Martha, the last passenger pigeon


In planning our trip to Washington, DC, I visited the website of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, to see if by chance Martha, the last passenger pigeon, was back on exhibit. She had been removed from exhibition several years ago and I as a bird lover wanted so much to see her. Fortunately she was back on display as part of the Objects of Wonder on the second floor.

Mark and I decided on our second day in Washington to separate and each visit the museums we wanted to see. For me, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was first on my list. I was surprised that security just whisked me in as I was expecting to have to show my backpack (and I feared having my packed lunch confiscated). That wouldn’t have happened of course as I would have just eaten a very early lunch outside before going in. I asked a guide about the Martha exhibit and he directed me to where it was upstairs.

I walked at a rapid pace to the Objects of Wonder. I had long wondered how I would feel upon setting my eyes on Martha, the last bird of a species that once numbered in the billions. Some people have been known to faint at the sight of great artworks, and I thought that perhaps Stendhal Syndrome would befall me as I gazed upon Martha. As I wound my way throughout the dark passages of the Objects of Wonder exhibit, my heart quickened. I was definitely in a state of excitement, but when I finally found her in a dark glass case shared with two skulls (I never even paid attention to what those skulls were) I stopped and stood in silent awe. I looked at her from all angles, and took pictures without and then with the flash:

This is how Martha really looked to me, in the dark exhibition space and photographed without the flash.

I was surprised at how dark she was, as I was expecting her to be lighter or even pink in colour. The eyes were fake. I felt a mixture of emotions but my sadness was overcome by the shame I had in mankind’s brutal desire to eradicate the species.

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