How we reported on the Smithsonian’s brains assortment, Maura’s historical past Lalrp


It’s tough to report on occasions that passed off greater than 100 years in the past. Information are generally incomplete or battle with newspaper accounts from the time. And there’s no one left alive to inform us what actually occurred.

That’s what we needed to grapple with as we got down to present how one of many foremost anthropologists on the time — Ales Hrdlicka, of the Smithsonian’s U.S. Nationwide Museum — obtained stays for his “racial mind assortment” from 4 Filipinos who had died in St. Louis whereas on the 1904 World’s Truthful.

We got here upon the story in 2022, when a Missouri artist named Janna Añonuevo Langholz concluded {that a} cerebellum within the assortment in all probability belonged to Maura, an 18-year previous girl from Suyoc, a group 200 miles north of Manila.

Her analysis impressed us to launch a year-long investigation into Hrdlicka’s mind assortment and the tens of 1000’s of different human stays nonetheless held by the Smithsonian. Most of the brains he collected had been from Black and Indigenous folks, and different folks of coloration. We needed to inform the tales of the Filipinos who got here to the World’s Truthful to be placed on show in a human exhibit — and people who grew to become a part of a museum’s mind assortment after they died.

Our reporting took us to archives in additional than a dozen cities, together with Manila, Washington, and St. Louis. We reviewed 1000’s of data, together with Smithsonian inventories, dying certificates, private {and professional} correspondence, newspaper articles, educational research and historic pictures.

Members of the Suyoc group in entrance of a stilt home within the Philippine Exposition on the 1904 World’s Truthful. (Jessie Tarbox Beals/Louisiana Buy Exhibition/Schlesinger Library/Harvard Radcliffe Institute)
An illustration based on the photograph shows a White man in a suit speaking to a group of Filipinos in front of a stilt house.
(Illustration by Ren Galeno for The Washington Put up)

As a result of the Smithsonian paperwork don’t embrace Maura’s title, we can not definitively say that the cerebellum that Hrdlicka took was hers. However we discovered a number of items of proof strongly indicating that to be the case, together with different paperwork about Maura and her journey from the Philippines to the World’s Truthful.

To assist inform the story, we turned to Ren Galeno, an artist from Davao Metropolis within the Philippines, to create an illustrated narrative. This allowed us to share our reporting whereas being clear with readers concerning the questions we couldn’t reply. We had been in a position to visually reconstruct for our readers moments that weren’t closely documented, together with the lives of the Filipinos earlier than they got here to St. Louis and the journey Hrdlicka took to town to gather brains for the Smithsonian.

This format additionally allowed us to query the assumptions and prejudices in historic accounts. In her illustrations, Galeno turns the gaze of historic pictures again onto the photographer, imagining the crowds past the body. Her illustrations assist us see the story by way of the eyes of Filipinos like Maura, reasonably than the fairgoers or anthropologists who noticed the Filipinos as “savages” or “specimens.”

An old photo shows a White American man lighting the cigar of a Filipino woman as a young boy looks on.
A White man lights a cigar for a Filipino girl whereas a younger boy watches on the World’s Truthful. (Uncommon Ebook and Particular Collections, Library of Congress)
An illustration based on that photograph shows the same scene from behind: The White American man lights the woman’s pipe as a crowd of people, including the photographer, looks on.
(Illustration by Ren Galeno for The Washington Put up)

Each panel is an artist’s approximation of historical past, however every relies on painstaking analysis. We used archival images from the period and interviews with consultants to re-create how locations and other people more than likely appeared. Since we have now no {photograph} of Maura, we relied on a newspaper description of her hair and tattoos and images of different girls from Suyoc near her age to render her picture.

A young Filipino woman poses for a portrait. She is wearing a traditional striped dress, beads, and a headband in her long hair.
Tugmina, a Suyoc girl from the Philippines, in a conventional costume and jewellery on the World’s Truthful. She was one of many family of Antonio S. Buangan, a retired geologist who printed analysis on the Suyoc group on the World’s Truthful in 2004. (Jessie Tarbox Beals/Louisiana Buy Exhibition/Schlesinger Library/Harvard Radcliffe Institute)
A series of illustrations in square frames shows aspects of Maura’s appearance: Her eye and the top of her head with a headband. Her arms and hands, tattooed with geometric patterns. Her bare feet on the earth.
(Illustration by Ren Galeno for The Washington Put up)
A portrait of a Filipino woman, also in a traditional dress and beads. Her arms and hands are tattooed with geometric shapes.
Demeyna, one other Suyoc girl, reveals tattoos on her arms on the World’s Truthful. (Jessie Tarbox Beals/Louisiana Buy Exhibition/Schlesinger Library/Harvard Radcliffe Institute)

To research Langholz’s assertion that the cerebellum belonged to Maura, we began with the Smithsonian’s “accession card,” a doc created for each merchandise added to a museum assortment. The cardboard famous that Hrdlicka had carried out an post-mortem on a “Suyac Igorrote” in July 1904, referring to the Indigenous Filipinos who lived in Suyoc. We additionally discovered a letter within the Smithsonian Establishment Archives during which Hrdlicka described taking the brains of two Igorot folks in autopsies in St. Louis that summer season.

An accession card from the U.S. National Museum bears the date: 1904. It is signed by Dr. A. Hrdlicka. Other details are also filled out by hand in looping script or typed out: Date: July 27, 1904. Accession number 43042. Catalog number 224752. One cerebellum of a Suyac Igorrote, autopsy at St. Louis, Missouri, July 18th, 1904 by Dr. Hrdlicka. Collected for the museum. Physical anthropology. Other initials are signed below.
The Smithsonian information an “accession card” with each merchandise inside its collections. This one accompanied the cerebellum that’s in all probability Maura’s. (Smithsonian Establishment Archives)

Based mostly on the accession card, we tried to determine the Igorot folks from Suyoc who died on the honest. We discovered no official record of the deceased. As a result of newspaper studies on particular person deaths had been typically inaccurate or incomplete, we started compiling a listing of all Filipinos who died in St. Louis in 1904.

Utilizing microfilm from the Missouri State Archives that has been posted on family tree websites, we regarded by way of tons of of dying certificates and the St. Louis dying registry. We in contrast our record with official honest paperwork and correspondence, in addition to analysis by Antonio S. Buangan, whose family had been exhibited on the honest. In 2004, Buangan published his decade-long research of the Suyoc group that traveled to St. Louis within the journal Philippine Research.

To determine people, Buangan reviewed the passenger record on the ship that introduced the Filipinos to the USA, an official record of awards granted to members on the honest and an oral historical past of the honest compiled by his aunt, Pacita Betuagan Awisan. The Suyoc group was small and close-knit, made up of some 25 people, a lot of them associated. The Put up’s analysis revealed that Maura was the one recognized individual from Suyoc to die on the honest, and Buangan agreed.

One other document, nonetheless, raises questions concerning the id of the individual whose cerebellum was eliminated.

Pure Historical past Museum officers informed Langholz, the Missouri artist, a few document that famous the cerebellum got here from a male. Our analysis discovered no males from Suyoc who died on the honest. The identical document additionally indicated the physique had been embalmed for 4 months. That timeframe corresponds with about how lengthy Maura’s embalmed physique had been left in a funeral residence in St. Louis after she died in April, in keeping with a number of newspaper articles on the time.

Museum officers denied The Put up’s request to view the document, however informed The Put up that the format differed from paperwork for the opposite three brains from the honest. Officers mentioned the handwriting signifies it could have been written later.