Grace Wiley: Snake Lady
When Minneapolis opened its first downtown library in 1889, it housed the Athenaeum, Society of Fine Arts and the Academy of Science on the 4th floor of the building at 10th and Hennepin.
Grace Wiley was a member of the Minnesota Academy of Science and also curator of its collection of animals. She started working with reptiles in 1922 and after the Academy disbanded in 1928, the museum continued on, under the library’s control. In 1928 Wiley was bitten by one of her animals and spent several days in the Minneapolis General Hospital.
Wiley and the reptiles moved to the Chicago Zoological Park in Brookfield, Illinois in 1933. Wiley lost her job in Chicago when she left the cobra cage open after cleaning it and moved to Long Beach, CA.
In Long Beach, Grace amassed a large collection of reptiles, doing serious work on the study of the reptiles and also loaning out 15 foot long King Cobras to movie studios. In 1948, while showing her snakes to a photographer from True Magazine, Wiley attempted to get a new cobra to spread its hood in attack position for a photograph. The cobra finally obliged and then struck Wiley on the finger. Ninety minutes later she was dead.