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GU Uncovered: Reptiles on Display and Joseph Smith III's DNA

by Rian Bevan

Century-old advertisements, preserved reptiles, and a lock of Joseph Smith III’s hair. What do these have in common? They are all items that Graceland has owned or stored at various times throughout its history.

Graceland University holds a deep history from when it was first established in 1895. Graceland has even kept around a few pieces of its history that can still be found today, with a little searching of course. 

One strange item that I began to uncover was a dip into the history of the Coliseum Theater, since its establishment in 1912. When I interviewed Deb Skinner, she enlightened me on one of the strangest things she knew GU owned, painted curtains that the Coliseum used to have hung prominently to advertise their sponsors and local businesses.

Skinner, when asked about these curtains, described, “I'm not sure if we still have them, but the last I knew they were found in the Colosseum attic while doing a bat extraction a few years back. Heavy canvas curtains and advertisements were painted across them by a local sign painter, and all of the local businesses and sponsors of the Coliseum when it was first established. It's a fascinating piece of history, however, it is still in the Coliseum attic just sitting there.” Before how we know the Coliseum today, showing movies and COSA-sponsored Thursday night movies, it was used for student recitals, plays, and even hosted the first Choices in October of 1985. One thing that stays true to the Coliseum is its bats, which have been found since Graceland first started showing movies in the Coliseum, about 40 years ago.

In the quest to find the strangest thing GU owns, I also interviewed Dave Schaal. Schaal mentioned a few things; First, In the late 1800s, a Graceland alum donated a snake collection in a 2-gallon bottle filled with alcohol. Many different types of snakes are preserved in alcohol, these snakes were owned by J.J. Evans, and donated to Graceland in 1897, including a garter snake, rattler, blue racers, joint snakes, and house snakes. A lizard and a crab were also included in this collection, all preserved by Dr. A. Brown, who lived in Leon at the time. 

Many things that Graceland still owns today are because of its historical value. Schaal, when asked what's the most interesting thing GU owns, said, “There is a room in Briggs that has maps that pull down, and they have really, really old bible study maps. I assume it's from old bible study classes they used to teach, now they are all old, brown, and wrinkly, you know, they are a little different.”

Graceland also stores many items similar to this, regarding its religious history. Graceland’s library, rare history books are kept, including in-depth Community of Christ history, old paintings, and art pieces stored away in the library government document room. Until recently, when the CoC reclaimed the item, there was even a comb and lock of hair from Joseph Smith III stored in the library. 


Who knows what else hides in Graceland’s deep history?

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