When the World Beat a Path to Lincoln, Nebraska

July, 2013

Lincoln -- One hundred years ago, on August 9, 1913, several of the world's greatest scientists came to Lincoln to see Nebraska prairies and to pay tribute to the remarkable Nebraska botanist and education pioneer, Charles Bessey.

According to a Lincoln newspaper of the era, documents from the Library of Congress, and the later written reports of the scientists themselves, they came from England, Scotland, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, and Sweden. They were part of the Second International Phytogeographic Excursion, organized by Professors Henry Cowles of the University of Chicago and Frederic Clements of the University of Minnesota. Cowles and Clements were America's leading botanists and ecologists; they arranged for the stop in Lincoln.

The international party arrived in Lincoln the morning of August 9th by train from Chicago, some dressed in scientific exploration outfits expecting to go immediately to view prairies around Lincoln. University of Nebraska Chancellor Samuel Avery had other plans for them, as he put them in automobiles driven by Lincoln businessmen William Hardy and J.E. "Jack" Miller to show them the city. The closest most of them got to the countryside was a quick visit to the "Rogers' Woods" (presumably the Rogers Tract at 33rd and O Streets).

Temperatures that day were blistering hot: the thermometer would show 108 degrees by afternoon. For lunch, Chancellor Avery hosted the party at the Commercial Club, with Governor Morehead giving remarks on his roadbuilding program. Sir Arthur Tansley of England paid tribute to Professor Bessey but also admonished Nebraskans that too little was being done to appreciate and preserve the prairies.

After lunch, a lantern show was to feature the botanical slides of Nebraska botanist Raymond Pool. Pool was ill, however, and Frank Shoemaker, his assistant, may have helped out. Some of the international visitors insisted on getting out of the city; they visited the salt flats west of Lincoln before their train departed at 6:00 p.m. for Colorado and a ten day stay at Frederic Clements' laboratory on Pikes Peak.

The excursion ended in California.

On August 9, 2013, a few of us will attempt to recreate the Lincoln visit, one hundred years to the day later. We'll meet at 10:00 a.m. at Wyuka Cemetery (not far from Rogers' Woods), where the cemetery's south iron fence is the same fence that surrounded the university's campus from 1891 to 1925. We'll stop at the final resting places of Charles Bessey and several of his remarkable protégés, including Frederic Clements himself, recognized as the founder of the science of ecology.

We'll note the grave markers of the 1913 tour drivers, Hardy and Miller, better known as the founders of the Hardy Furniture Company and the Miller and Paine department store.

We'll exit Lincoln through what remains of the salt flats and have lunch on a prairie northwest of the city that would have been an ideal site for the international party to have visited a hundred years earlier.