Steinhauer bird collection lands in museum

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By The Staff

Back in the mid-1960s, I was a member of the Junior Girls Auxiliary of the American Legion. Our monthly meetings were held on Saturday afternoons in the American Legion building on Seventh Street.

The room used for the auxiliary meetings was the one now used for the museum of the Legion, to the left of the main entrance.

Across the hall was another large room that held glass cases of birds. I remember the cases being positioned along the west wall and extending a short distance on the north wall.

I had always wondered what happened to this collection of birds of all species and different mountings.

Two weeks ago, my wondering ceased when I received a letter from Gil Rowland of Missouri. Included with his letter were two newspaper clippings.

One was Edward F. Steinhauers obituary, and the second told that the collection, begun by Steinhauer in 1888, had been obtained by the Illinois State Museum.

Edward was justifiably proud of his collection that he kept in the "den" of his home. When he set out to collect one of every species of Illinois bird, he thought he would end up with about 85 different species.

What he hadnt counted on was that Illinois lay smack dab in the middle of a major migratory route, and his collection soon grew to 283 specimens by 1904, and to 315 by 1929 (more than the Illinois Sportmens Association had at the time).

Edward Steinhauer was born in Vandalia on May 10, 1863, in the house in which he lived his entire life. He was the son of Michael and Christina Budfert Steinhauer, and with his mother and brothers operated the wagon works on Sixth Street.

Edward told a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that his mother was running a wagon shop and employed a blacksmith, who was also a taxidermist on the side. I would watch him at his hobby, and it was from him that I learned how to stuff and mount a bird, Steinhauer said.

Our photo of Edward Steinhauers birds comes from the 1904 "Historical Souvenir of Vandalia." The book also goes on to say that the collection contains 18 different kinds of ducks, 15 kinds of hawks, many specimens of snipe, plover and galindales, of which the collection is complete; and small, tiny wood warblers, delicate in color and light of plumage, having all the colors of the rainbow.

Then there are the many toningers, cardinals, orioles, grossbeaks, etc. A few of this collection are now almost extinct, as are the paraquet that visited cherry trees here 50 years ago, which cannot now be found this side of the Eastern Southern States.

Along with his interest in taxidermy, he soon became an expert on the birds that inhabited Fayette County.

Because of the recognition he received in the 1929 Globe-Democrat news article, it became known that among Edwards collection were a rare brown pelican, male passenger pigeon, Eskimo curlew and purple gallinule, all extinct.

Zoologist T.E. Musselman of Quincy visited in the Steinhauer home, and his report led to the collection being acquired by the Illinois State Museum some years later.

When our children were small, we took them to the Illinois State Museum, and I know we saw the Steinhauer birds on display. I just didnt know they were the same ones I had seen at the American Legion when I was a teenager.