Pick from the Past
Quite the calmest person in the room was the chimps companion, a mild-mannered, unobtrusive gentleman of medium height whose bald head, close-cropped moustache and conservative dress bespoke a professional man, possibly a family physician, certainly the last type on earth Hollywood would cast as an intrepid explorer. Yet Harry Raven had known what it was to lie near death in the African jungle, leagues from the nearest white man, and he had become, for a time at least and in his own fashion, a wild man of Borneo.
But the chimpanzee held the center of the stage. She rode her kiddie-car on into the curators end of the dining room, where she was ensconced in a high chair and served two helpings of ice cream. It is generally believed that she was the first ape to be accorded quasi-membership on the Museums Scientific Staff, though some people regard the matter as controversial. At any rate; the curators were unanimously devoted to Meshie.
Her foster father, Henry C. Raven of the Department of Comparative Anatomy, had brought her back from Africa and raised her with his own children at Baldwin, Long Island, where she delighted in the seasonal occupations of cycling and sleigh-riding, respectively. Raven probably derived a certain faintly malicious satisfaction from the momentary disruption which her grand entrance en kiddie-car never failed to produce, for his earlier experience with museum restaurants had been something of a disappointment.
To forestall any damaging misconceptions, it should be said immediately that he wasnt poisoned. Indeed it was not a matter of gastronomics but of degraded talent (or so it seemed to him at the time). Back in 1907 when the youthful Harry Raven, just out of Bay Shore High School, first applied for work in the Museum, Doctor Bumpus, then Director of the institution, told him that as far as taxidermy was concerned the Museum needed the Paderewskis of the art, not the run of the mill. Bumpus consented, however, to take him on trial. Soon thereafter, Ravens high spirits were considerably deflated when he was assigned the job of making plaster models of the Mitla ruins in Mexico, instead of work concerned more directly with natural history. This was in connection with curious ideas on interior decoration then buzzing in a number of important bonnets. Someone had suggested pre-Columbian ruins as the most appropriate motif for a Museum hostelry, and the machinery of the institution was solemnly set in motion grinding out archaeological facsimiles for the Mitla restaurant, now happily extinct.
Since young Raven had set his heart on being a preparator of animals he found this building trades assignment rather distressing. He was, it is true, given several tasks, such as collecting birds on his native Long Island, which were more in line with his aspirations, but as time went on he thought to better his circumstances by following Horace Greeleys historic success formula.
However, he never reached sunny California but obtained work in the Museum at Denver where he collected specimens in the surrounding region with Albert E. Butler, whom he had known at the American Museum. The expedition continued until the fall of 1911, when he returned to New York and not long thereafter received a letter from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington asking if he would like to collect in Borneo.
|The freighter was alleged to be carrying a "general cargo," but Raven was rather dismayed to find her taking on 25 tons of dynamite.|
Raven presently discovered that Doctor Abbott was given to understatement. The freighters Captain signed him on as ships surgeon. Purely, Raven supposed, as a formality. His prospects were somewhat clouded, however, before the ship had cleared Sandy Hook. The freighter was alleged to be carrying a general cargo, but at this point he was rather dismayed to find her taking on 25 tons of dynamite.
It never went offat least not in Ravens immediate neighborhoodbut the crew provided explosives enough. Before they had lost sight of land the first mate sprang a toothache. By chance Raven had a set of dentists hand pressure drills which a friend in the profession had given him with the idea that they might come in handy. Raven had signed up for quite a stretch in the East Indies and he inferred that he was being invited to fill his own teeth. So why not practise on the mate? The latter agreed. Raven daubed a little carbolic acid into the cavity and proceeded to attack the more or less anesthetized molar with much gusto and considerable natural skill. He cut away as much of the decayed matter as he could and filled up the cavity with gutta-percha. The mate was so pleased with the results that he refused to consult a professional dentist at any of the ports of call.
This feat established Raven in the eyes of the Chinese crew as a true healer. One night a messenger informed him that one of the stokers was pretty sick. Raven made his way below with the Captain and found that the stoker had received a nasty bash over the head with a meat axe. It seemed he demanded hot tea from the cook at 3:00 a.m. Raven took a few stitches in the scalp and sealed it over with balsam in the old time seafaring fashion.
