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Samurai Mystery Box To Be Opened Saturday At Peabody Museum

Davis Dunavin

There’s a mysterious box on display at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut.

The box sat in Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum for 12 years. In all that time, it was never opened. It’s about the size of a milk crate, and it's wrapped in leather. Adrienne St. Pierre, curator of the Barnum Museum,  said there’s a clue on the box’s leather cover that tells her it’s probably at least 200 years old, and is from Japan’s Samurai era.

“There’s an emblem on it. It’s a broad circle surrounding a diamond shape divided into quadrants," she said. "That’s the family crest of the Matsumae clan. They were one of the Samurai clans.”

St. Pierre said no one knows how the box got from Japan to the U.S. The Barnum Museum got it from Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, but there’s no record of where it was before that. St. Pierre said it’s not unusual for artifacts like this to go mostly unnoticed for a long time.

“There are things that lie dormant for often decades, and it may be that an exhibition topic comes up, and something that’s been quietly resting in storage becomes a treasure," she said. "Things are rediscovered that way. It’s the nature of museum work.”

When the Barnum museum found the box, St. Pierre said she decided to loan it to the Peabody Museum because they opened a samurai exhibit earlier this year (WSHU is a sponsor of the Peabody Museum’s samurai exhibit and the museum is an underwriter with WSHU). On Saturday, restoration experts will open the box. St. Pierre says she hopes whatever’s inside will tell historians something interesting about day-to-day life in feudal Japan.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.