By ALESSIA GRUNBERGER and KAREN TANG
Capital News Service
BALTIMORE — To many museum visitors, the 10-foot-tall-by-18-feet-long skeleton replica of the American mastodon bares a striking resemblance to the famous woolly mammoth.
To Paul Rubenson – the Maryland Historical Society’s exhibitions manager – the towering prehistoric mammal is jokingly nicknamed “Shorty.”
But “Shorty” is nothing short of a monumental undertaking for the Baltimore-based museum.
In fact, the mastodon, a prehistoric member of the elephant family that differs from the wooly mammoth, was one of the largest land animals to roam the continent alongside Native Americans until the beasts became extinct 10,000 years ago.
Though extinct, the mastodon’s memory lives on.
In 1801, American painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale was the man behind the discovery of the mastodon bones. About five years later, the Maryland-born Peale detailed his discovery in his seminal painting, “Exhumation of the Mastodon.”
Now, that painting is proudly displayed in the Maryland Historical Society next to the main attraction: a replica of the mastodon.
The hulking animal was actually the second of two mastodons Peale unearthed. The original skeleton was in Peale’s Baltimore museum for many years but the bones ended up being dispersed. Hence the need for a replica.
“The actual erection of the skeleton was very dramatic,” said Rubenson. “Everybody from the staff dropped what they were doing and all converged, and everybody pitched in.”
The almost 1,000-pound replica, first constructed for a 1992 exhibition, was made from fiberglass bones and now stands on a wooden-planked platform as part of the museum’s “Four Centuries of Maryland History” gallery. Next to the replica is a display case containing some real mastodon bones.
The Maryland Historical Society is located at 201 W. Monument St. in Baltimore and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children 3-18 and for students with identification, and free for children under 3.