courtesy of the Buffalo Museum of Science
The Buffalo Comes Home
“Stuffy” Now Receiving Visitors
by Esther B Wilhelm, Extension Secretary
Buffalo Museum of Science
Hobbies: Vol. 25 (4) April 1945
Do you know the real case history of that most powerful, spectacular, and much-publicized beast who lately returned from the Central Terminal to his “old home town,” the Buffalo Museum of Science in Humboldt Park? While alive he bore the scientific name of Bison americanus, ordinary folk called him the buffalo, but now, deceased and perpetuated through the skill of Joseph Santens, the artist, his latest affectionate alias is just “Stuffy.”
Naturally, the buffalo has always been an interesting animal to the inhabitants of this busy metropolis, and there has usually been one of more live specimens to be seen in our local zoo.
The Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, dedicated to the study of natural life, always regarded the animal as an essential feature of its exhibits and, way back in ’95, when the Society was housed in the basement of the Buffalo Public Library, plans were laid for the creation of a bison group. (As a matter of fact it is difficult to understand how the name “Buffalo” came to be chosen for our fair city, for, we are assured by those who claim to know, there never were any living, wild bison, buffaloes, or “Stuffys” in these parts.)
The above-mentioned group was finally completed and installed in the basement of the Library Building where it stood for many years. So great was its fame that, when an exhibition was held in far-away Atlanta, Georgia, this elegant symbolic exhibit was shipped all the way from Buffalo for the edification of all and sundry who attended the Fair. This was the first “loan” made by the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences.
The years pass, and now we find the Society outgrowing its underground, downtown quarters, a new building under way, and a new buffalo group of prime importance being planned to dominate, from a central location, the hall of local life in these new quarters. Mr. Santens, one of the finest taxidermists America has produced, was given the assignment of preparing this exhibit. Not this time were defunct beasts from the local Zoo to be immortalized for posterity. Arrangements were made with the owners of the partly domesticated Corbin herd in New Hampshire for the purchase of living animals, and Mr. Santens himself chose and shot the necessary number, skinned them properly, and shipped the skins and meat to Buffalo.
Oh, for another bison group right now! For that meat, refrigerated, was presented to the Old Folks Home and similar institutions, while Watts L. Richmond, hunter, fisherman, and much-interested friend of the Society, gave a dinner at the Buffalo Club. The piece de resistance – buffalo steak!
The meat having been suitably disposed of, the now beautifully tanned skins await mounting. And now you will see why “Stuffy” needs another name. The fact is he is not stuffed at all. The old-fashioned method of filling a skin with a skeleton, iron rods, and miscellaneous odds and ends so heavy that within a few years the weight, plus building vibrations, and so on, would cause the whole thing to sag and fall was completely discarded for this group. These skins were mounted on a modern, thin (say three-sixteenths of an inch) framework of papier mache and fine iron wire. The recipe for this first-class structural job goes like this:
Set up one clean skeleton to give the proper life-size dimensions; brace with iron rods in preparation for the weight to come; cover with wire cloth and clay to simulate the flesh and muscles of the exact figure. Now, at this point the tanned skin gets a fitting, only in this instance it is the figure, not the covering, that will be trimmed or padded to a perfect fit. All okay? Then off with the skin and with a few tons of plaster of Paris, presto, a mold is made of everything but the horns and the hoofs! But not so fast, the mold must still be taken off in sections, then lined with papier mache and the fine wire which, when dried, forms a complete, strong, hollow mold of the beast; add horns and hoofs and the perfect-fitting skin, brush well, and you have the bison, mounted, hollow inside, and so light that two men can move it easily. Now do you see why it is a misnomer to call him “Stuffy”?
To pick up the story again, we now have a buffalo group plus a hall of local life but – the collections of the Society have increased by this time so that there is no longer room for so many beasts of one kind. And that leaves “Stuffy,” at the beginning of his career, instead of being with his friends, his wife, and family, as all good buffaloes should be, standing alone, superb, dramatic, but forlorn in the middle of the Central Hall. He even tried the New York Central Station, as you know, but he’s back patiently waiting for the post-war Museum extension when he dreams of being united once again with those he lives.
“Stuffy” went to the Central Station
And got himself a reputation
As a point of assignation
For service men’s last osculation.
Removed from here, his deportation
Has caused such widespread agitation
That now he’s known throughout the nation
As a source of irritation
But when we’ve passed these days of ration
And can build an annexation
With suitable Museum location
He’ll be the pride of all the nation
Our tale ends here with connotation;
“Stuffy”‘s no name for this creation;
Let’s give him proper nomenclation;
“The buffalo,” his appellation!