Roger Williams Park Museum


Providence, like New York City, has a large central urban park. It’s hilly and full of greenery, marshy and irregular, with a network of ponds and canals running through it. There’s a merry-go-round, and a “casino,” and a zoo (which is actually not bad), and a very nice exotic-species greenhouse, and a couple of bandstands. It’s also full of lots of secluded spots ideal for drug-dealing (which explains a good deal of the automobile traffic running through the park).



In the middle of the park stands the Roger Williams Park Museum. It is a fanciful castle, decorated with elaborate stonework. Inside: rock collections. Antiquities. Native American beadwork. A small but cute planetarium.


But I am always most fascinated by their huge turn-of-the-century taxidermy collection. It is beautiful, and horribly sad. Have you ever seen a passenger pigeon? Of course you haven’t; they’re extinct. But I saw one the other day at the Roger Williams Park Museum, long-dead, stuffed and mounted. There is, in fact, a display of every bird found in turn-of-the-century Rhode Island – some of which, like the passenger pigeon, are gone from the earth altogether now (thanks at least in part to museum collectors), and many of which are no longer seen in Rhode Island (or at least I haven’t see any Great Auks around lately). There’s a lioness and lion cub, posed together, and they are beautiful, until you think about them a bit. And two big polar bears nuzzling one another. And a big grizzly bear rearing up on its hind legs. All dead, all stuffed. “I wonder,” Partner said quietly as we were looking at the polar bears, “if they had any idea they’d end up in a place like this?”



The Museum quite evidently runs on next to no money. The exhibits seldom change. I think Partner and I were the only people there that morning; I spent seven dollars, including admission, and I was thanked profusely three times by three different staff members.


All those odd beautiful things sitting in an odd building in south Providence, gathering dust. All those artifacts of science and culture.


If they announce the world is ending soon, probably a lot of people will go to church to pray.


Myself, I think I’ll head over to the Roger Williams Park Museum and sit with the rock collections and fossils and stuffed passenger pigeons. It will be a good place to meditate on going extinct.



And I’ll be in excellent company.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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