One Mastodon... Many Homes
For 13,000 years, the Cohoes Mastodon lay dormant, encapsulated in a clay-filled pothole located in present-day Cohoes, New York. However, since his discovery in 1866, he has traveled to and occupied many different localities throughout New York's Capital District.
From the specimen-dense rooms of the Geological and Agricultural Hall to the vaulted expanse of Paleontology Hall in the State Education Building, discover the journey of the Cohoes Mastodon as he made his way to the current New York State Museum and the hearts of all New Yorkers.
DISCOVERED AT HARMONY MILLS IN COHOES, NEW YORK
In the months following its initial discovery, the bones of the Cohoes Mastodon were housed at the Harmony Mills offices where scientists, including James Hall, a geologist and the New York State Museum's first director, would visit and study the specimens as they were unearthed. The bones, though still disassembled, were first placed on display for the public to view at the county fair in Troy, NY, in 1867.
GEOLOGICAL AND AGRICULTURAL HALL
Harmony Mills donated the bones of the Cohoes Mastodon to the New York State Cabinet of Natural History (renamed the New York State Museum in 1870). The Mastodon was first mounted and placed on display for over 50 years in the Geological and Agricultural Hall alongside a skeleton of the extinct Irish Elk.
PALEONTOLOGY HALL - NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION BUILDING
The mounted skeleton of the Cohoes Mastodon spent the next 64 years in a stunning Ice Age diaorama depicting the southern rampart of the Catskills, an area known for being a rich locality for mastodon remains. At its side stood his very own life-sized restoration, complete with shaggy fur, fuzzy ears and a bulky trunk that stretched to the floor. On the opposite side stood the reassembled skeleton of the Temple Hill mastodon, unearthed by a truck farmer near Newburgh, NY, in 1921.
Just as the New York State Museum completed installation of a stunning Ice Ages diorama that included a life-sized mastodon mother and her young calf, plans began emerging to bring the Cohoes Mastodon "back to life." The task would require a significant amount of restoration to the decaying fragile bones, including coating every crack and crevice with a hardening solution called polyvinyl acetate. Although the restoration process itself would take only six months to complete, it ultimately took another ten years to make the project a reality.
FRONT AND CENTER
After a thirty-year hiatus, the Cohoes Mastodon once again assumed its role as the most beloved attraction at the New York State Museum. Placed in the main lobby of the Cultural Education Center, visitors and passersby could marvel at its size and beauty from all angles. In addition to receiving a new protective coating, the skeleton was further protected from wear and tear through the creation of a custom metal frame upon which each bone rested without being bolted or screwed into place.
MODERN ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
In spite of the many precautions taken to safely restore the Cohoes Mastodon, the temperature and humidity swings of the lobby environment began to take a toll on the Mastodon's bones and the supporting framework that held everything together. After ten years of fluctuating exposure to the summer sun and the dry chill of winter air, action was required before the bones cracked or the frame came crashing down.
A climate-controlled gallery space in the back of the Museum was designated as the Mastodon's new home and the process of dismantling, cleaning, and repairing over 200 fossil bones, additional fiberglass replicas, and the metal frame began.
Mastodon Puzzle: It took over four days to piece the Cohoes Mastodon back together. Watch this 1-minute time lapse video that demonstrates how it was done
Home Sweet Home
CULTURAL EDUCATION CENTER
It wasn't long after the Museum moved into the State Education Building that storage space for its vast collections became filled to capacity. In 1976, the New York State Museum moved into the Cultural Education Building, a 1.5 million-square-foot facility that also houses the State Library and Archives.
CRATED UP: 20 YEARS OF HIBERNATION
It should be noted that, although massive in size, the Cohoes Mastodon's 13,000-year-old bones had become extremely brittle and fragile from exposure to dry air. After nearly a century of being on display, when the New York State Museum moved into the newly constructed Cultural Education Center, museum scientists opted to carefully dismantle, box up, and place the Cohoes Mastodon in storage for the sake of its long-term preservation.
The Cohoes Mastodon currently stands in the South Hall Lobby of the New York State Museum. Elevated on a custom-made platform, the impressive skeleton can be viewed by visitors from all sides. The ongoing exhibition includes additional information and objects related to the Cohoes Mastodon, including an original newspaper account of the Mastodon's discovery in 1866, one of the Mastodon's original tusks, and touchable mastodon and mammoth teeth.
Since being unearthed over 150 years ago in Harmony Mills, the Cohoes Mastodon has captured the hearts and minds of visitors young and old. Without a doubt, this 13,000-year-old treasure will remain a fixture in the New York State Museum for many years to come!