The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden

Photo courtesy of Catalina Island Museum.

Photo courtesy of Catalina Island Museum.

For many years, perched above Avalon’s quaint streets and charming vistas, was a bizarre museum, a monument to one man’s compulsion to collect Native American remains and artifacts.

Amateur archaeologist Ralph Glidden was the first westerner to excavate the island.. With no scientific approach and even less respect, for 10 years Glidden haphazardly collected soapstone artifacts, hundreds of human remains, arrowheads, flutes and baskets, displaying them in a “museum” in the 1930s. Genuine archeology on the island has never recovered from the damage Glidden caused and today, due to his reckless collecting, we know much less than we could about life on Catalina Island before Europeans arrived.

As repugnant as Glidden’s activities were, they have, all these years later, sparked a fascinating exhibit at the Catalina Island Museum about his life and collection and – more importantly – about making sure that we learn from his transgressions. Archaeology today is very different from what passed for archaeology a century ago. Today the Native American Grave and Repatriation Act of 1990 protects burial sites and allows tribes to reclaim their ancestors.
The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden attracted worldwide attention, with dozens of stories written about the museum exhibit. The world was fascinated by Glidden – not to celebrate his morbid activities, but to condemn them.

National Museum Day is Saturday, September 28, 2013. In celebration, the Catalina Island Museum will be offering free admission all day, 10 am to 5pm. It’s also your last chance to see this unique exhibit before it closes on September 29th at 5pm.

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