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  • "Fieldwork is the Lifeblood of Museums": Remembering Alfred M. Bailey


    Tags: Alfred M. Bailey, Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, ornithology

    Created: 2/16/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    If you're familiar with the Chicago Academy Sciences and our history, then chances are good that you've heard the name Alfred M. Bailey before. For just shy of a decade, Bailey was Director of the Academy, and added some invaluable specimens to our ornithology collection...but who exactly was he?

    Edward Ford, Alfred M. Bailey and William I. Lyon standing on a pier

    Edward Ford, Alfred M. Bailey and William I. Lyon
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    Alfred Marshall Bailey was born on this day in 1894 in Iowa City, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1916, and as an undergrad worked in a government-sponsored expedition to the Hawaiian Island of Laysan. From here, he quickly became involved in the world of museums. From 1916 to 1919 he worked as the curator of birds and mammals at the Louisiana State Museum, and from 1921 to 1926 he worked at the Denver Museum of Natural History, before making the move to the Midwest.

    In 1926, Bailey came to Chicago to join the Field Museum, but after a year, he made the move to the Chicago Academy of Sciences where he was appointed Director of the Academy. During the nine years he spent as Director, Bailey continued to focus on ornithology, organizing trips back to Louisiana to capture still and motion photography of migrating birds. He also organized trips to Alaska and, working with collectors there, collected birds and bird eggs. This culminated in the publication of the Academy’s Program of Activities “Birds of the Region of Point Barrow, Alaska” in 1933.

    Alfred M. Bailey in a field filming birds in Louisiana.

    Alfred M. Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana. 
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    When Bailey resigned from the Academy, he returned to the Denver Museum of Natural History where he was appointed Director, a position he held until 1969. He remained involved with the Denver Museum until his death in 1978.

    In his obituary for Bailey, Allan R. Phillips detailed that Bailey’s credo was “fieldwork is the lifeblood of natural history museums and he himself was a leading fieldman.” This extensive fieldwork not only produced Academy publications, it also resulted in some prized pieces of our ornithology collection. Some of the specimens in our collection were collected as part of Bailey’s work to document avian diversity in his book Birds of Arctic Alaska. In addition to those specimens, we also have a large number of Bailey’s photographs in our archives that were taken during his trips across the United States and Canada. To see some of them, check out this blog post.

    To learn more about Bailey’s life and work, check out these resources:

    Allan R. Phillips, “In Memoriam: Alfred M. Bailey”, The Auk Vol. 98, No. 1 (Jan., 1981), pp. 173-175

    Papers of Alfred M. Bailey – University of Iowa Libraries

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  • The Work of William Stimpson


    Tags: william stimpson, Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders

    Created: 2/10/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Although February 14 is recognized as Valentine’s Day, it’s a special day to the Nature Museum for another reason. It’s also the birthday of William Stimpson, a major force in the creation and establishment of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    William Stimpson

    Born on February 14, 1832 in Boston, Stimpson seems to have been born with a love of nature. By the age of 14, he’d begun independently exploring geology and invertebrates. Despite this love of the natural world, Stimpson found himself pushed toward engineering by his father who believed there was no money to be had in the scientific field. While Stimpson begrudgingly obeyed his wishes for a couple of years, by 1850 he was studying under the prodigious biologist/geologist Louis Agassiz at Cambridge. Two years later, he was appointed naturalist of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition. He was only 20 years old. He remained with the Expedition for four years, collecting 5,300 specimens and making special notes and drawings of over 3,000 specimens. You can read his report on the crustacea collected during the expedition here.

    Nautilus drawn by William Stimpson
    William Stimpson, Nautilus Drawing, US Pacific Expedition, Aug 14, 1853

    Upon his return, he began studying at the Smithsonian, later becoming the head of the invertebrates department. It was here where he met Robert Kennicott, the naturalist who’d begun to make a name for himself by cataloging the fauna of his home state of Illinois. In 1865, Stimpson was widely recognized as the leading American authority on aquatic invertebrates. It was at this time that his old pal Robert Kennicott called on him to join the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Kennicott was about to leave on expedition to Alaska and appointed Stimpson to take his place as Curator of the Academy, as well as Academy Secretary. Stimpson not only brought a new energy to this role, he also brought much of the collection he built during the course of his own personal research, as well as what he collected while with the Smithsonian. When Kennicott died while on expedition, Stimpson was elected to take his place as Director of the Academy. Through Stimpson’s leadership, the Academy’s collection grew to be the fourth largest in the country, with only the Smithsonian’s collection as its rival in importance. Sadly, it was lost during the Great Chicago Fire – a loss that Stimpson never fully recovered from.

    Stimpson died of tuberculosis just nine months after the Great Fire. Although he had been working to rebuild the collection, he was in poor health, and the loss of his life’s work weighed on him heavily. Despite the incredible loss, Stimpson never regretted his decision to join the Academy. In a letter to his secretary he said:

    But had I lost twice as much, I shall never regret coming to Chicago, for I have found there noble and generous friends, not only to myself, but friends to science and such as no other city in America can boast; and of more value to me than worldly possessions will be the memory of the friendly experiences I have had with yourself and the other trustees and the friends of the Academy, while we together built up a monument which, though now leveled with the dust, will long live in scientific history.

    William Stimpson


    Josiah Seymour Currey, Chicago: Its History and Its Builders…: 157
    Alfred Goldsborough Mayer, “Biographical Memoir of William Stimpson”, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences: 419-433
    Special Publication – Chicago Academy of Sciences, Volumes 1 & 2
    “William Stimpson”, Spencer Baird and Icthyology at the Smithsonian

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  • Taking a Closer Look at Howard K. Gloyd


    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, herpetology, snakes, howard k gloyd

    Created: 2/9/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Chicago Academy of Sciences Director and herpetologist Howard Kay Gloyd was born 113 years ago today.

