Leon Pray

Back in an article I wrote on May 29 I was telling of some interesting things I had run across in my reading of some old Dowagiac Daily News papers. One little item had mentioned Leon Pray, who was a well-known taxidermist at the Field Museum in Chicago. I can remember Wally Luthringer telling us boys how famous a man Leon was, as Wally must have been a friend of his when they were younger.

After my mention of Leon Pray, I got a call from one of my 1948 classmates, Shirley Suits Phillips, who told me she had a sculpture of a frog that Mr. Pray had made in 1948 and given to her husband Roger's father years ago.

Shirley brought the frog sculpture for me to look at, which I wrote about on June 12 in one of my articles.

On Aug. 3 I had a nice visit from Roberta Woodruff and Marie Buchanan.Marie is the granddaughter of Leon and Roberta told me Leon was a great uncle to her.

The girls brought me several things of Leon's work and told me Leon was born in Dowagiac in 1882 and lived at 405 E. Prairie Ronde St.

After a trip to the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 with his folks, Leon was fascinated by the collection of the mounted animals there on exhibit, which planted the seed to become a taxidermist himself.

He paid a local taxidermist $1.50 to mount a redwing blackbird, which was the start of his collection.

Leon was lucky as a visiting Methodist preacher who was also a taxidermist gave Leon some lessons on how to stuff birds.

Leon's father, Leon J. Pray, made a tiny work shop for Leon in a corner of a barn loft where Leon practiced his new trade of being a taxidermist.

At one time he told his mother he was going to work in the Field Museum someday after reading about it in the paper.

He was only 12 years old at the time.

In 1901, his dream came true after he had shown Carl Akeley the famous taxidermist of the museum a sheaf of his drawings and his other projects.

Leon started his career at the museum and worked there for 45 years.


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