Friday, February 11, 2022

Put that in your pipe and smoke it-

"Elephant Pipes and Inscribed Tablets in the Museum of Academy of Natural Sciences, Davenport, Iowa".

By Charles E. Putnam.
Davenport; Glass & Axtman, printers: 1886. 2nd, enlarged edition.

In the winter of 1877 amateur archeologist Rev. Jacob Gass made a series of incredible discoveries while excavating an ancient Indian burial mound on a farm in Davenport, Iowa. The relics in question eventually included several incised slate plaques, one apparently with a calendar and another with writing, and a pair of stone "elephant" pipes.

Controversy over their authenticity raged almost from the moment of their discovery, but the Davenport Academy, including a young scholar named J. Duncan Putnam, staunchly defended them. When young Putnam died at the age of 26 in 1881 his father, Charles E. Putnam, took up the cause. A wealthy lawyer, Putnam was one of the major funders of the Academy, though not one of its "inner" social set. Putnam published his first broadside in defense of the pipes and tablets in 1885, followed a year later by this, much expanded edition.

He was shouting into the wind. After a series of disparaging reports by, among others, the Smithsonian, Putnam swung into full gear and what followed soon began to resemble a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. Critics within the Academy were "investigated" and expelled in a witchunt resembling the Red Scare of the 1950s; lawsuits for defamation swirled around like raindrops, and yet... and yet...  many of the Academy members, though evidently not Charles Putnam, knew all along that the whole thing was a hoax.

They knew it because they did it.

As it later turned out, many members of the "inner" social circle within the Academy were jealous of Gass, an outsider who didn't speak very good English, and decided to have some fun with him by burying some hastily faked artifacts in a mound they knew he would be digging in over the winter. Evidence suggests that Gass himself came to realize this in his later years. Whether Putnam ever did will remain an unanswered question, but he may have. In June of 1887 his mansion and all his papers burned. Charles Putnam died six weeks later at the age of 63.

Softcover. 6”x9", 95 pages, line illustrations. Slight spine loss but otherwise fine and clean. [42968]  $75

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