It is time for New York State to boldly go where no state has gone before and go back to the future to resurrect the now extinct mastodon. The effort to bring the mammoth back from extinction recently was the cover article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Russia and Japan are working to create mammoths. New York should not be left behind in the de-extinction race. I hereby challenge Governor Cuomo to launch a new “Manhattan Project” so we are the first to bring the paleolithic era to life through the creation of Mastodon Park, our own Ice Age animal, the mastodon.
Mastodons have had a long and valued place in New York State history. The story of mastodons and New York history begins in 1705 in Claverack, Columbia County. A Dutch tenant farmer picked up a five-pound tooth that had rolled down a hill and landed at his feet. Being the sensible sort, he naturally traded the tooth to a politician for a glass of rum. The tooth thereupon made its way up the political food chain until it arrived in London. The unknown species or “incognitum” delivered a profound and disturbing message to believers and non-believers alike on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the King James Version of the Bible: “There were giants in the earth in those days”(Gen. 6:4).
Mastodon remains were later found in 1780 in Orange County. George Washington viewed them while encamped in Newburgh. Washington subsequently obtained a mastodon tooth. There also were stories of sightings in the interior. By 1801, there were more mastodon discoveries, and then one was found near Newburgh on the farm of John Masten. Charles Wilson Peale led the excavations, which he portrayed in his painting “Exhuming the Mammoth,” completed years later and not entirely accurately.
The mastodon was reconstructed at Peale’s museum in Philadelphia, still a cultural capital of America. Due to the painting and the museum (in a time before Barnum), mastodons became one of the crazes that periodically ripples through human society. Although they later were eclipsed by the even bigger dinosaurs, New York’s mastodons left their mark on the American culture. Now we had concrete proof, or at least fossilized proof, that giant animals had walked America and there was no need to feel the American environment produced inferior species to those of Europe.
But there was a problem. Whatever the animal named “mastodon” in 1806 was, it was extinct. It no longer roamed the land. That meant it had not been saved in Noah’s ark even though all the creatures of the earth were supposed to have been preserved. The idea that God had not created a perfect world since animals could become extinct was a shocking one but the evidence from New York and then elsewhere was clear.
Now New York has the opportunity and duty to rectify the oversight and restore the animal kingdom to the way it was before the deluge. How much more of a tourist attraction would New York be with real live flesh-and-blood mastodons? The potential of Mastodon Park is enormous. Just consider the spectacle of mastodons on parade up Broadway in New York City. The TV rights alone would pay for New York’s pension, health care and education for years to come. Mastodon Madness would generate more revenue than March Madness.
So if you want to boost New York State tourism, forget about casinos, forget about shopping at Woodbury Commons, forget about the historic sites and stories that define the state. Instead heed the call of a time long long ago and take the state on a bold leap where no state has gone before back to the future and BRING BACK THE MASTODON!
Illustration: Peale’s “Exhuming the Mammoth”.