A taxidermy collection filled his apartment on Central Park West—until he headed south.
By Emily Gold Boutilier
[Housemates] Gregory Speck ’75 does not own a gun, or even a fishing pole. Yet this non-hunter spent decades living among stuffed, mounted creatures.
Two hundred of them filled his apartment in the Beresford building on Central Park West. He kept the other 200 in his home in Harrisonburg, Va. When he decided to move full-time to Virginia, he knew he’d have too little space for the entire collection, and he didn’t want to break up his animal kingdom.
He needed to find a new home for the deer, cari- bou, fish, beavers, ducks, black bear, bobcats, foxes and lynxes, not to mention the mute swan with an 8-foot wingspan, which he’d found as roadkill on Route 81 in Virginia; the buffalo he says was shot
by Gloria Vanderbilt’s husband while on safari with Ernest Hemingway; and the bison he found in a su- permarket freezer. And, not least, there was Max the Wolf, an alpha male shot by a rancher in Wyoming.
A lifelong animal lover, Speck—a celebrity journal- ist who’s held, among many other titles, that of press agent for Studio 54—views the collection as an educa- tional zoology display.
He’d once dreamed of creating “a Noah’s Ark of live animals.” Knowing that goal was unrealistic, he decided, “At least I can preserve the animals in this artistic way.” He came to think of the creatures as his friends. Speck acquired them from auctions, hunters and taxidermists, and in some cases from the side of the road.
He started the endeavor in the 1980s. While driving up the Hudson River to write an article for the maga- zine 212, of which he was editor, he and two friends saw an enormous, dead raccoon.
Speck wanted to put it in the car. His friends in- sisted otherwise. Speck hid the animal behind a hedge and called Jon Davis ’75, who lived nearby. Speck asked Davis to pick up the raccoon and freeze it.
Instead, Davis found a taxidermist, who mounted the racoon and gave it to Speck. Ten years later Speck was again driving up the Hudson. He noticed a taxi- dermy shop while stopping for gas in Cold Spring Harbor. Inside, a man was working on six animals, including a rare Indian jungle bull.
“I rented a van, went to get these six big hits and put them in the ballroom,” Speck says.
By 1996, “I had a ready-made museum”—one that cost him about $150,000 to collect and that he esti- mates to be worth more than $1 million today.
Late last year he donated all of it to the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Well, not quite all: For the time being, he could not bear to part with a cou- gar, now in his Harrisonburg living room, and Max the Wolf, now atop the grand piano.