Peale’s Water-Witch

Charles Willson Peale was America’s first museum man, and his interests were as wide-ranging as the collections on exhibit in his Philadelphia museum. Birds, though, occupied the highest position among his interests and affections, and as a young man, he spent as much time as possible in woods and fields and marshes, a gun on his shoulder and hope in his heart.

Charles Coleman Sellers reports that Peale’s

very first bird taken in this way, a grebe or ‘water witch’, was an experience never to be forgotten. Out on the water, the bird would dive at the flash of his gun, seeming to elude the shot. Peale outwitted it at last by running nearer to the shore each time it dived and standing still when it came up, thus getting within easy range and ‘pulling the Trigger before the water had run out of its Eyes’.

The mounted bird is probably just out sight in the long cabinet revealed by Peale’s lifting the curtain.