Thursday, November 19, 2009

Secret Life of Objects: Two-Headed Calf

By: Erin Crissman, Curator
There are some objects in The Farmers’ Museum Collection that I find very curious. As a curator, my curiosity is often not about the object itself, but about how the object came to the museum and when. As with most organizations, The Farmers’ Museum has a few periods in its history that have a specific set of characteristics. In the 1990s, TFM acquired furniture and decorative arts for new domestic spaces (More House) and re-furnishing of old spaces (Bump Tavern, Lippit House). In the 1940s and 1950s, the staff collected and re-constructed most of the buildings at the Museum. This early period is probably my favorite. The staff collected objects that weren’t very old (about 50 years or less) and even had a staff person who scoured trashcans and dumpsters for castoffs. These are still some of the Museum’s best pieces today. When I first came across the two-headed calf, I thought that it had surely been acquired in the 1940s. That was the era that brought us the Cardiff Giant, after all. I was surprised to learn that it was donated in 1979 – much later than I had originally thought. It has a wonderful story behind it as well. The calf was born in 1875 on M. John Eysaman’s farm near Little Falls, NY. It only lived for a few moments. Mr. Eysaman took the calf to a local taxidermist for preservation and had a glass case constructed to house it. His intention was to exhibit the calf, probably at local fairs. This curious animal is part of a fascination with grotesque themes in the late 19th century. It may have had both scientific and sensationalist value to Eysaman and whoever came to see it. The calf was given to TFM in 1979 by Mr. Eysaman’s great granddaughter, Anne Eysaman Schuyler. She said that the calf had "always been a conversation piece" in her home. I would think so!
Here’s a photo of the calf in the Kirby Free Library in Salisbury Center, NY, taken in April of 1979, just a few months before coming to The Farmer’s Museum’s collection.
For a few years, the two headed calf was part of the Museum of Curiosities exhibit at The Farmers’ Museum – along with the Cardiff Giant, of course!

1 comment:

Kateri Scott said...

When I was a young girl and first came to TFM, I remember seeing the Giant and the calf displayed together and not liking them. I didn't like anything curious and odd at the time. It scared me. However, when I returned as an adult, I specifically looked for the calf. The Wildlife Museum in Vail Mills, NY has a 2 headed calf and one was recently born in the United States this year.

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