the heartbreaking story of the last passenger pigeon

PI_GOLBE_PIGEON_FT_001Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

In the last years of her life, Martha began to lose her feathers. Sol Stephan, General Manager of the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha spent most of her years, began collecting the feathers in a cigar box without much idea of what he would do with them. Martha lived a sedentary life at the zoo. Her cage was 18 feet by 20 feet — she had never known what it was to fly free. When Martha’s last friend George (who was also named for a Washington) died in 1910, Martha became a celebrity. She watched the people passing by, alone in her enclosure, and they watched her. Martha ate her cooked liver and eggs, and her cracked corn, and sat. On the outside of her cage, Stephan placed a sign announcing Martha as the Last of the Passenger Pigeons. Visitors couldn’t believe that Martha really was the last. They would throw sand inside the cage to make her walk around.

Martha died on a September afternoon in 1914, one hundred years ago. Her elderly body was sent to the Cincinnati Ice Company and frozen in a 300-pound block of ice. They put the frozen Martha on a train to the Smithsonian, where she could be mounted and stuffed. Martha was displayed at the Smithsonian between the 1920s and 1950s. For a while, she sat next to an unnamed male passenger pigeon that had been shot in 1873. Later, she was displayed alone.

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