When we began scanning the Ned L. Huff Lantern Slide Collection a few months ago, we had very little knowledge of just who Ned Huff was other than that he was a botany professor at the University. Ned was briefly mentioned in a departmental history titled The History of the Department of Botany 1889-1989, is relatively vacant from Google searches, and there is no file bearing his name within the extensive biographical files at the University Archives.
The following images from Huff's hand-colored lantern slides are captioned "home garden." Where was his home? With whom did he live? Who was Ned Huff?
In my quest to answer all of the questions I had about Huff I first turned to the Digital Conservancy, the definitive source of historical administrative records for the University of Minnesota. After browsing through a series of Board of Regents Meeting Minutes, where the only mention of Huff is as a line item in faculty salary adjustments and approvals, I came across an article published in the Minnesota Alumni Weekly on October 23, 1916, which lists publications of University faculty. Huff published a paper titled "Copper sulfate treatment of St. Paul water supply" in the June 1916 edition of the Journal of American Water Works Association.
He had a salary, and he published a paper. I thought to myself, "There has got to be more information on the illusive Huff!"
The Board of Regents Minutes provided a few more details about Huff, though they are brief. "Ned L. Huff retired as Asst Prof Emeritus Botany" was found in the June 16, 1945 Minutes. In the Regents Minutes for October 11, 1958 Huff is listed as a donor to the University, "Professor Emeritus Ned L. Huff, 400 colored slides of botanical subjects, valued at approximately $2800."
It wasn't until I opened the Minutes of the University Senate for June 4, 1964 that I found a detailed biography of Ned L. Huff - his obituary.
Ned L. Huff was born on September 21, 1876 in Pendleton County, Kentucky to Nancy Jane Elliot Huff and Michael D. Huff. The Huff family moved to a homestead in Morrison County, Minnesota in 1880 when Huff was four years old. The family later moved to Little Falls, where Ned attended high school. Following his graduation in 1897, Huff attended the Minneapolis Academy to complete prerequisites required for acceptance to the University of Minnesota. He completed his B.A. at the University in 1903. After a year of teaching high school at Fergus Falls, Huff returned to the University as a graduate assistant to the Chair of the Department of Botany Conway MacMillan and completed his M.A. in 1905. He served as Instructor of Botany from 1906-1910, after which he was named an Assistant Professor of Botany, a position he held until his retirement in 1945.
During his 39 year career at the University, Huff taught the primary courses in general botany and in 1935 initiated a long-running course titled, "Minnesota Plant Life" which was given as a night course through the General Extension Division. The obituary described Huff's dedication to his courses -
"The course in Minnesota Plant Life, intended for teachers, camp and scout leaders, and for all who wished to know more about the native plants and habits of Minnesota, was his great love; it gave him free opportunity to select illustrative material from among the about 1,200 photographic slides which he had made of Minnesota plants and had spent endless hours hand coloring, before the advent of color photographs. He has used these earlier in illustrated public lectures at the Museum of Natural History and Minnesota Botanical Club at the Minneapolis Public Library, and had discovered their great potential educational value. This course also provided an opportunity to display the wealth of pressed and otherwise preserved plant specimens which he had collected and prepared during his summer vacations on camping trips throughout the state, especially in the northern counties."
In addition to his devotion to botanical instruction, Huff pursued the study of ornithology and operated a bird banding station at his home in south Minneapolis.
Huff was a bachelor his entire life. He kept his home for his father, mother, and three sisters. He passed away on January 22, 1964.
The obituary provided a final thought on the life of Huff:
"While he lived a quiet life, unmarked by any spectacular happenings, his devotion to his chosen work has left its mark on his many students. His thoughtful and cheerful personality and devotion to his family and to his many friends are still fondly remembered."
Huff's devotion to instruction and Minnesota flora lives on with the Exploring Minnesota's Natural History grant project. The over 5,000 lantern slides that he once used to teach thousands of University students and citizens of Minnesota about ferns, flowers, trees, and grasses, will soon be digitally accessible to all who want to learn about the plant life of our state.
Although Huff was formerly characterized as living a life "unmarked by any spectacular happenings," his lantern slides tell a different story. From his home garden in southeast Minneapolis, to the Minnesota Seaside Station in British Columbia, at Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Parks, and up and down the state of Minnesota, the slides capture the beauty of the natural landscape as seen through the vantage point of a spectacular botanist, photographer, artist, and contributor to the preservation of natural history.
Now that Exploring has found Ned, we've only just begun to share his story. More spectacular slides to come...
This Wednesday in our series chronicling the adventures of former Bell Museum preparator and director Walter J. Breckenridge, we share just how far - or high - Breckenridge went in order to study birds. In his autobiography, My Life in Natural History, Breckenridge recalled his pursuit to photograph and film with a motion picture camera a family of Great Horned Owls found nesting in Minneapolis in 1931. Was he successful? Read on to find out...
