The Legacy of Arthur M. Greenhall - from Snake Hunter to Vampires!
Elizabeth 's Perspective as related by The Professor
“To say he is sorely missed is a gross understatement. And not to have him at hand seems as unnatural as not to have my eyes or my feet. Going forward without him seems utterly grotesque and unnatural - foolish as that may sound. It is no more ridiculous than to say we seemed a part of each other. When one is gone, the other is incomplete. Even after fifty years of marriage we never grew tired of traveling the world together, going for walks, holding hands, sharing thoughts, or kissing one another hello or good-bye.” Elizabeth Rusk Greenhall (April 1998)
Their love story unfolds.
Arthur met Elizabeth in 1940, when he was associated with Dr. Raymond Ditmars who was a curator with the Bronx Zoo in New York City . One evening Arthur brought, Snake Hunter's Holiday a book by William Bridges and Raymond Ditmars in 1934, which described his exploits. His intention was to give Elizabeth an idea about the kind of life of travel and adventure he was aiming for. It documents one of Arthur's lively field trips to the Tropics where he collected animals, mainly reptiles for the Bronx Zoo. Elizabeth and Arthur went out that evening, and by the time they returned to Elizabeth 's home her mother had started reading the book, claiming that he had brought it for her to read! (This was all to the good, as the authors recount a very positive picture of Arthur's exploits.)
According to Elizabeth , Arthur proposed marriage on a New York Subway one evening saying, “I'm moving to Oregon to become the Director of the Portland Zoo, now we can get married. . . .?”
Elizabeth and Arthur were married on February 28, 1942 , “innocent friendliness”, Elizabeth muses.
Shortly thereafter, Arthur received permission from his New York City Draft Board to move out west. Portland does not always welcome Easterners, but the Greenhalls managed without difficulty thanks to Arthur's completely non-aggressive gentle diplomatic demeanor. He was always interested in listening to others and was never overbearing. They loved Oregon with its temperate climate, and their two children, Alice in 1943 and Paul in 1946, were born there.
“One of Art's first experiences at the zoo was an unpleasant one,” Elizabeth recalls. Art was working in the wild boar pen one day when the huge male boar caught him off guard goring him in his butt with its tusks. “And with a twitch of its huge head, tossed him high into the air, and knocked him clear out of his shoes!” She said.
Shortly after Paul was born, Arthur felt he should be accomplishing more in his career so he took the Nationwide Civil Service Zoo Curator Exam, placing first. In 1946 he was offered the post of Director at the prestigious Detroit Zoo, Michigan and accepted. The couple quickly discovered that the whole ambiance in Detroit was very different indeed. For the prevailing pattern was highly political. The zoo keepers, for example, were being treated poorly as some had little schooling but were professionals in every aspect of their zoo responsibilities, and this recognition was being ignored, which affected morale. The keepers urged Art to support them in their discussions with the City Fathers, so with great zeal and considerable success he managed to get the zoo keepers' prowess recognized. Art wore ‘several hats' at the zoo, including that of a Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Marshall who carried a gold shield. (Art treasured his badge, as it often helped him out of awkward situations - years later, though, the shield became enshrined in plastic as it was no longer used by law enforcement - retired, if you will, rather than being confiscated). Michigan politics and severe cold weather, however, forced Arthur to rethink his move to the Midwest .
“And Arthur hated the cold,” Elizabeth said. “Dad was a human barometer,” Paul recalls, “he could sense atmospheric pressure changes, even the slightest change would bring on a migraine headache, severe storms almost crippling him. Only harsh and often addictive medicine(s) helped him endure the migraine attacks.” Arthur and Elizabeth planned to leave Michigan and to migrate to a warmer climate, like Florida , Mexico or . . . perhaps the Caribbean . In 1947, Arthur wrote to his good friend, Ludolf Wehekind, a naturalist living in Trinidad , informing him how miserable he was in Michigan . Ludolph responded urging him to apply for a position with the Ministry of Agriculture as he had heard that the Trinidad Government was in search of a young zoologist with impeccable credentials to hire to develop the Emperor Valley Zoo. So he did. Six years later Arthur received a serious offer to become the British Colony's Zoologist, and he jumped at it! “ Trinidad is a different world,” Elizabeth explained. “The people are a cultural ‘mix-up', a beautiful blend of most races of the World making Trinidad and Tobago truly cosmopolitan.”Mom and dad loved the Tropics, especially Trinidad and Tobago with its Dry and Wet Seasons, tropical heat, temperatures between 75-85 and humidity”, Paul recalled.
