31 August 2021

Old books and their stories

The Urban Dragon Hunters have been very busy. We've done relatively little field work the past couple of years, sadly, but both our field work and research has yielded interesting results which we will be sharing over the next weeks and months.

In the course of some of the research, very old literature was consulted, some of which I was lucky enough to inherit as duplicates or discards. One book, which I honestly never thought I'd have to look at or cite, was the Synopsis of the Neuroptera of North America by Hermann Hagen, published in 1861. You might recognize the name from Hagen's Bluet (Enallagma hageni) or being listed as the author (describer) of many species of dragonflies and damselflies.

My copy is discolored and sports some interesting stains that appear to be dried up mold growth.

Probably the main reason I haven't parted with this volume is that it once belonged to Clarence H. Kennedy, a prolific and accomplished entomologist whose name is memorialized, for example, in Kennedy's Emerald (Somatochlora kennedyi). Nick Donnelly wrote a short biography of Kennedy and his Odonata work in this issue of the Argia (PDF). Kennedy was close friends with an equally notable character, Edward Bruce Williamson, the curator of Odonata at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology from 1916-1933.

Kennedy was also a scientific illustrator, and designed several
of his own bookplates.

This book has marginalia here and there, and also had various notes and sketches tucked into its pages.

My favorite tidbit of history, though, comes from a penciled note at the back of the book. It reads, 

"This volume was lot from Stechart for $3.75
was soaked in the Galveston hurricane Aug. 20, 1915
was bound at Raleigh, N.C. Oct. 1918 for $1.50
C.H. Kennedy"

Below it was the note: "Robbers All!"

I believe the original purchase was part of a "lot" of books from the New York book dealer Stechert-Hafner. The hurricane reference certainly explains the condition of the pages. This hurricane (not to be confused with the more devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900) actually struck southwest of Galveston, TX on August 17, but remained a fearsome storm for days, resulting in heavy flooding in the Ozarks and beyond. At the time, Kennedy was working for Cornell prior to attending Stanford University, so I suspect the book endured the hurricane in the possession of a prior owner. As for the postscript on monetary value, it might have been Kennedy himself who wrote it. However, the book was later owned by Williamson; his stamp appears in several places. Thus, this little commentary may have been incribed by him.

I found the information I was looking for in this book, and so much more.