S.O.S.: Save the Buena Vista Museum!

Hey there every peoples!

I figured that for once I won’t be the only depressed person! That’s right I’m taking you all down with me! Bwahahahahahaha!

But seriously, this is depressing news. I just visited the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History in Bakersfield and learned a most awful truth. They’re in danger of losing their enviable collection of marine fossils from Sharktooth Hill! What’s happening is that the fossils have been on display for the last 15 years due to a loan from a private collector (Bob Ernst, who wanted to create a place to display local fossils). Well as noted in my “Sources of Inspiration” post, Bob tragically passed away a few years ago. I guess whoever gained control over his estate has decided to auction off the fossils. If the museum can’t come up with the dough by December 1, their priceless collection of marine fossils will be lost forever. Just look at what’s at stake:

Nearly complete skeleton of Allodesmus, an ancient sea lion

I wanted to weep when i saw this...

A skeleton of a juvenile baleen whale

Seriously, what is anyone going to do with a fossil whale skeleton?

The soccer ball-sized skull of a leatherback turtle

And it's gone. How many of those are known? Jesus christ...

A large case that once housed the the skulls, jaws, and other bones of the ancient dolphin Prosqualidon...

... is now emptier than a tea party canidate's rhetoric...

And those aren’t the only things. They have loads more that is being packed up and shipped to auction storage as we speak (including preciously rare fossils of the giant sea bird Osteodontornis). This is a tragedy of Shakespearean magnitude. Bob spent the later part of his life hunting for fossils to fill a museum that would teach people about Kern County’s rich fossil heritage. And now his dream will be shattered. I admit that the fossils are the property of whoever now possesses them and they are free to do as they wish with their newfound fossils. But that can’t mean I can’t condemn them for their actions! Shame on you for destroying a valued local resource you materialistic weasel! You could very easily have just donated the specimens to the museum. But I guess you heard how much fossils can fetch and decided that getting a fat sum of money is more important than fulfilling a good man’s wish.

But you can help! The museum is trying to raise as much money as possible to save what they can. Any amount will help because it all adds up! Their goal is $150,000. Please do what you can. This collection is the result of one man’s passion and has taught thousands of people about one of the best known fossil sites in the world. And as the pictures show, many rare and important specimens are at risk of being lost to not only science but also the public and most importantly the people of Kern County themselves! Please help the Buena Vista Museum save their crown jewels! (click on the pictures to go to my flickr album and see all the other fossils being thrown on the auction block!)

Help! Save me!

Till next time!

Addendum: new efforts to save the fossils here: https://accpaleo.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/sharktooth-hill-fund/

7 thoughts on “S.O.S.: Save the Buena Vista Museum!

  1. I cannot begin to express how depressing this is. Hopefully some last minute donor with a heart of gold will make an 11th hour donation in order for some of this beautiful (and extremely scientifically important material) to be deposited in a permanent museum collection.

    This can, however, be used as a teachable moment. Let this serve as a warning: if you’re going to donate fossils, make damn sure you’re giving them to a permanent public institution or federal repository where this wouldn’t happen.

    On one hand, it’s deeply saddening that this is happening, but on another level, it is infuriating to find out that this was a private museum all along, and that many of my esteemed colleagues chose to study fossil material in these collections despite the fact that this sort of thing was even remotely possible.

    • Hopefully…

      A bit harsh i’d say (though some statements are no doubt the result of my crappy writing). The Buena Vista isn’t a private museum. It has a director, charges admission, has all kinds of public programs; it has all the trappings of a public museum. They have many other natural history specimens in their collection. And this isn’t out on someone’s property it’s on the storefront in downtown Bakersfield. It’s just the majority of their Sharktooth Hill material (the museum has done many of it’s own so one would think they have some of their own material) was from a private collector. All the signs at the museum read “from the Bob Ernst collection” so while residing there they were still his property. The couple sources i read said Bob died of cancer (which is never easy to deal with and can really screw you up). My guess (and it’s just a guess) that Bob simply forgot to cancel the loan and donate the specimens outright before he met his end. If you want to point fingers, point it at whoever inherited his estate (or at least the fossil part) who very well could have done that but instead decided to sell everything. It’s obviously complicated…

  2. Hey Doug,

    I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone, especially Bob Ernst – you’re right, it hasn’t been handled very well at all. Regardless of whether or not the museum is public or private, the collection is still private, and that’s what really matters here.

    I’m still crossing my fingers that the majority of the collection will find its way into a permanent collection.

    Bobby

  3. I visited the museum just after the robbery. That’s what I call it. I’m not going to mince words. Bob’s wife was visibly upset at the theft. Said people just showed up and took almost everything. Opened cases, helped themselves and left.

    It sucks that so many nowadays are sooo greedy and seem to have no sense of right and wrong. I think a lawyer ought to look into this. Obviously Mr Ernst meant to donate the fossils to the museam. That someone is trying to profit from a dying man’s error is horrendous. He and others did a lot of work to find those fossils and his wishes ought to be respected.

  4. Oops. I was speaking of Ben Nafus’s wife. I mixed up “Ben” and “Bob”. Apologies. I’ve visited the museum just once since I’m interested in the Barstovian. There I met Ben and his wife, two kindly and elderly people who are docents. It was Ben’s wife who I spoke to first and who told me of the robbery (my words not hers).

    Anyway it’s just a shame.

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