As a teen in high school growing up in New York City , he had found that Central Park 's wildlife was a haven for snakes. So throughout the school year he collected the occasional one. He knew that residents often considered snakes pests and wanted them removed from their property, so he earned extra money during the year by collecting them to fund his field trips. He later released them elsewhere in the Park! With his curiosity about reptiles broadening, he discovered that some snakes had tiny spurs near their tail, an oddity. So he submitted his findings that “snakes have hips!” to Ripley's Believe It or Not! and was awarded $100. (In those days, $100 was a fortune). Arthur loved reading books about reptiles, and soon learned of the legendary herpetologist and author, Dr. Raymond Ditmars.
Ditmars' collecting expeditions for the Bronx Zoo were Indiana Jones-like adventures, and were always documented by the New York Times. The publicity helped educate zoo visitors and inform them of new animal arrivals. He was a prolific writer for Doubleday Publishers. His writing style was neither scientifically stiff, nor was it statistically overburdened, and he knew how to connect with the layman, encouraging them to learn more about the animals which inhabit most environments of the World. Arthur loved reading about Ditmars' adventures, and so he wrote him seeking an audience at the Bronx Zoo. Ditmars responded, the meeting was arranged with Arthur bubbling with excitement and he listening intently to the teenager's enthusiasm. Their friendship lasted for almost twenty years.
Art often acted as point-person for Ditmars by booking reservations, visiting local market places in search of animals for sale, and contacting hunters for common reptiles, like boa constrictors. This zeal earned him the nickname Snake Hunter by West Indians and Latin Americans who often helped them during the numerous field trips. And soon he had collected a wide variety of animals for the Bronx Zoo. Those that perished were preserved and given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City . By his twenties, Art had accompanied Ditmars on several trips throughout Central America and parts of South America . According to Paul, his dad spent considerable time in Cuba on a cattle ranch belonging to a good friend of Arthur's father, who coincidently had been investing heavily in Cuba . It was here that he became fluent in Spanish. “At dinnertime everyone had to speak Spanish at the table, or you did not eat,” Paul recalled. Relating a story about how his dad learned of the Cuban Revolution, Paul said “dad was in a Havana hotel room at the time, and received an urgent telephone call from granddad telling him to leave the city immediately! Naturally dad did what most wise kids do when told not to do something . . . He became scared when the windows in his room rattled from the explosions and machine gun sounds that resonated throughout city.”
The Ditmars-Greenhall friendship blossomed over the years. It was reciprocal as Ditmars had only daughters and doted upon him like a son, and Art considered him a surrogate father as his parents had divorced when he was five and later his mother died of Tuberculosis. “Great-grandfather Auffenhauser hated Harry Greenhall for abandoning his daughter,” Paul said, adding that dad was forbidden to visit his dad (Harry) after that. Art wanted to become a herpetologist like Ditmars, but his dad felt it was a waste of time, rather he felt he should attend university and become a stock broker like him. He did attend university, at the University of Michigan he excelled in zoology earning his Bachelors and Masters degree and completing the PhD program save for his dissertation in the 1930's.
The Ditmars and Greenhall expeditions were legendary. They collected various animal species not known to North America or ever having been exhibited at the Bronx Zoo before. These adventures attracted extensive media coverage and boosted the Zoo's visitation (the life blood of any zoo or museum). One such field trip to Trinidad in 1934, specifically to collect Vampire Bats, was documented in Snake Hunter's Holiday , where history unfolded.
Arthur photographed a vampire bat clinging to a goat's shoulder feeding on blood. A historic picture as it was the first time, a vampire bat had ever been filmed feeding (the bat, a female, was captured and later exhibited at the Bronx Zoo). In 1935, this feeding behavior was published by Zoologica (the Scientific Contributions of the New York Zoological Society), and later reprinted in the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1936. In 1946, this discovery was recognized as one of the most important scientific findings of the decade, and included in the book A Treasury of Science catapulting Arthur's endeavors into history.
Each field trip was planned with a specific goal to collect an allusive animal, like vampire bats, and eventually all sorts of exotic animals unique to the area, though totally new to North Americans were captured or purchased. Like Giant Toads or ‘Crapauds' - so large, one filled the bottom of a bucket; Whip Snakes, so slender and long it could be confused with a dangling vine; Giant Centipedes with tubular-like bodies twelve inches in length and an inch in diameter, several undulating claws and menacing looking head; Blue Crabs with an unusually large pincher, large enough for an adult's wrist to fit comfortably between each point without touching human skin!
