Throughout history, The Explorers Club has managed to hold membership to some of the greatest “firsts” in the fields of exploration. In 1909, members Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson were the first to reach the north pole. In 1911, member Roald Amundsen made it to the south pole. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. In 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard became the first to reach the deepest point of the ocean. In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins made history by being the first to reach the surface of the moon. In 1984, Barry Clifford officially became the first to recover an authenticated pirate ship, the Whydah Gally.
But, does The Explorers Club hold another “famous first”? Were they the first modern humans to eat woolly mammoth in 1951?
Arguably the most interesting and historically ominous dinner party took place in 1951. The menu was rumored to have exotic delicacies, including Pacific spider crabs and bison steaks. But the most interesting part of the menu? Slices of woolly mammoth — perhaps 250,000 years old — that had been “defrosted from Alaskan glacial ice.”
“The grand ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel won’t serve food like that again this year,” a report the Christian Science Monitor claimed on January 17, 1951. It was true, to some extent. The Roosevelt Hotel has never served food like that again, for obvious reasons! In fact, it probably hasn’t served food like that ever since.
However, for the past 60+ years, the menu has been questioned. People have doubted whether guests could have realistically served and eaten an extinct species. Many attendees disagreed with the menu, claiming that the meat in the main entree was from an extinct giant ground sloth. Mammoth rolled off the tongue better, apparently. But science wouldn’t put history to rest. Instead of going along with the rumors and having this be another one of those “strange but possibly true” weird histories, DNA analysis has solved this mystery.
The verdict? Everyone was wrong.
The Explorers Club apparently wanted to keep a small sample of the meat as a souvenir of that night. This sample allowed researchers from Yale to disprove the mammoth tall tale. What did they actually eat? Green sea turtle.
A joke gone too wrong? False advertising on the menu? Or maybe the members of The Explorers Club went a little too far with imagining what on earth they could possibly do? Regardless, it all boils down to something very simple: turtles, however cool they might be, are not prehistoric woolly mammoths.