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Totem Pole

Restoration of Totem Pole

From 1904-1958, the Totem Pole stood at Burden Lake near Albany, New York. Originally, the Totem Pole was a gift to Matt Larkin, the “father of the jukebox”, to be erected on his lush Burden Lake estate. Upon its arrival from the Northwest coast to Albany, a wood-carving friend of Larkin altered the Pole to incorporate the likeness of several of his friends and added a skeleton with top hat and trumpet at top. Once the estate was enlarged to 65 cottages, dining room and theatre, (seating nearly one thousand guests), by the Katz family, it became well-known as the Totem Lodge Country Club. At this time, it was said that some of the greatest Broadway stars performed at the Lodge on the weekends. After falling upon bad times, the Totem Lodge was sold to David Schoenholt, who opened it as a boys’ camp and later, a ‘one-day’ country club. In 1958, a violent storm caused the Totem Pole to fall. It remained at the Lodge until the Schoenholt family donated the Totem Pole to the Museum in 1978.

There is some disagreement about who originally manufactured the Totem Pole. Dr. Margulis, who worked most closely with the Totem Pole in research and conservation, believes that it may have been carved by the Haida Indians on the Charlotte Islands off Alaska before it was transported to Albany, New York in 1904. Others have suggested the Totem Pole was not carved by a Native American, but mimics native design elements. Regardless, this Totem Pole is an striking example of early 20th century North American material cultural history.

infillDr. Frank J. Dinan, Professor of Chemistry at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, developed a special combination of urethane monomers to infill the Totem Pole. The reaction of the urethanes formed a special foam to fill decay and deterioration from weather and insect damage. The polymer provided strength and rigidity to allow structural support in its rebuilding.



The Totem Pole originally arrived to the Museum in segments. Five of the six segments were conserved and refitted as two columns in 1987. The efforts of Dr. Jonah D. Margulis, former Buffalo Public Schools psychologist and administrator, and Mr. Sumner Nunley, former Buffalo Public Schools chemistry teacher and acting head of science for the schools before his retirement, were instrumental in the Totem Pole’s restoration. Most of the work and the materials used on the Totem Pole were provided by a volunteer team.