ITHACA, NY – What do you do with the skeleton of a 26-foot long reticulated python from the Philippines?
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For the McJunkin family that originally owned it, reassembling the skeleton of “Ralph,” as the snake was known, was part of a holiday tradition. Multiple generations of McJunkin children had seen the skeleton displayed across the parlor floor, according to the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates which now houses the skeleton.
The skeleton was recently highlighted in Atlas Obscura, a website which curates to the world’s interesting and curious locations. (Aside from Ralph, Ithaca has four other locations that make the list).
The museum details how the skeleton found it’s way to the United States: Norman McJunkin, an army officer stationed in the Philippines in 1915, ran across the snake on a hunting trip. The smoke from their campfire reportedly agitated the snake, who caused such a commotion that it frightened the whole group. Norman fired at the noise and it went silent, but no one dared investigate what it was in the darkness.
Apparently, even in the dark, it’s hard to miss a 26-foot long Python and they found the snake dead in the morning. When Norman returned to the US, what was left of the snake returned with him. According to the museum article, it spent 40 years in Norman’s homes, where it became part of the family.
Between vertebrae and soft tissue that had been lost, Ralph lost about 6 ft. of her — the McJunkin’s didn’t realize Ralph was female when they named her — total length.
In 2003, Norman’s son Reed, a Cornell alum, donated the snake to Cornell. He told Cornell Alumni magazine “I thought it was time that we took Ralph out of the basement and gave him a new home.”
According to Atlas Obscura, Ralph was the longest snake skeleton in any museum until a 40-foot skeleton of a prehistoric snake dubbed “Titanoboa” was found in 2009. Still, pretty impressive for a creature that didn’t come from an era when everything was huge.
Ralph’s bones are now found in a display case in front of the Museum of Vertebrates teaching lab. It can be seen by request, or as part of a tour of the museum.
(Photo: Cornell Alumni Magazine)