We thought we’d tell you about our favorite, but little known, Albany museum of the past.
The Hurst Free Museum was open on lower Elm St. for several years in the early 1870s. James Hurst was born in England in 1810; the family subsequently immigrated to Canada. By 1849 he had moved to Utica and opened a taxidermy shop.
In 1850 or so he was induced to come to Albany to become the NYS Taxidermist at the State Hall (the earliest NYS museum) on State and Lodge St., which had strong emphasis of natural history Hurst had incredible skill – not just in taxidermy, but in creating dioramas and exhibits that portrayed wildlife in their native habitat.
As more people flocked to urban areas knowledge of how wild creatures lived in their natural settings was being lost. So Hurst’s exhibits were a teaching tool. Hurst’s dioramas were exhibited at the World’s Fair in New York City between 1853 and 1854 which drew over 1 million visitors. (The Fair was America’s answer to London’s Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851.)
Taxidermy was Hurst’s love and he had hundreds of personal specimens. The museum was free, but he sold his hand tinted stereoscopic view cards to visitors, as well as to schools around the country. Hurst had a whimsical and satiric side too, and we’ve included photos of some of those cards.
Hurst’s work was so important it’s part of the collection of the Library of Congress.
(9-11 Elm St. still stand, just above Grand St.)
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor