Plummers Island has been kept as a biologists’ paradise for many years and, so far as possible, has remained in a fairly primitive condition. It has proved to be an ideal spot for study and peaceful recreation in surroundings congenial to the Club’s members. Its proximity to the Nation’s Capital, remarkable in itself, has made it especially a boon to those members, whose time for such recreation is limited, but who seek frequent relaxation from the pressures of government jobs and the tempo of modern urban living. It is natural that the island, unique and little known to outsiders, should have become a most precious possession in the minds and hearts of all the members.
Over the years, Plummers Island has become somewhat a shrine, as ashes of deceased members have been buried or scattered there. By their expressed wishes the ashes of Eugene Schwartz, A. K. Fisher, and Richard Manville have been scattered on Plummers Island and plaques placed as a permanent memorial for Swartz and Fisher. Plaques were installed in the early years with hand tools, but in the 1990s members hauled a generator to the spot so power tools could be used.
The ashes of Herbert Barber rest along the lower trail on the Club’s mainland property. Also, on the mainland are the ashes of the famous naturalist-explorer, Arthur de Carle Sowerby (1885-1954). No markers were placed for these two individuals. Sowerby was not a member, but a guest and friend of members.
Although Edgar Alexander Mearns also was not a member, he was an early distinguished friend of the Club, and his ashes were placed on the Island and a marker secured to a stone. Because he was not a member, his biography is not among the members, but is included in this section.
Under the terms of the Club’s agreement with the National Park Service, the property may no longer be used for memorial purposes, except in the case of those persons who were members on or before August 1, 1958.
Jack Clarke’s ashes were scattered on the mainland and Island by his wife, Nancy Clarke, and Karl Krombein early in the morning on October 13, 1990. At noon Jack’s life was celebrated by his family and a number of entomologists, both members and nonmembers, at a picnic lunch. President Richard Banks dedicated a plaque in Jack’s memory at a meeting on the Island, September 14, 1991, attended by family, members and friends.
A memorial plaque for Mason Hale was dedicated by President Banks on November 16, 1991, at a service on the Island attended by family, members and friends. Mason’s ashes were scattered on the Island later by his wife, Bea, and daughter, Janet. Mason Hale was not a member in 1958, but the Park Service granted permission for installing a plaque because of Mason's close association with the Island and the studies he conducted there on lichens.
A memorial service was conducted for George Vogt, and his ashes were scattered on the mainland opposite the cabin on January 13, 1991. The service was attended by several members and entomological colleagues at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Jim Stevenson’s ashes were scattered on the Island, October 21, 1991, at a service attended by family, members and friends. A memorial plaque for Jim was dedicated by President Banks at a service attended by his son, Jim, members, and friends following the Oyster Roast on October 31, 1992.
There are now 13 plaques on Plummers Island for the following persons:
John W. Aldrich
Victor H. Cahalane
John F. Gates Clarke
Albert. K. Fisher
Marshall C. Gardner
Edward H. Graham
Mason E. Hale, Jr.
Edgar A. Mearns
Kenneth W. Parker
Eugene A. Schwarz
James O. Stevenson
Lloyd W. Swift
A plaque commemorating Karl K. Krombein was installed in the Spring of 2007. The plaque is the last installed by the Club on the Island and it was installed in a recession of the rock made with hammer and chisel, which hardened back to those techniques used in earlier years.
EDGAR ALEXANDER MEARNS (1856-1916)
Edgar was born September 11, 1856, at Highland Falls, New York. He manifested an early interest in birds, encouraged by his parents. When he was about ten he began to record his observations of birds, and when he was 16 years old, he began to prepare a vertebrate fauna of his region and started a well-labeled collection. Edgar recorded over 60,000 observations for the birds alone and was exchanging specimens with European collectors by 1875. His first published paper (Bull. Nuttall Ornith. Club 3:45-46. 1878) acknowledged information from his “friend, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt,” worthy of comment because almost his last field work was under the same leader of men when Roosevelt was president. He graduated from the Donald Highland Institute at Highland Falls and entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York. He and Dr. A. K. Fisher, an early member of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club, shared the same room in a boarding house. During this period he began the publication of the vertebrates with a series of papers on the birds of the Hudson Highlands. Edgar graduated as a surgeon and married Ella Wittich in 1881. His joining the Army in 1883 slowed his work on the biology of the Hudson Highlands, but he did publish more in 1898, including 50 pages on the vertebrates with Observations on the Mollusca, Crustacea, Lepidoptera and the Flora of the Region.
In 1882, Edgar passed the Army Medical Examining Board and was given time to settle affairs. He stored his specimens at the American Museum of Natural History and “there I labeled all of the large collection of European birds, and many others from Asia and Africa....” and “ established a cabinet collection in zoology for use of the students”..., using his own specimens! He participated in the founding of American Ornithologists’ Union in September 1883 and in December received his commission as assistant surgeon with the rank of first lieutenant. He was offered the choice of several stations and chose Fort Verde in Arizona (abandoned in 1891), a desolate and arid place, but a new world to Edgar. He formed a splendid collection of plants and animals and explored the ruins of the Rio Verde Valley. He was popular with his brother officers, who admired his diligence and zeal in preparing specimens.
