Thursday, August 11, 2011

Elko's Northeastern Nevada Museum

In Elko, you can hang with a bush pig or cruise by a white rhinoceros. The two exotic creatures are part of the wild animal exhibit in the Wanamaker Wing of Elko’s excellent Northeastern Nevada Museum.

The Wanamaker Wing, a substantial addition to the museum, opened in 1999 and was a gift of V.H. “Jack” Wanamaker, a wealthy Southern California businessman who was also a big game hunter during the mid-20th century (before most people were aware of the concept of an endangered species).

Wanamaker owned a chain of carpet stores and the mounted animals were featured regularly in advertisements promoting his businesses.

From the size of the animal collection displayed at the museum, Wanamaker was a passionate hunter who managed to track species from all over the world.

When you enter the wing, you immediately encounter a large giraffe, towering over the entrance. Nearby is an impressive Siberian tiger, displayed with a peacock, black buck antelope and other species in a re-creation of their natural environment.

The next display contains a Maxwell’s duiker (a type of miniature antelope) as well as a blue duiker, a large bongo (a hooved, horse creature) and an African bush pig (which looks just like it sounds). Nearby is another diorama displaying bush duikers (Wanamaker had a thing for duikers), a bontebok, western gazelles, and a white rhinoceros.

Another exhibit shows a virtual mountain of bighorn and Rocky Mountain sheep. More than a dozen sheep, many with trophy horns, have been posed on a re-creation of a steep mountain peak, like you’d find in Nevada.

The Wanamaker Wing also contains a second floor and a basement display area. The former is used to display the museum’s permanent art collection as well as traveling or rotating shows (during my visit, the show displayed artwork by local school children).

The basement room is a continuation of the Wanamaker collection and includes dozens of mounted heads of various animals. There, you’ll find several huge elk heads as well as red deer from New Zealand and Elands from Zimbabwe.

Of course, the Wanamaker Wing isn’t the only thing to see at the museum. Walking into the main section, you spot the large Spring Creek Mastodon exhibit, which describes the discovery near Elko in 1994 of the fossilized bones of a 2 million-year-old mastodon.

The massive bones represent the only documented mastodon find in the Great Basin region.
Nearby is a display of Nevada bird species and animals, including wigeons, grebes, herons, moles, chipmunks and mice.

One display case contains a denim tuxedo coat—and tells the story behind it. The jacket is one of two created in 1951 for singer Bing Crosby and Elko’s mayor, David Dotta.

Apparently, Crosby, who owned a large ranch near Elko, had been on a hunting trip in another state, where he was denied service in a restaurant because of his grubby appearance. In response, Dotta arranged for the making of the Levi tuxedos so that the singer could always have appropriate formal wear no matter where he was or what he was doing.

Other artifacts in the museum include a 1917 crank telephone, a fluorescent minerals display, mining equipment, an exhibit on regional newspapers in the 19th century, a re-creation of a dry goods store and cases devoted to prehistoric rock art carvings and Shoshone baskets.

One particularly interesting display contains the Sheriff Joseph C. Harris collection, a menagerie of pistols, rifles, brass knuckles and other instruments of crime confiscated by the former head lawman of Elko County.

One very bizarre artifact is a pair of wooden, cow-hoof shoes. They were made in the 1930s by an ingenious cattle rustler, Crazy Tex, who strapped them on, then led cattle off the range to his awaiting vehicle. The shoes left behind no footprints, stumping law enforcement officials. He was finally caught in the act while wearing the clever cow-shoes.

The Northeastern Nevada Museum is located at 1515 Idaho Street in Elko. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to http://www.museumelko.org.