On September first, 1914, one hundred years ago this week, the very last passenger pigeon, named Martha Washington, died of old age at the Cincinnati Zoo. It’s hard to imagine that once there were billions of passenger pigeon in the U.S. An account from 1860 described a flock that took 14 hours to fly overhead.
It’s testimony to humankind’s great powers of destruction that within 50 years of this event, only a single captive pair remained, named after the US’s first president and lady George and Martha Washington. George perished in July 1910 at Cincinnati Zoo. Martha survived for four more years, sufficient time for her to garner celebrity as the sole-surviving member of her species. When she eventually died on 1 September 1914 “at 1 P.M. of old age”, she was frozen in a huge block of ice and sent by train to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.