Bugging out at the May Natural History Museum

The giant Hercules beetle at the entrance to the May Natural History Museum, off of Colorado 115 outside of Colorado Springs, has a name: Herkimer. (((one-time use for Joshua Berman's Around Colorado column for July 5, 2015.)))

Beautiful butterflies and enormous beetles are part of the insect display at the May Natural History Museum near Colorado Springs

By Joshua Berman
The Denver Post
COLORADO SPRINGS — The giant Hercules beetle that sits above Colorado 115, just southwest of Colorado Springs, has a name.

“Herkimer,” says Diana Fruh, one of the family operators of the May Natural History Museum. Her grandfather built Herkimer in 1950 to advertise his family’s inherited collection of insect and arachnid specimens. She leads me to the exhibit entrance.

They used to haul the enormous beetle statue around the country, strapped to the roof of their truck with the horn hanging over the windshield, going from fair to fair and town to town.

“This vast collection was started by James Frederick William May in South Africa in the year 1903,” declares a plaque as we enter the main display room.

“My great grandfather spent his life collecting insects,” Fruh tells me as we walk slowly past the glass displays, “and trading with other collectors from around the world.”

Most of the creatures are pinned behind glass along a spiral path through a low-lit building. There are iridescent rainbows of butterfly and grasshopper wings, fist-sized beetles and enormous walking stick insects. Many of the specimens are 100 years old but perfectly intact.

My daughters, 5 and 7, walk, run and holler through the exhibit, excited by taxidermied spiders bigger than their heads and also by the museum’s single live specimen: Wanda the female Black Widow, creeping upside-down across her small glass cage, above a pile of insect parts and wings.

May was English, Fruh explains, from Canada, but grew up in Brazil and started a traveling show in the 1920s to show off his collection and earn a living. The family bought this 1,000-acre piece of land in 1942 to serve as a more permanent base for their operations.

In 1960, they opened an adjacent campground, which has access to hiking trails and fishing ponds.

Today, ol’ Herkimer is retired to the roadside, an iconic area landmark pointing visitors toward the mountain — and museum, where 8,000 of May’s 100,000 specimens are currently on display, just up Rock Creek Canyon Road. You can visit them from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. between May 1 and October 1 (or by appointment during the winter).

“We all grew up working in the business,” says Fruh matter-of-factly as she points out a teenage boy at the cash register/museum entrance. “He’s fifth generation.”

My own kids have already spun past me and are playing outside, feet wet in the shallow stream, looking for bugs.

Joshua Berman is the author of five books about travel. Find him online at JoshuaBerman.net and twitter.com/tranquilotravel.

If you go

May Natural History Museum: 710 Rock Creek Canyon Road, Colorado Springs, 719-576-0450, www.coloradospringsbugmuseum.com. $6 adults, $4 children, free for kids under 6.

Camping: The other part of the May family business is the Golden Eagle Campground, located just behind the museum. There are several hundred sites for RVs and campers, and 50 tent sites, with moderate shade and privacy. 719-576-0450 or campingincoloradosprings.com

***

This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on July 3, 2015.

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