Chasing Barnum

By: Melissa Stagnaro

Chasing Barnum

OXFORD – It was not the fossilized remains of giant lizards that drew a paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History to Oxford earlier this month, but a mission of another kind.

Lowell Dingus came to Oxford chasing the legend of Barnum Brown. The storied life and career of the somewhat infamous Brown are the subject of a book being co-authored by Dingus and fellow paleontologist Mark A. Norell.

Dingus and Norell refer to Brown as “fossil hunter, philanderer, oilman, spy” in an article for DISCOVER magazine titled “The Bone Collector.” Brown’s exploits read like an adventure novel with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones.

The fossil hunter, who is buried in Oxford’s Riverside Cemetery, made what is arguably the most important dinosaur discovery of all time when he unearthed the first Tyrannosaurus Rex remains in 1902. In the nearly 66 years he was affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History, he amassed what Dingus and Norell describe as “the world’s greatest cache of ancient bones.”

But Brown did not limit his activities to paleontology. His work for oil and mining companies funded many of Brown’s fossil-hunting excursions. One of these companies, Sinclair Oil, still uses the likeness of one of Brown’s discoveries, the Diplodocus, as its logo.

Brown also dabbled in espionage, using his knowledge of foreign locales and oil prospecting for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Bureau of Economic Warfare during World War II.

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Barnum Brown was tied to the Oxford community through the family of his first wife, Marion Brown. It is this connection that brought Dingus and a group of self-proclaimed “groupies” to the area to meet with members of the Oxford Historical Society and Village Historian Charlotte Stafford.

Through phone calls and emails with Stafford, Dingus was able to gather information he was lacking on the Brown family’s history in Oxford. Not only did the historian have a file of documents, but Stafford also recalled meeting Charles Brown, Marion’s father, when she was a child.


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