Later that same day Raven was standing on the bridge with the Captain when one of the boys came up and said, Cook, him want medicine.
Probably killed him, grumbled the Captain.
They found the cook rather badly cut up. He had watched the stoker warily, but the sly fellow hid a mechanics hammer in the washing bucket, and the moment his erstwhile assailants back was turned,
Nature tried her own hand at trouble making and raised a terrific storm. Waves broke over the entire ship, tore away the awnings from the Captains bridge and forced the crew to throw over considerable cargo.
A day or so later, Nature tried her own hand at trouble making and raised a terrific storm. Waves broke over the entire ship, tore away the awnings from the Captains bridge and forced the crew to throw over considerable cargo. Various repair jobs were undertaken near Gibraltar and on the way to Algiers, but no sooner had they put out to sea again than the ship was waylaid by an Italian warship. Turkey was at that time fighting Italy, and the Italians were looking for a deck cargo of war materials. They sailed alongside, inspected the deck, then signaled the freighter on with best wishes.
In due time, Raven caught his first glimpse of the South Seas and the sight stirred his pulse. It seemed almost beyond belief that the youth who had so lately felt himself in a prosaic rut at the Museum should now be cruising through the fabulous waters of Conrad and Kipling.
South of Suez
To keep the crew occupied, the Captain ordered a rust-chipping bee, passing out hammers and swinging a scaffold over the vessels side. This monotonous corvée under a blazing sun is apt to bring on what the French Legionnaires call le cafard (the cockroach: akin to our bats in the belfry). Presently one of the sailors went berserk, and while he was apparently calmly at work flaking off rust, he suddenly flung his tool down at the sea and jumped overboard. The freighter slowed and swung about as quickly as the maneuver could be negotiated. Raven who had bought a pair of binoculars in Algiers, was told to keep the man spotted until a lifeboat could be launched. But the auxiliary craft proved so desiccated that its seams were open and it leaked like the proverbial sieve. Meanwhile the sun-struck sailor was swimming along quite as if he were born to an aqueous medium. Indeed, he was so content with the cooling brine that an oarsman had to bat him over the head before he could be corralled. There was little time to lose, and they barely made the ship before the waters closed over the lifeboats gunwales.
As the freighter slid into Singapore the smells of coconut oil cooking and of the Chinese quarter in general were everywhere on the soft tropical breeze. Raven thrilled at this first approach to the true Orient. He was now definitely east, not to say south, of Suez and he became convinced that if the worst and the best were all one in these parts, it would be good enough for him.
Before long he went to Java where he obtained all the necessary permits to collect in Borneo, to which island he made his way by another steamer. His mission called for a broad general collection. All manner of birds, mammals and other animals, great and small, were grist for the Smithsonians mill.
This initial trip into the interior by river boat took but two months of the six years he was ultimately to spend in the East Indies. He lived almost entirely on canned goods for six months until he got the hang of things. Then he began to go native for fare, as it were. He bought a 27-foot perahu with a huge tree root anchor and rope made out of coconut fiber, for the sails, and in this craft he voyaged for hundreds of miles along the coast of Borneo accompanied by a Chinese boy and two or three Soloks. These tribesmen were outlaws who had once made their livelihood in the Philippine slave trade until the United States armed forces took a hand in these affairs. They felt quite indignant over their extra-legal classification, and Raven had to assure them that his expedition had nothing to do with American policy in the Pacific. He adapted himself readily to their diet and general way of life, and within a few days they were all fast friends.
On shore Raven obviated the problems of overnight camping by simply putting up in native villages along the way whenever these were available. Once he stumbled on a cluster of huts at sundown and asked the affable old head-hunter chief if it would be agreeable to collect some of the animals that abounded in his territory. The chief suddenly frowned. Raven, who has a gift for languages, questioned him further in Malay, trying to find out what the trouble was. It appeared the local potentate was dead set against bringing any striped animals into the village before the rice had grown to be a foot in height. Any other kind was perfectly all right. Raven never batted an eye at this puzzling distinction, while assuring his prospective host that he hadnt the slightest intention of collecting striped animals until the rice was a foot high. The chief brightened instantly, and thereafter all was serene.
