Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/October 1899/The Columbus Meeting of the American Association

Popular Science Monthly Volume 55 October 1899  (1899) 
The Columbus Meeting of the American Association by Daniel S. Martin


By Prof. D. S. MARTIN.

THE Columbus meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was looked forward to with considerable interest as the first in the new half century of that body. Would the impression and stimulus of the great semicentennial gathering at Boston last year be found to continue, or be followed by a reaction? The meetings west of the Alleghanies are always smaller than the eastern ones, and the brilliancy of the Boston meeting could not be looked for in any interior city. The general expectation was for an "off-year" gathering.

But only in point of attendance was this impression verified. The register of those present showed three hundred and fifty-three names—a good number for an interior meeting, very few of the Western gatherings having exceeded it. In all other respects the general feeling of the members indicates that the meeting was notably successful and enjoyable, and the remarks made by the writer a year ago as to the real value of the smaller and less conspicuous meetings he feels to have been well exemplified. It was a scientific working meeting, with enough of social intercourse and attentions to be delightful, but not distracting. In these aspects the "golden mean" was markedly preserved.

The arrangements of the local committee for the convenience of the members and the success of the meeting in general were remarkable in their completeness. Nothing seems to have been overlooked, and some advances were made upon any previous year. The daily programmes were well printed and on hand early every morning—a most important point, not always heretofore attained. A complete telephone service between the section rooms and the central hall was a feature of special advantage, each section reporting to headquarters every paper as it was taken up. This was then posted on a bulletin, so that any one could know at any time what was going on in each section. A great amount of delay and disappointment, that has often been felt by members anxious to hear certain papers in different sections, was thus entirely obviated. Columbus has set an example in this feature that must be followed in the arrangements for all future meetings. The entire service on these telephones was rendered not by professional operators, but by young lady students of the university, and it was well and gracefully done.

It is fitting also that recognition should be given to some who have been less prominent in the local arrangements, but have had a large share in their preparation. While the public resolutions of thanks have made w^ell-deserved mention of the local committee and its officers, especially Prof. B. F. Thomas, the indefatigable secretary, it is known in Columbus that much of the planning and arranging was the work of Prof. Edward Orton, Jr., the son of the president of the meeting, and that very much is owing to his laborious activity in the perfection of the local adjustments.

The place of meeting was eminently pleasant and suitable—the wide campus and fine buildings of the Ohio State University. To members from the East it was a matter of great interest to see this noble institution, one of the best examples of the great educational enterprises of the central States. In his address of welcome at the opening of the association the president of the university. Dr. William O. Thompson, outlined the history of public education in the West as dating back to provisions in the "Ordinance of 1787," looking to educational advantages for the great "Northwest Territory." The State University of Ohio is one of the youngest of its kind, but now one of the most important, among the States formed from that great region, although Ohio was the first to be organized into Statehood.

Among the numerous fine structures scattered over the broad area of the campus, one of the most interesting is Orton Hall, containing the collections in geology and archæology, which are very extensive, as well as the laboratories, workrooms, and classrooms of the geological department, and at present the University Library. Here the meetings of Section E (Geology and Geography) were held. In the adjacent Botanical Hall, with its greenhouses, etc., Section G held its meetings. But most of the sections met in Townshend Hall, where the telephone service above described connected all the rooms.

The Ohio State University not only welcomed and accommodated the association, but had a strong representation among the officers of the meeting. The venerable president, Dr. Orton, has long been professor of geology in the university, and his collections are displayed in the hall that so appropriately bears his name. Section C (Chemistry) and Section G (Botany) both had secretaries from the university faculty—Professors Weber and Kellerman, respectively—while the arrangements for the meeting have been already spoken of as largely due to Professor Thomas and Professor Orton, Jr.

The ladies' reception committee did everything for the comfort and convenience of the visiting ladies. Their musicale and garden party in the grounds were described as extremely enjoyable, and the provision of private carriages to convey ladies and aged members across the broad spaces of the campus to and from the entrances was a very delicate and highly esteemed convenience, especially on warm days. The association was favored in the weather, which, though somewhat hot out of doors, was not severe, and the rooms were pleasant and airy.

The excursions given to the members were all of them scientific; they were not merely pleasure trips. This point was a marked feature of the Columbus meeting, and one well worthy of future imitation as far as may be. Not every place, however, has such marked facilities in this respect. On Saturday, August 26th, three free excursions were provided to points of geological or archæological interest. They were about equally shared by the members, together with representatives of the local committee. One party left on Friday evening, passing the night at Sandusky, and going by boat thence to the celebrated islands of Lake Erie, there to see the wonderful glacial furrows in the corniferous limestone on Kelley's Island and the recently opened strontia cave on Put-in-Bay Island. These islands are also favorite pleasure resorts for the whole neighborhood, and the trip was one of great interest and enjoyment. Another party, on Saturday morning, went to points of special importance in the coal region of the Hocking Valley, under the direction of Mr. R. M. Haseltine, chief mine inspector of Ohio. At Corning the party went down into Mine No. 8, owned by the Sunday Creek Coal Company, which has recently been equipped with electric power generated by utilizing the waste gas from neighboring gas-wells. This is said to be the first mine in Ohio to improve this natural source of power. At a depth of sixty-five feet the visiting party were taken by mine cars to a point where a remarkably fine exposure has been made of a carboniferous "forest," with upright trunks of Sigillaria and associated forms of coal vegetation finely displayed. At a point somewhat nearer the entrance, but at a lower level, lunch was served by the company, in a chamber lighted by electricity, two hundred feet underground and a mile from daylight! Another mine was visited later, and the machinery and appliances examined; this was No. 16, at Hollister, owned by the Courtright Coal Company.

