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Written by: Krystal Davis
Monday December 15, 2014

Lions,tigers, and bears, oh my!  Actually, we didn’t retrieve any lions or tigers, but we did recently obtain pretty much anything else you can think of.  A team from VMNH travelled to Manhattan, New York in November to procure an enormous private collection of taxidermy mounts graciously donated by Gregory Speck.

Donor Gregory Speck, along with Smokey the Bear.  Photo by Rose Billings,

Mr. Speck, a native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, began collecting his family of animal mounts in the 1990s and eventually ended up with approximately 400 of them in the collection.  They include rattlesnakes, cobras, fish, waterfowl, birds, bears, mountain lions, wildcats, wolves, foxes, and big game.  Interestingly, Mr. Speck didn’t kill one single animal in this collection.  He secured the mounts from people all across the world, and then singlehandedly moved them to his apartment at the prestigious Beresford Apartments in Manhattan on Central Park West.

Some of the animals that were collected on the trip.  Photo by K. Davis.

Some of the animals that were collected on the trip.  Photo by J. Clifton.

When we arrived at Mr. Speck’s apartment, we were taken aback at the sheer number of mounts to bring back to Virginia.  Each animal required secure packaging to ensure that they would make it to their new home with no damage.  The process was not without setbacks, but as our Executive Director Dr. Joe Keiper says, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the gain.

Coming up with a game plan.  Photo by J. Clifton.

 By lunch time on our first day, the service elevator that we were required to use broke and our team had to take 5 flights of stairs from the apartment, and then walk through an alley out to the street where the loading truck was waiting.  We were facing strong wind and freezing cold.  Since there were many birds and waterfowl in the collection, we had to take extra precautions to ensure that their feathers were protected from the wind.  Through group collaborative and initiative, we were able to make custom-made boxes and packaging to see them through the transfer, and they arrived safe and sound at VMNH.

After the service elevator broke, the team had to take the stairs to move all of the mounts.  Photo by J. Keiper.

Donnie Jones, employee at VMNH, walks the giant swan out to the moving truck.  Photo by J. Keiper.

Part of Mr. Speck’s collection is still housed at his home in Harrisonburg.  Another team from VMNH will travel there this Wednesday to secure the rest of the collection and bring them to rejoin their friends.  With a collection of this magnitude, we will be able to integrate them into current exhibits, produce new and exciting exhibits, and expose VMNH visitors to a truly unique individual collection.  We sincerely thank Gregory Speck for this truly spectacular donation.

The mounts are currently in the CO2 chamber at VMNH for deinfestation.  Photo by H. Cartmell.


Tags: Krystal Davis, Research and Collections