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Vanderbilt Museum

Centerport, Long Island

We were down in NYC last weekend for the World Science Festival. The 90º temperature in the city had us looking for cooler diversions on Saturday. After a bit of searching, we came up with the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, Long Island. It was less than an hour’s drive from NYC, and 43 acres of rolling hills was a nice escape from the “concrete jungle.”

This museum was built by Willian K. Vanderbilt II on his Eagle’s Nest Estate. The 24-room Spanish-Revival mansion was built in three stages off and on from 1900s to 1930s. We did not have time to take the house tour or see all of the grounds on this visit, but managed to hit many of the museums and some of the gardens.

As a person of means, William Vanderbilt II (he was the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) fed his curiousity of natural history by mounting specimen-collecting voyages to the Galapagos and other exotic destinations. He opened his personal museum to the public in 1922. The photos here are just a small sample of the artifacts from his extensive travels and expeditions. On display were an impressive and varied array of ethnographic objects (firearms and swords, ship models, and European, Asian and African objects) from around the world. There were also thousands of specimens, both from birds to mammals to tiny crustaceans.

We found the style of the exhibits almost as interesting as the items themselves. The collections brought us back to a time when nature was starting to yield its secrets. A time when the world was a lot less accessible, was a lot more mysterious, and science was on the verge explaining everything. Maybe it was the wooden cases, maybe it was the speciments preserved in jars, but those rooms conveyed a sense of wonder, curiosity, and fascination. It is something we don’t always feel in today’s more computerized and high tech museum exhibits.

Other gems on our tour were:

  • Taxidermied African Crocodile
  • 32 foot Whale Shark
  • Polar Bear, Lion, Jaguar
  • Shark, Galapagos Island diorama
  • Giant Blue Lobster
  • 3000-year old mummy

We would have taken more photos, but we eventually realized photography was not allowed inside the rooms. Oops!

We got there early so we pretty much had the run of the place. The balconies, gardens, and fountains around the main house were all open and accessible. Our copy editor pretended that she owned the place and was overseeing the staff’s preparation of that evening’s gala. The fantasy ended when she realized she was hungry and no one was going to bring lunch out to the veranda.

Willie Kissam Vanderbilt II died in early 1944 of a heart ailment. The Eagle’s Nest property was given, along with a $2 million upkeep fund, to Suffolk County, New York to serve as a public museum. We would definitely stop by again the next time we are in the area and continue our tour of this interesting find.

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