February 1993

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Henry A. Ward


Robert G. Koch

Part One, Part Two

Part Three

The 1869 fire that destroyed most of Henry Ward's natural science collection was a turning point, away from even sporadic teaching and toward building a natural science business, "Ward's Natural Science Establishment." According to his Rochester Historical Society biographer, his grandson, Roswell Ward, "He began a series of trips to cities and institutions interested in obtaining museums, and many local capitalists received visits from an enthusiastic gentleman who exhibited a most impressive set of colored drawings of the kind of museum that philanthropy should provide 'for some deserving institution.'" He also traveled to Europe to obtain specimens and recruit further staff, many of whom later went on to important careers of their own.

The new two-story building incorporated a bowling alley that took two days to tow along Main Street but that was useful for storage. Soon a pair of whale jaws "were set up as gate posts of the enclosure around the shop." They were a Rochester landmark until about 1930. Inside, the shops turned out expertly finished jobs, from animal skeletons for Louis Agassiz and others, to pioneering topographical maps.

In 1872 the ever-alert Ward joined a buffalo-hunting expedition for the brother of the Russian Czar. "The most famous buffalo hunters…had been pressed into service…At night they pitched a great camp, ringed by the fires of the cavalry escort and dominated by the tents of the guest. Around the big central campfire sat the Grand Duke, his aides,…several American generals, and…a rather modest man named William Cody.

"'Buffalo Bill,' as he was later known, was then a contract buffalo hunter…and was the absolute monarch of all that intrepid crew of hunters and purveyors…Ward went back to Rochester taking with him several buffalo heads to be mounted for the Grand Duke…'Texas Jack' [second only to Cody as a buffalo hunter] made the trip east with Ward…The 'wild west' was then the subject of stage melodrama…and Texas Jack thought the stage could use a real westerner." Later, Buffalo Bill joined him and the two "took lodgings [in Rochester] and found a congenial group of cronies in a big saloon on Main Street [where] they would sit for hours, in full western regalia, stupefying the natives with tales of the wild west…Precisely at noon, when the factory whistles blew, Cody and Texas Jack would dash from the bar as if the whole Apache tribe were after them leap on their horses…, and gallop at a full run down Main Street, emitting paralyzing war whoops…They were going to lunch!"

Buffalo Bill moved his family here—a son is buried in Mr. Hope Cemetery. "He spent a good deal of time discussing his plans with the Professor, and it is possible," writes Ward's biographer, "that many features, if not the original conception of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show may have originated in the big book-lined second floor of Ward's new house…[Then] Texas Jack came to town on tour with Ned Buntline's dramatic repertory company, and Cody…start[ed] his stage career immediately. What happened then on is history."

Meanwhile, Ward kept collecting, kept selling, and kept out of bankruptcy by marketing to schools chips from larger geological specimens and manufacturing glass display cases. His credentials as a scientific collector were never in doubt—the director of the Smithsonian Institution once introduced him as "the Napoleon of young American Zoologists."

Henry Ward never slowed down. In the next thirty years his adventures and accomplishments were many. They included a trip to Jidda, the Red Sea port for the pilgrims to Mecca and "the scene of a massacre of European 'infidels'…a few years previously…" He also disassembled and shipped a 16 foot high, 26 foot long German "Restoration of the [Siberian] Mammoth," the bones of which he had seen decades before in Russia. A pioneering "habitat group" featuring orangutans was assembled for the American Museum of Natural History. He became interested in meteorites and spent many of his last years pursuing them wherever they rested across the globe.

And there was Jumbo, the largest elephant in captivity. The giant pachyderm lost a head-to-head contest with a railroad engine while on a P. T Barnum tour in Canada. "[B]efore nightfall, the wires were carrying the word that Jumbo was not lost forever. His skin and skeleton were to be mounted [by Ward's]…and there would still be at least a relic of Jumbo with the circus…They took careful measurements of Jumbo before removing the skin, and half a dozen butchers from neighboring town[s helped] remove the skin and take most of the surplus flesh off the skeleton…The skeleton was put in boxes and half a car was filled with Jumbo's viscera, heart, eyes, stomach etc. Jumbo's 46 pound heart required a large barrel.

"It made quite an odiferous as well as visual spectacle for the people of Rochester…A wooden mannikin was…built to exact dimensions and after the skin was cured,…it was stretched over the mannikin…It was nailed to the wood with thousands of countersunk nails…Jumbo's skull was assembled in a way that defied detection of the many joints…" Barnum "took delivery, as promised, on March 4, 1886."

In 1890—40 years after he had envisioned it—Ward's "cabinet" of natural science at the University of Rochester was officially opened. By then 74 others had been installed from Cambridge and Princeton to Coronado Beach and the American Museum of Natural History.

On July 4, 1906, 72-year-old Henry A. Ward, carrying a copy of Andrew D. White's A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, was struck by an automobile while crossing Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. "The autopsy showed that [—like Jumbo—] he died from a skull fracture and other injuries."

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