DULUTH – Creepy dolls, a skull and ivory snake inkwell and a cape adorned with the feathers of rare birds are part of a new exhibit unveiled Friday at Glensheen Mansion.
"Glensheen Obscura" is the latest collection at the historic house museum completed by Duluth's Chester and Clara Congdon in 1908.
The collection of a dozen or so objects displayed throughout the 39-room mansion for the first time "is definitely not your standard-issue Glensheen," said Dan Hartman, outgoing director of the museum. "These are just weird, obscure and sometimes morbid pieces. And I think that's what's kind of fun about it."
The feathered cape, picked up by Chester Congdon on a 1914 tour of Pacific Ocean countries, is made with feathers from six different New Zealand birds, including a kaka, which is a now-endangered parrot species, and an extinct type of passerine called a piopio. A bamboo instrument called an angklung was found in Indonesia and a custom-made bento box was purchased in Japan.
Of the musical instrument, Congdon wrote in his journal: "Alabaster did the testing for me and says that they, together, strike all the notes. It will be a hard job to get them home but they are worth it."
The collection includes an early Duluth Pack tent, a blanket made from a buffalo hide and plans for the construction of the Panama Canal, which Chester and Clara visited while it was being built, according to Glensheen records.
"We're not sure why Chester had them, but it's one of the mysteries we've tried to piece together," said Jane Pederson Jandl, marketing manager for Glensheen. "We don't have a ton of details [about many items in the collection] so it's fun to let your mind wander."
Collections manager Milissa Brooks-Ojibway cites the battered dolls as the strangest part of the collection.
"I opened that box and was like, 'oh my goodness.' It's a little hard not to be startled by something like that, but I am sure they were beloved," she said.
Congdon accrued his fortune through mining investments and was a lawyer, politician and entrepreneur who donated a large chunk of land in Duluth for public use.
"The Congdons were humble, quiet folks," Hartman said, with a now-complete inventory of everything on the 12-acre lakefront property revealing things that even descendants didn't know about.
Despite the opulence of the mansion, "I get the feeling they were frugal, but at the same time good philanthropists," Brooks-Ojibway said. "It's amazing that someone lived in this house, but they were a family pretty much like anyone else."
Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450