The ‘Horned Giants’ of Pennsylvania

Contributed by Emily Hurley

One day while I was working in the basement of the Peabody, plugging away at inventorying drawers, I was listening to a podcast called Astonishing Legends. It was an episode titled “The Tall Ones” exploring the legends and lore surrounding giants around the world. It came as a surprise when I heard the hosts say the name W.K. Moorehead! My ears instantly pricked up.

The podcast hosts went on to cite a New York Times article written on July 14, 1916 under the headline “Find Horned Men’s Skulls: Remarkable Discovery by Archaeologists in the Susquehanna Valley”. The short article stated that Professor A.B. Skinner of the American Indian Museum, Rev. George Donehoo, Pennsylvania State Historian, and Professor W.K. Moorehead of the Phillips Andover Academy uncovered a burial mound at the Murray Farm site while conducting research at Tioga Point in the Susquehanna Valley. In the mound, they uncovered the remains of sixty-eight men, believed to have been buried around the year 1200 AD. According to the article, the average height of these men was seven feet, with many being even taller. Also found with the remains were very large stone celts and axes, further evidence of the men’s gigantic size. Perhaps most interesting of all, some of the skulls had two inch bone protuberances on their foreheads. Well, this was something to explore!

Workers at the Murray Farm excavation. Photograph taken by Rev. George Donehoo, 1916.

Looking through historical texts and documents, it is clear that giants have been a topic of interest for centuries. Not only are they mentioned in the Biblical story of David and Goliath, but in fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, and the legend of Paul Bunyan. One pervasive theory about giants is that they are actually Nephilim (also from the Bible), the offspring of an angel and a human. Even some historical figures such as Gilgamesh are thought by some to have been giants.

Many newspaper articles from across the country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries claim to have found giant skeletons. Some accounts even call them a lost race of giant people, but many others hypothesize that they were giant Native Americans. An eight foot tall Native American skeleton was said to be found in Towanda, Pennsylvania in 1822. A headline from The World newspaper on October 6, 1895, read “Biggest Giant Ever Known-Nine Feet High and Probably a Prehistoric California Indian.” Some, like the Cardiff Giant, which was actually a buried stone statue, were proven to be hoaxes. Yet the stories still remain popular. Even Captain John Smith, in his account of meeting the Susquehanncocks in 1608, described them as giant-like. But were there really giants roaming this land before us? Or horned giants for that matter?

After some further digging, it was discovered that the “horned giants” found by Moorehead and others at Murray Farm were not horned at all, nor were they giants. Professor Skinner wrote a corrected article for the New York Times but it was not as publicized as the original, so it is harder to find. Apparently while excavating the site, a workman shouted out “There are horns over his head!”, after discovering a bundle burial which had been covered with deer antlers. An excited visitor or reporter at the site heard this and asked another workman, who decided to play a joke and claim that the skeletons had horns growing out of their heads. Another version says that a disgruntled camp cook made up the story.

Workers at the Murray Farm excavation, along with visitors who came to see the exciting finds. Photograph by Rev. George Donehoo, 1916.

This explains the story about the horns, but what about the supposed enormous height of these individuals and the other accounts of giants found nearby? It is thought that these skeletons, as well as accounts of living “giant” Susquehannocks, were not giant at all, but just taller than average. At the time, the average height of most Europeans was about five feet six inches tall, whereas Native Americans were thought to average about six feet tall. While six inches is not that big of a difference, anyone taller than six feet may seem like a giant to the generally shorter Europeans.

Another reason for the discovery of “giant” skeletons is that these bones were often misidentified as human when they actually belonged to extinct animal species. It may seem far-fetched that anyone could misidentify a mammoth bone as that of a human, but other than the skull, human bones actually look very much like animal bones. So to someone not trained in osteology, a very large rib bone may seem like it is from a human skeleton. Many skeletal remains have been innocently misidentified this way, not only as giants, but as monsters or “Titans” as well.