The third party went to Fort Ancient to examine the great aboriginal earthworks at that place, owned by the State, and in charge of the Ohio Archæological Society. Here, on a hill widely overlooking the Little Miami Valley, are some of the most extensive prehistoric works in the country. The State has purchased two hundred and eighty-seven acres, and of these about one hundred acres are included within the walls. These ramparts, overgrown with large trees, follow closely the contour of the hills, and show that, whatever their age, there has been no change and little erosion since they were built. Their form is very irregular, consisting of two main areas—a northern one, called the "new fort," rudely square, and a southern one, called the "old fort," rudely triangular—connected by a narrow portion, called the "isthmus," with crescent-shaped transverse walls crossing it, and high conical mounds at the entrance to the "old fort." From the main gateway of the "new fort," starting from two mounds, two parallel walls can be traced, exactly eastward, for half a mile or more. Irregular as these works are, from the contour of the hills and the course of the ravines that bound them, yet there is also seen at times in their shaping a singular exactness of orientation that is striking and suggestive. Their use is problematical, but they must have been defensive, although an enormous force would be required to hold them, as their entire circumference is three miles and a half. At one point within the "old fort," in front of the gateway to the "isthmus," was found a burial place where a number of skeletons lay as though thrown together, not carefully and separately buried. The suggestion is strongly made that this spot marks an unsuccessful attack by enemies, who were roughly buried where they fell. At other points graves have been found, some containing copper implements and overlaid with plates of mica. Great regret was felt that Mr. W. K. Moorehead, who has explored so extensively here and in the vicinity and has published such interesting accounts of Fort Ancient and similar remains, was unable to be at the meeting on account of severe illness.

The public spirit that has secured this spot for the State, and the work of the Ohio Archæological Society in caring for it properly, are matters for pride and congratulation, and evidences of the highest type of civilization. The society is clearing away the dense undergrowth so as to display the works and the trees upon them; is guarding and repairing the walls at points where injury has occurred by "washing"; has sunk a well in the "old fort," with fine water; and built a pavilion for visitors. Here lunch was served to the party, and addresses given by archaeologists present and officers of the Archæological Society.

On Thursday a large number of the geologists spent most of the day in examining moraines and glacial phenomena near Lancaster, and in the evening nearly the entire association was taken by special train to see the gas-wells in the same neighborhood, at Sugar Grove, which were lighted and "blown off" for their benefit. The city of Columbus itself is to a considerable extent supplied with natural gas.

Turning to the proceedings of the meeting, there may be noted in the character of the papers certain tendencies which are independent of the association and belong to the general line of thought of the present, and doubtless yet more of the future. The papers presented may be roughly grouped into two classes: those relating to technical details, and those involving or seeking practical results and applications. Of course, there is no conflict between these two lines of thought and work—the latter, to be really attained being dependent upon the former—but there is this tendency distinctly shown, to consider scientific questions in their bearing on the welfare or the needs of humanity. Naturally, this aspect appeared more clearly in some of the sections than in others, but no one who looks over the titles in the daily programmes can fail to note it. The whole work of Section I (Social and Economic Science) is of this character, and it is marked in Sections G (Botany), D (Mechanics and Engineering), and H (Anthropology). It would be impossible to mention all the papers bearing upon such relations; a very few only can here be noted, even of those that were important. In Section I no more suggestive title has ever been presented to such a body than that of Miss Cora A. Benneson, of Cambridge, Mass., on Federal Guarantees for Maintaining Republican Government in the States, Miss Benneson is a graduate in law, and has already achieved distinction in her profession in subjects relating to questions of government. In Section G, Prof. H. A. Weber, the secretary, read a paper on Testing Soils for the Application of Commercial Fertilizers—the outcome of twelve years' intercourse with farmers' institutes and many more years of experimentation—aiming to avoid unwise and unprofitable use of fertilizers on soils to which they are not adapted, and to provide ready and accurate methods of determination as to the needs and the capacities of soils. Sections D and I united to hear a paper before the former, by Principal Morrison, of the Manual Training High School, of Kansas City, Mo., on Thermal Determinations in Heating and Ventilating Buildings, with special reference to schools. These are merely given as instances. Agriculture, electrical appliances, educational methods, and social conditions, all received important attention.

Another paper of great practical moment was read before Section C by Prof. H. W. Wiley, chemist to the United States Department of Agriculture, and Mr. H. W. Krug, on New Products from Maize Stalks. Careful analyses of the pith and stalks of corn, and important suggestions as to their great utility in various ways, were presented. Some of these were very surprising, not only pointing out the value of these substances as fodder, when properly prepared and used, but in the realm of war as well as in peace, for protecting the sides of naval vessels as a light and most effective armor, and in the manufacture of smokeless powder of a superior quality. Professor Wiley claimed that from these hitherto almost waste products of American farms immense results may be obtained.