During this trip, Raven was the only white man in the whole region. In fact, much of the wilderness he explored was uninhabited even by natives; and many a time he trudged out of the virgin forest onto a perfect Robinson Crusoe ribbon of beach to watch monkeys come down out of the trees at low tide to catch crabs. On moonlight nights he would gather his native helpers, and, armed with fish nets, they picked their way along a chain of magically illumined coral reefs which had probably never before supported the tread of a human foot.
The jungle yielded all kinds of exotic vegetables and greens, and they lived off the land entirely except for rice which they kept stored in the boat together with cured meat and fish smoked over their own campfire.
Hunting was hard work in these uncharted, trailless regions, but in time Raven had collected an astonishing array of creaturesunobtrusive rodents and bats, monkeys, orangutangs, bears, birdsin addition to such spectacular animals as the clouded leopard, which he considers the most beautiful cat of all. Because the country was practically unexplored it was natural that Raven should discover many new species, and he even had one genus of bird (Coracornis raveni = Ravens bird) named for him.
After more than two years wandering in Borneo, he bought a schooner and sailed to the Celebes to continue general collecting on that mountainous island. But here the character of the terrain obliged him to use pack ponies rather than river boats. As in Borneo, his commissary consisted of taking pot luck among the natives, whose cooking was very much to his taste. But here the pickings were sometimes pretty slim. For the first World War was in full swing by this time and the British had cornered most of the rice in that part of the world for their labor conscripts. The repercussions of this act were felt even in the most remote villages. Prices shot skyward and people sold all they had, saving little or nothing for themselves. As a result, Ravens Borneo-trained appetite stood him in good stead. He had learned to enjoy broiled squirrel, at which even the natives turned up their noses, saying it was only a rat with long hair on its tail.
|In the Celebes, Ravens Borneo-trained appetite stood him in good stead. He had learned to enjoy broiled squirrel, at which even the natives turned up their noses, saying it was only a rat with long hair on its tail.|
While in the Celebes, Raven took up the habit of chewing betel nut. He was supposed to pick up ethnological material in addition to his zoological collecting. This end of the expedition interested him greatly but he found it very difficult to persuade the natives to part with some of their more sacred talismans and charms. It was their custom, however, to carry suchlike in little bark cloth purses, in which they also kept betel nut and mixings (lime secured from burnt sea shells and a rather villainous black tobacco). Ravens chewing was not so much part of his program for going native as it was wily subterfuge. He thereby won the right to borrow a cudthe men were always hospitably offering their little purses to himand he would rummage around, ostensibly selecting a toothsome morsel of betel nut but accidentally-on-purpose coming up with some charm or relic which might be traded for. He got quite as accustomed to the betel nuts as to turtle eggs and although he never exactly relished the taste, he managed to make a good showing without doing any particular injury to his teeth. The natives, of course, gradually rot their own dentition, of which they take very poor care at best. Raven frequently saw them sitting on the ground filing away their teeth with a stone in order to procure a level biting edge. They regarded his own jagged incisors as unmodish monkeys teeth and would keep on rasping until they had ground away the enamel and some of the dentine. Raven, needless to say, drew the line at this point. However, he did accidentally take part in one rather harrowing episode which seems to supply proof positive, if any be needed, that practical jokes are seldom worth the candle.
A native girl had offered to open a durian fruit for him, and Raven, as dubious reward for this kindness, decided to play a trick on her, which involved seizing the blade of her knife in a loop of cloth and by a quick flick of the wrists snapping the blade out of her band. As so often happens, the trick missed fire, and the blade of the knife, instead of flying off at a tangent, missed its aim and struck almost clean through the girls thumb. Mortified, Raven dressed the wound as best he could and offered to take the girl to a doctor on the coast who, he told her, would cut the member off and sew it over nicely. This proposition did not attract her at all, so he continued to treat the patient himself and after a time found, to his relief and considerable medico-scientific excitement, that there was still circulation in the splinted digit. By careful binding he was able to restore the thumb almost to complete functiona feat of which he felt justifiably proud. He was still a good ships surgeon.
