Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Edward Drinker Cope: His Home Inside and Out

Probably every geology-oriented person knows about Edward Drinker Cope and his well-financed, nasty battle with Othniel Charles Marsh but probably fewer know about his stone-fronted house in Philadelphia. Today, I aim to try and fix this sorry dearth of knowledge by focusing on said home. Like many aspects of Cope’s life, a bit of controversy surrounds it.

Cope owned two adjacent row houses, at 2100 and 2102 Pine Street. They are classic Second Empire with a mansard roof pierced with dormers and prominent projecting bay windows. He acquired the property in 1885 and initially lived around the corner. 2102 Pine served as his laboratory. The house sounds like a wonderful chaotic mess. His friend and biographer Henry Osborn once wrote:

“The first floor became a storeroom for boxes and cases. At the back of the second floor was Cope’s study and the editorial room of the American Naturalist [Cope purchased the magazine in 1877 and owned it until his death. During that time he wrote 776 articles. Ironically, Marsh’s uncle, George Peabody, had provided the money that funded the Peabody Academy of Sciences, where the magazine was initially published.]…This room always contained some of the more interesting fossils, which were brought in from the storeroom when Cope was working upon them. The front room on the second floor was entirely filled with shelves on which stood paper boxes, containing the smaller objects in Cope’s Permian and Pampean collections. On the third floor back was the preparation room, presided over by the genial Jacob Geismar…Around the floor of Cope’s study there always wandered a venerable tortoise. To the left of his study table was a vivarium, which contained a ‘Gila monster’.”

The controversy centers on exactly what type of stone clads the three-and-a-half-story row house about a mile south of the Academy of Natural Sciences. According to the nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, written in 1975, the house is faced “with a green stone peculiar to Philadelphia.” This would mean a serpentine, a stone first used in the early 1700s. Several local quarries provided the building material, which historian Berenice M. Ball wrote “suited the romantic architectural ideas of the late 1800s perfectly.”

I am not sure, however, what the person who wrote the nomination was thinking. All recent photos of the building clearly show that a white stone faces the house. (The building was not refaced, as you can see that the 1975 image and modern one have the same stone.) Perhaps the author did not visit the house or was colorblind.

From National Register of Historic Places Nomination

As I started to ask around, I found that no one knew what the white stone was. One person suggested that it might be Cockeysville Marble, a stone I previously wrote about for its use in the Washington Monument. An architectural historian thought that a local limestone from Montgomery County, PA, clad the structure. Both are possibilities as both were used in the area, although the Cockeysville appears to have been less popular. My trusty 1880 census of the building stone industry notes that the Montgomery limestone (actually a marble found locally within the limestone belt) was popular from the late 1700s till at least 1840 so. It was used for the U. S. Customs House and U.S. Mint, as well as for the sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington.

If anyone knows what stone was used, please let me know.

Unfortunately, failed mining ventures in New Mexico and Colorado depleted Cope’s wealth and around 1881 he mortgaged the laboratory at 2102 Pine and in 1885 leased his Pine Street residence. He and his wife moved around the corner. Cope eventually sold much of his collection to the American Museum of Natural History but as a visit near the end of his life from the artist Charles Knight reveals, the house was still full.

“Inside, everything was unique and completely dust covered. Never have I seen such a curious place—just like the kind Dickens would have loved. Piles of pamphlets rose from the floor to ceiling in every narrow hallway, leaving just enough room to squeeze by them and no more…Dust lay thick here as elsewhere, and the place was absolutely bare of furniture and hangings. No pictures, no curtains, nothing but petrified skeletons of extinct monsters…”

Cope died at home on April 12, 1897. He was 57 years old. Jane Davidson in her revisionist biography of Cope notes that the houses are now subdivided into six to eight apartments each. A sign identifying the house and Cope stands in front of the building.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mystery Solved: Bones found in Bridge

On August 19, 1969, a short article appeared in the New York Times about the solving of an 85-year-old fossil legend. The story began on October 20, 1884, when workers at a small quarry near Manchester, Connecticut, discovered fossils in several blocks of brownstone. Word of the bones soon reached legendary paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, but before all of the fossil-rich blocks could be saved, several went into a bridge over Bigelow Brook in South Manchester. They remained there until the Connecticut highway department decided to replace the bridge, when Yale professor John Ostrom acquired the blocks and found the long lost fossils.