Very naturally, the recent war and questions connected with it called forth some striking contributions. Prof. William S. Aldrich, of the University of Illinois, addressed Section D and a large proportion of members from other sections on Engineering Experiences with Spanish Wrecks, and the story of the Maria Teresa. Professor Aldrich was connected with the United States repair-ship Vulcan, and described the remarkable character of that vessel—an entire novelty in naval warfare—with her complete outfit of engineering tools and machinery, even to brass and iron furnaces of large capacity. Never before, he said, had such castings been made on board ship, or a foundry operated on the ocean. The effects of the American rapid-fire guns on Admiral Cervera's ships were fully described and illustrated, and the paper closed with a vivid and detailed account of the floating of the Maria Teresa, her repairing by the crew of the Vulcan through five weeks of most difficult work, and the unsuccessful attempt to bring her to Norfolk, ending in her abandonment and loss. The public lecture of Wednesday evening was by Prof. C. E. Monroe, of Washington, D. C, on the Application of Modern Explosives, very fully illustrated. Detailed accounts were given of the manufacture of gun cotton and various recent forms of high explosives and smokeless powders. In regard to the use of the latter, Professor Monroe emphasized the fact that France and Germany had adopted smokeless powders in 1887, and Italy and England a year or two later, and characterized as "unpardonable" the fact that our own service was unprovided with any such material when we began the war with Spain. He further discussed recent and very important experiments in the matter of throwing from ordinary guns shells charged with high explosives, especially that known as Joveite, with which tremendous effects have been produced in penetrating the heaviest plating.

Very different in character was the interesting and pleasing programme carried out by the Section of Botany in memory of two eminent workers in bryology who were long identified with Columbus—Dr. William S. Sullivant and his colaborer. Prof. Leo Lesquereaux, who was eminent also in fossil botany. Wednesday was set apart as "Sullivant day," and was marked by an extensive display of portraits, books, and specimens, and a series of memorial addresses, with notes on the progress of bryology. Twelve North American species of mosses have been named for Dr. Sullivant, and specimens of all these, with drawings made by him, were loaned for this occasion from his collection, now at the museum of Harvard University. Sets of duplicates of these species, from the herbarium of Columbia University, were prepared and presented as souvenirs to the botanists in attendance. Some members of Dr. Sullivant's family were present, and naturally felt a very deep sense of gratification at such a tribute to his name and fame.

The address of the retiring president. Prof. F. W. Putnam, had a special interest in that it was the last official appearance of one who has been for so many years closely and prominently identified with the association as its permanent secretary, and whose presence and personality have seemed an essential element in every meeting. Professor Putnam, in opening, paid an especial tribute to the late Dr. D. G. Brinton, of Philadelphia, a former president and leading member of the association, devoted to the same branch of research with himself—North American ethnology—although holding different theories therein. Professor Putnam dealt with the prehistoric peoples of this continent, and argued for distinct racial types as expressed in the remains that they have left, and for resemblances as due to intercourse and mingling of tribes, and not to autochthonous development of arts and customs as the result of corresponding stages of evolution without contact or outside influence—the view maintained by Dr. Brinton.

There is not space here to dwell further upon many valuable papers and discussions. The Section of Geology had a full and interesting session, in which glacial phenomena, especially as displayed in Ohio, bore a considerable part. One of the papers had a very wide and painful interest for all Americans—that of Mr. E. H. Barbour, on the Rapid Decline of Geyser Activity in the Yellowstone Basin. Careful and extended comparison of the present state of the geysers and hot springs with that to be seen a few years ago shows that these wonderful and impressive phenomena have greatly decreased in both the amount and the frequency of their manifestations, and Mr. Barbour warned all who desire to witness anything of their grandeur to visit the region without delay, as the indications point to their speedy cessation as probable if not inevitable.

In reference to the future of the association, it is gratifying to observe that the various special societies, whose relations to the association were considered in the article by the present writer a year ago, have not only continued to hold their summer sessions in connection with that of the association, but have shown a very cordial spirit of co-operation, and that some others are proposing to affiliate in a similar way. This is as it should be; but there is in it also the suggestion of a broader and more definite relationship of all these special societies to each other through the medium of the association. The tendency is apparently toward affiliation and co-operation among them, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science could have no more fitting or useful function than as a sort of federative or representative body for all the others.

The next meeting is to be held in New York, two months earlier than usual—at the end of June. Both the place and the time were determined by the Paris Exposition. It was thought best to arrange the meeting so that it might easily be attended by the large number of scientists from all over the country who will be going abroad next summer. This plan is doubtless wise, although it is much to be regretted that the time—the last week in June—will cut off from attendance almost all the members who are teachers in public schools, who will be just then in the pressure of their closing days and examinations. The peculiar circumstances of the year, however, justify what would otherwise be a most unfortunate time. New York will do her best, and give the association a welcome worthy of the great metropolis of America.