What’s In A Name Or Two?
By Harry G. Lee

River Frog [Rana heckscheri Wright, 1924]

August Heckscher [1848-1941]

River Frog [Rana heckscheri Wright, 1924]

"August Heckscher" 1925. Oil on canvas portrait by Penrhyn Stanlaws. Collection of the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York.

    Over the past couple of years, Bill Frank, noted webmaster and field naturalist, has ventured inland from the shorelines and expanded his shelling activities and mollusk-watching, vigorously collecting freshwater and land mollusks around Duval Co. He has had particular success with our two species of applesnails and naiads, but his eye is occasionally distracted by other biota as evidenced by his “In the forest” webpages, where his photographic “bycatch” of flowers, insects birds, and herps, is arranged. A recent addition was Rana heckscheri Wright, the River Frog. On first reading the scientific cognomen, I was struck by two familiar features (in red) - names which resonate in the natural and civic heritage of Jacksonville and northeast Florida.

    Firstly I recalled a memoir Jacksonville Shell Club (JSC) member Clyde Hebert placed in the April, 1974 Shell-O-Gram, the first issue I ever received, as I had begun practice in Jacksonville that month. Clyde was introduced to conchology by a fellow navy man, Chief Electricians Mate Leon Mills Wright, in 1941 while the two were garrisoned in Bermuda. Malacologist Paul Bartsch (1944), author of Leon's fathers's necrology, Berlin Hart Wrightwrote that Leon was a "steady contributor" to the malacology collections of the Smithsonian Institution. It must be said that Mr. Wright’s protégé did his mentor justice as he went forth to make his mark in malacology with his prowess as a collector, keen wit, and knowledge of the subject as well as natural history in general, in turn recruiting and enriching legions of other collectors and observers of mollusks (Lee, 1988). Clyde indicated that his preceptor was the son of Berlin Hart Wright (1851-1940), a naturalist-malacologist who worked in Florida and named dozens of naiads between 1888 and 1934. He published a total of 26 papers in The Nautilus and left us a fine legacy with his recognition of a handful of truly new freshwater mussel species including two in our neighborhood, Elliptio waltoni (B. H. Wright, 1888) the Florida Lance, and the Downy Rainbow, which he named Unio villosus in 1898. Arguably his greatest discovery was a remnant of the Devonian shark Ctenacanthus wrightii Newberry, 1884 near his home in Yates Co., NY. He also is memorialized in Alasmidonta wrightiana (Walker, 1901), the Ochlockonee Arcmussel, now thought to be extinct. Berlin was the son of naturalist Samuel Hart Wright (1825-1905), physician, astronomer, botanist and conchologist, who was also a Florida traveler and namer of mussels. He contributed to the The Nautilus, which just celebrated its 125th anniversary, in its first year of existence (B. H. Wright, 1886). In 1888 a genus of asters, Hartwrightia was named in his honor by the eminent Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888).

Elliptio waltoni (B. H. Wright, 1888) Florida Lance

Villosa villosa (B. H. Wright, 1898) Downy Rainbow

    Well, it turns out that the frog-namer was A. H. Wright, and apparently the herpetologist (the common middle initial notwithstanding) was of a different pedigree than the malacological Wright lineage. This despite the fact that his birthplace was a mere three day’s march from Penn Yan, home of the Hart Wrights in the Finger Lake country of upstate New York.

    Albert Hazen Wright (1879-1970) was educated in herpetology near home, at Cornell University. It was at Cornell where he met his wife and lifelong collaborator, Anna Maria Allen. In 1912, 1921, and 1922 they worked in the Okifenokee [his orthography] Swamp and nearby Callahan, Florida, where the type specimen of the River Frog (now lost) was collected in "Alligator Swamp." In a footnote to the title of the description (Wright, 1924) he wrote "The investigation upon which this article is based was supported by a grant from the Heckscher Foundation for the Advancement of Research, established at Cornell University by August Heckscher. The expense of its publication was borne in part by a second grant from the same Foundation.” The author went on to remark: “[On] August 18, 1922, we visited this place at night. Mrs. Wright discovered a queer looking green frog as she supposed, and, as she was calling to us, we were startled by a call unlike any Rana we had ever heard.” This passage is from an entertaining three page chronicle in normal print, which is followed by an exhaustive description (seven and one-half pp. of fine print, one table, and two captioned plates with six and four figures respectively) – an awesome example of detail of which I can think of no equal in the malacological literature. While perhaps an extreme example, some of our more laconic molluscan taxonomists should nota bene.

    Dr. Wright spent his entire career at Cornell and wrote several major herpetological works, some with the co-authorship of his wife. He also wrote on historical, including the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 and a history of his alma mater, and ornithological topics, among them a report on the bony anatomy of the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon.

    All of which brings us to the second familiar name. Wright introduced the species epithet "heckscheri" to honor his patron, who, perhaps not due to mere coincidence, had been busying himself, in lockstep with the Florida real estate boom and less than twenty miles from frog's type locality alongside "New Dixie Highway" (Wright, 1924), with the construction of an even newer thoroughfare, a toll road from Jacksonville to Fort George Island. August
Heckscher (1848-1941), industrialist, real estate developer, and philanthropist was a prominent figure in the 20th Century history of New York City and nearby Huntington, Long Island. Although his name is emblazoned on the Jacksonville landscape as the toll road  became “Heckscher Drive,” well-known and -traveled by most of Jacksonville’s million residents, very few of us know much about the man behind the name.

