AVALON, Calif. (AP) — A Santa Catalina Island museum has opened an exhibit on a self-styled archaeologist who dug up hundreds of local American Indian graves and made a tourist trap out of their bones.
The exhibit on Ralph Glidden that opened over the weekend at Catalina Island Museum features an introduction that says he, through his unscientific plundering, disregarded "the sanctity of human remains" and inflicted "near-permanent damage" on research into local Native American life.
The showing does not include human remains.
Holocaust museums examine "similar issues: the genocide of a people, the desecration of their graves and the lack of respect for the sacredness of their remains," Executive Director Michael De Marsche told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/18ExDvs ).
The exhibit includes necklaces and other artifacts of the Tongva Indians who once lived on Catalina and the other Channel Islands.
In the 1920s and 30s, the self-proclaimed professor was hired by a foundation to excavate Native American graves. He dug up hundreds and obtained thousands of objects, many of which went to prestigious museums. They included bone flutes, war clubs and arrowheads, cooking stones used to boil soup in baskets and beads that were used as currency.
He also built an island museum that incorporated Native American bones as architectural elements, including windows edged with finger and toe bones, leg and arm bones as shelf brackets and ceiling panels decorated with vertebra and shoulder blades.
Jeanne Hill, 89, of Avalon recalled hiking up a hill to the museum in the 1930s and paying 35 cents to get inside.
"It was scary, very scary," Hill told the Times (http://lat.ms/19jy5Ne). "Bones piled up all over the place. One skull had a light on in it."
"The fact that he treated skeletal remains as something titillating, and felt justified in doing so because they were Native American — and not Caucasian or European — is as grotesque as it is inescapable," the exhibit introduction says.
Glidden was often short of money but relentlessly self-promoting. His finds and museum made headlines, especially after he claimed to have found a stone urn containing the skeleton of a girl — possibly a princess — surrounded by the buried skeletons of 64 children and a 7-foot-8 man.
Glidden claimed to have obtained proof that a fair-skinned, fair-haired race of giants lived on the island some 3,000 years earlier.
Although most of the claims were suspect, the urn was displayed at his museum until it closed in 1950.
After Glidden's death in 1968, his collection was bought and donated to the current museum, which still has the artifacts. Hundreds of skulls and bones and thousands of teeth were moved to the University of California, Los Angeles.
The exhibit was prompted by curator John Boraggina's rediscovery last year of Glidden's letters, photographs and writings in a backroom.