Look up! Have you spotted the giant octopus model at the Museum? 🐙
It’s currently on display in our What is an Animal? exhibition, but it has a long and fascinating history: this giant papier-mâché octopus appeared in the Anthropological Building of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The man who made the model—James Henry Emerton, an arachnologist and scientific illustrator—never saw a live specimen of this animal, a giant octopus from the Pacific Ocean off California (Enteroctopus dofleini). Emerton had to rely on studying specimens preserved in alcohol; he used measurements of an octopus reported in a scientific paper as the guide for its size. And he made it life sized! The arms on the model span 18 feet in diameter.
One of the challenges of studying animals like cephalopods is that the preserved specimens can look dramatically different than they do in life (well, when you think about it, live octopuses can look dramatically different from one minute to the next). If you want to get someone interested in octopuses, a preserved specimen is not the way to do it. Models like the giant papier-mâché octopus were used to show these amazing animals in all their molluscan glory to people who otherwise wouldn’t see one in the wild—like visitors to the World’s Fair in 1893, and perhaps visitors to The Field Museum today! We have other models in What is an Animal? that most people don’t recognize for what they are. Do you know this Museum secret?
Photos: Giant octopus model on display in Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World's Fair exhibition, and the giant octopus model and a mammoth on display in the Anthropological Building of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
#CephalopodWeek #Cephalopods #FieldMuseum #TBT