It’s a small unassuming building that looks like it belongs in an earlier time, tucked in behind Jordan and wedged up next to Kinard. Many people on campus aren’t aware of its existence, and fewer have been inside. But if you meander up the steps and open its wide front door, you’ll find yourself in a tiny but fascinating natural history museum that serves as a resource for both classroom and community.
Only a very small percentage of the contents of this building is displayed in the public gallery on the first floor that features 32 whole taxidermy mounts, 76 head mounts and 26 skeletons, including deer, antelope, buffalo, big cats and birds. There’s an enormous eland, the largest of antelopes. And there’s the tiniest of antelopes, the dik-dik, which looks as if it ought to be featured in a fantasy movie about incredibly small woodland creatures. A small rhebok can be seen — spelled “reebok” in Afrikaans, it’s the inspiration for the Reebok athletic brand. The skeleton of a tiny hummingbird is posed next to one of an emu, a flightless running bird as tall as a person. Mounted iPads with touch screens allow visitors to explore information about the various animals.
Just past the gallery is a doorway to what biology professor Richard Blob calls the “unseen heart of the museum,” the research and teaching collection. The head of a sable antelope sits on a pedestal standing guard over the skin and skeletal collection, which includes skeletal displays of snakes and other critters beautifully preserved and arranged by museum curator Stanlee Miller. Beyond that are shelves of teaching specimens in alcohol-filled jars, and the archival collection whose primary focus is local specimens. Jars of all sizes contain fish from local rivers and lakes, samples that have been collected year after year so that they can be compared for changes in things like heavy metal concentrations. They’re used by Clemson students and faculty, as well as by researchers all over the country.
The museum is also home to the University’s herbarium, tended to by Dixie Damrel and containing more than 100,000 specimens of plants. A lichens collection, a pine collection of Central America and a large fungal collection that has just been shipped back after being imaged, thanks to an NSF grant, are among the treasures here. Another room provides space to identify and prepare plant specimens for storage.