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
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
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,
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
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).
Well, it turns out that the
frog-namer was A. H. Wright, and
apparently the herpetologist (the common middle initial
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.
Wright (1879-1970) was educated in herpetology near
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
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
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
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: