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Other members of staff at the New York museum


Robert Cushman Murphy
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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Let's begin with Robert Cushman Murphy. He was a very tall, handsome man, except his eyes were a little bit too small, who came from a rather lowly background. In fact, those who didn't like him would say he's the son of a Long Island cracker. And… however, he had married a girl from one of the upper class families who was very class conscious and so Murphy had to play the same game and he talked a great deal to ladies’ clubs and… he was always very conscious of… of society and so on. And there was a very funny thing, the… it's a little anecdote that doesn't really belong here, but I can't… help myself, I must tell it now. There is an… an establishment on Long Island, was at least at that time, the Long Island Hunt, where they were actually, like in Britain, hunting foxes with… with these dogs and… and chasing them on… on horses. And the Master of the Hunt, a Mr Dreyer, was actually a cousin of my wife, and so when his daughter Dorothy married we were invited to be at the wedding reception. And up to that time Murphy and his wife were… we were newly married, this was about two months after our marriage, Murphy and his wife had completely ignored us, but in the wedding reception we were about five or eight couples ahead of the Murphys and so when we reached Mrs Dreyer, the mother of the bride, she threw her arms around my wife and kissed her on the cheeks and… and treated her like a member of the family, which she was. And then we moved on the line, and then the Murphys passed by and the Murphys after that made a beeline for us and invited us for dinner, because it showed that we were now socially acceptable. So Murphy had a beautiful sense of English. He wrote beautiful things and he could give spellbinding speeches, he should have been a politician, he would have gone a long way; he was referred to as ‘the silver tongue of Brooklyn’ before he came to the American Museum [of Natural History]. He had only one disadvantage, he was also quite bright: he was very lazy. It was very hard to make him work and both [Frank] Chapman and eventually Sanford had great trouble getting manuscripts out of Murphy. Well, I shall not follow that line, but Murphy helped me when I… had completed my first papers I gave the manuscript… because Chapman was still in… in Panama, I gave my manuscripts to Murphy and he gave me some very helpful hints as to sentence structure and the use of certain words. So I'm… I'm always grateful to him for that.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: Long Island, Brooklyn, American Museum of Natural History, Panama, Robert Cushman Murphy, Leonard C Sanford, Frank Chapman

Duration: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008