"This nest was high up in an old oak tree, one of several that made up a small grove three or four miles north from my home. After studying the situation, I decided that one of the neighboring oaks was perfectly located to provide a site for a photographic blind about fifteen feet from the nest, which I found contained four eggs. Knowing that great horned owls lay their eggs as early as late February, I calculated that, with an incubation period of 28 days, the eggs probably were well along toward hatching since I found the nest in April. At this late stage of incubation there would be little chance of the bird deserting the nest should I disturb it during my photographic preparations. With this in mind, a friend and I first fastened a trio of heavy poles as a base for my blind at about the level of the nest in the other tree. After a day or two I added some more poles. Then, still later, I bent over some slender poles to form a dome shaped frame. Over this I draped a burlap cover with observations holes... "
From his blind high above the ground in an adjacent tree, Breckenridge had a prime vantage point from which to photograph the newly hatched owlets and observe the parents feeding the young. Breckenridge recalled:
"The ambitious project was aimed at getting motion pictures of the feeding behavior of the birds. I knew that owls were largely nocturnal and that most of the feeding would occur when the light would be too weak for photography, but I hoped that as the growing young demanded more and more food, at least some feeding would take place when suitable daylight was available."
Breckenridge returned to the tree daily, climbed to the top to reach the blind, and held out hope that the weather would be in his favor. As he explained in the autobiography, his activities took place during the 1930s "during the Dust Bowl days of the drought." He explained:
"One of my early morning vigils was interrupted by weather. A strong breeze developed and soon clouds of dust began appearing in the air... Anticipating a still stronger wind from the west, and finding my tree perch beginning to sway dangerously, I beat a hasty descent before my tree, with my added weight, might snap or be uprooted."
Breckenridge was not deterred by weather nor bird behavior and continued to occupy his blind day after day. He continued:
"After several unsuccessful morning watches in my cramped little blind, I finally determined that my disturbing the family routine in the early mornings by climbing to the blind was preventing any feeding of the young until several hours has passed for the normal quiet to be reestablished. With this in mind I determined to take really drastic steps to assure my success. I stuffed my packsack not only with my photographic gear but also with a warm woolen blanket, and ascended to my "flagpole sitting perch" at midnight. I curled up to at least try to sleep through the rest of the night in order to be on hand when morning light brightened enough for photography. I felt confident that if I really did doze off and began shifting about in my sleep, my safety belt would prevent my rolling out of my lofty bedstead. It worked OK and the crack of dawn found me still safely curled up in my tree top hideaway. In the gradually increasing morning light I set up my tripod and camera and awaited the coming of my actors on their precarious stage...
The big question was: Would my actors wait with their acting until the light was bright enough for photography?"
- Great Horned Owls, young, Minneapolis, May 20, 1931
- Great Horned Owls, young, Minneapolis, May 20, 1931.
Though Breckenridge was able to take some still photographs as evidenced by the images above, the light remained too weak for him to record any film of the Great Horned Owls. He recalled, "Always when my [light] meter told me to go ahead and shoot, the owl would fly over to a nearby tree and settle down to roost for the day." Ever positive, Breckenridge concluded that his efforts were not for nothing, "all the arduous blind building and tedious sitting was by no means lost effort... years later I gave a talk to a local Audubon Society entitled, 'Movies I Failed to Get.'"
Part of the thrill for me in working on the Exploring Minnesota's Natural History grant project is traveling to all sorts of new places around the state with each new image from the collections that come across my desk. As part of the metadata creation for our thousands of images of the flora and fauna of Minnesota, we are adding geographic coordinates - when locations are given - so that researchers will be able to identify the approximate place or point where a particular bird nested or a plant specimen was picked.
That brings me to the point of this post - Minnesota Point to be exact. The following images of a Piping Plover were taken from the glass plate negatives in the Bell Museum records. On the envelope that encloses each negative was written, "Minnesota Point, Duluth 5/24/38." Now I'm aware of Park Point, which is a neighborhood of Duluth, but I had never heard of "Minnesota Point" as a place name before. Thankfully, I have some trusty resources at hand that can point me in the right direction to find the location where this Piping Plover was nesting in 1938.
Minnesota Place Names, a geographical encyclopedia written by Warren Upham and published by the Minnesota Historical Society, has a fully searchable online counterpart. A search for Minnesota Point provided an entry for Park Point in St. Louis County. Park Point and Minnesota Point are essentially one in the same geographically, Minnesota Point being defined as "a very prolonged and somewhat broad sandbar beach reaching from the north shore near the center of Duluth about seven miles southeastward, which, with the similar but shorter Wisconsin Point, encloses the Duluth and Superior harbor, also known as the Bay of Superior." The neighborhood of Park Point, formerly a village that was later annexed by Duluth, resides on Minnesota Point "south of and below the Duluth ship canal."
