Mastodons and mammoths had been uncovered for hundreds of years before being described here for young readers of
Robert Merry’s Museum. This isn’t
the first description of a mammoth or mastodon published for American
children: in 1802, Nathaniel Dwight had included a bit about mammoths in his
But Comprehensive System of the Geography of the World, hinting that
it might still lurk in the woods; in 1813, Ezra Sampson had included all that was then
known about the possibly carnivorous Siberian mammoth in a paragraph in
Youth’s Companion; or An Historical
Dictionary; in 1839, readers of
Youth’s Cabinet had received a
of how large one could be.
Now, though, readers could see a complete skeleton of a mammoth. It was one of the first illustrations of
presented for children in early America. In a sense, this article is an extension of
Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky,
which Goodrich had published a year earlier; that book probably introduced
illustrations of dinosaurs to American children but doesn’t mention mammoths.
This wasn’t the the first time a picture of a skeleton had shown up in a work
for children: Samuel Griswold Goodrich
pictured Charles Willson Peale’s mastodon skeleton on display in 1831 in
The Child’s First Book of History
(and several times after that).
Despite its very short tusks, this illustration is an improvement on the one of Peale’s tuskless mastodon,
which is not only tuskless, but missing the top of its head. And Goodrich got mileage out of this
illustration, too, including it in his
Wonders of Geology in 1845. Certainly
he wasn’t yet finished with fossils: “The Mammoth” was followed two
two months later by a piece showing young readers what may be the
first picture of an iguanodon in an American
work for children.
“The Mammoth” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1841; p. 152)
In several of the United states persons have frequently
found the bones of a huge animal, called the Mammoth, or Mastodon. One
skeleton, nearly complete, has been found, and set up in Peale’s Museum, in
There is no such creature to be found now, on the earth,
as a Mastodon—nor has there been, since the memory of man. It seems that
it must have resembled an Elephant, but was twice as large.
In Siberia, a few years ago, a fisherman discovered the
body of a Mastodon, imbedded in the ice: the skin was nearly entire, and it
was covered with woolly hair. After about two years, this body thawed out,
and fell to the ground from the elevated place in which it was first
discovered. The flesh, as well as skin, gradually disappeared, but the bones
were secured, and being taken to St. Petersburgh, in Russia, were set up in
a museum, where they are still to be seen.
The remains of many other animals, now extinct, are found
in different countries, as well as traces of vegetables, such as are not met
with now on the face of the earth. This is a very interesting subject, and
I propose hereafter to say more about it.