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On My Sabbatical: Dr. Stephen Moshier

July 13, 2021

Geology professor Dr. Stephen Moshier to write a history of Perry Mastodon

Perry Mastodon 380x253Wheaton College Geology Professor and Department Chair Dr. Stephen Moshier spent his spring 2021 sabbatical digging up dirt on the College’s “Perry Mastodon.”

Dr. Moshier, who came on the Wheaton faculty 30 years ago, said: “When I showed up for work in the Fall of 1991, retired professor Gerald Haddock handed me the keys to the exhibit that was then in Armerding Hall and said, ‘She’s all yours now.’”

Ever since then, Dr. Moshier has continued to learn about the skeleton, given lectures about her to visitors, and is now writing a book about her.   

Tusks of Perry Mastodon 253x380The ice age skeleton, which stands on display in the Meyer Science Center, was discovered back in 1963 on the Glen Ellyn property of U.S. Federal District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry. Judge Perry gave Wheaton College faculty and students permission to excavate the site and also donated the mastodon to the College, becoming the 9-foot-7.5-inch mastodon’s namesake.

Dr. Moshier’s sabbatical provided the perfect opportunity to finalize his research and begin writing a book about the mastodon—especially since COVID sidelined one of his other projects at the University of Texas. To gather first-person accounts of the excavation, Dr. Moshier corresponded with the children of the Wheaton science professor Dr. Donald C Boardman, who is largely responsible for the restored skeleton. He also interviewed alumni geology majors who participated in the excavation and a biology major who did a thorough study of the bones. 

Perry Mastodon Skull 380x253“Connecting with the surviving alumni was wonderful, as they all led distinguished careers in geoscience or medicine,” he said.

Although Dr. Moshier spent most of his sabbatical in Texas at his family’s 20-acre ranch, he also spent four days in the Buswell Library Special Collections with College Archivist Keith Call combing through hundreds of office memos, letters, and newspaper clippings about the mastodon.

With that research, he was able to prepare the timeline for his forthcoming book on Perry—penning chapters on the discovery, excavation, and reconstruction of the skeleton. As the summer draws to a close, in addition to catching up on rest and contributing blogs to the Christian Scholar’s Review, he’s hoping to complete the book, which will also include the science-and-faith implications of Perry’s discovery.

Stephen Moshier and goat 380x253Over the course of his research, he also learned how persistent Geology Professor Donald Boardman was in the entire project, from excavation to display. “It took over 10 years after the discovery and it almost didn’t happen.”

But for that story, he said, you’ll have to read the book.

Photo caption: Dr. Moshier on the Texas ranch with “Pokey,” a goat kid who was born this past spring with a Gumby horse-like gait.

--Emily Bratcher

About “On My Sabbatical”

Wheaton College faculty members are not only excellent teachers but also outstanding scholars. “On My Sabbatical” is a new series that shares how Wheaton professors spend their sabbaticals researching, writing, and even dabbling in a hobby or two.

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