These field trips typically took place during the summer months. Art paid his own way, too, saving money through out the year specifically for these expeditions. He loved to collect things unique to a specific country, like stamps, vinyl records with sounds of Cuba 's Mamba and Trinidad 's Calypso and machetes. Something as simple as a cutlass was unique, for example those from the Pampas tended to be twenty inches long, slender and sword-like having a Spanish saying, cuts deep and true like the love of a woman's caress, inscribed on the blade. And naturally newspaper clippings of their exploits were favorites, too. (For years herpetologists urged Arthur to write a book documenting his unique relationship with this legend - something Art deeply desired, but publishers felt the book might be redundant, so he never completed it).
A sense of humor is a must in the field, and Arthur would play pranks on good friends. One that lasted for more than thirty years was played on the late Dr. Roger Conant, while both were attending college. Dubbed The Greenhall-Conant Feud or Joke of the Palm is well documented in Conant's autobiography. Paul recalls part of the story, “it started by Art drawing a person's hand on a piece of paper and then passing it on to Roger during a zoology class. These drawings were passed between them during impromptu, often embarrassing times. Then escalated to the elaborate that only the other would understand, like when dad learned that Roger was deep in the field collecting snakes one year and had a courier special deliver a Palm Tree to him!”
Following Ditmars' lead when it came to animal firsts, Art became a composer. He had the insight to record atypical animal sounds that were similar to gunshots, human laughter, hoots and thunder by producing and directing unlikely artists such as: chimpanzees, elephants, a hippopotamus, hyenas, lions and alligators. With microphone in hand, Arthur conducted interviews with each animal at the Detroit Zoo creating that allusive music industry buzz catching the attention of Moses “Moe” Asch's record label, Folkways. A record deal was signed, Sounds of Animals, with Narrator was recorded to vinyl in 1954. (It is conceivable that this album was the prelude to the music industry's first sound bytes, known as samples similar to drum, guitar or bass rifts. Folkways Record Label was later purchased by the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife. The Center celebrated its 50th year as a record label in 1998, “. . . dad was proud to be recognized among Folkways first recording artists,” Paul said).
It was six years later in 1953 that Art received a solid offer from Trinidad and Tobago 's Minister of Agriculture, who had offered him the position of Zoologist of the West Indian British Colony. The Greenhalls' temporary residence was the old Pelican Inn (formerly known as the Coblentz Hotel) in Port-of-Spain. Art always had a fondness for animals, people and culture. He met the charismatic Anthropologist, Dr. Daniel Crowley, who was documenting various Trinidadian cultural festivities, such as the East Indian Hosein and Duvali, as well as the popular Creole Carnival with its innovative and provocative Calypsonians. Two distinct ethnic groups brought to the British Colonies to work the cane fields as either indentured servants or slaves, each celebrating their individuality and annual accomplishments with parades, performances and music. Each festival is held for different cultural reasons. Paul recalls, “Duvali or the East Indian Festival of Lights is an amazing nightly event as each household lights candles and places them in the windows of each house, sort of like decorating for Christmas!” Hosein is held during daylight as it includes beautifully decorated floats accompanied by musicians performing with clay-pot goat skinned drums and flutes. The parade culminating at the banks of the Caroni River . Here the floats were tumbled into the water, purified in their destruction by water. “Dad wanted to witness what happened to the floats at the end of the parade but to his horror,” recalls Paul, adding “during the excitement I was accidentally knocked into the river as the huge float tumbled down upon me. Dad later informed me that a pundit had turned to him and said, “you don't worry, this was your son's lucky day as he was embraced by the blessed Hosein and Ganesh was watching over him!”
Carnival is celebrated annually. Its colonial roots permitted slaves to enjoy two days rejoicing where they could voice opinions about most forbidden subjects and topics, and always ending the morning of Ash Wednesday. Calypsonians, or charismatic satirists, sang about politics, relationships and love - each with a comical edge of a Shakespearean playwrite, and no topic sacred, save Crown, God and Country. (Even to this day old calypso favorites, such as Fire down Below, Down by the Seashore with Mary Anne and Mr. Benwood Dick, can be heard at tourist resorts. Songs popularized by US singers who took advantage of the non copyrighted genre. Dan learned that Art had amassed a huge collection of vinyl 45 & 78's records of legendary Calypsonians, like The Mighty Lion, Atilla, Lord Executioner, Spoiler, Panther and many others; an arena reserved solely for men at the time, and an art form so complex, intricate and often misunderstood intrigued musicologists for years. And urged a record each be taped to reel then donated to the University of California at Davis preserving this aspect of the Colony's National Heritage. From the old Coblentz Hotel the family moved a half mile up the road to a duplex at 34 Coblentz Avenue; six months later they moved three miles further up Cascade Road to a place that soon became known as Bat Cave. The property had mango, king orange, avocado, lemon and cherry trees - naturally bats hung out in the cherry tree. The family lived there until 1963 when the Colony won its independence from Britain and became the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago .
