Grossman Museum

Matthew A. Grossman Museum

every rock has a story

The Earth and Planetary Sciences department is fortunate to have on the first floor of Scott Rudolph Hall the glass-enclosed Grossman Mineral Museum. Curated by G. Robert Osburn, the museum contains both permanent displays and loans from local St. Louis mineral dealers who would like others to enjoy their personal collections. When you enter the museum, you will be surrounded by some of the most exquisite examples of nature’s artistry – all possible colors, some so intense they seem unreal, and shapes that range from massive and bold to so delicate they must be protected. One of the permanent displays is a captivating suite of minerals from around of the world, a gift from Scott Rudolph, who is internationally renowned for his personal mineral collection and also is the benefactor whose name our building bears.

Among the other displays within the museum are large samples of crystals clustered according to their chemistry, such as the sulfide minerals from which we obtain so many of our metals and the halides, such as the mineral fluorite, from which we get the fluoride in our toothpaste. For the minimalist, there is a collection of “thumbnail” (-sized) mineral samples representing minerals of all different chemical types. There currently are special displays on meteorites and on “Radiation – Before We Knew Better.”

From the hallway outside the museum one can see into a ceiling-high glass case containing large fossils, including remnants of tree trunks and the complete head of a mastodon. A long glass case along the other external side of the museum displays and identifies some of the common rocks that occur locally, as along our highways. Because Missouri is the lead-mining capital of the United States, there is also an extensive display of samples collected by our students and staff and those given to us by geologists at the Doe Run company whose underground mines we have toured over the years.

If you turn completely around after looking at the minerals from the mines, you will see a small, dark hallway behind you. This short hall leads you into the Fluorescent Mineral display, otherwise known as “the glowing rocks.”

Stories from the Museum

Sea urchins

The spineless sea urchins on the second floor of Rudolph Hall were discovered during the excavation for the Famous-Barr department store in downtown St. Louis. They date from the Mississippian subperiod when most of the mid-continental United States was a salty inland sea and St. Louis was under water.

Amethyst filled geode

Several interesting geological specimens, including a large geode, sat for years on the flared bottom step of the staircase in Wilson Hall, geology’s former home, gathering dust. When the geode was moved over to Rudolph, Osburn took a hose to it and discovered it was lined with amethyst.

Crocodile fossil

Mounted on the walls of Rudolph Hall are many spectacular fossils of creatures long extinct, some of which come from famous German lagerstätten, or fossil beds, where animals were preserved in exquisite detail.

The biggest fossil in the building is the 12-foot crocodile on the first floor. It was collected some time in the 1800s by Gustav Hambach, a German immigrant who became head of the geology department in 1887. He remained department head until he was forced to retire in 1906, after he was run down by a fire engine in downtown St. Louis the day after Christmas in 1905. He lived for another 20 years.

Rocks that glow are the most popular specimens in the building

Some of the specimens in the display belong to Jill D. Pasteris, PhD, professor of earth & planetary sciences, who was allowed as a graduate student to enter one of two New Jersey mines famous for fluorescent rocks and bring out as many as she could carry.

Many of the museum specimens are gifts from people who just like rocks

For example, while the building was going up, the construction superintendent Eric Nichols said to Osburn, “I’ve got a fossil I’ve had ever since I was a kid. I wonder if you’d look at it and tell me what it is.”

It turned out Nichols had a beautiful fossil. “I was just speechless because people don’t just walk in with things of that quality,” Osburn says.

Harold “Doc” Levin, PhD, emeritus professor of paleontology, identified the fossil as two species of crinoids.