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Remembering Dr. William J. Beecher - Part 1


Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Beecher, volunteers

Created: 7/27/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

Dr. William Beecher died on this day in 2002. In addition to being a Chicago native and ornithologist, Dr. Beecher held the position of Chicago Academy of Sciences director for 24 years! His legacy continues to live on at the Museum. The Beecher Lab, located in the Wilderness Walk, is named after him, and some of the students who studied under him as teenagers have returned to the Museum as volunteers! In this post, Collections volunteer Bob Morton remembers his time with Dr. Beecher.

Dr. Beecher leads a field trip with four students
Dr. Beecher leads a field trip

Dr. Beecher He was a world renowned ornithologist and I remember reading about him in the Tribune quite often. He was usually consulted when there was an article about birds or the environment. My one distinct memory of this time was the mural in the Laflin building lobby. Dr Beecher created this by himself. He was on scaffolding for months in addition to his duties as Director. His apartment was only a block away from the Museum so he practically lived there. 

He gave me the position of Junior Curator around 1962 when I was 13 years old. The previous summer I had taken an entomology course given by the Academy and had attended a number of workshops and field trips conducted by Dr. Beecher. As a Junior Curator I worked primarily in the library and as a secretary. I prepared correspondence and on a couple of occasions Dr. Beecher received letters with insects inside them. People had found them in their homes and wanted to get rid of them. He had me research and identify the insects and then prepare a letter explaining how they could be exterminated. Dr. Beecher then signed his name to the letters. He also told me that I could prepare an insect exhibit for the Museum using only my imagination. I never took him up on this offer. 

Dr. Beecher and a reporter examine dead birds on the beach
Dr. Beecher and a reporter examine dead birds on the beach

There were 3 of us Junior Curators who assisted with the Entomology course taught each summer. Most of the students were Chicago High School teachers. We assisted with the laboratory work and on the weekly field trips. Others worked on exhibits and I am aware of one other teenager who published a paper on the Monarch butterfly. 

It was amazing, the responsibility that he gave to young kids and he never once micromanaged, to my knowledge. 

Bob Morton
Collections Volunteer

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