Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.





Hatful of Bones O.C. Marsh received this upon returning from the railroad, containing new horse bones Marsh named Equus Parvulus.
Yale Expedition 1872 O.C. Marsh, center.

Life of the Peabody

This title is under the Peabody Collection

The Opening Line

Death announced its name in its cool salty breeze seeping from the freshly dug-up grave of the natural cemetery, putting a halt to the construction of life along the never-ending rail. The first who saw the morbid sight hung up their coats, and turned to stop the grand project. It was a sign, a grim reminder of death marking each mile of track in the stories of the line surveyors who went ahead and never made it back, and the burnings and the unexpected sudden deaths in the hands of a disgruntled native sniper whose land was currently torn asunder with modernism’s ache. Nor were there morals, for they were the travelling crew who brought about Hell on wheels in the new-sprung towns of brothels, saloons, and gambling houses where shootings and slaughters marked the end of grasping throats reaching for the next payday where they would drink their hard-earned wages on a deep dark vice.

Alas, they were not human bones. The horses neigh, not at the grim visage of death but by the discovery of an old friend, for they marked the remains of reptiles and mammals that once roamed the unconquered lands. It is the universality of life that calls the mind to recognize the distinction of its own species and find similarities in the featureless old bones of an untrained eye, for fear makes cowards of us all, and brings the best and worst of the romantic soul, who flees at the ghosts of an imagined massacre or flies to invent some long-lost history of an anthropological past. But these bare bones have their own voice, and stand to let us hear it if we so choose to perfect the truth before moving on to rouse the exotic front.

They contain the vast ultrahistory of the time before us, up to and exceeding the momentary present to the far reaches of aftertime. A hat of fourteen bones from a new-named parvulus horse, given by chance in a hat on a passing exchange, now rests in the museum, where its story is now put against the other pieces in the one grand narrative that will come to live long before humans, and long after.

Exciting it is, beyond the human realm. Whether it is the discovery of a new species, or the understanding of a pattern in the small claw of the large scheme of things, the museums of natural history have awakened the heads of the dinner table, where innumerable skulls sit to share their life stories with good vinegar, glue, and conversation as they banter in a vituperative fusillade of extraordinarily insulting size comparisons of their own kind across time, like the tale of the dinosaurs’ supreme successors that would find their way in a flightier form, in the accusatory evidence of an infinitesimal jagged tooth belonging to the quacking prat of an irascibly precocious loud-beaked bird.

Then there are the pretty neat bunch of islands usually seen only in faerie tales where snowy rocky stormcliffs face sandy deserts and inescapable jungles, just down a rectangular hallway. Each of the animals on each isle speak of their own environs, telling the specter of the great exchanges and links between the continents while they prowl, run about, and knock their heads against the backdrop of a wall rendered so precisely in the colors of a panoramic landscape both they and the specters themselves fail to see the dividing line.

And just beside is the glass aviary, where birds both past and present linger on to pronounce their call, inviting the winsome boy to feel the smooth roughness of a Hairy Puccoon and partake in the collection for the nest, as the others parade and chatter away the colors of their combs, remarking the strutting red-breasted cardinal sprouting its Mohawk comb in a bid to attract the rock cool kids.

But down below, beneath the carpets and the great glass facades, lies something deeper, and more mysterious. Pass through the pair of heavy locked doors and enter the cold rooms where rows of white cabinet shelves lie horizontally on a track. The diary of the earth’s seasons, recorded on the lines of a small unassuming coral that has lived deep within the water’s depths, silently charting the weather changes of each passing milestone for the past four hundred and fifty years. Then there is the undiscovered spiral specimen retried from almost fifty hundred feet below the region of the New England sea mounts, tinged with chartreuse communities of life so far uninspected, making up the whole coral. And if you go to the opposite chamber, you could find stories of life in far less exotic regions, like your own hometown where people gather to sell squid and octopuses in a little wet market unheard off to the world outside. Or venture above to hear the last remaining stories of the extinct birds, who were once preserved when their numbers were large.

Or perhaps go up to the herbarium where flowers and plants speak of a hidden magic code, whose secrets may be unraveled in some dusty pressed-plant volume left unopened for the last hundred years, where forgotten plants lie in wait to be matched to those in some cryptic manual like the Voynich Manuscript, waiting for one to crack its secret code. And for those who need a more tangible touch, traverse the bridge to the mineral base, and search the skies for the accounts of far-flung planets in the messengers held captive in the form of falling meteorites, or find the secret paleontology room where fossils lie in wait to be freed from their buried pasts forced into obscurity.

All these halls are teeming with the lives of a forgotten age, all of whom continue to enchant our own place at the colossal dinner table where we sit aside the grand paragons of time, each telling their own chapter, their own page, which makes up the book of unwritten life that will forever flow in the hand of the author. And that includes all, even the ones who pass into the room of discovery only to watch the game of the stick insects or the tunnels of the transporting ants, as they one day come to see some form of the great pattern in that one little movement recorded in a mind’s eye, such as the design of a horse’s hoof, that will continue our story.


The ghastly sight of bones along a railway construction site leads one to relish the fear and fascination of pondering the mystery of these humans. But they were not human bones, but something more interesting.