One of my favorite things about museums is you never know what you are going to come across when searching through a collection. Our museum is no different. We are home to a wide variety of items from household items, surgical tools, Native American items and toys of all kinds. There is one collection that stands out however in its variety and one item in particular of that collection that bogles the mind.
One of the museum’s newest exhibits highlights the items collected by Charles Shanafelt during his many travels around the world. Charles H. Shanafelt was born in Stark County, Ohio in 1855 to Henry and Catherine Shanafelt, Maryland natives and Stark County pioneers. By age 12, he was living in Kenton. Over the years, Charles became a businessman and was involved in the Masons. He was elected mayor of Kenton in 1887 and served until 1889. During his lifetime, Shanafelt acquired a large collection of items that he found all over the world. Some of the items include Native American moccasins and leggings, bows and arrows, pieced of the Acropolis in Greece, a decorative ornament from the Taj Mahal, and coconut carvings. There is a large collection of sea creatures such as puffer fish, coral, and abalone. The item that draws the most attention however, is a dragon.
Known as Draco, this little dragon has been part of the museum collection for years. As I child, I remember seeing him on the shelf. These flying dragons are known as a Jenny Haniver and the earliest known picture of them appeared in Konrad Gener’s Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Now, we know that dragons are mythical creatures so what is a Jenny Haniver? It is a carcass of a ray or a skate that has been mummified and shaped to look like a mythical creature such as a dragon. The name is thought to be a distorted form of Anvers, the French name for Antwerp, Belgium. When they first appeared many thought that they were basilisks, (think giant snake from the Harry Potter series). Basilisks were creatures known to kill with just a glance, therefore no one knew exactly what they looked like. Early creators of the Jenny Hanivers had an easy time of passing them off as basilisks which were widely feared in the 16th century.
In other parts of the world such as Veracruz, they were considered to have magical power and were used in spiritual rituals. A similar tradition existed in Japan, where they created fake ningyo (mermaids) and were kept in temples. Seen as highly valuable in the 16th and 17th centuries, they remained popular until the 18th centuries when the truth about what they really were became more widely known. Today they are seen as a novelty item just like a jackalope.
So next time you’re in the museum, stop and take a look at Draco and the other amazing items collected by Charles Shanafelt.