Give Back and Help the Scientists of Tomorrow #GivingTuesday

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At HMNS, our love of learning is evident in everything we do. We provide education programs for ALL age groups, from interactive labs for students to world-class exhibit halls to phenomenal films in our Burke Baker Planetarium and Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. Help us inspire philanthropy and encourage charitable giving during the holiday season by showing your support for HMNS. Your gift will play a pivotal role in introducing our 500,000 annual student visitors to the wonders of science and the awe of our natural world.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Help HMNS reach its  Giving Tuesday fundraising goal of $10,000!

You can be part of #GivingTuesday by showing your support of the Houston Museum of Natural Science! Make your gift of any size, then be sure to share your participation on Facebook and Twitter, using #GivingTuesday and #HMNS hashtags.

  1. Donate Today!
  2. Share #GivingTuesday and #HMNS on social media!
  3. Tell your network why you supported HMNS this Giving Tuesday! Download the #UNselfie form.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q: How will the money be used?

A: Unless otherwise instructed by the donor, all Giving Tuesday donations will be directed to the Museum’s Annual Fund. The Annual Fund is the heart of the Museum’s fundraising efforts and provides for the basic needs of the institution.

Q: Are gifts tax-deductible?

A: The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a 501(c)3 organization. Your donation is tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS?

If you have any additional questions about Giving Tuesday or giving in general, please contact us at 713.639.4629 or development@hmns.org.

Thank you so much for your participation in #GivingTuesday. Every dollar makes a difference!

Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity. Giving Tuesday uses the power of social media to inspire people give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support. #GivingTuesday!

Dead Things That Might Be Under Your House: Part 2!

This week we will continue our journey beneath Houston with a chilling but true story of a forgotten graveyard right in the middle of Downtown Houston. Until 2003, many Houstonians found themselves fascinated with the the ruined old building haunting the corner of Elder and Girard Streets. It was the old Jefferson Davis Hospital, rumored to be haunted by an assortment of pateints and angry Civil War verterans. The internet is riddled with blogs full of stories of teens who got more than they bargained for when, in the dead of night, they slipped through gaps in the chain-link fence surrounding the structure. Pictures of orbs and spectral images captured in the decaying structure have reached international attention.

 

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

 

We may not be able to confirm the existence of ghosts, but we can definitely shed a little light on the fascinating history of the structure and the property it sits on. And I must say, if  any place in the Houston area were haunted, Old Jeff Davis would probably be it.

The Old Houston City Cemetary  was established in 1840 on the property, the land was bought from the Allen brothers, who originally owned most of the area around Allen’s landing, the heart of 19th Century Houston.  Veterans of the Texas Revolutionary War are believed to be buried there, along with some of the founding fathers of the City of Houston. Civil war soldiers and yellow fever victims were buried there in mass graves during the 1860’s. By the turn of the last century, the graveyard was essentially abandoned. In 1893 the city planned to move the bodies and build a school on the site, but family members of the dearly departed prevented that from happening. 

 

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1893 article warning loved ones of the impending removal of bodies from the cemetery. This relocation never happened, because family member of the deceased filed an injunction that ultimately resulted in the abandonement of the project. Image courtesy of roots web

 

Eventually, the city did get to build on the site. In 1924, Houston’s first publicly owned health facility was erected on an area covering part of the graveyard. During the process of construction, some of the bodies were removed, but not all, and in response to outcry over the mistreatment of the graves of Civil War veterans, the hospital was named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.The basement of the hospital, where the morgue was located, was built above the ground, so as not to disturb the graves that everyone new were there. 

The new structure represented the cutting edge of hospital design, with well lit and vetilated interiors, even screened in balconies on upper floor, but it was replaced by a larger Jefferson Davis hospital in 1939. After that, the “Old Jeff Davis Hospital” was used for a for a number of different purposes including a drug treatment center and storage facility until it was finally closed in 1985. After that it became infamous for ghost sightings and spectral activity. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and in 2003 it was sold to Avenue CDC, who had the space converted into artists lofts. 

