- Plan a Visit
- Programs & Events
- Join and Support
- Collections & Research
- Contact Us
A Butterfly Case from early 20th Century Utah
Posted March 23, 2021
Closeup of butterflies collected in Utah and Juab Counties circa 1909. ©NHMU
By Rachel Quist
The origin of this butterfly (Lepidoptera) case was a mystery, until now!
Christy Bills, the entomology collections manager at NHMU, sent me some photos of a butterfuly collection in a beautiful case. Very little was known about it. Christy asked if I might be able to fill in some of the missing details, especially the connection between J.G. McDonald (the Salt Lake City chocolate maker) and this case.
closeup of information from when it was presented to the U of U saying: "Presented to the University of Utah April 26, 1910 by J.G. McDonald"
This case dates to 1909 when Thomas U. Spalding (1866-1929), an early Utah collector of Lepidoptera, displayed it at the Utah State Fair with butterflies collected in Provo and Eureka, Utah. This case was widely praised for being the finest and most extensive collection of western butterflies thus far exhibited.
It made such an impact that James G. McDonald, the president of the Utah State Fair Association and president of the J G McDonald Chocolate Company (now Broadway Lofts at 159 W 300 South), purchased the case from Spalding and gifted it to the University of Utah Stewart Training School in 1910.
The Stewart School accepted McDonald’s gift and used it for many years to teach a more direct interaction with nature. In fact, the Stewart School expanded its collection to include several cases of songbirds and exhibited them at future State Fairs.
Years later, in the early 1940s, Clyde Gillette (1927-2015) was a student at the Stewart School. He had an early love of butterflies and even co-authored academic papers as a teenager with Professor Angus M. Woodbury. Reportedly, Gillette retrieved the Spalding Butterfly Case from a trash can at the Stewart School and held on to it.
Later, in 1976, Gillette co-founded the Utah Lepidopterists’ Society and the case then became theirs. They then loaned it to the Natural History Museum of Utah for display and later formally gifted it to the museum.
This case is now more than 110 years old and, as is so often the case, little decisions here and there from various people have led to its preservation for the rest of us. It hangs in a hallway at the Natural History Museum of Utah on the fourth floor and can be seen by the public when the Museum has its annual Behind the Scenes event—in non-pandemic times.
Sources: Eureka Reporter 1927-07-18, Des News 1910-05-21; Daily Utah Chronicle 1911-10-09; Gillette obit 2015; and the butterfly collection and case itself.
Rachel Quist is an archaeologist who likes to explore Salt Lake's eclectic past. Follow her on Instagram at @rachels_slc_history. The Natural History Museum of Utah is part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.
Curator Eric Rickart standing next to the case to show how large it is. Hanging on the wall about two feet off the ground, the top is taller than Eric.