on his list of weird and wacky. He rolled his eyes to indicate that he had forgotten more places than we could possibly visit, but put forth one that, while odd to many, would turn out to be quite informative and well worth the time spent.

So it was that on the Tuesday of the Summer Squeeze I headed out with Helene and Gerry for a visit to the Pember Museum of Natural History. The name is a bit misleading, as the Pember not only houses the Granville Library but is also home to the largest taxidermy collection in the state of New York.

Franklin T. Pember, born in South Granville, NY, was a man of means and his wife Ellen (Wood) was prosperous in her own right. Together they were considered a Victorian power couple. Pember began his collecting at the young age of 21 but much of his personal and financial success came after meeting and marrying Ellen at the age of 27 in 1868. Pember formed a partnership with Prouty in the fur trading business (Pember and Prouty, Commission Dealer of Furs and Skins) in NYC and, as the Pembers grew in wealth, they began travelling the country and the world, with Franklin hunting and collecting natural specimens of every imaginable kind.

PemberAnimalsIn 1908 Ellen and Franklin funded the building of the Granville library in which the collection would eventually be housed. In 1909 the Pember Museum of Natural History was open on the second floor of the library and exhibited a lifetime of travel and collecting. The Victorian floor-to-ceiling exhibit cases of cherry wood fill the museum with 80% of Pember’s collection of birds, mammals and reptiles, minerals, eggs and nests. There are over 7,000 objects pristinely showcased in vintage Victorian tabletop and glass cases, perfectly lit for all to admire. Rare and exotic mammals such as the Duckbilled Platypus and Red Kangaroo and extinct species such as the Carolina Paroquet and Passenger Pigeon are highlights of this amazing collection. Though it fell into disuse for a time after the Pembers’ deaths, in the 1970s the local community of Granville revitalized and reopened it. Today you can visit this wondrous place, seeing it much as it was back in 1909.

Entering this grand Victorian-style building, we encountered a beautiful calico cat sitting peacefully on a library patron’s lap. Heading up the wide staircase and passing through the heavy wood doors, we stepped into another world. To the left, the floor-to-ceiling glass cases are filled with birds of every imaginable variety, from the tiniest hummingbird to the massive Andean Condor. Each specimen is labeled and many have the year they were collected. I was halfway through the first cast before I realized that these creatures were all well over 100 years old, yet in almost new condition (mostly). Rounding the bend at the end of the hall, the right side of the museum houses mammals and reptiles, from the tiny vole to the giant brown bear. You’ll find insects, eggs and nests, plants, rocks and minerals as well as the history of the Pembers and their travels.PemberPassengerEggs

We thought we would pop in for a quick peak, and that turned into almost an hour’s visit that was quite informative. Sarah Williams, the young woman in charge for that day, was exuberant and answered any and all questions that we had regarding the Pembers and the specimens on view.

Should you like to continue your exploration, the Pember Nature Preserve, occupying 125 acres not too far from Granville and home to a variety of mammals and birds, offers a number of hiking trails of varying lengths.ds of Mysterious America.PemberOstrich