 

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

 

People never really forgot about the graves beneath Old Jeff Davis, but the hospital only covers part of the original Cemetery. In 1968 the City of Houston Fire Department built a maintenance facility over the western part of the old graveyard. In 1986 several graves belonging to Civil War veterans were accidentally unearthed during a maintenance project. The bodies were reburied on another part of the Fire Department property. Today only a small stone monument surrounded by a chain-link fence honors the soldiers. It is placed over the area where the bodies were originally interred, however the graves were relocated to another part of the property.

Both the Elder Street Lofts (Formerly Old Jeff Davis Hospital) and the Houston fire Department facilities are private property, so unfortunately members of the public are not free to pop in and look for ghosts any time they want , but there are sometimes community events that allow the public to have access, so keep an eye out for those. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in being spooked by spirits, be sure to check out our adult and children’s haunted houses at HMNS Sugarland this weekend. Friday night we will have the Museum of Madness and Mayhem Haunted House for everyone 15 and up, and Saturday night we will have the Magical Maze and Goose Bumps Haunted House for the kids

 

Dead Things That Might Be Under Your House!

The line between hallowed ground and home is a thin one in Houston. Our city isn’t exactly known for the preservationist spirit of its citizens, and looking out your window at skyscrapers or suburban expanses, you may not see any visible evidence of the city’s history, but that’s exactly the problem: You don’t see it because it’s under your feet!

Are you dubious of the of this assertion? Well, after we’re done I guarantee you will never rest assured that you are the only resident of your happy home. We will begin long ago, past the stretch of collective human memory. In this time, herds of Mammoths roamed over a cold savannah that stretched across North America. In this unfamiliar landscape, Giant Sloths thundered here and there using their huge, retractable claws to literally scratch an existence out of the land, and Glyptodons fought off saber-tooth cats.

When you think of Paleontology, you don’t think Houston, but the remnants of that epic world are here. In the Paleontology Hall of HMNS Sugarland there is displayed the skeleton of a giant armadillo, HolmesinaIn North America during the Pleistocene, armadillos the size of Volkswagen Beetles roamed Texas; Holmesina is a smaller species of armadillo cousin from that era. When I say “smaller”, I mean that instead of being 7 to 10 feet long and up to 5 feet tall, they were closer to 6 or so feet long and a couple feet tall. Still quite large… Our specimen was discovered in 1955 by Florence Dawdy, along with her son and a friend on Brays Bayou, not far from HMNS!

 

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Holmesina specimen at HMNS Sugarland

A giant sloth was discovered not long ago in the Galveston area. Many don’t know this, but there was a time when the coast was a hundred miles further out from Houston than it is today, but as the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age and ocean levels rose the graves of countless Pleistocene prey and several Human habitation sites were swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. Occasionally spear points or fossilized camel bones will wash up on certain beaches in the area, like High Island. 

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Megatherium, a type of ground sloth. Note the giant claws, which were retractable,like a cat’s claws!

A Columbian Mammoth was discovered in a sand pit in the town of Clute near the Lake Jackson area in 2003. Columbian mammoths are the less hairy cousins of the famous Wooly Mammoths. Both species thrived in the vast grasslands that stretched from Minnesota to Mexico 10,000 years ago. The Wooly’s tended to stay further north, while the Columbians roamed in the warmer Southern regions. 

 

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Columbian Mammoths

The Columbian Mammoth was named after Christopher Columbus, the most famous explorer of the New World, because this species of mammoth is unique to the Western Hemisphere. The one found in Clute was the first mammoth to be discovered in the Texas Gulf Coast area. The mammoth is nicknamed Asiel, and if you’re ever in the area, you can stop by “Asiel’s Restaurant”, which boasts a replica of the skull, and an exhibit including some real fossils of deer, camel, and giant sloth that were also discovered in the area.

