Ghost Deer by Maureen Seaberg

Of War and White Deer

Maureen Seaberg
5 min readJan 31, 2020

By MAUREEN SEABERG

In the summer of 2018, I had the privilege of documenting a rare white fawn living in New York City for National Geographic.

Tiny Dancer by Maureen Seaberg

This is the surprising story behind that story.

For weeks I packed my camera each dawn and dusk and headed to Fort Wadworth on Staten Island’s northeast shore. The 226-acre site, run by the National Park Service, is the starting point of the New York City Marathon each November, and according to Marvel Comics, the location of G.I. Joe’s secret underground lair, “The Pit.”

In a sloping meadow fragrant with clover, I would watch her play with her brother and mama doe and the other members of her herd. I felt transported to an enchanted kingdom where gentler creatures rule the day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKnAL_pg8Mk.

While there, I noticed the National Park Service arrowhead and white buffalo symbol. It occurred to me the little fawn might have significance beyond her unique genetics.

And research bore that intuition out. Many native tribes — from the Chickasaw to the Lenape to the Seneca, Roanoke, Algonquin, Nanticoke, and Pocomoke prize such rare births and legends have grown up around them.

Saint Eustace and the White Stag, Wiki Commons

But it didn’t end there. Other cultures revere the ghostly and gorgeous animals. King Arthur seeks a white stag which eludes him and leads to his quest; Harry Potter’s patronus is a silvery-white buck; the children of Narnia are led home by one; Saints Eustace and Hubert each had mystical experiences with them. In fact, around the world, places from Japan to Hungary and beyond adore them.

More than this, I learned that the tiny doe was born on sacred land.

In 1913, President Howard Taft and thirty-two chiefs from around the nation broke ground with a stone ax found near the fort for what would have been the largest memorial to First Nations people on the continent. Funded by the Wanamaker department store family…

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Maureen Seaberg

Coauthor of Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel (HMH). Published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Psychology Today.