Over time it seems that this giant narrative of Native Americans by Europeans was exaggerated and, coupled with misidentified animal bones, resulted in the discovery of “giant skeletons.” However, these so-called giant skeletons always seem to mysteriously disappear after being excavated, leading many to believe that they either never existed, were misidentified animal bones, or it was actually just a taller than average person.

After hearing the podcast, I did some digging of my own through Moorehead’s records, just in case I could find anything related to the “horned giants”. I found many documents related to the Susquehanna Valley expedition as well as correspondences between Moorehead, Skinner, and Donehoo. None of these documents ever mentioned the “horned giants” or the article written in the New York Times. I did find a picture of Professor Skinner holding a perfectly normal looking skull with no protuberances while at Murray Farm. Moorehead also wrote a short report of the excavation, and again, no mention of giants was found.

Warren K. Moorehead (far right) and others in the Susquehanna Valley. Photograph taken by George Donehoo, 1916.

Even though the horned giants of Pennsylvania turned out to be nothing more than a tall tale (pun intended), it was fun to hear a story about Moorehead on one of my new favorite podcasts! I wonder what interesting stories I’ll uncover next!

P.S. For further reading on giants and other archaeological myths, check out Kenneth Feder’s book titled Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries!

“…and his spirit still lives”

Contributed by Marla Taylor

October is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the changing leaves here in New England, the crisp air, and seeing all the creative Halloween costumes that people come up with.  This is also a time for sharing spooky stories and strange experiences…

Have you ever noticed this plaque at the Peabody?

This plaque is next to the front door of the Peabody Institute

Warren K. Moorehead (1866-1939) was the first curator and second director of the Peabody Institute (then known as the Department of Archaeology).  If you don’t know anything about him and his relationship with the Peabody, just try searching ‘Moorehead’ on our blog.  I’ll wait. 

Moorehead was definitely a strong personality.  And I, personally, think some part of his spirit does still live at the Peabody. 

Several years ago, there were a series of strange disturbances that were happening at the Peabody.  I don’t have the space to tell you everything, but here are a couple that I personally experienced:

One morning, Lindsay and I were the first staff in the building and let ourselves into the basement office space.  Sprawled across the floor by our kitchen area were paper plates, a glass shelf (an extra for the fridge), and various other little things that had been on top of the microwave.  These things could NOT have fallen like this on their own – it looked like something had swiped its arm and pushed everything onto the floor.  Lindsay and I had been the last ones out and were now the first ones in.  We immediately photographed what we saw (I am so sorry that I can’t find that photo!) and did some follow-up.  No motion alarm had gone off all night and our pest management company found no evidence of an animal.

Another time, a couple years ago, I was talking to work duty students and explaining that Moorehead used to exchange or give away artifacts that I really wish had stayed in our collection.  Just as I was mid-sentence in a rebuke of his cavalier behavior, a photographic portrait of him fell from the wall and smashed its frame.  This portrait had been hanging in the same spot for my entire tenure at the Peabody (at that point, about 10 years) and had never fallen before.  The students and I exchanged shocked looks and I quickly apologized to Moorehead for bad-mouthing him.

Moorehead (he is the one standing) now rests on the floor. Although this was printed for an old exhibition, I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of the photo.

Shortly after these incidents, Ryan wrote a note to Moorehead explaining that we were taking care of the building and the collections and that we respected and appreciated him.  Ryan slid the note behind the plaque by the front door and the strange occurrences stopped.

I am not big believer in the supernatural, but I do think Moorehead’s spirit does reside in the Peabody in some form.  In my opinion, he is a pretty benign ghost who just wants to ensure that the collection and the building are getting their proper respect and care – I strive to meet his standards.

The Making of the Peabody Annual Report

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

To many institutions, the annual report is one of the most important pieces of information. A single document, yet a powerful tool in communicating an institution’s performance during each fiscal year. Each fall the Peabody presents their annual report to the public, highlighting their achievements, overall performance of the past year, as well as their goals and objectives for the coming year. Not only does the annual report provide a snap shot of what a year at the Peabody looks like, it provides transparency of the institution to the public and its local community.