    As was JSC founder Gertrude Moller, August Heckscher was born in Hamburg, Germany. The son of a physician, he was to become one of the foremost capitalists and philanthropists in the United States. He attended elementary and high schools in Germany and Switzerland and then began his business career in 1864 with an importing firm in the town where he was born. Three years later when his father died, the young Heckscher took his $500 legacy, buckled it inside his belt and started out to seek his fortune in America.

    August Heckscher was to fulfill the American dream of financial success and personal accomplishment. Arriving in this country, he went to work in his cousin Richards coal mining operation as a laborer, while studying English at night. Several years later he formed a partnership with his cousin under the name of Richard Heckscher & Company. The firm also concentrated on coal mining and was eventually sold to the Philadelphia-Reading Railroad. August Heckscher then expanded his interests into zinc mining and organized the Zinc and Iron Company, becoming vice-president and general manager. In 1897, it was consolidated with other zinc and iron companies into the New Jersey Zinc Company with Heckscher serving as the general manager. In 1904 he resigned his position with the New Jersey Zinc Company and organized the Vermont Copper Company, taking the position of president. He was also to become president of a number of other iron, coal and power companies.

    Heckscher later turned his attentions to the real estate field, organizing and becoming president of the Anahama Realty Corporation, which conducted extensive operations in New York. His keen vision of the opportunities for building expansion and growth in Manhattan and Long Island led to his reputation as one of the foremost real estate operators. Some of the early New York skyscrapers were lauded by the New York Times for the mark his revolutionary design.

    Toward the later years of his life, August Heckscher began what he later considered the most important chapter of his career, as a philanthropist. He specialized in social issues and child welfare. He created the Heckscher Childrens Foundation (now home of El Museo del Barrio) and sought to eradicate slum dwellings in New York City. He advocated the erection of model tenement houses to be rented for as little as $6 a room. Heckscher established playgrounds in lower Manhattan for children and purchased and dedicated to the public Heckscher State Park in East Islip, Long Island, a tract of 1,469 acres.

    In 1918 Heckscher purchased the Prime property adjoining the historic Old First Church in Huntington, Long Island, and, after landscaping it into a park at a total cost of $100,000, he turned its control over to a board of self-perpetuating trustees. He also arranged for an Endowment Fund of $70,000 for its upkeep. Later, an athletic field was added by Heckscher, for school children and adults. Months later in 1919, August erected a beautiful beaux-arts fine arts building (now the Heckscher Museum of Art) at a cost of $100,000. He filled the museum with over 185 works including art from the Renaissance, the Hudson River School and early modernist American art. His collection was particularly noteworthy for including the best American artists of the day such as Ralph Albert Blakelock, Thomas Eakins, George Inness, and Thomas Moran. In 1920 when the museum opened, the works were valued at many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Heckscher dedicated this museum and the park to the people of Huntington, especially the children, with the following words: “to the little birds that migrate, and to the little children who fortunately do not.” A year after this gift August Heckscher gave significant funds for the erection of the Grand War Memorial on Main Street, to the east of the then Huntington Library (now known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building).

    Heckscher and his wife, the former Miss Anna Atkins of Pottsville, Pennsylvania whom he had married in 1881, were also known as generous benefactors of the Huntington Hospital and St. Johns Episcopal Church.

    August Heckscher passed away on April 26, 1941 at the age of 92, survived by his two children, Anna and Maurice. The Long Islander described him in an obituary as perhaps the finest benefactor that Huntington, NY ever had. In Huntington, Heckscher was known to many as a warm personal friend. During his years when Wincoma (a section in north Huntington) was his home, he took a lively interest in the affairs of the community. August Heckscher was quoted as saying “God in his great kindness has given me wealth, which I feel I have neither earned nor deserved. It is my plan to spend much of this for the uplift of children especially.”

    Add to that the honorific of Rana heckscheri Wright, 1924, and a form of immortality may be added to the distinguished life of August Heckscher.

 Acknowledgements: The portrait of August Heckscher was made available through the kind offices of Mr. William H. Titus, Registrar & IT Administrator, and Dr. Kenneth Wayne, Chief Curator, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY. Dr. M. G. Harasewych, Curator of Malacology, United States National Museum, Washington DC, provided a copy of the River Frog’s description (Wright, 1924).

Bartsch, P. , 1944. Berlin Hart Wright 1851-1940. A. M. U. News Bulletin and Annual Report 1943: 11-19 + portrait. Jan.

Hebert, C. H., 1974. Bermuda memories. Shell-O-Gram 15(3): 4-6. April.

Johnson, C. W., 1906. Samuel Hart Wright. The Nautilus 19(9): 105-106. Jan.

Lee, H. G., 1988, Clyde Hamilton Hebert. Shell-O-Gram 29(3): 6. May-June.

Wright, A. H., 1924. A new Bullfrog (Rana heckscheri) from Georgia and Florida. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 37: 141-152; pl. 11, 12.

Wright, S. H., 1886. New Localities. The Conchologists’ Exchange 1(6): 27. Dec.

 Much of the biographical information was taken from the Internet: