Motion picture companies find the Museum a mine of information on natives, customs, houses, dress, etc., for films and for all sorts of technical questions involving authentic production. Doctors, of course, often come to us with questions in comparative anatomy and even for advice in treating neurotic disturbances in patients.
“True or false” questions which come to the Museum would be grand for a radio quiz. Some of them are: “Do bears suffer with arthritis?” (Yes.) “Is it true that a herd of Lilliputian horses, the size of police dogs, exist in the Grand Canyon of Arizona?” (No.)
“Is there any truth in the story that skunks sometimes cause fires in barns, the assumption being that a spark of electricity from the fur of the skunk under proper circumstances would ignite gases in the barn.” (A superstition for which we cannot justly accuse the poor skunk.)
“Do foxes troubled with fleas hold a piece of wood in the mouth, run to a stream and slowly submerge. The fleas are supposed to leave the animal’s body and take refuge in the wood. Then the fox drops the wood and swims away.” True or false? (False.)
“Is it true that 65 billion represents the number of people born into this world since its beginning?” (Probably 90 billion would be closer.)
“Is it true that the praying mantis jumps out of trees onto the backs of rats and bites their necks so that they bleed to death?” (No.)
There is in my office what we call the “Believe-It-Or-Not” file. I am ending this article by quoting four which are typical.
I have known that, organized by your great Institution, frequently from New York depart hunting expeditions. If one of these expeditions should need a barber and hairdresser (also sharpshooter) I would be very glad to obtain that position.
Gentlemen: Gentlemen, let me have your attention to this letter. It is very important to me, also it means my happiness and future career. I have been informed, that the American Museum of Natural History is about ready to send out another exploring expedition soon. Adventure is calling me. The lure of adventure has taken its final hold on me, now and forever. Gentlemen, I ask you to send me out with that expedition. Take me, think it over, but don’t refuse me. Gentlemen, the thought of not going almost drives me mad. Gentlemen, I pray for this to come true as I have prayed for this opportunity to write. Enclosed are four cents in stamps, and I’m now waiting eagerly for an answer. Yours for exploring and adventure. For the Present: Farewell Gentleman and all.
Dear Sir: I am a bachelor 65 years of age. I am orphaned, live 57 years in Chicago, have a clear record. I can furnish 1,000 bond and references. I will pay you $100 if you find me a wife but not a negrow. She must have $10,000 cash. I am a temperance man. I will join your Museum, also the wife may be from 16 to 60 years of age. I have $250 in 3 banks—they are closed. I carry $10,000 insurance. Yours truly,
Gents: I know you will think this is a crazy letter but when I tell you the facts you will be glad I am writing to you for it means money to you and me. My husband—a good, fine man—had an awful sickness and when he came out of it, he had no sense of feeling. You can stick pins, needles or any sharp object in him and he just laughs. He is a lot of help to me around the grocery store and I hate to lose him, but this is my idea. Put him in a sort of cage in one of your rooms and let the visitors stick pins in him at zØ a prick. This will be, I know, a big money-maker for you Museum people and for me, as I would, of course, expect a certain percent of each prick. I know the public will flock to see this human pincushion. Let me hear from you quick, as I know you will never regret it. Yours truly, P. S. He has a fine appetite and will eat anything.
I am somewhat fearful that this story may have left an impression that the Museum Staff wastes a great deal of its valuable time in answering questions such as I have given above. This is far from true. These examples give only the amusing side of the picture and are perhaps one per cent of the 25,000 inquiries which come to us every year. The other 99 per cent are serious questions of real importance, which help carry on the Museum’s function as an educational institution.