The making of the Peabody annual report includes several staff members who collaborate in the documentation, writing, and gathering of the material across several departments within the Peabody. These include: Administration (Ryan, Director), Education and Outreach (Lindsay, Curator of Education and Outreach and Ryan, Director), Collections (Marla, Curator of Collections), and Peabody Donors and Support (Beth, PA Director for Museums and Educational Outreach). Once the information is gathered and content is written, I take over to design the overall layout of the annual report.

A page from the 2020 Peabody Annual Report

Using the Adobe InDesign software, I create each page spread using the information that staff give me. When designing, it is important to always keep in mind the overall flow of information and that the format/design features are cohesive throughout the document. Something new I incorporated into the report this year were black and white photographs from the Peabody archives. I used these photographs as transitions between specific sections of the report to provide a natural break, while still maintaining the overall flow of the report. I also had a little fun creating a new page dedicated to our collections remote work during Covid-19.

Photograph from the Peabody archives used in the 2020 Peabody Annual Report

I really enjoy designing the annual report and watching all the work Peabody staff put into the year unfold with the design of each page. Not only does it provide an opportunity for each department to feature their success and performance, its where all the Peabody’s work finally comes together.

You can view the 2020 Peabody Annual Report here. Enjoy!

Back to Work!

Contributed by Emily Hurley

It’s been almost two months now since John and I have been back at the Peabody alternating weeks of work. In order to save time while we are in the Peabody, we are using that time exclusively to inventory drawers and spending our weeks at home updating the database with the drawers we inventoried the previous week. Now that we’ll be back in the Peabody more regularly, our work from home duties have shifted to more database work. In his post from last month’s newsletter, you can see all the hard work John’s been doing at home so now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish from home so far.

Marla has kept everyone busy with various projects since we started working remotely in March. For me, that included digitizing photographs, creating condition reports for textiles, digitizing ledger books, and photographing site records. In total, while working remotely, I was able to digitize nine boxes of photos, complete 120 condition reports, digitize 1,700 ledger entries, and photograph 354 site records.

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2019.0.706 – A goat on a mountainside in the Ayacucho Valley. (I think this goat is so cute!)

The majority of my time working remotely has been spent scanning and editing photographs of various archaeological projects from the collection. The photos I digitized were from archaeological excavations in Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Connecticut. Perhaps my favorite photos to work with were the ones from the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project in Peru. This project, directed by Richard MacNeish, was meant to investigate the origin of agriculture and its relationship to the development of civilization in New World Centers. The Ayacucho Valley was subsequently excavated between 1969 and 1975, which produced the hundreds of images that I’ve been working on. Many of the photos are of cave excavations, others show sweeping views of the Peruvian highlands complete with mountains and wildlife, and there’s the occasional photo of the archaeologists acting silly.

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2019.0.743 – Archaeologists overlooking the Ayacucho Valley

Since we’ve been back at the Peabody, John and I have been working hard to make up for lost time on the inventory project. So far we’ve been making great progress as we’ve been able to inventory over 60 drawers since being back. Empty wooden drawers are once again piling up like crazy!

Working from home for the past few months has been an interesting experience. It’s been great saving so much money on gas and I loved being able to make myself gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch every day, but I’m very happy to be back working with the artifacts. Hopefully someday soon we’ll all be able to enjoy being back at the Peabody full time!

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If you’re in need of some grilled cheese inspiration here is one of my favorites—olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, arugula, and manchego cheese! (I only had pita pockets at the time but I think a nice sourdough would be great)

Artifacts Return

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Last fall, the Peabody loaned ten objects to the Addison Gallery of American Art here at Phillips Academy.  They spent nearly a year there for the exhibition A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th Century America.

Due to public health concerns related to COVID-19, both the Peabody and the Addison have been closed to visitors since mid-March.  But, the behind the scenes work never ends.  The Addison regularly exhibits works of art on loan from other institutions and actively loans its own collection to museums around the world.  Returning these objects during COVID shutdowns has been a logistical challenge for our friends, and we were happy to coordinate with them to return the materials back across the street to us.

