As the Academy celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we look back on five highlights from our past 100 years.
1. Antler Swap
Look closely at the Academy’s moose—the body belongs to one animal, and the antler rack belongs to another. Back in the early 1930s, New York’s American Museum of Natural History and Chicago’s Field Museum had impressive moose mounts on display. The Academy wanted an equally outstanding specimen to show our interested visitors! In 1933, Academy benefactor Nicholas Biddle traveled to Alaska in search of such a moose. The one he collected was very good, but its antlers were a tad smaller than the moose antlers at the other two museums.
The taxidermist commissioned to mount the moose, Louis Paul Jonas, and the Academy’s Director of Exhibits, Harold Green, found a larger pair and secured them to the head of the moose. When the diorama opened in 1935, we could confidently say that the Academy had the largest moose mount on display in North America. You can still see the moose mount in the Academy’s North American Hall, along with bison, musk ox, bears, mountain sheep, and more!
2. Ruth Patrick Leads Conestoga Stream Survey
The year was 1948, and the Sanitary Water Board of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania asked the Academy’s Dr. Ruth Patrick to survey streams of the Conestoga Basin in Lancaster County. The board wanted to know whether the algae, plants, and animals living in these streams could serve as useful indicators of sanitary and industrial pollution. The project, conducted over several months, surveyed or sampled more than 150 stations in dozens of streams.
Dr. Patrick studied the water chemistry and physical characteristics of many of these stations extensively, paying special attention to their biological diversity. She examined in detail the abundance and distribution of aquatic organisms ranging from microscopic protozoans, diatoms, and rotifers to macroscopic snails, insects, fish, and flowering plants. By the end of the study, she and her team could discern patterns of diversity caused by organic and toxic wastes. They also could see varying degrees of recovery downstream from pollution sources.
Dr. Patrick was the obvious choice to lead the project. She had been advocating this kind of approach for studying the environmental health of streams for some time. She was able to enlist the expertise of a number of highly regarded Academy scientists, and she recruited a number of experts from several leading universities. Such multidisciplinary research teams are commonplace today, but they were almost nonexistent 50 or 60 years ago. In addition to pioneering methods in environmental research, Dr. Patrick was breaking new ground on the way the research was conducted. As a female project leader working in a field where men normally determined research directions, she was a true pioneer.
3. Academy Acquires Darwin’s Chair
Did you know the Academy has a chair that used to belong to Charles Darwin? Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species and originator of the theory of natural selection, was born and died in England. His great-granddaughter, the Philadelphia x-ray crystallographer Cecily Darwin Littleton, inherited this chair through her family. On November 2, 1989, she presented it to the Academy on the occasion of Darwin Day, sponsored by the Academy’s Friends of the Library.
The dark wooden chair, with woven seat and orange-yellow cushion, came from Down House, Darwin’s home in Kent, England. Today it resides in the Academy’s Rare Book Room, a subset of the Academy Library’s exquisite holdings dating back to the 16th century. The chair appears in an illustration from Period Piece, a book of reminiscences of life in the Darwin family published in 1952 by Gwen Raverat, granddaughter of Charles Darwin and mother of Cecily Darwin Littleton.
4. Discovery of the Jocotoco
It sounds like an owl, but this creature won’t be showing up in your backyard! In fact, the jocotoco antpitta (Grallaria ridgelyi) is so hard to find that ornithologists didn’t know it existed until 1997. Former Academy ornithologist Robert Ridgely was in the cloud forest of southern Ecuador when his group heard an unfamiliar bird call. Ridgely knew his birds well, so he knew better than to ignore an unusual call. He recorded the bird’s voice and played it back in hopes of luring the bird. Because jocotocos live in family groups far away from other birds of their kind, the bird followed the strange echo to defend its territory, affording Ridgely a coveted glance of the mysterious creature. After that first sighting, Ridgely returned to the area with his camera to take the first-ever images of the jocotoco.
The following year Ridgely organized a repeat expedition to the area, which included Visual Resources for Ornithology (VIREO) Director Doug Wechsler, who was charged with the important task of photographing the birds, and the Academy’s Ornithology Collection Manager at the time, David Agro. Sponsored by Nigel Simpson, the expedition provided the perfect opportunity to learn more about the birds and their habitat. David and Ecuadorian colleague Pancho Sornoza were responsible for catching the bird, but the crafty jocotoco kept hopping right out of the net! When they finally brought the bird into the photography tent, “it was really tense!” says Doug. “The bird was nervous, and we were all so curious about it. Before we knew it, the bird had shot up from its perch and escaped through a zipper in the top of the tent!” At least Doug got some good shots before the bird escaped. The photographs from that day were used in Audubon Magazine, Nature Conservancy Magazine, Birding World, the Handbook of Birds of the World, and other publications, and they are featured in the Academy’s VIREO collection along with Ridgely’s original photograph.
5. Discovery of Tiktaalik roseae
At least 365 million years ago during the Devonian Era, some creatures began to spend time
on land. These animals used the side-to-side body motion seen in fish as they developed
features necessary for terrestrial life. Leading up to the first land animals is Tiktaalik roseae,
a 375-million-year-old lobe-finned fish discovered by a team of scientists including Academy
paleontologist Ted Daeschler in 2004. Tiktaalik looks like a cross between primitive fish and the first
four-legged animals (tetrapods). With scales, a flat head, a neck, and fins that enclosed a
shoulder, elbow, and wrist, Tiktaalik is the first creature in the fossil record to show some of the
specialized features that we see in amphibians.
Unlike fish fins, Tiktaalik’s fins supported its body as it moved around in shallow streams, ponds,
and mudflats, possibly in an effort to avoid large predators living in deeper waters. Tiktaalik had a
sprawled posture, with its fin-legs projecting down and to the sides. Its body undulated in a fish-like,
side-to-side motion, but it had developed limbs to carry this movement onto land. Eventually, this
motion would be passed on to lizards, snakes, crocodiles, and other tetrapods.
What is the Parkway 100 Celebration?
Philadelphia’s grand cultural boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is turning 100, and the Parkway Council, a coalition of cultural and educational institutions, businesses and residences in the Parkway Museums District, has planned more than a year of activities to mark the centennial. From September 8, 2017, through November 16, 2018, the Parkway Council will present a calendar of exhibitions, events, community conversations, and promotions that are themed to this important milestone.
What’s Happening on September 8?
Parkway 100, the centennial celebration of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia’s grand cultural boulevard, debuts with the Parkway 100 We are Connected Festival from 4–10 p.m. on Friday, September 8, 2017. Presented by the Parkway Council, in partnership with PECO, the cultural district open house offers 100 family-friendly activities throughout the Parkway Museums District, including extended hours and free or pay-what-you-wish museum admission. Other programs include inside and outside entertainment, giant dot-to-dot puzzles of the Parkway attractions to celebrate the “We are Connected” celebration theme, and a nighttime hot air balloon glow after dark.
How is the Academy Participating?
12th St. Catering and the Academy of Natural Sciences are proud to announce the resurgence of Dino Drafts: The Academy Beer Garden, as part of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s centennial celebration! From 4–10 p.m., enjoy free admission to the museum and celebrate with drinks, mouthwatering bites, dancing dinosaurs, and a party out on the Academy Plaza! Partial proceeds from Dino Drafts: The Academy Beer Garden benefit the Academy of Natural Sciences.
We will also be doing live animal shows in Aviator Park, plus live animal encounters inside the museum. Take a bug walk in Logan Square, learn about backyards around the world, find out about 100 years of dinosaurs, and enjoy your last chance to see our Backyard Adventures exhibit.