The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), which was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, is the accepted Federal standard for all geographic nomenclature. The database contains records of all recognized historical and current geographical features in the United States. There are 65 different features, or categories of geological locations, from "Airport" to "Woods." The GNIS record for Minnesota Point categorizes the location as a "Cape," the definition of which is, "Projection of land extending into a body of water (lea, neck, peninsula, point)." The record locates the cape in St. Louis County, Minnesota, and gives two sequences of coordinates, the first of which (46.7282731 Latitude; -92.0479678 Longitude) I take and add to the records that describe the Piping Plover images.
Despite now knowing the location where this Piping Plover nested in 1938, it remains anybody's guess as to what the Plover was looking around for...
- Piping Plover on nest, front view, Minnesota Point, May 24, 1938.
How is your view today? When I look out my window I see the snow falling, gray skies, and the dismal frigid environment that we seem unable to escape here in Minnesota. When I look away from my window and back to my computer screen, I see hope.
From the Ned L. Huff Lantern Slide Collection in the Department of Botany records:
With Minnesota fishing licenses set to expire tomorrow, we thought we should share some of the fishy photos from the negatives in the Bell Museum of Natural History records to commemorate the close of the 2013 angling season. Cast your eyes upon these catches:
(From the negatives in the Bell Museum of Natural History records)
In February of 1916, Thomas Sadler Roberts, associate curator of the Zoological Museum, released the first of what he termed "Occasional Papers," a series of bulletins issued from the "Zoological Division of the Geological and Natural History Survey." The content of volume number one, titled "The Winter Bird-Life of Minnesota," was actually first published in the December 1915 edition of "Fins, feathers and fur," a publication of the Minnesota Game and Fish Commission (now known as the Department of Natural Resources).
Roberts's paper provides an illustrated annotated list of the "permanent resident" and "winter visitant" birds found in Minnesota. The paper opens with a beautiful full-color illustration by artist Kako Morita that shows the distinct yellow coloring of the Evening Grosbeak.
In the preface Roberts shared his purpose for the publication:
"One of the considerations in presenting this paper on our winter birds is the hope that it will bring to the Natural History Survey much additional information in regard to the bird life of the state. All notes and records will be most welcome and will be so preserved and filed that they will find their way into future publications, credited to the persons reporting them. Address the author, care of the Zoological Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn."
Roberts's colleague, Frank M. Chapman, Curator in the Department of Birds at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and publisher of Bird-Lore magazine (precursor to Audubon magazine), wrote a review of "Winter Bird-Life" which he included in the May-June edition of the magazine. Chapman wrote, "This attractive-looking brochure is both authoritative and popular. It is therefore of equal value to the student who desires only its contained information on distribution for faunal purposes, as well as to the local bird-lover who would know when and where to look for birds during the winter in Minnesota."
The incoming correspondence contained within the Bell Museum of Natural History records includes many letters from all over North America that include requests for copies of the "occasional paper." From Philadelphia to Saratoga and Winnipeg to the University of Wisconsin, readers of Bird-Lore wanted to get their hands on Roberts's "Winter Bird-Life."
The bulletin also became a much sought-after reference tool to the growing base of Minnesota citizens interested in bird study. Dozens of letters were written to Roberts to request materials and literature on birds. Without charging any fee for the publication itself or the postage to send it, Roberts forwarded copies of "Winter Bird-Life" to any person that requested it (that is up until the mid-1920s when the supply was exhausted).
Incoming museum correspondence captures how the bulletin was appreciated. Caroline M. Young, who wrote to Roberts from Staples, Minnesota on January 25, 1920, was especially thankful to have the illustration of the Evening Grosbeak, as the species were "winter visitants" to her vicinity that year:
"Dear Doctor Roberts:
I wish to thank you for your great kindness in sending me this handsome booklet "The Winter Bird-Life of Minnesota".
It was exactly what I wanted, or what we wanted, for many folks here in Staples, beside myself, were interested in this beautiful bird. I have shown the booklet right and left.
I wish you could have seen the lovely creature today. A heavy snow was falling, the trees were laden with the white masses, yet the box elders all up and down our street were peppered thick with the pretty yellow things.
Why call them Evening Grosbeaks, I wonder, they are out all hours of the day.
Again thanking you for your thoughtfulness, which I greatly appreciate."
The Pioneer Press recently published an article about public safety in one of Minneapolis's oldest city parks, "Frozen Minnehaha Falls are cool, but visitors should heed warnings." Minnehaha Park's Minnehaha Falls are certainly a sight in the winter. The falling water freezes mid-fall and creates a curtain that blankets the side of the bluff from where the water floods into Minnehaha Creek below. However, this is a sight that shouldn't technically be seen - as the stairs and pathway that lead to the falls are officially closed in the winter. Those that usurp the chain barricade blocking the stairway entrance could find themselves on the other side of the law should a park officer happen to stroll by.
I wonder if the same rules applied in the early 1900s? Carroll Roberts --son of Thomas Sadler Roberts, former Bell Museum director-- captured the frozen falls with a camera circa 1900:
- People crossing a wooden bridge over Minnehaha Creek in the winter, Minnehaha Falls in the distance, circa 1900.
(From the negatives in the Bell Museum of Natural History collection)