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Taking a look at the Brockhouse collection controversy through the eyes of social media, with some help from Rick Knobe

Kevin Woster

There’s plenty to say about social media that isn’t good.

Elon Musk, for example.

Or Truth Social.

Or the extended dissertations by people who think Hugo Chavez and Jimmy Hoffa conspired with Hillary Clinton and a band of extraterrestrials to shoot laser beams from outer space, causing the forest fires in Canada and showering the United States with inhalable Klingon spores.

Or something like that.

But there’s plenty of good stuff on social media, too. Take my experience the other night, which began with mainstream media.

I watched an evening-news report on KELO TV about the fuss over what to do with the Brockhouse collection of stuffed animals in the Delbridge Museum of Natural History at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.

As you might already know, most of the 170 so stuffers of exotic animals shot half a century or more ago in faraway land by hardware-store owner Henry Brockhouse are tainted with arsenic, to one degree or another. That kind of problem isn’t unique to the Brockhouse herd. Inadvertent arsenic contamination to many animal mounts was caused by the process and chemicals used in taxidermy before 1980.

The discovery of the arsenic and the likely complications and costs in remediation led to the closure of the exhibit and the debate in Sioux Falls over what should be done next and who should do it. The KELO report got my attention and a comment by Mayor Paul TenHaken got my support: “It’s not a priority.”

If it’s to be preserved, it shouldn't come out of the taxpayers pockets

Actually, he said “there’s a million things” he’d rather be working on, and the Brockhouse collection is “not a priority” in his “framework and vision for Sioux Falls.”

The report and especially the mayor’s comment inspired me to post a Facebook update agreeing with the mayor and also asking, a couple of times: “A giraffe? Why would anyone want to shoot a giraffe.”

I wrote some other stuff, too, like that the city and city taxpayers should not have to pay to make the Brockhouse mounts safe and presentable to the public (and safe for the staff). And also that the entire display was outdated and maybe past its useful life, for ethical as well as material reasons.

And that if it is to be preserved, it should be preserved at the expense of an entity other than Sioux Falls city government, and moved to a location off city property that the other entity would choose and secure.

Then I posted the update, went out to the kitchen, cracked an ice-cold Heineken 0.0 and nibbled on some roasted fava beans (they’re great; just ask Anthony Hopkins). Ten or 15 minutes later, I went back into the den to check my On the Other Hand with Kevin Woster Facebook page for comments.

There were 20 or 30 “likes” on the update and seven or eight comments, including one from the mayor of Sioux Falls — um, I mean the mayor of Sioux Falls a few years ago, as in 40 or 50.

Rick Knobe was early in his radio career in the early 1970s and already busy hosting a popular talk show in Sioux Falls when listeners started encouraging him to run for mayor. He ran and won. And ran and won. And, well, he stuck around in office for a decade before going back into the radio game, where he spent the rest of his career.

Knobe shows up on my social-media pages form time to time, usually with thoughtful comments and historical perspectives. This time was no exception.

Back when the Brockhouse-Delbridge deal came together

“I was mayor when the original deal was put together,” he wrote, referring to the deal in which Sioux Falls lawyer and philanthropist Carelton Delbridge bought the Brockhouse collection from the estate of Henry Brockhouse and donated it to the city.

“Directly involved with Delbridge. Long time ago so don’t remember details,” Knobe wrote. “I think the elephant and another unique mount were at the taxidermy company in Denver.”

The elephant mount was so big it was shipped to Sioux Falls in pieces and reassembled, according to a KELO-TV historical report.

“There was huge public interest and support to keep the collection here,” Knobe continued. “There were many not wanting the ‘dead’ animals with the ‘live’ ones.

After Delbridge donated the collection, the city then built the Delbridge Museum of Natural History to house it, adjoining the zoo.

According to the South Dakota Hall of Fame, to which Delbridge was inducted in 1991, he then helped the city obtain a stuffed panda from China in 1985 to add to the collection. And in 1988 he helped bring live penguins to the zoo.

Delbridge died in October of 1995. He was 95.

But back to my Facebook update. Knobe wasn’t the only one with opinions to share.

Nancy Sutterer said: “I saw them many years ago on a visit to Sioux Falls ... 1973 or so... they were in a hardware store, I believe??!”

Yes, they were at Brockhouse’s West Sioux Hardware in Sioux Falls until after he died in 1978. That’s when Delbridge stepped in.

Exhibit has probably served its time

Vicky Foster wrote: “I, at first, reacted on an emotional level based on my memories of the collection from childhood. We went often to the West Sioux Hardware store to view (if we were good and finished chores). However, I have to admit that as an adult, I did find that the display, once moved to zoo location, bothered me …

I don’t know what the answers are to this current situation, but I do see the reasoning of: Perhaps the collection has passed its prime and attraction.”

Claire Lohnes wrote: “Times change. It was interesting to see in long past times, but now, looking at hunted animals doesn't have the same appeal. The risk from arsenic and whatever else is wise to remove. All in all, we know better now on many levels and this exhibit has served its time.”

Such a good point: “We know better now on many levels.”

I don’t object to big-game hunting at all, as long as it’s part of species management. And if people want to hunt trophies and do it within the law and wise management principles, I’m fine with that, too.

But times have changed since Brockhouse bagged all those big-game animals in the mid-1900s. Perceptions and sensitivities have changed. And that’s all beyond the arsenic issue.

“You are correct, times have changed,” Knobe wrote. “Attitudes about trophy hunting are very different than 40 years ago. Brockhouse was a man of his times. Delbridge, his lawyer, was the same.”

That’s a good point. They were men of their times. And I don’t mean to disparage either Brockhouse or Delbridge, or the family members who understandably feel strongly that the collection be preserved.

It’s an impressive collection, and has been presented in an informative, educational panel at the museum. You can see a video of it embedded in this Sioux Falls Business story:

So what’s next? Knobe believes the city should proceed with care and consideration.

“I’m no expert on arsenic and what it does to humans. Not an expert on the latest state of the art and science of preserving mounts. I do know putting them behind glass is not cheap,” he wrote. “And since arsenic is involved and there is some question on endangered species alive and mounted, facts not emotions need to drive the discussion.”

Imagine, a discussion being driven by facts, not emotions. It can happen, even on social media.

As long as Hugo Chavez, Jimmy Hoffa, Hillary Clinton and the Klingons don’t get involved.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.