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Dr. Glidden of Catalina Island: Monster or historian?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Dr. Ralph Glidden of California's Catalina Island was a self-proclaimed archaeologist that plundered local Native American Indian graves in order to open a "tourist trap" museum is the subject of a new museum exhibition. The Catalina Island Museum's exhibit, entitled "The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden" delves into this colorful grave robbers' past.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The plain-spoken exhibit features an introduction proclaims that Glidden -  through his unscientific plundering, disregarded "the sanctity of human remains" and inflicted "near-permanent damage" on research into local Native American life.

Pulling no punches, the museum's Executive Director Michael De Marsche compared the exhibition to those at Holocaust museum's in Europe. He says that both exhibits explore similar issues: "the genocide of a people, the desecration of their graves and the lack of respect for the sacredness of their remains."

The museum curator discovered boxes of Glidden's journals, letters and photographs that document how he went about his dubious methods. Up until the 1930s, the self-proclaimed professor was hired by a foundation to excavate Native American graves.

Digging up hundreds and thousands of objects, many of which went to prestigious museums, including bone flutes, war clubs and arrowheads, cooking stones used to boil soup in baskets and beads that were used as currency.

Glidden also built an island museum that would have shamed the decorators of the farmhouse as seen in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The museum 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. Glidden prided himself on the macabre makeshift exhibition tent was described by Glidden himself as "unlike anything else anywhere in this country."

He modeled the interior on a mortuary chapel on the Mediterranean island of Malta which had walls created from the bones of monks.

Windows were decorated with bones from Native American fingers and feet and Glidden happily posed for photographs inside his decrepit museum.
 
Declaring himself "Dr," despite there being no evidence he even graduated from high school, Glidden is thought to have plundered through 801 grave-sites from 105 individual locations around Catalina Island.

His methods allowed him to accumulate one of the largest collection of human remains and artifacts of the native peoples of Catalina Island and by the 1920s he was enjoying fame and fortune, wining and dining with the nation's wealthiest men.

Among his many fantastical claims was that he unearthed a mythical prehistoric race of blue-eyed, giant Native Americans. No photographic proof of this was ever provided.

His time in the sun was brief enough -- by the early 1930s, Glidden was almost bankrupt and began touting a tale of a "secret history" of the island which he refused to give up until he was paid. In 1962 he was paid $5,000 for the collection, but not the history. Hundreds of skulls and bones and thousands of teeth were moved to the University of California, Los Angeles. After his death in 1968, the secret was revealed to be less than 10 pages of text.

A former visitor of the museum, 89-year-old Jeanne Hill 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. Bones piled up all over the place. One skull had a light on in it."

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