28 April 2007

Beebe the party animal

At one end of my evolution Roosevelt called me friend—millions of years earlier any passing worm might have hailed me as brother.

William Beebe

beebe book I recently finished reading the enjoyable biography of the naturalist, explorer, writer William Beebe (1877-1962) by Carol Grant Gould (The Remarkable Life of William Beebe, Shearwater Books, 2004). Here are some highlights from Beebe's life.

•Beebe was a college drop-out. In 1899 he left the Columbia University in New York before getting his B.S. degree to become the curator of birds at the then newly founded Bronx Zoo. In 1928 he received an honorary Ph.D. degree from Tufts University.

•Beebe was interested in all animals, particularly birds, insects, crabs, fishes and mammals. He even collected a slug or two when the opportunity arose.

•Beebe had a whole load of friends and many of whom were famous and influential, including Theodore Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling and Prince George of England.

•He was married twice and had affairs with at least 2 of his younger female assistants. When he died in Trinidad in 1962, his long-time companion Jocelyn Crane was at his bedside, while his wife, the author Elswyth Thane, was at her house in Vermont. Beebe didn't have children.

•Beebe was not religious, but attended church services occasionally.

•Regardless of where Beebe and his team of dedicated naturalists happened to be, when the evening came, they would usually have a party, drink rum, sing songs and discuss evolution. Some of these events were quite elaborate yet silly costume parties, while others were formal affairs attended by British dignitaries and the like.

beebe party
Costume party at Nonsuch, Bermuda. Beebe is 3rd from the right. Picture from The Remarkable Life of William Beebe.

•I got the impression from this book that Beebe had a lifelong yearning for an ideal, almost utopic, home and laboratory somewhere in the Tropics. He established and then left several for one reason or another, Kalacoon and Kartabo in British Guiana, Rancho Grande in Venezuela and Nonsuch in Bermuda. His last field station was Simla in Trinidad where he also had a house. Simla is now called The William Beebe Tropical Research Station.

•Beebe died at Simla and was buried in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad.

Beebe&Barton
Will Beebe and Otis Barton in front of the bathysphere in which they descended to 3028 feet (923 m) in 1934. Picture from here.

1 comment:

Nuthatch said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well. I love reading biographies of early workers in natural history. Will our own lives seem as quaint, or daring, or _____ to future historians? (I'm assuming we will be so accomplished as to have books written about us, of course!)