When the objects from the Peabody went to the Addison, a professional fine arts shipping company took care of packing and moving everything.  To come home, the Addison staff did the packing themselves – and they are awesome at it!

 

It is now up to me to put these artifacts back into our storage areas – a job I am happy to do!  Typically, we would use many of these in the upcoming school year for classes, but this year is different.  Like most other institutions, any of our classes will be taught online.

But I know that I will be happy to see Champ the auk back at home in his case every time I come into the Peabody.

Out of the basement and into the basement

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

RSP to Home
4 months of working in my basement and now, I’m back in the Peabody basement.

After four months of working from home, the Peabody is in its third week of a return to almost normal collections work. The two inventory specialists, Emily and myself, are working alternating weeks at the Peabody in order to continue our inventory work. With one week completed, it feels good to be back working toward our goal of a complete inventory of the collection. While working remotely will be an ongoing reality, I would like to share some of what I have been up to at home thus far.

With everything shutting down in March, Marla was quick to come up with projects that could be completed remotely. Her post in April outlined collections materials that were less sensitive and therefore reasonable to take home. I started with photographing site records from Peru and then moved to digitizing vacuum treatment paperwork related to Integrated Pest Management of the collections. We all contributed to finalizing the digitization of the original ledger books, our institution’s version of accession books. Now we have a searchable document with 75,000 records!

Work from home stuff copy
Everything I’ve worked on from home

My favorite project has been photographing and editing photographic slides held in the collection. They include images documenting past exhibits and openings at the Robert S. Peabody Museum and photographs of the collections. The most interesting slides by far have been of Copeland Marks’s travels in Guatemala and South Korea. Mr. Marks was a textile collector who focused on the traditional clothing of ethnic Maya people living in the Guatemalan highlands. Some of his textiles became part of our collection at the Peabody. He would later write several cookbooks on cuisine covering locales ranging from the Mediterranean to South America. The slides I was working with document his travels in Guatemala spanning the 1960s through the 1980s. The subjects in the photographs cover everyday life, the dramatic volcanic landscape of the highlands and ceremonial life- all of which have been a great escape from the realities of coronavirus lockdown.

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00.3.1585- People of San Pedro La Laguna.

It is anybody’s guess when life will return to normal. For the foreseeable future work at the Peabody will be interspersed with the strange blur of working from home with frustratingly cute interruptions from kids and dirty dishes. Until then I have to thank Marla for keeping us safely working from home during these crazy times.

lunch for 2
Oh yeah, I can’t forget my other work from home duty- silly lunches for the kids.

Henry Inman Portraits at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Three distinctive oil paintings attributed to artist Henry Inman (1801-1846) are among the collections of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. These paintings are part of a larger group of portraits created by Inman to produce the hand colored lithographs that appeared in the three volumes of The History of Indian Tribes of North America (1836-1844) by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. Specifically, the Peabody paintings depict Petalesharo (90.181.10), Ki-On-Twog-Ky, or Cornplanter (90.181.11), and Mohongo and Child (90.181.12). The source material for the Inman paintings were original works created principally in Washington DC by portrait painter Charles Bird King (1785-1862). The bulk of the King originals were destroyed in a fire in 1865.

Image shows an oil painting of a Native American man with feather headdress and spontoon pipe, metal gorget at the neck and metal gauntlets.
Henry Inman’s portrait of Ki-On-Twog-Ky, or Cornplanter.

Today, original editions of the McKenney and Hall volumes and individual lithographs are valuable and highly sought after, but at the time the project was not a financial success. Many of the Inman portraits (at least 100 or more) were given to the Tilestone and Hollingsworth Paper Company of Milton, MA, who had supplied paper for the book project. The families of Edmund Tilestone and Amor Hollingsworth made a gift of the paintings to the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1882. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Harvard museum sold many of the Inman paintings in their collection, ultimately retaining twenty-five.