The bridge over Hop Creek at Bridge Street, now demolished. While stone for this bridge was being quarried at Buckland, dinosaurs were found." Photo by Sylvian Ofiara in The Manchester Evening Herald. Published in A New England Pattern by William E. Buckley, 1973. Used courtesy of Manchester Historical Society

The quarry, owned by Charles O. Wolcott, pulled stone out of the Portland Formation, a 200-million-old sandstone deposited into a rift valley on the eastern margin of North America. Out of quarries of this stone in other parts of the Connecticut River Valley came most of the brownstone used in New York City and Boston. The major quarry was in Portland, Connecticut, about 15 miles southwest of Manchester. A shopping mall now covers the Wolcott quarry.

According to Marsh’s notes, the block was “half as large as an ordinary dining table.” It supposedly contained the front end of a dinosaur that Marsh initially named Anchisaurus major, which he changed to Ammosaurus in 1891. He was able to name the dinosaur from the remains of the hind end that had been found in a block saved for him. Over the next few years two other dinosaur specimens came out of the same quarry. Marsh named them Anchisaurus colorus and A. solus, in 1891 and 1892, respectively. Both also were renamed later. A colorus became Yaleosaurus and A. solus became Ammosaurus solus.

The Times article reported that Ostrom spent two years surveying more than 60 bridges in the region and finally concluded with 95% certainty that the notorious block had gone into a bridge over Hop Brook. (A study by Peter Galton in 1976 noted that there had been some confusion in the records, which lead to the search.) When news reached Ostrom about the bridge’s soon-to-happen destruction, he contacted the highway crew, which readily agreed to allow Ostrom and a crew to examine some 400 sandstone blocks over a two-day-period. Local elementary school teacher Richard Sanders found the first bone, a rib. Shortly thereafter, laboratory technician Rebekah Smith noticed a larger bone, a femur.

Over the next few years Peter Galton conducted a detailed study (Postilla 169, 1976) of all of the prosauropods (now called basal sauropodomorphs) from North America, including the new bones found in the bridge blocks. He again revised the names of the dinosaurs collected from the Wolcott quarry. Now, just two species remained, what Galton called “the slender-footed Anchisaurus polyzelus” and the “broad footed Ammosaurus major.” The rib came from Ammosaurus but the femur could not be clearly identified.

Skelton of Ammosaurus major from Galton's 1976 study. Based on bones from Wolcott's quarry

Galton's study, however, did not end the confusion over the fossils from Wolcott's quarry. In the subsequent years, various paleontologists have debated which species the bones came from. Were there two species as Galton initially concluded, or one (A. major) as Paul Sereno (Special Papers in Palaeontology 77, 261-289) concluded in 2007 or one (A. polyzelus) as Adam Yates (Palaeontology 53:4, 739-752) concluded in 2010? Clearly the legendary bones still contain a bit of mystery.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Family Hour in Seattle: Squirrels and Crows

Warning. This post has nothing to do with geology.

It has been a busy hour for families in my neighborhood. For the past ten minutes or so, I have been watching a strange little manifestation of urban flight as a family moved up the block in what appears to be a case of escaping a bad situation. I first noticed the migration when I saw a gray squirrel trotting along the telephone wires across from our house. From my desk, I could see that the squirrel carried something large in its mouth, but I wasn’t quick enough to get out my binoculars before it disappeared into a dense spruce.

Twenty seconds later, I saw the squirrel again, headed in the opposite direction across the wire. This time it climbed up a pine, about thirty feet south of the spruce. I had noticed squirrels going into this tree over the past few weeks and figured it harbored a nest. In a half a minute, the squirrel descended and leapt onto the wire. This time I had the binoculars out and could see that she was carrying a baby squirrel, one small arm extended out over mom’s head. Again, she climbed the spruce and vanished in the foliage.

She proceeded to carry over two more youngsters. Each time she seemed to be in a hurry, moving quickly over the wire and only pausing periodically. When she stopped (I know she was a she because I could see nipples), she looked like she was catching her breath. Now she is gone, apparently having moved all of her kids.

