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  • Spooky Science: Dress like the Chicago Academy of Sciences founders this Halloween!

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    Tags: founders, kennicott, gloyd, elizabeth emerson atwater, william stimpson, halloween

    Created: 10/22/2015      Updated: 10/24/2017

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    Halloween is just a week away, but if you still don’t have a costume ready to go, don’t worry. We have some scientifically-focused suggestions that date back to the early days of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, many of which you can recreate just by visiting a costume store, thrift store, or your own closet!

    Robert Kennicott

    Robert Kennicott

    If you’re the outdoors type, rugged Academy founder Robert Kennicott is your man. To recreate his look, grab:

    • A heavy, long wool coat
    • A western style or oxford shirt
    • A neck scarf or bandana
    • Dark pants
    • A woven sash and garters
    • Moccasins or other soft shoes
    • Unkempt hair and facial hair

    Finish the look by toting around an animal pelt or, perhaps, a plush owl (bonus points if it is a Western screech owl, one of Kennicott’s scientific namesakes). Learn more about Robert Kennicott's work and legacy here.

    William Stimpson

    William Stimpson

    Feeling a bit more refined? Academy founder and director William Stimpson is your man! Embrace the refined naturalist look by putting together the following ensemble:

    • A frock coat or formal coat
    • A collared shirt
    • A floppy bow tie or cravat
    • A formal vest
    • A pair of old-fashioned spectacles
    • Dark trousers
    • A mustache

    Finish the look by grabbing an aquatic invertebrate friend or two, perhaps a mollusk or crustacean, since Stimpson devoted much of his life to cataloging and researching aquatic invertebrates. Learn more about this work here.

    Elizabeth Emerson Atwater

    Elizabeth Emerson Atwater

    An important woman in the history of the Academy, and the history of botany, Elizabeth Emerson Atwater is the ideal subject for those who love plants and Victorian fashion. To create her look, assemble the following:

    • Long-sleeve, Victorian style dress
    • Shawl
    • Victorian hairstyle – a low, parted bun is probably the easiest to attempt

    Be sure to bring along a scrapbook of some plant clippings or pressings to complete the look! Did you know that Atwater embraced botany because it was one of the scientific activities that a "proper" lady could participate in? Learn more about her legacy here.

    Howard K. Gloyd

    Howard Gloyd


    Love all things reptile and amphibian? Then herpetologist and Academy director Howard K. Gloyd is the perfect costume for you! And the look is not very difficult to put together! Simply grab:

    • A Panama hat
    • A safari or cargo vest
    • A white oxford shirt
    • Tall hiking boots
    • Khakis
    • A bow tie
    • A mustache

    Gloyd spent his life researching herps of all kinds, so having a rubber snake or two in tow will help complete the look! Learn more about the species that are named after Gloyd here.



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  • The Work of William Stimpson

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    Tags: william stimpson, Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders

    Created: 2/10/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Although February 14 is recognized as Valentine’s Day, it’s a special day to the Nature Museum for another reason. It’s also the birthday of William Stimpson, a major force in the creation and establishment of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    William Stimpson

    Born on February 14, 1832 in Boston, Stimpson seems to have been born with a love of nature. By the age of 14, he’d begun independently exploring geology and invertebrates. Despite this love of the natural world, Stimpson found himself pushed toward engineering by his father who believed there was no money to be had in the scientific field. While Stimpson begrudgingly obeyed his wishes for a couple of years, by 1850 he was studying under the prodigious biologist/geologist Louis Agassiz at Cambridge. Two years later, he was appointed naturalist of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition. He was only 20 years old. He remained with the Expedition for four years, collecting 5,300 specimens and making special notes and drawings of over 3,000 specimens. You can read his report on the crustacea collected during the expedition here.

    Nautilus drawn by William Stimpson
    William Stimpson, Nautilus Drawing, US Pacific Expedition, Aug 14, 1853
     

    Upon his return, he began studying at the Smithsonian, later becoming the head of the invertebrates department. It was here where he met Robert Kennicott, the naturalist who’d begun to make a name for himself by cataloging the fauna of his home state of Illinois. In 1865, Stimpson was widely recognized as the leading American authority on aquatic invertebrates. It was at this time that his old pal Robert Kennicott called on him to join the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Kennicott was about to leave on expedition to Alaska and appointed Stimpson to take his place as Curator of the Academy, as well as Academy Secretary. Stimpson not only brought a new energy to this role, he also brought much of the collection he built during the course of his own personal research, as well as what he collected while with the Smithsonian. When Kennicott died while on expedition, Stimpson was elected to take his place as Director of the Academy. Through Stimpson’s leadership, the Academy’s collection grew to be the fourth largest in the country, with only the Smithsonian’s collection as its rival in importance. Sadly, it was lost during the Great Chicago Fire – a loss that Stimpson never fully recovered from.

    Stimpson died of tuberculosis just nine months after the Great Fire. Although he had been working to rebuild the collection, he was in poor health, and the loss of his life’s work weighed on him heavily. Despite the incredible loss, Stimpson never regretted his decision to join the Academy. In a letter to his secretary he said:

    But had I lost twice as much, I shall never regret coming to Chicago, for I have found there noble and generous friends, not only to myself, but friends to science and such as no other city in America can boast; and of more value to me than worldly possessions will be the memory of the friendly experiences I have had with yourself and the other trustees and the friends of the Academy, while we together built up a monument which, though now leveled with the dust, will long live in scientific history.

