HINCKLEY — A Bangor taxidermist donated the man-sized marlin caught by Ernest Hemingway.
An elephant that formerly stood in a Harvard museum in its elephant entirety came by way of a donor who passed along only its big gray foot, chopped at the knee.
A stuffed bobcat had tangled with the wrong man’s poodle, just up the road.
“(The dog’s owner) killed the bobcat and brought it here,” said Deborah Staber, director of the L.C. Bates Museum. “Everything has its own little story.”
Staber is still learning them.
The museum on the grounds of the Good Will-Hinckley school hosts a mix of standard museum fare (birds, seashells, the life cycle of a snake) and the decidedly less standard (see above marlin or the caribou with an antler growing out of its face).
Last month, L.C. Bates celebrated Penguin Awareness and Squirrel Appreciation days. On Thursday, it freed a taxidermy groundhog, Gertrude, to pose for pictures.
“Mr. Hinckley, he was of the opinion that handling and knowing objects made you relate to them,” Staber said.
According to museum history, in 1860 the founder, future-Rev. George Walter Hinckley, was a boy of 8 with three rocks in his pocket and a dream.
“It began with a young boy who loved nature and loved collecting things,” said Rachel Goff, a senior at Colby College and a winter intern at the museum.
Hinckley opened a school, Good Will-Hinckley, for boys only, in 1889 and included a display case for those three special rocks. In 1904, fire destroyed a building that held classrooms, a library and his burgeoning museum.
The museum moved to its current location along present-day Route 201 in 1911. It’s a sweeping brick structure designed by noted Lewiston architect William Miller.
“That same geologist (who had gifted Hinckley those rocks as a boy) donated more of his specimens,” Goff said. “It was rebuilt how it began.”
L.C. Bates was named later for Hinckley’s friend, Lewis Carlton Bates, president of Paris Manufacturing in West Paris, after he made a sizable donation.
The museum’s first floor is home to its “Mammal Room,” with case after case of taxidermied wildlife: A bear family. Moose. Gila monster. Hyena. (A somewhat random mix of Maine and Not Maine.) American impressionist Charles Hubbard in the 1920s painted the landscape murals behind many pieces.
On its second floor: A room of sea life, a room of thousands of taxidermied birds, from the 6-foot double-wattled cassowary to tiny hummingbirds, and a catch-all room with fossils, more taxidermy and insects.
“Things are organized as just cabinets of curiosities, not many labels,” Staber said. “We have found people still seem to like that. It’s less signage and more, ‘There it is.’”
The museum has made kids a priority with programs on-site each month and totes stashed under glass display case with pieces that are fine to touch. Museum educators will go into classrooms in front of 1,800 students this year in Franklin, Kennebec and Somerset counties with a traveling piece of L.C. Bates.
The lessons spark kids’ interest, Staber said, evidenced by the envelopes of squashed bugs she receives in the mail.
“They want us to identify them,” she said.
The museum attracts 17,000 visitors a year, most in warmer weather (there’s no heat). This summer it will host an exhibit by 24 Maine artists, as well as a nature camp.
Trails behind the museum are free for the wandering. On one, visitors will find a stone chair made for Ernest Thompson Seton, a friend of Hinckley’s and one of the founders of the Boy Scouts. Staber said tradition is to sit in the chair, cross-legged and howl like a wolf, in Seton’s honor.
Hinckley was also a friend or acquaintance of Adm. Robert Peary. Staber’s not clear on the what led Peary to donate a number of artifacts, including a stuffed harp seal, from his North Pole expedition.
The seal sits not far from a snarling wolf, which stands not far from a languid sloth.
Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, intriguing and unexplained in Maine. Send photos, ideas and stuffed nothings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go and do
Route 201, Hinckley, off Exit 133 on I-95
Winter hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and by appointment (throw on an extra layer — there’s no heat in the museum)
Regular hours (start in April): Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and by appointment
Admission: $3 adults, $1 children under 18
Feb. 11, 1 p.m.: Celebrate World Darwin Day. Fossils, facts and crafts in honor of Charles Darwin.
Feb. 20, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Presidential artifacts, history and crafts in honor of Presidents Day.
Feb. 22, 1 p.m.: Celebrate National Wild Bird Feeding Month with a program on Maine’s winter birds. Cap it off by making a pine-cone bird feeder.
Feb. 25, 1 p.m.: The Mysterious Signs of Winter. A winter walk to look for animal tracks. Boots or snowshoes recommended.
Coming up: March 1, Day of the Seal; and March 20, World Frog Day