Using His Cranium
Grover Krantz's Last Wish Was to Remain With His Friends.
And He Has
By Peter Carlson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; Page C01
In a dim hallway in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, anthropologist David Hunt opens a dingy green cabinet and pulls out a drawer full of human bones.
"This," he says, "is Grover Krantz."
The bones are arranged carefully, lovingly. In the front right corner is Krantz's skull, propped on his lower jaw. Next to that are the long bones of his legs and arms. Plastic bags hold the smaller bones of his ribs, hands and feet. They're gray and they smell a little musty.
Behind the skull is an old film canister. Hunt picks it up.
"Grover kept a lot of stuff," he says. "These are his baby teeth."
Dennis Stanford, the Smithsonian's curator of archaeology, walks by. He peeks into the drawer and notices a large heel bone.
"Look at that!" he says. "Grover was pretty big, wasn't he? I forgot how big he was."
Stanford sees JoAllyn Archambault, the director of the museum's American Indian program, coming down the hall. "This is Grover," Stanford says.
"Oh, hi, Grover!" Archambault says. She smiles broadly. "I've known Grover since I was 18 years old."
The folks at the Museum of Natural History are used to skeletons. They work with thousands of them -- dinosaur skeletons, mammal skeletons, human skeletons. But only one skeleton in the collection came from a human being who was a friend of many Smithsonian scientists. They studied with Grover Krantz, drank with him, laughed with him.
Krantz was a legend in anthropology circles -- and semi-famous in the wider world, too, as the eccentric professor who drove around the Pacific Northwest with a spotlight and a rifle, searching for Sasquatch.
Krantz didn't work at the museum, but his late brother, Victor, was a photographer there and Grover would periodically stop by to visit. Inevitably, fun would break out.
And then Grover got pancreatic cancer. Not long before he died in 2002, at age 70, he called Hunt and offered to donate his skeleton to the museum. That was unusual but not unprecedented: Anthropologists love skeletons and the museum is happy to get them, particularly if they come with medical records.
"He said, 'I've been a teacher all my life and I think I might as well be a teacher after I'm dead, so why don't I just give you my body,' " Hunt recalls. "I said, 'That's a really admirable thing to do, Grover.'
"And he said, 'Yeah, yeah, but there's one catch: You have to keep my dogs with me.' " Hunt laughs as he tells the story. "I said, 'Well, how many dogs are we talking about, Grover?' And he said, 'Just three -- maybe four.' "
Now, standing in the hallway, Hunt pulls out the drawer that sits above the drawer that holds Krantz's bones, thus revealing the bones of Clyde, Krantz's gigantic Irish wolfhound. The next shelf up holds the bones of two more wolfhounds, Icky and Yahoo.
"Grover wanted to be with his dogs because he loved them," says Laurie Burgess, another Smithsonian anthropologist.
In the drawer with Clyde's bones is one of the dozen books that Krantz authored. Titled "Only a Dog," it's a funny, moving memoir of Clyde that Krantz wrote eight years after the dog died in 1973.
The anthropologist and one of his Irish wolfhounds, whose bones are also preserved. (Family Photo)
"I said to him, 'That's a neat idea but it's probably not something we could do,' " Hunt recalls.
Sitting between the book and the bones is a pewter bowl. "Is that a dog bowl?" Burgess asks.
"Yes," Hunt says. "It's a trophy from a dog show."
"See?" Burgess replies. "It's about love."
She's right. The tale of the anthropologist in the drawer is, among other things, a love story about a man and his dog.
A Man's Best Friend
"Grover was outrageous," Archambault says. "He was a legend in Berkeley in the '60s -- for parties, for wild ideas, for outrageous behavior, for real smart conversations."
She's sitting at a long table in the museum's physical anthropology lab, just a few steps from Krantz's bones, swapping stories about him with other scientists.
She met Krantz in the early 1960s, when she was a Berkeley freshman and they both worked in the university's anthropology museum. Krantz was in his early thirties. Born in Utah in 1931, he grew up collecting animal skeletons, and as a lowly undergrad he published a scholarly paper on the subtle differences between the bones of dogs and coyotes. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Berkeley but dropped out of the doctoral program after some kind of beef with a professor.
