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The Species Seekers Quiz: Inside Jefferson’s White House

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 12, 2012

What did Thomas Jefferson keep in the East Room of the White House?

1.  A collection of mastodon bones.

2.  Silver crafted by Paul Revere.

3.  The largest library of natural history books in North America.

4.  A conference table made of petrified wood.

And the answer is

A collection of mastodon bones.

Jefferson sent off a letter, carried by Daniel Boone, to his friend George Rogers Clark, commander of the Army of the West, asking him to collect specimens from Big Bone Lick, a sulphur-smelling patch of marsh near the Ohio River in Kentucky.  The first —and only successful— shipment from Clark arrived at the White House in March of 1808.  Jefferson had these fossils spread out in a large otherwise unused room that later would become known as the East Room.  (It was a step up from John and Abigail Adams, who had hung their laundry there.)


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