Mr. Opossum
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Dennis Letter 1
Dennis Letter 2
Wilson Letter 1

In 1865 O.C. Marsh visited Newark, Ohio to excavate a mound and published his findings in an article entitled “Description of an Ancient Sepulchral Mound near Newark, Ohio.”  During his visit he made the acquaintance of Dr. J.N. Wilson and Mr. J.M Dennis.  Marsh must have expressed interest in the local wildlife, for Dennis wrote Marsh on February 22, 1866:


“Dear Sir, When you were here you expressed a desire to see a live opossum and to dissect one yourself.  I have secured one and it will be brought to me next Saturday and if so I will express it to you on Monday and I suppose you will get it by Wednesday or Thursday.  I will write you what kind of food to give it in case it reaches you alive and you can keep it as long as you wish for a bit, and then you can kill and dissect it.  Respectfully Yours, J.M. Dennis.”


Dennis’ next letter reads:


“Dear Sir, Dr. Wilson and myself this day send you by express a live opossum, if it reaches you alive you can feed it corn or meat as long as you wish to keep it alive…The opossum will eat cornmeal, meat, mush chickens or anything of that kind.”


Did the opossum make it you ask?  Well, on March 2, 1866 Dr. Wilson wrote to Marsh “I was glad to hear that Mr. Opossum arrived safely…” so yes, Mr. Opossum made it to New Haven.  We do not know how long Marsh kept Mr. Opossum alive, but he eventually carried out his plans of dissection as Mr. Opossum was cataloged into the Peabody collection as MAM.006740.


Erin Gredell is the Repatriation Compliance Coordinator for the Yale Peabody Museum.