In 1888, he was transferred to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, remaining until 1891 (later returning in 1903) where he again accumulated a large suite of animal and plant specimens. The Mexican-United States International Boundary Commission was organized and in 1891 Edgar, who now was a Captain, was directed to report for duty and “by previous correspondence” he had obtained authority to establish a “biological section of the survey, provided this could be accomplished without additional cost to the Commission.” The work continued from February 1892 to September 1894, resulting in 30,000 specimens collected and transmitted to the U.S. National Museum.
At the close of the Mexican Boundary work he was ordered to duty at Fort Meyer, Virginia, with permission to study collections at the US National Museum. Much of the elaborate work he prepared was not published because Congress withheld the sum for printing and illustrations, but the first part (Mammals) did appear in 1907. By 1896, he took a vacation in the form of field work in the Catskills, which was the subject of a paper in 1898.
In 1898, he was commissioned brigade surgeon with rank of major in the Spanish-American War, serving until March 1899, when he was honorably discharged and returned to his regular duties, being posted to Fort Adams, Rhode Island. Edgar joined the Newport Natural History Society and took an active part in its work. In late 1900, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was granted sick leave, which he spent camping on the Kissimmee prairie region of Florida, where in February 1901 he was promoted to Surgeon. On his return in May 1901, he began studies of jaguars and other tropical cats and published results soon after. In 1902, he was posted to Fort Yellowstone, where he was particularly active in collecting plants.
In 1903-04 (and again 1905-06), he was posted to the Philippines, where he was largely responsible for the formation of the “Philippine Scientific Association,” organized July 27, 1903, for the promotion of science in the Philippine Islands. Major General Leonard Wood was president of the Association and encouraged every form of scientific endeavor. During his first visit Edgar served as surgeon in the military department of Mindanao, where his time was so fully occupied that he had to work far into the night to preserve the specimens brought to him during the day. In his official capacity he accompanied eight punitive expeditions against the Moros, but his collections grew. He accompanied General Wood on three trips of inspection, including a 1904 ascent of Mt. Apo, the highest peak of the Philippines where he made many collections. By September 1904, the hard work had its effect and he was sent to San Francisco with complications of tropical parasitic disorders. After partial recovery he went to Washington and began a series of five papers, establishing six new genera and twenty five new species of mammals from the Philippines.
In May 1906, he was put in command of “Biological and Geological Reconnaissance of the Malindang Mountain Group” in western Mindanao, an expedition with 49 people, most of whom returned to the coast. After a month, they made it to the top of the second highest peak of the Philippines and Edgar remained on the summit three days to secure a good collection of the life at that altitude. Another achievement was an ascent of Mt. Halycon in November 1906, documented by E. D. Merrill, botanist of the trip. Late in 1907, he left the Philippines and was ordered to Fort Totten, New York, where he became aware of the disease that would bring his career to an end in 1916.
In 1908, President T. Roosevelt planned an extensive hunting and scientific expedition to Africa and invited the Smithsonian to participate. Edgar was suggested for naturalist and agreed. On January 1, 1909, he was retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel but “to report to the President of the United States for duty.” The party sailed in March 1909. It traversed East Africa where Edgar seized the opportunity to collect material up Mt. Kenya to the snow line, walk across Uganda to better collect and observe, and ultimately down the White Nile to the coast. Of the 4,000 birds collected, 3,000 were by Edgar, who also collected small mammals, plants, and other specimens.
In 1911, he was requested by Childs Frick for another African Expedition and from late 1911 until September 1912 he was in Abyssinia ultimately reaching Nairobi with collections, including over 5,000 birds. During this trip his only son died, the news withheld until his return, and news that proved a severe shock. His hope of working up his collections withered with ever-widening periods of inability to reach his office. He passed away at the Walter Reed Army General Hospital in Washington on November 1, 1916.
His early collections up to 1891, went to the American Museum of Natural History and the later ones went to the U.S. National Museum.
Standley commented that Edgar collected the largest and best representation of the plants of Mexican Boundary and Yellowstone Park, adding “probably no one person has contributed a larger number of plants” to the U.S. National Museum. Hollister, referring to Philippine mammals said that of the 1,454 specimens in the National Museum, Edgar gave 1,012.
He published about 125 titles and had several organisms named for him. Mearnsia is the genus of a tree in the Myrtaceae family from Mt. Halcon. A swift of Mindanao also carries his name and the genus Mearnsella was given to a fish of Mindanao.
For one who engaged in so many difficult journeys, Edgar was of a rather frail build, being only 5 foot 4 inches and never weighed more than 140 pounds, but blessed with determination. “Serene and placid in disposition, cheerful and optimistic in temperament, he was fond of the beautiful ..., yet philosophical and analytic and systematic by nature.”