Image of cleaned oil painting showing Native American man with eagle feather headdress, silver peace medal necklace, and fur robes.
Henry Inman’s portrait of Petalesharo after a recent cleaning.

Comparison with the list of Harvard’s original holdings indicates that the three Inman portraits at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology did not come from that source. The frames also are quite different; the paintings at Harvard have simple wood frames, with descriptive plaques affixed, while those at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology have ornate frames with gold leaf. In correspondence on file, former museum director Richard S. MacNeish told then director James Bradley that the paintings were part of the original gift from Robert S. Peabody. Stebbins and Renn (2014:288) report that Harvard received 107 of the Inman paintings from the Tilestone and Hollingsworth heirs, but that Inman had originally painted 117 and the whereabouts of the remaining paintings is unclear. It is possible that Robert S. Peabody acquired the three paintings when they were exhibited in Philadelphia.

Image shows two students standing on either side of an oil painting of a Native American and explaining their work to onlookers.
Phillips Academy students share their independent research on the Henry Inman paintings with members of the Board of Trustees.

The paintings reflect the classical style of portraits painted in the nineteenth century, and do not attempt to portray people in an imagined “primitive” setting as the photographs of Edward S. Curtis do at the end of the century. Clothing and personal items reflect the blend of traditional and Anglo-European attire resulting from varying levels of cultural assimilation. History and Social Sciences instructor Marcelle Doheny uses the paintings in her senior elective, Race and Identity in Indian Country, and they were part of an independent student project in 2015-2016 that examined Anglo-European portrayals of Native Americans.

Image shows an oil painting in an elaborate gold gilt frame that depicts an attractive Native American woman holding her baby. She wears a red blouse which covers the baby's shoulders. A silver Indian Peace Medal around her neck is held by the baby.
Henry Inman’s portrait of Mohongo and child in storage at the Peabody.

The biographical notes that accompany the McKenney and Hall publication provide additional details about the lives of these individuals, at least as documented by the editors. Mohongo’s (1809-1836) story is particularly striking, as she was one of a group of Osage persuaded to make a European tour in 1827. While in Europe, she gave birth to twins, but only one survived. The tour organizer, who had brought the Osage to Europe to perform as a Wild West Show, was arrested for debt in Paris, leaving the rest of the party to fend for themselves. Ultimately, the Marquis de Lafayette learned of the situation and arranged for passage back to North America. During the sea voyage more members of the party perished, but Mohongo and her child survived, ultimately arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, where Charles Bird King painted their portrait. We believe that the peace medal worn by Mohongo depicts Andrew Jackson, who was president at the time. Mohongo and her child made their way back to Missouri. The book, An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827-1830: Three French Accounts edited and translated by William Least Heat-Moon and James K. Wallace, documents the episode.

Several exhibits—for example, the Indian Gallery of Henry Inman, which toured museums from 2006 to 2012—have assembled small collections of the extant Inman paintings, but the examples at the Peabody have never been included, likely because curators and art historians have not known about them.

Other Sources

Christie’s East. 1981. American Paintings and Watercolors of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries (auction catalog). New York.

Ewers, John C. 1954. Charles Bird King, painter of Indian visitors to the nation’s capital. Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1953. Pp. 463-473. Publication 4149. Government Printing Office, Washington DC.

Gerald Peters Gallery. 2008. Henry Inman, Twenty-four Indian Portraits (catalog). New York.

Gerdts, William H., and Carrie Rebora. 1987. The Art of Henry Inman. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr., and Melissa Renn. 2014. American Paintings at Harvard, Volume 1: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826. Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press, New Haven.

Viola, Herman J. 1976. The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King. Smithsonian Institution Press and Doubleday & Company, New York.

Viola, Herman J. 1983. Indians of North America: Paintings by Henry Inman from the D. Harold Byrd, Jr. Collection. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY.

