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Atlas Obscura Visits the Explorers Club

In 1904, a group of men dedicated to exploring the far flung corners of the globe got together to form a society dedicated to supporting and celebrating exploration.

Explorers Club

A little over a hundred years later, during our team meet up in New York, we took advantage of the opportunity to stop by the Explorer’s Club headquarters, housed in a fantastic turn-of-the-century Jacobean revival building a few blocks from Central Park.

The Explorer’s Club has only been based out of the Lowell Thomas building since 1965, but thanks to the historic decor, it looks as though it could have been there for centuries.

Lowell, the club cat, greeted us in the member’s lounge, where we sat around a coffee table constructed from the hatch of ship the Explorer (which had the dubious honor of being the closest American ship to the Japanese Fleet at Pearl Harbor) and perused journals from various exploration societies. The previous club cat, named Shredder, is no longer welcome at the club for what seems like obvious reasons. The beautiful painting of furry rhinos over the fireplace by Charles R. Knight brought to mind the rhino paintings by Sarah Soward, who also has a thing for rhinos.

The Club now has about 3000 active members, and still sponsors exploration and hosts talks and special events.

The building itself is pretty awesome. Built in 1912, it is designed to mimic the style of a Jacobean English manor house. The interior is elegantly appointed in wood paneling and leaded windows, and atmospherically creaky floors. The best part, however, is the hodgepodge of items brought back from explorations all around the world - and beyond.

Giant globe

Thor Heyerdahl - Kon-Tiki Globe - Explorers Club NYC - Atlas Obscura Blog

Thor Heyerdahl used this gorgeous globe when he started planning his historic 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition

Polar Bear

Polar Bear Motion Sensor Roar - Explorers Club NYC - Atlas Obscura Visit Blog 

Guarding the top of the staircase, the polar bear is just the first of several pieces of ferocious taxidermy, but the only one armed with a motion sensor - he roars when you walk past. Here, Dylan kneels in homage to his polar greatness.

But our favorite things were in the trophy room:

Yeti Scalp

Yeti Scalp - Explorers Club NYC - Atlas Obscura Visit - Atlas Blog

So. Here’s the thing. In 1960, the famed explorer Edmund Hillary and the zoologist-cum-beloved TV host Marlin Perkins stole a yeti scalp from a remote monastery in Nepal. Hillary earlier had reported seeing a yeti himself during his 1953 Everest ascent. It should come as no great surprise that the hair turned out to be from a Serow, a goat like creature native to the area.

Whale Penis, i.e. Dork

Whale Penis - Dork - Atlas Obscura Visit to the Explorers Club - New York

Stolen from a sperm whale, mounted on what appears to be a whale-shaped cutting board. Motion of the ocean indeed. 

Mounted Walrus Head

Walrus Head Taxidermy - Explorers Club New York City - Atlas Obscura Blog

Though the tale of this specific walrus may evade us, another famous story will suffice to illustrate why these noble beasts rule: “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax – Of cabbages – and kings – And why the sea is boiling hot – And whether pigs have wings.” Right? Right. 

Jumbo Emperor Penguin

Emperor Penguin Taxidermy - Explorers Club New York City - Atlas Obscura

We do not know the story of the penguin. But he’s big, giving you the beady eyeball, and seems as if he may possibly double for a magnum champagne cooler, were his head to unscrew.

Angry Hyena

Angry Hyena - Ferocious Taxidermy - Explorers Club - Atlas Obscura

Ferocious taxidermy is the best taxidermy, and the best part about this taxidermy is the way that it looks like he’s just kinda stuck in the wall for a minute. As soon as his front legs break through the wood panelling, he’s coming for you.

Big cat taxidermy/throw rugs

Big Cat Taxidermy - Lion Throw Rug - Sarah Brumble - Atlas Obscura

These kinds of mounts are hard to see, considering the plight of big cats everywhere, but it’s important to recognize that they come from another era. It is amazing to be able to get so close to the face and claws of a lion or tiger and really get a sense of their beauty, and an appreciation of those mighty teeth. Also: ferocious.

Explorers Club Trophy Room - International Taxidermy - Atlas Obscura Blog

As for the trophy room itself, from here out, this is where we’d like to have our meetings. In fact, we might just move in.

More good stuff:

A big thank you to Annie Lee and Matt Williams at the Explorers Club for making our visit possible!