So there are indeed a few paleontological discoveries that have unexpectedly popped up in the Houston area. And who knows, maybe the next find is under you right now! Next week we will turn the dial of geological history forward to the era of human occupation to discuss some more intriguing specimens found lurking beneath the surface of our city.

Incidentally, we happen to have an entire Hall of Paleontology devoted to prehistoric North America here at HMNS, so next time you’re visiting, be sure to check that out. We have examples of all three animals discussed in the article.

A new sound in town!

By Nancy Greig, Director Emeritus, Cockrell Butterfly Center

As I was leaving the museum around 9 p.m. last week, after the fun “Evenings with the Owls” event at the Butterfly Center, my attention was piqued by an unfamiliar sound. It was a sort of double cheep, with the accent on the second cheep – I did not recognize it. (I think it’s interesting how we don’t consciously hear most background noises because they are familiar – but even subtle sounds stand out, if they are novel. Perhaps it is a good survival strategy.)

In any case, there were plenty of other sounds – cricket frogs, traffic, etc. – in the area, but I soon located the source of the cheeping, about 15 feet up in a large live oak tree. I was able to mimic it closely enough to get whatever was making the sound to answer back, and we called back and forth for a while. I was mystified. Was it a bird? Maybe. A frog? More likely. An insect? I wasn’t sure. So bringing modern technology to my aid, I pulled out my iPhone and recorded a short video – of blackness, since it was well after dark, but the sound recorded quite nicely. I posted the video to Facebook, flagging a couple friends who are bird and herp experts, asking for their opinion. Not five minutes later I got a reply that included a video and recording of the coqui, a small tree frog (Eleutherodactylus coqui) endemic to Puerto Rico. Several other FB friends concurred, and some also sent more recordings and photos. The mystery was solved!

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Photo courtesy of California Fish and Wildlife

But not entirely. How did it get here? The coqui originated in Puerto Rico, but has been introduced to the Virgin Islands and Florida (in 1972), and in 1988, it arrived in Hawai’i (possibly in plant material from Florida). Since that accidental introduction, its populations in Hawai’i have exploded, especially on the big island. Some areas have as many as 10,000 frogs per acre, and the males’ incessant call, which continues throughout most of the night, is driving people crazy (and driving down real estate prices). In addition to being a major noise nuisance, all these frogs (in a place with no native amphibians, and few predators) almost certainly impact the delicate/fragile island ecosystem.

 

Eleutherodactylus is a very large genus of mostly small, usually brownish tree frogs (185 species, all in the New World tropics). All species have direct development – i.e., the eggs are not laid in water and there is no tadpole stage; the eggs hatch directly into tiny frogs). Most species show some form of parental care, males and/or females guarding the eggs or sometimes even the young froglets. Female coquis may be almost two inches long; males are somewhat smaller. In their native Puerto Rico, coquis are cherished and have become a national symbol.
None of my knowledgeable friends had heard of the coqui being reported from Texas, at least not from our area. However, Texas has one of the fastest growing Puerto Rican populations in the country. It’s not inconceivable that a recent immigrant inadvertently imported one of these frogs. Or perhaps a frog arrived in a shipment of plants from south Florida. I have not noticed the coqui’s call in any other part of Houston, but I will be keeping my ears open from here on out.

It’s unlikely that the coqui would become as big a nuisance here as in Hawai’i. There are plenty of local frogs and toads that would function as competitors, and plenty of predators (other frogs, lizards, birds, snakes) that will eat small frogs. Also, our area has the potential at least of having some freezing weather during winter months, although this has not happened recently. A significant cold snap would likely do in these tropical creatures. So it’s not clear if this is something to worry about. However, because of its impact in Hawai’i, the coqui is listed as one of the 100 most noxious invasive species in the world…
If you hear this call in your area, please let us know, or even better, send us a recording stating where you heard it. We’d like to help track the coqui’s presence here in Texas.