Record Unit 9516, Perrygo, Watson M. interviewee, Watson M. Perrygo Interviews, 1978
Watson Mondell Perrygo (1906-1984) was a naturalist who worked for the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1925-1965 as a taxidermist, field collector, and exhibits specialist. He was born in Washington, D.C., on 18 October 1906 and grew up in Prince Georges County, Maryland. In his youth, he developed an interest in natural history, spending much of his time at the USNM. While in high school, he began going on ornithological field trips with USNM Director, Alexander Wetmore; thus began a professional friendship which lasted throughout their careers.
Perrygo's entire career was spent at the USNM as a scientific aide and then taxidermist. His extensive field work included systematic surveys of the southeast United States and of Panama. He was first employed part-time by the USNM in 1925 to prepare specimens for the Philadelphia sesquicentennial. In 1927 he became a permanent employee, working part-time in the Taxidermy Studio. In 1928-1929 he was sent on his first field trip to Haiti, with Arthur J. Poole. The following year, he returned to Haiti as the Smithsonian Representative on the Parish-Smithsonian Expedition. During the 1930s he conducted a systematic program of field collecting in the southeast United States, traveling to West Virginia in 1936; Tennessee in 1937; Kentucky in 1938; North Carolina in 1939; and South Carolina in 1940. On his North Carolina trip he met a schoolteacher, Velva Howard, whom he married.
Perrygo accompanied A. Remington Kellogg to Rampart Cave, Arizona, in 1942 to excavate remains of extinct sloth. From 1946 to 1953, Perrygo and Wetmore collected in a different section of Panama each year in preparation for Wetmore's multi-volume The Birds of Panama. In 1946 they traveled through Darien; in 1947 up the Jaque River in Darien; in 1948 through Herrera province; in 1949 through the Province of Panama; in 1950 to Chiman and up the Maje River; in 1951 to Cerro Campana; in 1952 up the Rio Indio; and in 1953 through Sona.
As a taxidermist, Perrygo worked on many of the famous zoological specimens in the National Museum, such as "Martha," the last passenger pigeon, and the Fenykovi elephant. During the USNM Exhibits Modernization Program of the 1950s, Perrygo was very active in renovating the zoological exhibit halls. In 1960 he was placed in charge of the Taxidermy Studio until his retirement in 1965.
Perrygo restored a Charles County, Maryland, colonial estate in the fifties consisting "Ellerslie," the main house, adjacent barn (c. 1667) and outbuildings. After retirement, he served on the Board of Maryland Historic Trust and as President of the Charles County Historical Society. Perrygo directed the restoration of numerous structures, such as the Friendship House, Mudd House, and Cat-Slide House, reflecting his long-standing interests in history and historic preservation. He also was Director of Exhibits for the Botanical Garden Museum in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, from 1977 to the 1980s.