As a matter of fact, this surgical skill, like his interest in traps and animals, had been typical of Raven since early school days. During high school he frequently accompanied a veterinary surgeon on his rounds and had performed a number of operations under his direction. Indeed he might well have followed this profession had not his all-absorbing hobby, taxidermy, led him to seek work at the Museum.
However, his interest in animal anatomy had never slackened. Moreover, the skinning and dissecting work on his specimens only served to whet his curiosity concerning the function and evolution of musculature and internal organs throughout the animal kingdom, so that when it came time to leave the East Indies his compass already pointed in the direction of comparative anatomy.
At the outbreak of the first World War, Raven went back to the United States but there seemed little immediate likelihood of Americas entering the conflict, so he returned to the East Indies. Then when he got news that America had finally gone in, he tried to get back again but had a very difficult time of it since many Dutch boats had been interned. Arriving by way of Hawaii, he found that he had already been drafted, though by the time he was ready to go to camp the Armistice had been signed and he was left stranded in the midst of civilization.
But Raven was not long for these parts. After a semester at Cornell as a special student in zoology, he took ship (the City of Benares, recently sunk in the Atlantic while carrying refugees) for Africa, again serving the Smithsonian Institution as a general collector. This second expedition was sponsored jointly by the Smithsonian and Carl Laemmles Universal Pictures Corporation, which had dispatched a lavishly accoutered staff of cameramen, actors, and a director to make educational films on the Dark Continent. But to get such pictures, Raven avers, they would have had to use a distinctly different type of men from the ones they took.
Both Raven and Doctor Schantz, a botanical colleague, advised them on photographing game and other natural history subjects, but the Hollywood men had a mind of their own and went off at a rather bizarre tangent which Raven felt would bring them to no good end. He was shocked, though not altogether surprised, to receive a telegram, brought several miles to camp by a native runner, stating that Armstrong, the leader, and Stoll, an actor, had been killed in a railroad accident which took place in a part of the country they might better not have entered in the first place.
After this trip, Raven returned to his original starting point, the American Museum, as a student of Doctor William K. Gregory, then recently appointed Curator of the Department of Comparative Anatomy (see The Evolution of an Evolutionist, by D. R. Barton, Natural History, April, 1941, p. 234). It was not long before Raven was assisting him in various projects, among which was the plan for an Australian Hall in the Museum, favored by President Osborn. At Doctor Gregorys insistence Raven was more or less drafted for the proposed expedition, and from that time forward he became Gregorys right-hand man in the laboratory and classroom, as well as chief operator in the field.
In Australia, Raven found many strange creatures that Gregory had lectured about. He caught flying phalangers by night, and with the help of dogs, curious burrowing marsupials by day. He hunted the Tasmanian devil and trapped the echidna, a queer egg-laying mammal. The unique duckbilled platypus was also entered in his ledger, as were an amazing variety of kangaroos,
A young sperm whale swam into New York harbor and was killed in Brooklyns Gowanus Canal, of all places, whence it soon found its way into the Museum. The huge cadaver was placed in the new but unoccupied Hall of Ocean Life, and there the scalpel work proceeded until the Museum Director threatened to have both Raven
and his specimen fired summarily into the street.
By this time, Raven was prepared to settle down and write a monograph on the entire tribe of kangaroos as object lessons in evolutionary radiation. He succeeded in getting out several articles, one for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but after a year or two at the Museum fate contrived to toss still another expeditionary opportunity into his lap. Captain Bob Bartlett was Greenland-bound on the celebrated schooner Morrissey and Raven yielded to the temptation of exploring northern latitudes in general and the anatomy of narwhals in particular.
Whales, indeed, virtually flung themselves at him. He had scarcely resumed his magnum opus on the kangaroo when a young sperm whale swam into New York harbor and was killed in Brooklyns Gowanus Canal, of all places, whence it soon found its way into the Museum. No comparative anatomist could pass up such a boon, and Raven set about dissecting it at once. The huge cadaver was placed in the new but unoccupied Hall of Ocean Life, and there the scalpel work proceeded until the late Doctor Sherwood, then Museum Director, threatened to have both Raven and his specimen fired summarily into the street. The operations had been conducted within olfactory range of his office.
