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A New Claim to Fame

Calvert Marine Museum becomes home of Maryland’s State ­Paleontology Collections

What kind of dinosaur could jump higher than a house?

          All kinds. Houses can’t jump.

          But houses can be moved, rearranged, torn down, redesigned and re-built. That’s exactly what is about to happen to much of the housing at the Calvert Marine Museum, to make room for the fossils of the once jumping, crawling, swimming and flying dinosaurs, as the museum evolves into Calvert Marine Museum: Home of the State Paleontology Collections and Research Center.

          “We are so excited to have this dream come true,” says director ­Sherrod Sturrock. “We are already known around the world amongst the science community as the ultimate source for Miocene fossils. Now all of Maryland will learn what it has in its own backyard.”

          The dream began more than 40 years ago, not as prehistoric a time-period as the Miocene — which heralded the arrival of whales, apes and grazing animals — but decades before Ralph Eshelman became the museum’s first director. Eshelman looked at the marine museum displays and said, “This is great, but with Calvert Cliffs around the corner, we need to house its fossils.”

          The museum’s mission then expanded to include the collection, preservation and interpretation of Maryland fossils found at the Cliffs, one of the richest fossil deposits along the Atlantic coastal plane. With more than 600 different species of animals and plants dating back 10 to 18 million years, the nearby Calvert Cliffs gave the museum opportunity to be the only institution of its kind in the state. That fact Gov. Larry Hogan

didn’t miss when he visited last year.

          “We gave the governor a tour when he was here to see one of our concerts,” Sturrock says. “He was awed by the displays, so we simply asked him if we could represent all of Maryland.”

          The Governor’s Office concurred.

          “After learning that legislation was needed for the designation, the administration worked with the legislature in a bipartisan manner to ensure unanimous passage of SB450,” says spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill. “On May 15, 2018, the governor was proud to sign this bill into law making the Calvert Marine Museum the state’s official paleontology center.”

 

Building that New Home

          Now it’s the museum’s job to be supportive of all the collectors of Maryland’s ancient treasures. Becoming the state site will considerably broaden the museum’s scope.

          “The Smithsonian maxed out quite a while ago for space to house what had been found,” says Stephen Godfrey, the museum’s curator of paleontology, who is also a Smithsonian fellow. “They don’t accept contributions any more. After collecting from sources in our area for years, we have also reached critical mass.”

          “We want to be the home for the finds that need a home. Amateur fossil hunters have been bringing us their finds for decades. With a new center, we will have room to be the repository for Maryland as a whole,” Godfrey says.

          With the purchase of two tracts of nearby land, Calvert Marine Museum is set to expand. The Museum has partnered with an architectural firm out of Baltimore to design three different layout options.

          “They did a fantastic job revamping downtown Frederick,” director Sturrock says of Design Collective Inc.

          “But first we will conduct visioning sessions with our neighbors, community leaders, state officials, our staff and the public,” she said. “We want as much input into this project as possible before we break ground.”

          The museum is coming up on its 50th anniversary in 2020, and will kick off the semi-centennial event with groundbreaking ceremonies for its new building projects, the plans of which should be finalized next fall.

          The project itself may take up to five years to complete. There’s a lot of stuff already on hand to be managed: more than 100,000 fossils, 10,000 volumes in the Ralph Eshelman reference library, 600 preserved skeletons, 200 casts and 5,000 types of shells; plus new additions from the rest of the state, like the singular Ice-Age collection out of the Cumberland Bone Cave at Wills Mountain in Alleghany County.

          Adding still more, museum paleontologists and summer interns brought back from Okeechobee, Florida, a rare, one-of-a-kind shell collection from the Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs dating back as far as 23 million years. Filling 12 cabinets and 178 drawers, the collection includes more than 15,000 shells, including clams, snails, sea urchins, starfish, crabs and coral.

          With the addition, “our collection encompasses the East Coast of North America,” said John Nance, Calvert Marine Museum collections manager.

          The new facilities will house the paleo library, artifact storage, preparation areas, office space for staff and conference and classroom accommodations, plus a separate receiving area for newly donated collections.

          “We have some of the most fascinating fossils in the world,” says Godfrey. “We plan on displaying them in an equally fascinating manner.”


Meet the Museum’s Man on Bones

At the forefront of the newly named center is museum curator of paleontology Dr. Stephen Godfrey. A native of Quebec, Godfrey did his undergraduate studies there at Bishop’s University and his doctorate (he skipped the master’s) at McGill University in Montreal, focusing on vertebrate paleontology and ancient amphibians.

          He went on to work at the prestigious Royal Terrell Museum in Alberta, known as the dinosaur capital of Canada, assembling the massive collection of skeletal bones and carving from scratch the pieces that were missing. Paleontology work seems to have been in the 58-year-old’s bones from an early age.

          “I wanted to be the curator of a museum since I was a kid,” he says. “I probably didn’t fully know what a curator was, but I was fascinated by natural history and wanted to have a museum, so I made one in my bedroom.”

          He isn’t kidding. When he spied animal bones (and sometimes not just bones) on the side of the road or in the woods, he took them home, boiled them clean and rebuilt their skeletons.

          “I put them together with wire and glue and hung them up in my room on coat hangers,” he chuckles. “Thankfully, my mother and father were very supportive.”