Dakota Datebook

Whale Exhibit

Monday, September 17, 2012


On this date in 1932, a whale traveled through North Dakota.


More to the point, a very large, embalmed whale – being toted across the country by train. And it made a few stops in the state. It was said to be the world’s largest embalmed whale—not a claim many would contest—and it was called “Colossus.” The whale was around 58 feet long and weighed over 72 tons. It took approximately 3200 gallons of a special embalming fluid to preserve the whale.  He could be viewed on the Northern Pacific tracks in a specially constructed, glass-sided steel car made just for him.


Colossus was captured in December of 1931, 60 miles off the coast of Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean. He was harpooned by men of the Pacific Whaling Co. and battled with them for eight hours.


The embalmed whale traveled with a crew of men, including Captain David Barnett, who was later advertised as “one of the most famous whaling masters now living, having spent 56 of his 72 years on whaling vessels, and what he doesn’t know about whales, just isn’t worth knowing.” Barnett would go to schools and give presentations, often lecturing in biology classes.


The Minot Daily News quoted him as saying that whales seemed to have “no reasoning power … no sense of smell and very poor eyesight. Only its hearing is keen.”


Not only was the whale and his crew there; he was accompanied by a 13-foot octopus, some starfish, “blubber,” a harpoon gun and whale bone, among other “unusual features.”


This exhibit stopped for two days in Bismarck near the Northern Pacific Depot, and in Minot for three days on the Great Northern right-of-way near the International Harvester building.


The whale would travel the United States for several years following, changing crew hands and locations. Newspapers heralded his appearances, and one even reported: “Colossus is travelling on his transcontinental tour in a style that would flatter a movie star.”


It was a whale of an exhibit. Though one must wonder about the smell…


Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker





The Bismarck Tribune, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1932

The Minot Daily News, Friday Evening, September 23, 1932

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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