Try as he might to devote some of his time to the material for the proposed Australian Hall, distractions multiplied at such a rate that he could give it little more than a lick and a promise. New York University invited him to lecture for a year, and immediately thereafter Columbia stole him from under its rivals nose to serve as Doctor Gregorys faculty assistant. His dissecting work, always the marvel of his colleagues and his most absorbing interest, was beginning to attract
|Raven found every effort to secure female gorillas thwarted by the protective habits of these gregarious animals. Whenever he surprised a herd containing the coveted specimens, they would melt silently into the impenetrable foliage while a giant male covered their retreat with reckless charges.|
1929 found him back in Africa, leading an expedition to collect gorillas for anatomical study at the Museum and Columbia. This proved an extremely difficult assignment and though Raven eventually secured several large males, he failed to bag a single female. But he did not give up without a struggle that very nearly cost him his life.
Plodding deeper and deeper into the less habitable areas of the Cameroon forest, Raven found every effort to secure female gorillas thwarted by the protective habits of these gregarious animals. Whenever he surprised a herd containing the coveted specimens, they would melt silently into the impenetrable foliage while a giant male covered their retreat with reckless charges. Month after month Raven pressed on after these apparent will-o-the-wisps until a combination of hookworm, malaria, and sleeping sickness made it a little difficult to do much hunting.
Raven had had malaria in the East Indies and once before in Africa. And when the fever came upon him again he thought he had merely a trifle more severe case. Dosing up with the usual quinine, he let it go at that, ordering his boys to set a camp chair for him in a likely clearing. He was too weak to stand but he knew that a half-dead white man is a better shot than these particular natives, and he did want those specimens.
Later it was found that what he had was the dread sleeping sickness, contracted from the bite of a tsetse fly. Not that he did much sleeping. Apparently, the chief drawback is that you cant sleep. The patient is subjected to a blinding headache which keeps him up all night, allows absolutely no rest, wears away all resistance and reserve fat, and finally through sheer exhaustion produces a coma (the sleeping part of it) which may lead to death.
Presently Raven lay delirious on his cot in a native hut with nothing but witch doctors available for 50 miles around. Then came the coma from which he woke suddenly to find a crowd of bug-eyed negroes standing over him. Said one of them, If this white man
|Apparently, the chief drawback of sleeping sickness is that you cant sleep. The patient is subjected to a blinding headache which keeps him up all night, allows absolutely no rest, wears away all resistance and reserve fat, and finally through sheer exhaustion produces a coma (the sleeping part of it) which may lead to death.|
He also directed his camp boy to keep the kettle boiling always on the fire and the minute he seemed to be going into a stupor to make him a cup of strong tea. He hoped under this rather mild stimulation to keep alive until the messenger could walk the 50 miles to a Presbyterian Mission station where lived a certain Doctor Lehman. The latter arrived the next afternoon on a motorcycle and hustled Raven onto a conveyance, which transported him to the hospital at the Mission. There, under Lehmans skillful treatment, he partially recuperated and helped the latter in his surgical work. Raven found this experience most helpful in his study of human anatomy.
Actually it was almost a year before he was able to move about with any celerity, and even when it came time to board ship for home he had to spend most of the voyage on the bunk in his cabin, leaving the care of an astonishing traveling companion to a delighted crew.
This companion was the same individual who later startled patrons of the Museum restaurant and who is now immortalized in bronze and oils, not to mention the silver screen. Her name, Meshie-Mungkut, was bestowed by natives shortly after Raven purchased the young chimpanzee from hunters who had killed the mother. They are Ndjem words meaning the little swaggerer or the bluffer and it referred to her habit of puffing out her chest and swinging her arms as though she were as big as a mountain. Meshie was not the first of Ravens expeditionary pets. There were black monkeys in the Celebes and another chimp on his first African expedition, whom he had taught to eat with table implements within 24 hours of her capture. But Meshie was far and away the most successful.
