Putting together this Mastodon exhibit was a true labor of love by some very dedicated county employees.
It may be surprising to some, but the fact is, the discovery of these bones in a county park had been long forgotten.
It was not until a parks staffer, searching the county’s photo archives last year came across the photos you see on display here today. It was while she was looking for photos to use as part of the park’s 90th Anniversary celebration that she came across these 1936 photos showing the paleontologists at Lenape Park in Cranford uncovering the mastodon bones.
The rediscovery of those old photos led to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, where the tusk and jaw you see here today were stored for posterity. With the State Museum’s help, those artifacts, along with the foot of a Mastodon discovered in Sussex County, were loaned to us for this exhibition.
As a bit of a historical footnote, the Mastodon bones were discovered at a time when America was experiencing a severe economic crisis following the 1929 stock market crash. As a way to get Americans back to work, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration.
It was a WPA project to dig a lake along the upper branch of the Rahway River, a lake that would be part of a new park, that led to the discovery of the Mastodon bones.
In many ways, we owe an incredible debt to those workers who recognized that they had come across something very unusual and called in the experts who ultimately realized what they had found.
The Mastodon bones you see here today from Lenape Park are upwards of 25,000 years old. You will also see some fish fossils, estimated to be more than 250 million years old, that were found here in the Watchung Reservation.
We hope you enjoy the exhibit. Please feel free to roam through Trailside to see the many other displays here. Outside these walls are more than 40 miles of trails that criss-cross the 2,000-acre reservation. Who knows what you will find out there.
-Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella