by Vince Matthews
Serving as General Chair of GSA’s 125th Anniversary Meeting caused me to ponder a bit more about our legacy than I normally would have. As I thought back over the last hundred and twenty five years, several of my favorite GSA members/stories come to mind: S.F. Emmons, Frank Taylor, Margaret Fuller Boos, and N. L. Bowen. Here are some ramblings about them.
A couple of blocks from my house here in Leadville, is where Frank Emmons camped with his field crew while conducting his magnificent study of the Leadville Mining District. This study resulted in the world renowned “Miners Bible” (USGS Monograph XII) that was published two years before he became a founding fellow of GSA. Emmons made major contributions to our early understanding of the geology of the West in many areas. He was one of the two lead geologists for Clarence King’s Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel. During that service, his observations were key in exposing the “Great Diamond Hoax”. Emmons Glacier was named for him on Mount Rainer to recognize his pioneering work there. His work was recognized both in America and Europe.
Whereas Emmons was widely recognized and honored, Frank Taylor has suffered relative obscurity, when he shouldn’t have. In 1908, Taylor presented an oral paper at the GSA meeting wherein he proposed Continental Drift as a mechanism for the origin of mountain belts. His 1910 paper in the GSA Bulletin is spooky to read these days. He talked about the mid-Atlantic Ridge being a place where “plates” were moving apart. He talked about the Himalayas being the place where the Asian continent was being thrust out onto the Indian crust. He talked about the Aleutians being thrust out onto the Pacific Ocean floor. Taylor’s oral presentation was four years before Alfred Wegner’s oral presentation, and his publication was five years before Wegner’s. But, Taylor’s affliction was that he was publishing in an American scientific journal, and Wegner published in German. Back then, if anything was important, it was published in German. So, most of the geological community is unaware of Taylor’s amazing analysis.
Margaret Fuller Boos received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1929 and was the 10th woman to become a fellow of GSA. In 1927, she was the first woman naturalist to be hired in Rocky Mountain National Park and wrote the geological guide for the Park that is still used by Park personnel today. Margaret studied and published on the Front Range of Colorado for the next several decades. She taught at The University of Denver, where she and her students plane-tabled the marbles of the Front Range metamorphic complex. In my judgment, her 1955 map of the Laramide faults along the flank of the Front Range are still the most comprehensive, and accurate, representation of those features. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know her in her eighties.
Reading N.L. Bowen’s Presidential Address to the Society in 1947, and HH Read’s response when visiting as President of the Geological Society of London, gives an insight into some of the more lively exchanges that used to not be too rare in our society. Read and Bowen were foremost thinkers in the world on the origin of granite in 1947, with Bowen being a magmatist and Read a granitizer. In his presidential address, Bowen defines the differences between him and Read thusly:
“We can indeed for rough purposes, separate petrologists into the ‘pontiffs’ and the ‘soaks.’ The pontiff bears the stigma of magma. The magma gives rise to emanations which yield a liquor. The difference between the ‘pontiff’ and the ‘soak’ is that the latter must have his liquor in lavish quantities on all occasions, but the former handles his liquor like a gentleman. He can take it or leave it, according to the indications of the individual occasion.” Read appeared by invitation, before GSA, and started by saying, “I don’t know whether I am here in the capacity of President of the Geological Society, or as a penitent before the pontiff’s bench. But, I would remind Professor Bowen that the Pontiff is capable of great deal more misdeeds than the village drunk.”
We have lost most of this type of exchange in our meetings, and I am not sure it is for the best. Sometimes it was good to hear a Jim Gilluly or Aaron Waters stand up in a talk and issue a “Hogwash”. I feel honored to have received a “Horses**t” from Gilluly a few decades ago.
Dr. Vincent Matthews III is the former State Geologist of Colorado, and currently serves as Interim Executive Director at National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum as well as Principal of Leadville Geology, LLC.