While the acrobatic young chimp was ranging spryly over the entire ship, Mrs. Raven anxiously awaited the return of her ailing husband. On the appointed day she went up to Boston to meet the boat, and it was not until then that she had any inkling of Meshies existence. Raven, lying thin and pallid on his bunk, simply indicated his simian companion and remarked, Uh, this is Meshie, thereby conveying his intention of adding this muscular and remarkably hirsute primate to his human family. Mrs. Raven, being the wife of so inveterate an explorer, was accustomed to such turns of fancy. Her chief concerns at the moment were his own welfare and the disheartening suspicion that his children, aged four and seven, would not recognize their father.
|Raven, lying thin and pallid on his bunk, simply indicated his simian companion and remarked, Uh, this is Meshie, thereby conveying his intention of adding this muscular and remarkably hirsute primate to his human family. Mrs. Raven, being the wife of so inveterate an explorer, was accustomed to such turns of fancy.|
The latter undertaking was a huge, even a howling, success. True, during one of her rare sprees, she ripped most of the electric wiring out of the Baldwin house and bent the gas meter away from the cellar wall, but by and large she was highly tractable, quite helpful, in fact. Under close supervision she was delighted to hold the baby and feed it with a spoon, and was the constant playmate of the older children. Mr. Raven has recorded most of her household adventures in previous issues of this periodical. (See H. C. Raven, Meshie, the Child of a Chimpanzee, Natural History, March-April, 1932, p. 158; Further Adventures of Meshie, ibid. November-December, 1933, p. 607. Both these were written before the amazing lecture tour took place.)
Doctor Sherwood, who had objected so strenuously to the Gowanus whale, adopted a far more gracious attitude toward the sweeter-scented Meshie. Indeed, he was so overjoyed by her impromptu performances in the curators dining room that he insisted on billing her for a Members Childrens lecture, with Raven as interlocutor.
The act went over with a resounding bang and rapidly climbed the ladder from matinée to evening bookings (adult Members lectures), then soared to the big time circuit in suburban communities around New York.
Meshie toured with Mr. and Mrs. Raven in the family automobile, frequently cranking down the window to extend a hairy arm in the direction of a dumfounded but bravely saluting Good Humor man. As soon as the latter had recovered his customary bland composure, he inevitably offered a sample of his wares free of charge. Thus did Meshie outdo her lord and master by contriving to live off the land in the wilds of the U. S. A.
No trouper ever enjoyed success more than Meshie. She became enormously at home on the stage and took all the sittings for movie cameramen, portrait painters, and sculptors, in full stride. Paramount bought her film rights, and shorts of her activities have been exhibited on all five continents to the delectation of the world at large. There is no telling what undreamed-of heights the act might have attained, had not the team split up owing to the senior partners ungovernable wanderlust.
In 1934, Raven had to keep an appointment with Mr. Arthur Vernay to collect in Burma, and so took leave of his family. Nor could he resume the even tenor of his ways at this journeys end. For there were other expeditions in the offing: to New Zealand and Australia with Michael Lerner (1938) and with the same sportsman to South America (1941).
Then, too, there remained the vast clutter of unfinished business in his office and laboratorythe monograph on the kangaroos, the papers on the narwhal and other cetaceans, the monograph on the gross anatomy of the gorilla, the incomplete dissections of the numerous wet (pickled) specimens he had brought back from many far-off places.
All this and murder, too. For he has recently been enjoined as an expert witness to identify as human bone fragments, the sad remains of a slain child. Nor was this his first interruption via the law. Not long ago a kangaroo was injured, mirabile dictu, in a Minneapolis elevator. The creature was allegedly a trained performer who boxed professionally with its keeper. This worthy had brought suit on the claim that his pugilistic protégé could not be replaced. But Raven testified that all kangaroos of that species can box. When sufficiently prodded by a human antagonist, it is natural for them to brandish their forelegs in a manner vaguely resembling the fistic maneuvers proper to the manly art of self-defense, and about all the training required is to tie boxing gloves on their paws.
In one sense the present state of international anarchy is a boon to Ravens reputation as a scholar. At least it keeps him within the confines of one hemisphere, and we may now hope to see an enviable procession of scientific documents flow from his pen. Behind him lies a unique career of exploration wherein he has established himself among the truly great fieldmen of our day. His future is brightened by the opportunity now at hand to assimilate and organize the well-nigh unrivaled wealth of data he has accumulated with quiet distinction in his laboratory from many far-off islands and from the depths of African forests.