From the book cover:
Witmer Stone’s name is synonymous with Cape May birding. One of the leading ornithologists of his time, Stone was also an outstanding botanist and all-around naturalist. His kindly humor and twinkling eyes are evident in his writings, which are still read and enjoyed by naturalists today. Yet, until now, little has been known about the details of his life.
In this book you’ll learn about Stone’s boyhood interest in natural history, which led to his work at the Academy of Natural Sciences, with the American Ornithologists’ Union, and in conservation. You’ll follow the development of his classic Pine Barrens and Cape May books, from the inspirational spark for each to their appearances in print. Most of all, you’ll get to know Witmer Stone as a person, the amicable naturalist whose clever wit and good nature – glimpsed even now between the lines of his famous books – was well known among his friends and colleagues.
“In Scott McConnell’s solid, in depth, yet easily readable study, you will learn of Stone as a gifted naturalist and biologist who was as well-known for his botanical studies as he was for bird research. You will marvel at Stone’s vast interests, output, favorite haunts, and talented colleagues. Get to know Stone. You will be amazed.”
– CLAY and PAT SUTTON, authors of Birds and Birding at Cape May
“Witmer Stone was a critically important fi gure in the history of American ornithology. In this long-anticipated biography, Scott McConnell’s careful research and ear for a good story combine to bring Stone to life and restore his reputation to the preeminence it deserves.”
-ROBERT McCRACKEN PECK, author of A Celebration of Birds:
The Life and Art Of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and co-author of A Glorious
Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the
Making of American Science
“McConnell writes with precision and verve, and his work will be popular with birders who want to better understand the history of bird observation. In particular, the vitally important Cape May area — the focus of much of Stone’s passions — is also revealed in three dimensions, beyond those understood by the small armies of birdwatchers who visit the region every year.”
– DANIEL LEWIS, author of The Feathery Tribe: Robert Ridgway and
the Modern Study of Birds
And a more detailed version:
Witmer Stone (1866–1939) was one of the preeminent ornithologists of his day, and has been called one of the last of the “great naturalists.” In addition to his involvement in the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), including editing their journal The Auk for 25 years, he also produced an exhaustive flora of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and made lesser contributions to mammalogy and entomology. He worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP) for 51 years, and performed heroic work salvaging their historic bird collection, which had been neglected for twenty years prior to his arrival. Stone’s name is also synonymous with birding at Cape May Point. The phenomenon of fall bird migration at that location was first described by him, and his book Bird Studies at Old Cape May (BSOCM) was the earliest signpost pointing the way to what is now one of the most popular North American birding destinations.
His Pine Barrens and Cape May books are still widely read by natural history buffs, and are not only considered invaluable for their record of historical conditions, but are admired for their vivid, descriptive prose that succeeds wonderfully in taking readers back to an earlier time. BSOCM, in particular, is a classic of American, time-and-place natural history literature. Stone wrote with the same twinkle in the eye that he exhibited in person, and the pleasantness of personality that leavened his writings has garnered him a host of modern-day admirers.
And yet, the details of Stone’s life remain mostly unknown. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Stone wrote almost nothing in the way of autobiography or memoir, and very little has been written about him in ornithological history books. Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature was produced to correct that situation. Because so little has been written about Stone, it was necessary to spend thousands of hours culling his correspondence at ANSP and other institutions, and fleshing out the details of his biography a little bit at a time – building a house brick by brick, as it were.
I have uncovered many details about the long lost world he lived in: Stone and his boyhood friends foretelling their future careers in science with their early immersion in natural history study; the conditions, research, and interpersonal relationships at ANSP; battles fought by conservation organizations in the early days of the movement against excessive collecting and the millinery trade; the politics, activities, and personalities of the AOU, with insights into the tasks of journal publishing and checklist production; the formative years of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, including the colorful characters among the early members; the development of Stone’s Pine Barrens and Cape May books; and matters more generally experienced by the broader public at the time, like World War I, the Depression, and the challenge of staying healthy – even alive – in days before the appearance of modern medical miracles like antibiotics and coronary stents.
Witmer Stone has been allowed to slip through the cracks of history for long enough, and his story is finally about to be enjoyed by an audience interested in learning more about the kindly old naturalist they’ve glimpsed between the lines of his books.