"He was always in trouble with his professors, because he was so smart and he challenged them," Archambault recalls. "As a grad student, you have to be politic, and that wasn't one of Grover's skills."
He was a big guy, 6 feet 3 with a huge head and hands, and everybody knew him. He was famous for his parties.
"They'd be 24- or 36-hour parties," she says. "And he had all these women around." Krantz had plenty of fun, but those were tough years. "My life at that time consisted of a part-time job and nearly full-time drinking," he wrote in his book on Clyde. "It was steadily downhill for me."
At 32, he'd already been married and divorced twice. Dropping out of the doctoral program had stalled his dream of becoming a professor, and he was working as a part-time museum technician. He was stuck in a rut and he needed something to shake him out of it.
And then he bought a puppy.
Irish wolfhounds are huge, friendly, gentle giants. Sort of like Grover himself. He named the puppy Clyde.
"Clyde was really a very sweet dog," Archambault says. "Kind of laid back and kind of goofy."
Clyde kept growing, and Krantz, being a scientist, kept meticulous records of his growth. Ultimately Clyde reached 160 pounds and, on his hind legs, stood more than seven feet high.
"Grover loved that dog," Archambault says. "Every place he went, he took Clyde. And Clyde would kind of bump into things because he was so big."
Clyde slept on an old sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of Krantz's bed. One night, Krantz came home drunk and flopped down on the sleeping bag with Clyde.
"In the morning, I woke on the floor alone and discovered him sleeping up on my bed," he wrote. "A fair trade in his mind, I suppose."
Working at the Berkeley museum, Krantz broke his big toe in a particularly memorable manner: He dropped the Dead Sea Scrolls on it. During his recuperation, a friendly woman named Eve Einstein took him and Clyde in. Soon she became his third wife.
In the mid-'60s, Grover and Eve and Clyde moved to the University of Minnesota, where Krantz finally got his PhD. In 1968 he began teaching at Washington State University.
He'd pulled his life together, and he gave the credit to Clyde, "the closest thing to a son I ever had." His love for Clyde had made the difference, he wrote, "between being a functioning human being and a drunken bum."
At Wazoo -- as everybody calls Washington State -- Grover and Clyde bounded around the campus, just as they'd done at Berkeley and Minnesota.
But wolfhounds tend to lead short lives, and Clyde got old. He shrank and shriveled. He suffered through recurrent bouts of pneumonia. In January 1973, he died.
"His death left me with the most empty, lonely feeling of my life, before or since," Krantz wrote.
With the help of a grad student, Krantz buried Clyde in the frozen ground of his lawn. He'd already buried many animals there, ranging from prosaic roadkill to an African lion. Anthropologists study skeletons, and the cheapest way to get them is to bury dead animals and then dig them up after they've decayed, which takes a year or so. But this was different. This time he was burying a friend.
"It really was as if he'd lost a child," recalls University of Idaho anthropology professor Don Tyler, who was then one of Krantz's students.
Krantz plummeted into a deep depression. Within six months his marriage collapsed.
One afternoon a couple of years later, Krantz decided to dig Clyde up so he could add the dog's skeleton to his collection. But when he spotted Clyde's skull in the dirt, he stopped.
He retreated into the house and fortified his courage with a whole lot of wine. Then he went back outside and kept digging and drinking until he'd finished the job.
Clyde's skeleton was a magnificent specimen -- the biggest dog skeleton Krantz had ever seen, and he'd seen lots. As he cleaned it, he pondered the bittersweetness of love.
"Maybe we shouldn't get so attached to other beings, whether they be people, dogs or whatever," he wrote. "By projecting so much of ourselves into them, we only make ourselves vulnerable to the hurt of losing them. But then, if we didn't, we wouldn't really be human, would we?"
Searching for Sasquatch
Krantz got other Irish wolfhounds: Icky, then Yahoo, then Ralf. He loved them all, but none quite as much as Clyde.
He spent three decades at Wazoo, teaching anthropology, human evolution and forensics while running the university's anthropology lab. It included a huge collection of skeletons, many of which he'd processed in the makeshift graveyard on his lawn.
