The second floor corridors of Hutchison Hall hold a treasure trove of antique specimens. Cabinets filled with the skeletons and skulls of mammals, birds, fishes, and lizards help to illustrate amazing adaptations. Over the last two years we have rediscovered that these skeletons are only a small portion of the material in the department’s possession—and are the vestige of a very large collection once housed at the University until the late 1950’s. Packed into a room no more than 90 square feet were more than 300 skeletons and taxidermy specimens, jars of specimens preserved in fluids, and boxes of fossils and vintage microscope slides from the 1800’s. Some of these specimens are of species that are rare today and others are of considerable lasting scientific interest. Most are from regions far distant from Rochester and New York State.
Although the specimens we have are no longer alive, they need attention and the material here in Hutchison Hall has long been ignored. Many specimens were found in original hand-blown jars made sometime in the 1860’s. Over the years, fluids had evaporated and some of the specimens had dried out completely. With the help of a local glass blower/sculptor, we were able to re-curate the specimens, make new seals for the jars, and greatly extend the educational lifespan of these amazing archives.
Many of the skeletons and taxidermy specimens are also in need of restoration and a careful cleaning. These have been temporarily moved into glass-front cabinets to minimize the possibility of further damage. We hope to secure funding that will allow us to rearticulate the broken parts and present clean, useful specimens to students, alumni, and the public. As humans lose access to outdoor spaces and more of us live in crowded urban areas, the opportunities to see the colors and anatomy of diverse organisms from throughout the world cannot be replaced digitally. The University of Rochester now has the capability to fill that void.
What began as an effort to reclaim much-needed office space, has led to a rediscovery of our department’s history and a new vision of how old and new teaching collections can live side by side in the classroom and beyond. To display our collection properly we will need student and staff involvement at all levels—building and installing appropriate cabinetry and lighting, development of a database and website, and further research on the biology and conservation status of these animals. It is evident that no one expected so much would come out of a storage room and there is much more to do.
If you are interested in making a gift or discussing opportunities to support the department please contact:
Assistant Director of Advancement