Letter from SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated October 31, 1881.
Dear Mr Marsh:
I have just received your "fishy" letter of Oct. 12, and have read it with great interest.
As far as the swallow tate is concerned, I have of course heard it before, and have
received from my informants equally veracious assurances that the swallows, after
going into the ponds in winter, turn into frogs. All stages of the transformation
have been seen by many reputable witnesses. I expect that the tail is the most
difficult thing to get rid of. It can be proved, however, that the swallows do not
all go into the water or turn into frogs, as some of them, at least, go south, appearing in large quantities in the West Indies, Mexico and South America.
I see no improbability in the eel story, except the size which is rather a large measure.
I have been in correspondence with M Story and
M Price, the latter being the U.S. Consul at Leghorn, in regard to the
samples of building and ornamental stones for our great collection in the National
Museum: both gentlemen promise hearty assistance. If it comes in your way to obtain
and send to us, either through M Price or anybody else, specimens of any
ancient buildings, in such a form that we can work them up
into four-inch cubes, I will be glad to get them. Of course, the philosophical way to determine the durability of stone is to take samples which have been exposed for centuries in public buildings, and then to study minutely their physical and chemical properties, obtaining thereby some facts which in the case of untried material would be applicable. If the stones still retain any portion of the original face, of course, so much the better.
We are making up a great many special exhibits that cannot fail to be of great
educational value. In addi-
tion to the building-stones we have one of the materia medica, one of chemical products; one of paints, oils and dyes; one of foods; one of the derivatives, with their applications, from tar and petroleum; to say nothing of textile substances and fabrics in all stages of construction.
Our new building promises to be admirably adapted for such displays, and being equivalent in size to a Smithsonian edifice, 2000 feet long, you can imagine what chances we have for exhibition purposes.
We returned a few weeks ago from our summer sojourn at Wood's Holl, Mass; where we
have been carrying on the work of the
Fish Commission. We have found on the edge of the Gulf Stream, about one hundred (100) miles from shore, a most wonderful fauna, vastly exceeding in richness and extent anything known to science. New species of aquatic animals by the hundreds have rewarded our efforts, including also a very valuable food-fish of immense size and abundance, and previously entirely unknown.
Mary and Lucy send warmest love to you and M Marsh.
Yours sincerelySpencer F BairdHon. Geo. P. MarshU.S. MinisterRomeItaly.
References in this letter:
As a consequence of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, the Smithsonian acquired a tremendous number of objects and required larger quarters for its museum. In 1876 Joseph Henry proposed to add on wing to the original Castle, but the Regent's eventually agreed on the need for another building and in 1879 Congress appropriated for the new structure, the National Museum Building.
William Wetmore Story (1819-1895), a graduate of Harvard Law School, eventually left the law for sculpture, settling in Rome. Two of his most famous pieces, both reflecting an interest in exotic subjects, are "Cleopatra" (1858) and "The Libyan Sibyl" (1861).
In the 1860s Baird had became concerned about the decline of Atlantic fish populations. In a 1870 report to the House Committee on Appropriations he suggested the appointment of a Fish Commissioner to direct research into the problem. President Grant appointed Baird the first director of the newly formed U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries in 1871.