    Howard Gloyd on expedition

    Born in DeSoto, Kansas, Gloyd taught at Ottawa University, the Agricultural College of Kansas State University and the University of Michigan before joining the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1936 as Academy Director. It was also around this time that he became vice president of the American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologist and was a consultant for the State Natural History Survey of Illinois. While at the Academy, Gloyd worked to expand the Academy’s scientific publications and additions to the Academy’s public lecture series, and still conducted his own personal research on snakes with a special emphasis on rattlesnakes.

    Gloyd’s focus on rattlesnakes led him to organize three separate expeditions to Arizona, with the first in 1936, the second in 1940, and the third in 1946. The specimens he acquired during these expeditions are actually still in our collections. Although Gloyd left the Academy in 1958, he continued to remain an important figure in the world of herpetology, describing new species (like the Florida cottonmouth snake) and holding various lecturer and research associate positions at the University of Arizona which culminated in his appointment as Emeritus Professor of Zoology at U of A. He held this position until his death in 1978.

    In addition to his contributions to our collections, Gloyd continues to be connected to the Nature Museum. Two of the snake species featured in our living collections are actually his herpetological namesakes. The Eastern Fox Snake (Elaphe vuplina gloydi) was named for Gloyd by Roger Conant in 1940, while the Western Hognose Snake subspecies the Dusty Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus gloydi) was named for Gloyd by Richard A. Edgren in 1952. You may have met some of our own Fox Snakes, like Toblerone, during our Critter Connections, and if you’ve wandered through Mysteries of the Marsh, you’ve no doubt seen our own beautiful Western Hognose Snake!

    Eastern Fox SnakeWestern Hognose Snake

    Eastern Fox Snake and Western Hognose Snake, both named for Howard K. Gloyd

    You can learn more about Howard K. Gloyd by checking out the resource below.

    Biographies of People Honored in the Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America

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  • Bunking with the Butterflies: A Night in the Life of a Girl Scout at the Nature Museum


    Tags: overnights, scout programs, museum programs

    Created: 2/6/2015      Updated: 1/9/2018

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    Girl Scouts playing with animal antlers and pelts during a Nature Museum overnight program

    6:00:  I arrived at the Museum to find 150 other girls with sleeping bags and pillows, waiting to see where we’d be sleeping for the night.

    6:30:  After dropping off our belongings, we all came together in a GIANT circle to meet the staff, sing some songs, and go over the rules for the evening.

    7:00:  I GOT TO MEET A TURTLE. His name is Bob and he’s a Blanding’s turtle. They are an endangered species. I can’t believe I got to pet him!

    7:30:  My troop just got to explore the Museum’s exhibits…and we were the only ones there! It was so cool to have the whole place to ourselves. We built dams in RiverWorks, then spent a long time watching the animals in the Rainforest Adventure exhibit. So cool!

    8:00:  Now I know how to tell the difference between a fox squirrel and a grey squirrel.  I got to touch some real (but no longer living) squirrel specimens and play this fun matching game where I had to find two pictures of squirrels of the same species that matched.

    8:30:  I just ate some popcorn and other snacks in Nature’s Lunchbox.  I loved the chance to hang out with my friends.

    9:00:  Craft time! We made these awesome seed bombs out of clay, dirt, and seeds. I can’t wait to plant it in my backyard.

    9:30:  It’s time to start getting ready for bed. I rolled out my sleeping bag, then I brushed my teeth and changed into my PJs. 

    11:00:  Lights out. I AM SLEEPING AT THE MUSEUM. Ah!

    ::next morning::

    7:00:  Time to wake up! So soon?! 

    8:00:  We had breakfast together and got our badges that prove that we spent the WHOLE NIGHT at the Museum.

    8:30:  Before the Museum’s even open, we got the special chance to explore the Butterfly Haven.  Since we had the place to ourselves, I had a chance to look more closely than usual at everything in there. I didn’t know there were birds in the haven! I love the button quail, running around among the plants. I’m going to come back and visit them again.

    9:00:  I stopped by the gift shop to buy a souvenir from this great trip. I got a stuffed turtle who I’m going to sleep with from now on so I always remember the night I spent at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Girl Scouts examining reptile and amphibian specimens in jars during a Nature Museum overnight program

    Sounds like a great time, right? Well, this is a REAL experience for young girls at the Museum. We are recruiting Girl Scout troops for two upcoming overnights this spring:

    Juniors (4th and 5th graders): April 24-25

    Brownies (2nd and 3rd graders): May 8-9


    $45/girl, $15/chaperone

    If you know a Girl Scout who might like to participate in this unique program, please have her troop leader visit our Overnight Programs page to register or learn more. Questions can be directed to or 773-755-5100 x5037. 

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  • Introducing Discovery Day


    Tags: discovery day, specimens, collections

    Created: 2/2/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Have you ever seen something in nature that you just couldn’t identify? On Saturday, February 28, we'll be sharing our experts with you during our very first Discovery Day! Our entomologists, paleontologists, and urban ecologists will help identify your discoveries. Whether your specimen is a feather, fossil, shell, rock, plant, photograph, or observation you can join our experts at the Museum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn more about it! As a bonus, visitors who bring a specimen to identify on Discovery Day will receive free admission.

    Discovery Day promotional poster

    Don't have a piece to bring in? Don't worry! You'll still be able to speak with our experts, ask questions, and learn about some of the Museum’s own discoveries by examining some specimens from our own collection up close.

    Join our experts in the Nature Museum’s Wilderness Walk on February 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to discover more about your natural treasures, or maybe even stump our scientists!

    Please note, our experts will not be giving appraisals during Discovery Day. 

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