Times were difficult for Arthur during the 1950's as his salary with the Ministry was not sufficient to raise his family, so it was arranged that he hold several positions simultaneously to supplement his salary: Zoologist, Curator for the National Museum and Art Gallery (formerly the Royal Victoria Institute and Art Gallery), Director of the Emperor Valley Zoo, Consultant Zoologist to the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory of the Rockefeller Foundation and University of the West Indies. “Mom worked, too, in those days. First for an advertising company, David and Chiselett, and later for Rediffusion and TTT (Radio/TV) where she designed and created Trinidad and Tobago 's first TV guide,” Paul said.
Arthur often referred to the country's vibrant and diverse flora and fauna as a virtual treasure trove and natural scientific laboratory because of its island setting. He spent years collecting animals for the Museum's collections, as well as depositing specimens with the American Museum of Natural History, as well as, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. From his office at the Victoria Institute he would use his binoculars to observe fruit bats roosting in the underside of a palm tree's umbrella-like leaf. Rabies out breaks, as Art's migraines, became predictable, and so when rabies was reported in South Trinidad , he knew where the next out break would occur; extensive collecting in the abandoned military bunkers at Waller Field always proved fruitful; encouraging folks to bat proof their houses and wildlife pens were not. Art published over a hundred articles, many included his work on the animal fauna of Trinidad and Tobago . He published on the plants that either bats feed upon or pollinated. He noted that no where else in the World could a scientist be so satisfied as more than seventy bat species inhabit the islands. A natural treasure, with each bat species performing a unique role: large carnivorous bats to the tiny insectivorous ones, even the unusual ones which pollinate nocturnal plants, the more common frugivorous bats and the infamous Vampire. All enveloped in folklore, as well. “A place that has always made Trinidad special to dad is Asa Wright's Cocoa Estate,” says Paul. “It was the view from her veranda which dad loved so much. In fact, the view appears in Snake Hunter's Holiday . The view remains the same to this day.” A lesser known fact is Asa knew how much dad loved her estate and offered to will it to him upon her death. “Dad was stunned! Especially as he always loved the Arima Valley, but knew he could never protect it from an industrial sprawl,” Paul remarked, saying “dad knew that in order to save Asa's estate and keep her dream and his alive for others to enjoy years later it had to be converted into a worldwide recognized sanctuary. So in he contacted the American Audubon Society on Asa's behalf. The rest is history.” In 1963 the family returned to the United States , where Arthur received a United Nations assignment to Mexico , to become part of an international team of scientists to study Vampire Bats, rabies and control.
“I believe dad was a true 20th Century pioneer with his fervent desire to explore, observe and document,” Paul said, recalling vividly his father's fight to save his career. “In 1970 dad found himself embroiled in a historic case on Age Discrimination - his own. He applied his renowned scientific curiosity, investigative skills, defended his capabilities and career against the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. And won. The case, with its “substantiating documents revealed that he had endured daily harassment on the job, which had its roots in career debasement and destruction - but this is another story.” Paul added.
Art's scientific observations and research on Vampire Bats and their parasitic-like habit is legendary. He studied Vampire jaw structure noting tiny striations on the teeth and speculated they acted like scissors for trimming fur away from a choice bite site. Years later this was confirmed via scanning electron microscopy. “Dad's extensive work in Mexico involved introducing wild animals like rattle snakes, raccoons and others to a flight cage with vampires,” remarks Paul, speculating that vampire bats in the wild, prior to man's intervention with domesticated animals, fed on available wild animals, like opossum, deer and birds. When these animals became scarce, or the bats became sick they quickly adapted to their new hosts, humans, livestock and poultry. Further, sprawling populations, colonial housing with excellent ventilation and live stock open pens especially made them the food source of choice. “He was astonished when he observed the bats feeding on raccoons, and more so on rattle snakes”, Paul added. (Arthur's vast zoological library was given to the Museo de Habana Cuba ).
In 1988 Dr. Denny Constantine of the University of California wrote about Arthur “ . . . his Trinidad experience (and his UN assignment to Mexico) and numerous tropical adventures, though more so his experience in bats, associated paralytic rabies and Vampire-borne rabies added considerably to the multinational group of specialists, program formulation and execution . . .”
The Legacy of Arthur M. Greenhall Bibliography