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All About Catalina's Disturbing 1924 Museum Made of Bones

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This past weekend, the Catalina Island Museum opened The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden--Glidden (who some islanders knew creepily as "Uncle Ralph") was "a hucksterish entrepreneur who in the 1920s and '30s excavated bones and relics from Tongva Indian burial grounds for sale and trade," according to the LA Times. He also built the island's bizarre and morbid first museum in 1924: the Museum of the American Indian on the Channel Islands sat on a hill above Avalon and it was made from the bones of Catalina's native people.

Glidden fancied himself an archaeologist and he excavated "thousands of objects related to the 8,000 year history of human settlement on Catalina Island," mostly between 1919 and 1928, according to the Catalina Island Museum. He based the interior of his museum "on the catacombs in Rome, as well as a mortuary chapel on the island of Malta whose walls were decorated with motifs formed from the bones of monks." It had "shoulder-blade cornices and windows edged with toe, ankle, wrist and finger bones. Leg and arm bones served as brackets for shelves lined with skulls. Ceiling panels were decorated with human vertebra and rosettes of shoulder blades," according to the Times.

Glidden died in 1968 and the Wrigley family bought his artifact collection for $5,000--the pieces were donated to the museum and "Hundreds of skeletons, skulls and thousands of teeth were moved to UCLA." Last year, curator John Boraggina stumbled upon boxes of Glidden's papers and photographs in a backroom and the result now is "a disturbing and troubling exhibition," in the words of the Catalina Island Museum's executive director. He compares it to a Holocaust exhibit.
· Catalina exhibit illuminates a dark episode in island's past [LAT]
· The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden [CIM]