Friday, January 22, 2010

Eugenia's Snakes and Shrunken Heads

Alton Bay, New Hampshire Reptile Zoo - Part 2.

Eugenia Skinner Shorrock (21 July 1896 - 7 December 1993) was the proprietor of The Reptile Zoo formerly of Alton Bay, New Hampshire. A collector of curios par excellence, Eugenia was quite some gal, I'm willing to bet! She kept her purse in a python cage where it was safe from robbers. Her father was Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) of Dorchester, Massachusetts, who was known as the most prominent builder of organs of the early 20th century.

According to a March 8, 1992 Gainesville Sun article titled "Ripleys Pays $22,000 for pair - Believe it or not," Eugenia's daughter made a killing on the sale of two shrunken heads. An accompanying photograph features grandson Rob Farrell's hand pointing to one of the heads:

Two shrunken heads, dark-skinned and complete with hair and headdresses, stared impassively as curious bidders examined them at an unusual auction of Indian artifacts Saturday.

The grapefruit-sized, 19th century South American Indian heads sold for a total of $22,000 to Ripley's Believe it or Not. It plans to display them in one of its museums, which feature oddities.

"The heads, I think, set a world record," auctioneer Michael Bennett said, adding that he expected the pair would only sell for about $14,000.

The heads were part of a collection of artifacts amassed by Eugenia Shorrock, 95, of Dover. Other items included tribal masks, wooden Indian statues and an antique buffalo skin robe. The robe, expected to sell for about $15,000 only brought $7,000. But some of the statues went for more that $10,000.

Shorrock, who lives in a nursing home, acquired her unusual collection from various sources over the years, but never traveled to South America herself, said her daughter, Ruth Farrell. "She became acquainted with people who had them and made it known she'd take anything," Farrell said.

The heads came from the Jivaro tribe, which collected enemies' heads after battle, removed the skulls, boiled the skins, then carefully shaped them by hand to retain the victims' features, Bennet said. He didn't know from which South American country they came.
(The Jivaro are a tribe of people from the Andes mountains. Read more in this article from .) The Toledo Blade picked up the same AP article with an additional quotation from Eugenia's daughter Ruth, who decided to sell the collection because she no longer had any interest in it: "Bureau drawers don't do a thing for shrunken heads. . . I like to see things used or displayed."


Snap said...

Wowowowow!!! She was an interesting lady -- before her time! Happy PFF!

Marie Reed said...

This is such a cliff hanger post! I can't wait to see the book! I'm sitting at the edge of my seat girl. This is FASCINATING!

Beth Niquette said...

What a fascinating post! WOW! Happy PFF!