January 1993

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Henry A. Ward


Robert G. Koch

Part One, Part Three

Part Two

When Rochester's colorful natural scientist, Henry Ward, headed home from his first European jaunt, he missed a boat to Havana but soon had deck passage on one skirting the coast of West Africa, where he contracted a serious fever. Fearing contagion the captain marooned him on the beach. According to his grandson Roswell Ward, his biographer in a publication of the Rochester Historical Society, "In later years he remembered little of what happened except that his trunk was set down on the sand beside him, some water placed near by, and a bower of palm leaves arranged to protect him from the sun… Ward lay, half delirious…too weak to move."

A native woman who had learned French at a mission school rescued him from villagers who anticipated booty from his trunk, once he had expired. She nursed him back to health, then developed her own life-long plans for him. Circumventing that redesign of his destiny, he caught a ship back up to Madeira and finally to Havana. Arriving in Rochester after an absence of five years, he dispatched a packing case filled with gifts to that remote beach. It included a big French Bible with an inscription…"

He now plunged into building his own natural history collection with the help of a substantial loan from his grandfather. In Europe once more he reaped the value of his contacts. In 1860, at 26 years of age, he was appointed Professor of Natural Sciences at the University of Rochester, married his high school sweetheart, and began unpacking his collections. "He had sent 120 large boxes of specimens from Europe, which were added to about 50 [earlier] boxes…There were 40,000 specimens, ranging from tiny semi-precious stones to great blocks of basalt; from a series of glass models of the Kohinoor and other famous diamonds to a large selection of plaster casts of extinct mollusc[s], reptil[es] and mammal[s]."

"Ward's first classes at the university quickly excited the attention of the junior class, and…the envy of the entire college. Ward began a series of field trips…all over the gorge of the Genesee, and finally…an overnight trip to the High Banks near Portage…'There, most of the class went in for a swim. [One of them] was taken with cramps and was drowned.'" While his students returned to Rochester, "'…Ward remained there for several days until the body was found.'"

Dr. Chester Dewey, the senior professor and Henry's childhood scientific mentor, occasionally sat in on Ward's lectures, sometimes interrupting to elaborate on some point, at least until Ward returned the favor in one of Dewey's classes.

Teaching Natural Sciences meant preparation in geology, zoology and botany. Ward soon saw the need for adding a zoological "cabinet" to his geology collection. By this time the Civil War had begun and funding was more difficult than ever but he soon had arranged 20,000 specimens to tell the story of creation itself: plaster casts of fossils, "floral fragments…enormous jaws bristling with teeth…; beautiful stone flowers blossom[ing] on the bottom of the ocean;…[ancient reptiles and] Monster birds…" He built Cosmos Hall for the collection at the edge of the campus; then, added Chronos Hall for the zoological collection. The stuffed male Gorilla attracted much interest and suspicion of Darwinian "heresy."

The local paper ran a poem, which in part, went:

Are you the key, O Monkey, to unlock
The sealed and scientific mystery?
Were Apes the parent of the human stock
Long ere the records of primeval history
What countless ages did it take to span
The ethnic chasm from baboon to man?

It seems to have been too much for local sensibilities. The gorilla ended up at Vassar College, "modestly clothed in a pair of short pants!"

The struggle to share and popularize scientific enlightenment continued. Debts grew overseas; an expanding staff of technicians was taken on; but a growing number of colleges and cities eventually purchased "cabinets." Ward, who had a sharp eye for opportunity but a rather casual concern for everyday business, was more or less "making ends meet."

One solution was to get into gold mining with the help of local investors. His geological knowledge located seams of ore in the West, but next he had to run operations there. When one seam was exhausted, he found it difficult to convince his backers that that was normal and that he had options on many more. They seemed to want a gold brick minting machine instead. His Western (and later North Carolina) mining adventures were sometimes wild and wooly, including a vigilante hanging that he couldn't prevent, a stagecoach robbery that he avoided, and racing a blind horse.

Needless to say his academic appointment at the University languished, as pretty much did his family life.

"Arriving in Rochester in …1869, Ward was moved to…devote some attention to his eldest son…then seven years old…[He] had been found in the barn trying to put together the bones of a rabbit with pieces of wire and gut picked up around Cosmos Hall." When some squirrels became available, Ward and son, Charlie, went to Cosmos Hall to stuff them. "Since the light was failing, Ward… use[d] a candle when he went into a storeroom to get some tow for stuffing…While they were thus engaged…Cosmos Hall was on fire!…[T]he University cisterns and…a pond on the President's lawn were pumped dry, but the flames could not be stopped…Of specimens worth about $68,000, only about $15,000 worth were saved…[Then it was discovered that some of the $41,200 of insurance on the building and contents had been allowed to lapse.]

"Gone was the zoological cabinet which he had intended for the university and paid for out of his mining fees. Gone were many of the prized specimens he had collected so carefully in Europe and western America…Four days later [however] his diary records, 'raised new building.'"

Part One, Part Three
© 1993, Robert G. Koch
Index to articles by Robert G. Koch
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