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Contents tagged with chicago history

  • Behind the Scenes: The Chicago Academy of Sciences Collection

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    Tags: chicago history, chicago academy of sciences, museum day, museum collections

    Created: 5/18/2016      Updated: 5/18/2016

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    Ever wish you could get an insider's look at our Collections facility? In honor of International Museum Day, we're giving you that chance! Check out the facility, and a few of the hundreds of thousands of specimens it holds, in this video! Featuring Dawn Roberts, Director of Collections, and Erica Krimmel, Assistant Collections Manager.

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  • The Office That Started It All: A Closer Look at Dr. Edmund Andrews

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    Tags: founder's week, chicago history, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 1/22/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Last week we celebrated our 158th birthday, this week we’re recognizing one of the founder who made it all possible. Dr. Edmund Andrews died on this day in 1904. Andrews was born in Vermont and expressed interest in botany and geology from an early age. Although he soon turned his professional focus to medicine, this love remained with him. He studied medicine at the University of Michigan, and became demonstrator of anatomy and professor of comparative anatomy. He became a published author and had his essays featured in medical journals. It was this work that then brought him to settle in Chicago.

    Edmund Andrews in office

    Although he was a practicing surgeon, during his off-hours he returned to his love of nature. It was in his offices that the original members of what was to later become the Chicago Academy of Sciences began to meet. When the Academy was formalized in 1857, Andrews was named Curator of the Academy. By the time Robert Kennicott took over the position in 1863, Andrews had co-founded the Chicago Medical College, and had been appointed Surgeon in Chief of Camp Douglas. Although his medical work kept him occupied professionally, he still remained involved with the Academy. His interest in geology and glacial history led him to publish some of his findings in the Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and he served as the President of the Board of Trustees for a number of terms and through some of its toughest years.

    Edmund Andrews in profile

    While we recognized and remember Dr. Edmund Andrews for his work with the Academy, he truly made a name for himself as a pioneering surgeon. To learn more about his contributions to the world of medicine, check out the links below.

    Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
    Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago by J. Carbuff

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  • The Osage Orange

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    Tags: osage orange, hedges, midwest history, chicago history, regional history, bow, osage nation, plants, horticulture

    Created: 5/23/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    The first question I ask of any plant is “Can I eat it?". But there are plenty of other fascinating stories waiting to be told. Take for instance the unruly-looking and inedible* Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera).  Its closest regional relative is the mulberry (Morus sp.) but most of the Moraceae family is more tropical—figs and jackfruits, for example. Its softball-sized fruits are hard, dense, only vaguely resemble oranges, and aren’t related to them at all. It takes its common name from the Osage Nation, a tribe which used the tree for tools, clubs, and most importantly, bows. There are records of a well-made Osage-orange bow being worth a horse and blanket as an even trade, meaning the people controlling the supply of the trees could make quite a tidy living as, effectively, arms traders. There seem to have been multiple wars fought over the land where the trees grew, and the Osage Nation was known to send parties hundreds of miles to harvest from their favorite stands. Even the Blackfoot tribe in now Montana used bows of this wood, nearly 2000 miles from where it grew.

    At the time of European colonization, the range of the Osage-orange was confined to river bottoms in a relatively small area of what became Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Why this is so is a subject of some speculation. Generally when a tree produces such a large fruit it is because some large critter loves to eat that fruit, and the seeds get dispersed when the odd few make it through the digestive tract unharmed and germinate. But nothing really seems to like the Osage-orange fruit. Squirrels will tear them apart to get to the seeds, but they grind the seeds to pulp and destroy them in the process. One theory is that animals now extinct on the continent were the primary distributor of the fruit, perhaps mastodons, early horse-like animals, or some sort of (I’m not kidding) giant sloth. With their decline, possibly due to overhunting, came the diminishing range of the tree, and it is possible it could have gone extinct without Native Americans propagating it for their uses.

    • Osage Tree
    • Osage Seed Ball

    Lewis and Clark sent some cuttings to President Jefferson as part of their first shipment of samples. They got them from a guy who said they came from an Osage Indian village, and the common name was a done deal--though they called them Osage-apples at first. European settlers had little to no use for longbows, but high on their wish list was fencing or hedges to ‘civilize’ the prairies. (It had been common practice in much of Europe to mark field boundaries with hedges, which can provide harvestable yields, contain livestock, reduce wind, and provide habitat for wildlife.) Osage-orange was found incredibly suitable to this task, because if densely planted it provided a fence “horse high, bull strong, and pig tight,” in the words of one early promoter. This is why many people from rural backgrounds, myself included, first learn this tree as the “Hedge-apple.”  (As an aside, other plants brought from overseas to serve this purpose include buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), both of which have become destructive invasive species.)

    • Osage Hedge Trimmed
    • Osage Fencepost

    Eventually the hedge fell out of fashion because of a fabulous new invention: barbed wire.  Farmers decided they’d rather have dead fences than living ones, since time spent pruning is time not plowing.  They were pleased I’m sure to learn that Osage-orange is one of the most fungal- and rot-resistant woods in the world, and immune to termites, giving farmers another incentive to keep the trees around for their value as fencepost material (above right). And after the Dustbowl, millions of the trees were planted in a 100-mile wide strip from North Dakota to Texas as part of FDR’s Great Plains Shelterbelt program, eventually run by the WPA. This program is to date the largest US government program aimed at tackling an environmental problem. Eventually the trees became established or reestablished in all of the lower 48 states.

    You can still see remnant Osage-orange windbreaks marking field edges in the Chicagoland region and beyond. Some people recognize the altogether silly fruits, and occasionally remember hearing that people put them around the house to repel spiders back in The Before Time. Some folks still heat their homes with wood, and may know that it provides the highest BTU value of any wood in North America. But few people are aware of the role this one plant species has played in the history of this country, the many nations that came before it, and perhaps the continent before humans ever arrived. 

    Not a bad story for being inedible.

    Andrew Wunschel
    Assistant Horticulturist

    *There are reports you could go through a lot of effort to get the seeds out and eat them, with no ill effects, but to me “edible” means “worth eating.”

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