Catalina Island Museum examines controversial life of amateur “archaeologist”

Exhibiting for the first time a trove of photographs, diaries, letters and journals only recently discovered, this exhibition explores the strange and controversial life of the amateur “archaeologist” Dr. Ralph Glidden.
Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, said the exhibit presents “an opportunity to discuss what these kinds of collectors were doing across the country and to share some of the pain that Native American communities have been feeling all along.”
The exhibition runs May 11, 2013 – September 29, 2013 at the Catalina Island Museum.

Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (PST)

From the Museum’s website:

Working between 1919 and 1928, Glidden desecrated an ancient cemetery containing hundreds of burial sites. Desperate for money, public attention and respectability, he later opened a “museum” dedicated to his research. Utilizing skeletal remains as a macabre form of decoration, the museum`s unsettling interior attracted hundreds of tourists and was, in Glidden`s own words, “unlike anything else anywhere in this country.”

Any evaluation of the life and work of Ralph Glidden must contend not only with this disregard for the sanctity of human remains, but the near permanent damage he inflicted on research into Native American life on Catalina Island.
While it is true that he uncovered hundreds of burial sites and thousands of artifacts — including mortars and pestles used for preparing food, knives of bone and stone, cooking stones used to boil soup in baskets, flutes made of bone, beads used as currency, arrowheads, war clubs, and fishhooks made of shell and weighted with stone — Glidden`s approach to the organization of what he excavated can only be described as haphazard.
His research followed no scientific method. But perhaps the most heinous and unforgivable aspect of his work was his near total disregard for the sacredness of human remains. The fact that he treated skeletal remains as something titillating, and felt justified in doing so because they were Native American — and not Caucasian or European — is as grotesque as it is inescapable. Unfortunately, his prejudices toward the American Indian reflect an attitude of the time.
But there is little doubt that prejudice was an insurmountable obstacle that kept Glidden from obtaining what he wanted most: professional respectability and public notoriety. He achieved neither. The reason is simple: most people found Glidden`s attitudes repugnant. This exhibition is meant to promote understanding; and it condemns far more than it exalts. It reflects the central belief that through education and exposure to history the brutal transgressions and indignities of the past may never be repeated.
Ralph Glidden`s entire collection was donated to the Catalina Island Museum by Philip K. Wrigley, one of the founders of this museum. The Native American Grave and Repatriation Act of 1990 grants Native Americans the right to reclaim the remains of their ancestors and other sacred objects. Today, museums in the United States no longer exhibit Native American remains. All of the Catalina Island Museum Museum`s American Indian remains are housed at the University of California at Los Angeles and studied by archaeologists at UCLA`s Fowler Museum.
Exhibition Sponsors
  • Steve and Ronna Schreiner
  • `Ohana Harbor Coffee Company
  • Santa Catalina Island Company
  • Steven Mandel, M.D.
  • Jim and Joyce Brown
  • The Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation
  • Hermosa Hotel
  • Catalina Beach House
  • Hotel Metropole and Marketplace
  • Catalina Island Vacation Rentals
  • Catalina Island Real Estate
  • Steve`s Steakhouse
Advertisements