Attendees had looked forward to sampling a small helping of mammoth.
The event’s menu, which would go on to become something of an urban legend, was said to have included such delicacies as Pacific spider crabs, bison steaks and even the meat from an extinct animal that was thought to be either woolly mammoth or a species of giant ground sloth.
The prehistoric meat was allegedly taken from a place called ‘Woolly Cove’ on Akutan Island and shipped to New York in advance of the meal. Commander Wendell Phillips Dodge, who had been promoting the banquet, sent out press notices to let people know that it would be there.
“The grand ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel won’t serve food like that again this year,” wrote Herbert B. Nichols in the Christian Science Monitor on January 17, 1951. In fact, it probably hasn’t served food like that ever since.
The occasion for the noteworthy fare was the Explorers Club 47th Annual Dinner, and the menu went something like this: Pacific spider crabs, with legs large enough to feed 10 people apiece; green turtle soup; bison steaks; cheese straws (which seem out of place but not unappreciated); and a morsel of 250,000-year-old woolly mammoth meat.
Many of those who did sample the meat at the dinner that day probably believed that they really were chewing on the remains of a prehistoric species, but now, more than 60 years on, a small piece, which had been sent to Explorers Club member Paul Griswold Howes after he had been unable to attend, has been rigorously analyzed using modern techniques to determine just what animal it belonged to.
Unsurprisingly the meat wasn’t that of a mammoth – it was in fact the meat of a sea turtle.
“I’m sure people wanted to believe it,” said study co-author Jessica Glass of Yale University.
“They had no idea that many years later a PhD student would come along and figure this out with DNA sequencing techniques.”