Fox from famed taxidermist in Clarendon refurbished and back on display

Photos by Tom Rivers: Carl Akeley was only 16 when he preserved this fox in Clarendon. Akeley would go on to become one of the world's most acclaimed taxidermists. The fox is on display at the Cobblestone Museum after a $6,000 refurbishment.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 May 2017 at 3:51 pm

Cobblestone Museum has fox from Carl Akeley

Provided photo: Carl Akeley is pictured with a leopard in Africa that he killed with his bare hands after it attacked him.

GAINES – Two years ago, a fox in a display case at the Cobblestone Museum was missing an eye, with its fur matted. The animal, then about 135 years old, was in rough shape and wasn’t given a prominent spot at the Cobblestone Museum.

But it was an early example of Carl Akeley’s taxidermy work. Akeley, who grew up in Clarendon, stuffed the fox when he was 16. It was an ambitious effort after he started with birds. Akeley would become one of the world’s most renown taxidermists and remains an industry legend 153 years after his birth.

He earned acclaim after stuffing the giant elephant Jumbo, and made several trips to Africa, hunting animals and displaying them in New York City at Akeley’s Hall of Mammals in the American Museum of Natural History.

Locally, he gained renewed prominence three years ago when the Clarendon Historical Society celebrated his 150th birthday.

Jay Kirk, author of the Carl Akeley biography “Kingdom Under Glass,” was the featured speaker during a program about Akeley on May 21, 2014. Kirk chronicled Akeley’s life during the golden age of safaris in the early 20th Century.

Akeley’s adventures connected him with Theodore Roosevelt, P.T. Barnum and George Eastman. Akeley died in 1926 and is buried in Africa.

The taxidermist community worked with the Clarendon Historical Society last year to put a monument at Hillside Cemetery in honor of Akeley. Donors, many of them taxidermists around the world, contributed to have the $8,000 monument in Akeley’s honor. The monument is in the shape of the African continent and the stone is black African granite.

The memorial includes a quote from Akeley, who survived being mauled by an elephant and vicious bites on his arm from a leopard. “Death Wins! Bravo! But I Laugh In His Face As He Noses Me Out At The Wire.” The stone will note Akeley’s birth, May 19, 1864, and his death, Nov. 17, 1926.

When Clarendon made a big push to recognize Akeley, retired Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin told Clarendon Historian Mellisa Ierlan the Cobblestone Museum had an early example of Akeley’s work.

Provided photo: The Akeley fox had lost a lot of color and had deteriorated after more than a century. But the Clarendon Historical Society, Cobblestone Museum and other community members were determined to have the animal refurbished by a professional taxidermist.

The community was able to raise abut $6,000 to give the fox some needed attention. In July 2015, Ierlan took the fox to George Dante, a professional taxidermist in New Jersey. Dante, owner of Wildlife Preservations, gave the fox new life. When the case with the fox was opened, the fox’s missing eye was found. Dante put the eye back where it belonged.

He gave the fox a new tail, which had to be dyed to match the fox’s body. Dante also had to replace the fox’s feet and fill in some gaps by the ears.

He vacuumed the body and the fur popped back up. He also replaced the bird as part of the display. Akeley had the fox with feathers in its mouth. Dante kept the scene created originally by Akeley nearly 140 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Ierlan: John Janelli, left, is past president of the National Taxidermy Association. He is pictured with George Dante and the refurbished fox at Dante’s studio in New Jersey.

Irelan, the Clarendon historian, brought the fox back to Clarendon on May 10. The fox was on display in Clarendon for over a week during the kickoff of the Clarendon Historical Society’s season. On Monday, the fox returned to the Cobblestone Museum in the Proctor Room in the basement of the Cobblestone Universalist Church.

“It was in rough shape,” Ierlan said about the fox’s condition two years ago. “I knew George would do a good job but he exceeded our expectations. Carl would be proud.”

Doug Farley, the museum director, said there will likely be a reception and program about the fox in September as part of the Orleans County Heritage Festival in September.

This fox was stuffed by Carl Akeley nearly 140 years ago. It is back on display at the Cobblestone Museum after getting some needed attention. The fox used to be in Farmer’s Hall at the museum, but now is displayed inside the Cobblestone Universalist Church, the most prominent building at the museum on Route 104 in Gaines.

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