Newburyport Public Library archives volunteer Nick Chandler quickly unearthed the missing piece of the puzzle. The original story was published in April 1879 by the Newburyport Herald, a daily newspaper that served the city at the time. The news item gives a full report of the discovery of the skull in the sand dunes of our local Plum Island. The Long Islander republished it two months later, almost word for word.
The Herald reported, “on Sunday some gentlemen observed protruding from the sand a large bone. Tools were procured, and, on digging, their labors were rewarded by the discovery of a skeleton. The skull was between two and three feet wide, and they uncovered a length of backbone of over seven feet ... They describe the skull in form as like that of an elephant, and the leg bone as of enormous solidity when it belonged to the animal buried there. From the condition of the bones they must have been covered for ages, as they were ready to crumble.”
Fleming said it was common in those days for newspapers to republish material gathered from other newspapers. Research by Chandler indicated the Newburyport Herald item had been republished in at least two newspapers besides the Long Islander.
Contacted yesterday, Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, said the woolly mammoth issue is still playing out on Long Island, but he acknowledged it was good to know that the question of its origin was answered.
“I’m fine with that,” he said, adding that the woolly mammoth issue was just one of several issues that his group has focused on.
“It (the woolly mammoth) did pique people’s interest a little bit more here,” he said. “We just thought it was a cool thing.”
While the New York Plum Island controversy may be settled, it’s now spurred two conundrums for our Plum Island: Exactly where were the bones found, and what happened to them?