Snakes in a Museum

Excerpt from a letter by Alexander Agassiz, curator of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College, to Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, January 9, 1883. Part of the letter collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner on display in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

“I am sorry to find that during my absence Mr. Garman sent the Rattlesnakes to the London Zoological Society in exchange for some other equally disgusting but pickled monsters. The rascals out out once or twice and he was afraid of some accident to the other assistants of the Museum who have not at all the same faculty of handling such vermin. Now Garman will probably get a lot more later and when he does and the beasts are tamed I shall let you know and hope that Mrs. Gardner will honor the Museum by a visit.”

Some things always attract visitors. Left image: From LIFE archives. 1943. Thomas Barbour, Harvard Professor of Zoology, brings out a bull snake to entertain colleagues in his study in the museum, which had been renamed the Agassiz Museum.

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