, Newburyport, MA

Local News

August 30, 2013

Mammoth mystery

Long Island controversy spills over to Plum Island


The Herald story reports that the bones were found at “an elevation of sand, formerly known as ‘Brothers’ Beach,’ 150 feet long and 50 feet high, one of the largest sand hills on the island. Latterly the wind has blown it away, so that the sand dune has lowered to a height of but a few feet.”

The Daily News contacted several local historians, as well as the Historical Society of Old Newbury, Custom House Museum, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Historic New England. None of them had heard of “Brothers’ Beach.” Nor does it appear on historic maps. It’s possible that the name — which by 1879 was already fading from memory — has disappeared entirely from the known record.

Jerry Klima, a Plum Island summer resident who has amassed and studied numerous island maps, said it’s possible that Brothers’ Beach is a location that was known during a period immediately after the Civil War when it was common for families and friends to congregate on the island in the fall to have picnics. Plum Island has a number of locations whose names have faded from use, such as Knobb’s Beach, Bar Island and Shad Point.

Another clue in the Herald story gives a better indication of where the skeleton was found, “near the life saving station” on Plum Island. At the time, there was only one such station, located on a sand bluff known as High Sandy. It’s located just inside the wildlife refuge, between parking lots 1 and 2. Within a few years of the mammoth bones’ discovery, the lifesaving station itself was moved from High Sandy to a spot closer to the mouth of the Merrimack River.

The mystery of what became of the mammoth bones may be harder to discover. Local museums and the refuge had not heard of the discovery. The Daily News contacted Harvard University, which amassed an enormous collection of prehistoric bones during the 19th century and meticulously recorded where and when they were found. Archivists are searching to discover whether the bones are at Harvard.

Finding the bones would be the final chapter in the mystery.

“You’ve got to find those bones!” Fleming said.

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