What prompted her move? A mammalogist I know speculated that some body or some thing had disturbed her nest. Curiously, we also have a nest of Cooper’s Hawks on our block. They live in a huge Douglas fir down the block. I have also been watching and hearing them. The youngsters, like so many, are easy to tell because they have a whiny sort of call, which I find appealing. The hawks have definitely been causing havoc amongst the other, wilder residents.

Last week, I watched one of the beautiful long-tailed birds sitting high in a Doug fir in our yard eating a smaller bird. I couldn’t see who had become breakfast, but as the hawk bent over and grabbed at the meal in its talons little feathers would flutter down.

A second possibility for the move suggested themselves five minutes or so after the squirrel’s exodus. Two crows landed on the wire above the squirrel’s travel route. They stood a few inches apart before one of them shimmied over and began to use its beak to pick at the neck and head of its neighbor. The one being pecked had that head down look I have when I am getting my neck scratched. AAAH, that feels good.

Crows are known predators and scavengers of other birds and squirrels. In fact, they often get blamed for much urban wildlife depredation, mostly because they operate during the day and get seen with their meals, whereas other carnivores, such as raccoons, generally do their work at night. I know there are raccoons in the area as I saw a large one across the street during the day a few weeks back.

I won’t speculate as to who caused the move. It was fun to watch. And in just a few more weeks, those young squirrels will be on their own, without mom’s protection. Such is the life for all of us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arizona Red: Red Rock and Brownstone

Lee Allison at Arizona Geology recently sent me a link to a nifty article about a sandstone quarry in Flagstaff. The article details the history of the use of the Moenkopi Formation sandstone, which sold under the name Arizona Red. Construction of a new fire station prompted the story as it will be built on the site of the old quarry.

The quarry opened in 1888 providing massive blocks of stone for the growing town and quickly attracted the attention of builders around the west. Many buildings with Arizona Red still stand in Flagstaff, including the Coconino County Courthouse, the Babbitt Brothers building (which also contains brick made from Moenkopi derived soils), and a host of structures on the Northern Arizona University campus. By 1910, however, Arizona Red was no longer popular.

Residents of Flagstaff were not the first to use the Moenkopi for building. Beautiful structures with it can be found just north of Flagstaff in Wupatki National Monument. The Sinagua people first started to build here around 675 CE. They moved out of the area just prior to the 1064 eruption of nearby Sunset Crater.

As Marie Jackson noted in her wonderful book Stone Landmarks: Flagstaff's Geology and Historic Building Stones, more than 500 boxcars of Arizona Red were sent to Los Angeles for its county courthouse in 1889. Unfortunately, damage from a 1933 earthquake led to demolition in 1936.
LA County Courthouse From Books about California web site

LA County Courthouse From

Another well-known California edifice made of Arizona Red is the Whittier Mansion in San Francisco. Built between 1894 and 1896, the mansion has had a colorful history of ownership, including shipping and mercantile magnate William Franklin Whittier; the German Reich, for use as a consulate; the United States Government, which seized the building during World War II; and the California Historical Society. It is now a private residence, curiously painted an odd tan/yellow. Perhaps that is why either the ghosts of Whittier or his son have been reported to haunt the house.

Whittier Mansion 1919 from
Whittier Mansion modern From

Jackson describes the stone as "rather which the sand grains are not especially well cemented." This weakness contributed to the stone's downfall in areas wetter than Flagstaff. In particular, she noted that Arizona Red did poorly on the Whittier. That weakness, however, also made it easy for masons to carve elaborate detailing, which can still be seen in buildings in more arid regions.

The Moenkopi Formation extends across the Colorado Plateau and formed between 242 and 237 million years ago. Deposition occurred on a wide coastal plain in a semi-arid environment. Around Flagstaff the sands came from the overflow of streams onto the sand and mudflats. In other areas, the mudflats preserve excellent trace fossils, such as raindrops and reptile tracks. Fine layers of Moenkopi make up the base of many slopes in the canyonlands region of southern Utah.

One final note that ties back to my title for this posting. When I first moved to Boston in 1996 away from Moab, Utah, I sorely missed the red rock canyons of the desert, but as I noted in my book Stories in Stone, I happened upon the brownstone base of Harvard Hall on Harvard's campus. After doing my part as an agent of erosion, I made the simple observation that brownstone and red rock are basically the same thing--a sandstone colored by iron. It was a wonderful day for me as I realized that I could make a deeper connection to geology through building stone.