Apr 26, 2010

Memories of the Mastodon

Ravenna Times Wednesday August 27, 1969
Transcribed by Holly Spencer

Original caption: MOORLAND’S MASTODON... Native to this area thousands of years ago, when the Wisconsin Glacier covered portions of Michigan, these giant mammals went searching for vegetation on which to feed as the glacier melted. This melting left large areas of swampy land, and many mastodons sank into the ooze and quicksand and perished. This one, on display in the Grand Rapids Public Museum, was recovered from the Moorland Swamp in 1905.

Rare Mastodon Discovered 65 Years Ago in Moorland

Fall plowing on a piece of muck land in 1904, in the area known as the Moorland Swamp, Farmer McKay turned up some stones too large to ignore, so hauled them over to the edge of the field,. Continuing his plowing, he soon uncovered another “stone”; this one appeared to be some sort of leg bone.

Grandpa McKay no longer worked in the fields, but he did come around to visit his son at work quite often. They looked the “stones” over, and decided to haul them to a nearby pond for a washing; then maybe they could tell what they really were. A good “scrubbing off” soon revealed them to be molar teeth; about 8 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 6 inches from crown to the tip of the root, they weighed around 15 pounds each.

Grandpa McKay went to get a neighbor to see what had been found, while Mr. McKay returned to his plowing. He turned up two vertebrae and a skull with one tusk before they returned. With the help of the neighbor and his stoneboat all the bones were hauled to the house where they were washed off and placed in the McKay’s front yard.

News of their find soon spread throughout the area, with people coming at all hours to see what all the talk was about. After a couple of days, two people from Grand Rapids came by train to investigate the discovery.

Herbert Sargent, director of the Kent Scientific Museum of Grand Rapids (now called the Grand Rapids Public Museum) determined that it was the skeleton of a mastodon, in a remarkably fine state of preservation.

The museum people dickered with Mr. McKay, and he accepted their offer of $50 for the bones. However, when they returned in the spring, prepared to dig at the site, he was obdurate in refusing them this privilege, as it was time for him to begin planting the land. They argued that they had bought the right to all the bones the previous fall; he denied this, saying they had bought only those already excavated.

A meeting with the museum board followed, Mr. Sweet, mayor of Grand Rapids, was president of the board. Raymond McKay, about eight at the time, recalls his dad relating their conversation thusly:
Mr. Sweet: “Then you never intended to sell any bones other than those already on the ground?”
Mr, McKay: “No sir, I did not!”
Mr. Sweet: “You didn’t intend to let any further digging be done, or a search be made for more bones?”
Mr McKay: No sir, I did not!”
Mr. Sweet: (to the board) “Well, gentlemen, I see no other recourse for you than to open negotiations for the right to dig, as Mr. McKay obviously never sold any such right in the first place.”

Agreement was finally reached, and Mr. McKay was hired to deliver the bones to the railroad station, with delivery costs of each load determined by the weight of the load. The diggers boarded at the McKay home while working at the site.

When the task was finished, the museum had recovered an almost-complete mastodon skeleton; all that was missing were three lower legs. Found with the skeleton were the trunks of spruce trees that had been growing when the creature foundered, some 8 to 10 thousand years ago.

When the mastodon was removed, a portion of the skeleton of a species of muskox new to science was found in the same pit below it. This species was subsequently named after Mr. (Sic)subsequently named after Mr. Sargent.

The mastodon skeleton as it now stands in the Grand Rapids public Museum is compete, the missing leg bones of the Moorland specimen having been replaced with those of a Florida “cousin” of similar size.

see Grand Rapids Public Museum

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