    William Stimpson

    Sources:

    Josiah Seymour Currey, Chicago: Its History and Its Builders…: 157
    Alfred Goldsborough Mayer, “Biographical Memoir of William Stimpson”, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences: 419-433
    Special Publication – Chicago Academy of Sciences, Volumes 1 & 2
    “William Stimpson”, Spencer Baird and Icthyology at the Smithsonian


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  • Who is Matthew Laflin?

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders, matthew laflin, laflin building

    Created: 11/24/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Before the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building was built, the Chicago Academy of Sciences made its home in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    211 years ago, on December 16, 1803,  Matthew Laflin was born. Though he was born on the East Coast, he will always be recognized as a Chicago pioneer. His father was in the gunpowder business and Laflin followed in his footsteps. In fact, it was gunpowder that first brought him to Chicago. When construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal began in 1837, Laflin came west, eager to supply the Canal’s construction company with gunpowder. It was his first visit to the young city, but he recognized the potential it had. In the following two years, he established a western presence for the Saugerties Powder Works and took charge of all its western sales, establishing plants in and around the Chicago area.

    After selling his stock and severing ties with the gunpowder industry, Laflin turned his attention to real estate. He began purchasing land in and around the city. With the $900 he made by selling his gunpowder stock, he purchased nine acres of land, later selling it for $4,000. While he purchased land for hundreds of dollars, and sold it for thousands, he lived to see it worth millions.

    In addition to being a real estate tycoon, he helped establish the city’s first stockyards, aided in founding the Chicago Board of Trade, held a controlling interest in the city water works, and helped refinance the Elgin Watch Company.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    While he was a pioneering influence in the city as a whole, we remember him for the generosity he showed the Chicago Academy of Sciences at a time when it was in need of some major financial help. In October of 1871, the Academy was dealt a crushing blow when its building and holdings were decimated in the Great Fire. The Academy worked to regroup, finally moving into the lakefront Interstate Exposition Building in 1885 (this building was later destroyed to make way for the Art Institute of Chicago). While this gave the Academy a public face, it was only a temporary solution, so the Academy’s Board of Trustees turned its attention to rebuilding.

    In October of 1892, Laflin gave the Academy the help it was looking for. Through his son George, Laflin offered to give the Academy $75,000 towards the construction of a new museum, on the condition that an agreement could be reached for the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land and $25,000 to be used for completion. An agreement was made, and the new building’s keystone was laid in October of 1893. Upon its opening on October 31, 1894, the building was dedicated to Laflin.

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building

    Although the Academy’s collections are no longer housed in the Laflin Memorial Building, the building remains an important part of our legacy, and symbolizes an important turning point in our history.

    For more information, check out the Magazine of Western History, Volume 14.

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  • Cataloging the Zoology of Illinois with Robert Kennicott

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    Tags: founders, Chicago Academy of Sciences, robert kennicott, kennicott

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    One hundred seventy-nine years ago today, one of the most important figures in the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum was born -- Robert Kennicott. His work lives on through the Nature Museum, but did you know that even before the birth of the Academy, his work helped naturalists and biologists better understand the zoology of Illinois as a whole?  

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott


    Robert was born to Dr. John and Mary Kennicott in New Orleans on November 13, 1835. The family moved to Illinois while Robert was still an infant, and settled in an area that would later become Glenview. Dr. Kennicott dubbed their home "The Grove," landscaping the property with walks, shrubbery and flowers. His father's love of horticulture and the outdoors undoubtedly had a profound impact on Robert. So much so that in the winter of 1852, Robert traveled to Cleveland to study under Dr. J.P. Kirtland, a naturalist and co-founder of what would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 


    Label for a specimen collected by Robert Kennicott
    Specimen collected by Robert Kennicott in 1855 in Union Co., Illinois

    In 1853, Robert returned home and began building and categorizing his collections, including fishes and reptiles native to northern Illinois. In the summer of 1855, at the age of 19, the opportunity arose to catalog the wildlife of Illinois on an even larger scale. The Illinois Central Railroad had just completed a track that ran from Chicago south to Cairo. In order to help publicize the wealth of the plant and animal life that ran along this new route, Illinois Central approached the State Agricultural Society in hopes of creating a preliminary survey of the state's natural resources. Participants in the study would be able to collect along the route, disembarking and embarking on any train they wanted. The Agricultural Society would just have to train the would-be researchers in the ways of natural history collecting. Robert's father, John, was the Society's secretary and recommended Robert for the job.

    He left for Southern Illinois on May 30, 1855 and worked on the project, hopping from train to train, for three months. Robert had hoped to make a compete catalog of the state's zoology, and viewed this assignment as just first step towards that goal. Kennicott's efforts did have a lasting impact. In late 1855, the Illinois State Agricultural Society published his findings as the first "Catalogue of Animals Observed in Cook County, Illinois" (even though the animals had primarily been observed in the southern part of the state). You can find his original study, and read it, here.

    Sources:

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