His tests were notoriously difficult, but his classes filled up anyway because he was so much fun. And he didn't restrict his teaching to the classroom.
"He liked to go down to the student union building and have his lunch and sit with the graduate students and sort of hold court, talking about whatever subject came up," recalls Tyler. "He knew a lot about a lot of things -- World War II history, military history in general, current events."
He did archaeological field work in China and Indonesia. He wrote learned books titled "The Process of Human Evolution" and "Climatic Races and Descent Groups." But when he became famous, it was for his hobby -- chasing Sasquatch.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, Krantz heard lots of stories about the apelike "Bigfoot" creatures rumored to reside in remote forests. Curious, he chased down the rumors, interviewing alleged witnesses, analyzing photos, making plaster casts of footprints supposedly left by Bigfoot.
Slowly he came to believe that Sasquatch might exist, and he said so in several books. Naturally, that attracted a lot of publicity, which did not help his academic career.
"He was slow to advance to full professor, because they thought he was embarrassing the university with the Sasquatch thing," says Tyler. "Grover was extremely stubborn. He could have played it better politically. But that wasn't him. If he believed he was right, he did what he wanted."
In 1981 a Colorado woman named Diane Horton read a story on Krantz's search for Sasquatch in a Denver newspaper. A water quality inspector with a master's degree in biology, she wrote him a letter asking intelligent questions. He wrote back. They began a correspondence, then met at a scientific conference. About a year later, they married.
"He was just delightfully refreshing," she recalls. "I was 37 and he was 49 and we were both divorced, and it was nice to meet somebody who had a brain and sense of humor."
When he married Diane, Grover told Tyler: "This is it. This is gonna be the last one."
He was right. His fourth marriage lasted, although it wasn't easy living with him and his Irish wolfhounds and his skeletons. Diane tolerated his eccentricities, but she drew the line when he wanted to search for Sasquatch in his homemade ultralight flying machine.
In 1998 he retired, and they moved to Washington's Olympic Peninsula. And then he got cancer. As his big, strong body melted away, he pondered a question only an anthropologist would ask: What should I do with my bones?
He wanted somebody to use his bones the way he used bones -- as teaching tools.
He called Dave Hunt at the Smithsonian. Hunt agreed to accept Krantz's skeleton and to keep it with the bones of Clyde, Icky and Yahoo.
Grover died on Valentine's Day 2002. At his request, there was no funeral. Instead, his body was shipped to the University of Tennessee's "body farm," where scientists study human decay rates -- valuable information for detectives and coroners investigating murders.
In 2003, his skeleton arrived at the Smithsonian and Hunt laid it in its final resting place -- in that pale green cabinet, just below the drawer that holds Clyde.
"Some of his students have gone there to see his skeleton," Diane says. "It was a type of closure for them."
She hasn't made any visits yet. "I'm not ready for it," she says.
It's All in the Bones
Dave Hunt picks up Grover's left thighbone and points to the top, where the bone is pitted.
"You can see the arthritic activity here," he says.
He picks up a plastic bag filled with rib bones and points out how the ends have worn into a forked shape. "You get these crab claw ends," he says. "Those are normal changes due to old age."
Not long ago, he used Grover's bones to give the same lesson to a group of detectives in a forensics class, showing them how to determine the age of the skeletons they come across in their line of work.
He also used Grover's skeleton when teaching a class in advanced osteology to George Washington University students. He spread the bones out on a work table and gave the students three sets of X-rays, one of them Grover's. Their assignment: Figure out which X-rays went with the skeleton.
"Grover wanted to continue being a teacher," Hunt says. "And he is."
Hunt believes in the power of bones as educational tools. In fact, he has already arranged to donate his skeleton to the museum's collection. Several other Smithsonian scientists, including Burgess and Stanford, are also considering donating their bones.
Diane Horton, Grover's widow, may do that, too. "I probably will, but I haven't done the paperwork," she says. "I'm either going to get cremated or I'll join him there."
Then, remembering the dogs, she corrects herself. "Join them ."
She likes the idea that somebody could learn something from her bones. But there's another reason, too.
"Dave Hunt says that if I went there," she says, "Grover and I could be the first couple."
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