Movie Magic – sort of

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Before COVID-19, the Peabody Institute kept our social media presence to Facebook and Twitter.  But this seemed like the perfect time to expand to Youtube. This is definitely a new medium for me and I was puzzled for a few days as to how I could contribute to this platform.  And then inspiration struck.

Phillips Academy is home to two cultural institutions – the Robert S. Peabody Institute and the Addison Gallery of American Art.  Our friends at the Addison created a delightful short stop-motion video about the work of a registrar and shared it on Facebook.  I thought it was fabulous.  And I also thought, I can do that!

Well, that started a project that took about a week of evening shoots after the kids went to bed, and an additional couple weeks of sound design (maybe I shouldn’t admit that it took that long…).  I wrote a short script and then cannibalized my boys’ Legos to recreate the Peabody staff and create sets.  I regret not taking a picture of the carnage to our play room to share, but I am relieved that it is all cleaned up now.

Framing and filming the stop-motion required a level of patience and detailed focus that was challenging for me at times but necessary to make the film work.  It is hard to remember to account for everyone and everything in the scene, but not to move it too much to ensure it was fluid.  It was pretty fun to hide details in the background too.

Adding the voices and music was a whole separate task.  I fully credit my husband with the patience to become my sound engineer.  He took all the lines, including those contributed by our 5 year old, and music and ensured that everything synced with the video – and made sure we weren’t breaking any copyright laws with the music use…

I think the end result is pretty great.  Viewers learn about what the Peabody does every day, from my perspective, and get to escape for about 3 minutes.

Enjoy Raiders of the Peabody Institute Collections!

#Museumathome

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In our new normal, museums around the world are finding new and clever ways to engage with people at home.  I wanted to share with you some of my favorites.

Our friends at the Addison Gallery of American Art, also here at Phillips Academy, have gotten creative with Legos and stop-motion animation.  Registrars: The Movie was the best 2 minutes of my day and I hope it makes you smile too!

Mona Lisa

A fabulous trend on Instragram are people dressing themselves and their homes like art.  The creativity is impressive!  Discover the trend through #gettychallenge, #betweenartandquarantine, and #covidclassics.

Gerbil art museum
Gerbil art museum

Do gerbils appreciate art?  I don’t know, but I stumbled across this article about some art lovers who decided to find out.  By all accounts, the gerbils had a positive experience with their private tour!  And I hope you do too.

My favorite museum distraction is following the National Cowboy Museum on Twitter.  Head of Security, Tim, has taken over their social media and has the best dad jokes around.  Wonderfully refreshing and clever, Tim’s tweets bring a smile to my face every day – #HashtagTheCowboy.  I can’t wait to find a reason to travel to Oklahoma City, OK and visit.

Thanks, Tim

Collections work – Home edition

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As the country continues to work from home, the Peabody collections team has gotten creative to keep everyone busy.  Typically, our work requires touching and interacting with the objects in our collection as well as collaboration on deciphering difficult numbers or to respond to a research inquiry.  I certainly can’t send the artifacts home with our staff, but we have been able to find plenty of remote work.

Piles for work from home
Boxes of photos and slides ready to go to their temporary homes

First, we attacked a backlog of paperwork relating to our pest management projects.  Something that I thought would take months to catch-up on was done in a matter of days!

Second, supplies were split up and everyone signed out a few boxes of photographs to digitize from home.  Many of them also created spreadsheets that will make for quick addition to our collections management database when we return.  Once again, massive progress is being made on projects that have been sitting on the back-burner too long.

Several of us still share the responsibility of checking on the collections in person regularly and the system has been working wonderfully.

For me, like so many others, working from home has been a balancing act.  I am caring for two kids under the age of 5 while my husband works a job that is considered essential.  My work is squeezed into nap-time, evenings, early mornings with a cup of coffee, and some weekend time.  We are all doing the best we can to support ourselves and our colleagues.  I cannot thank the Peabody collections team – Rachel, John, Emily, and Emma – enough for their hard work and continued dedication to our mission.

If you have some time to kill, try checking out our collection online – I hope to have lots of new material uploaded when we return to our regular routine.