A L Heermann, A Life Corrected (II)
- Pt. II: The Missing Years, The Illusionist
Adolphus Heermann's early years were not known by Stone nor covered by Hume. His father's 1923 biography had information that the sons were educated in New Haven CT starting in 1828. When Lewis died in 1833 in New Orleans, he left his widow with five children under the age of 12, and a New Orleans estate worth, in terms of 2012 dollars, $5.7 million. The probate, mentioned in passing in the 1923 paper, is now online, a file of 593 pages of legal documents and more importantly, bills paid for family support over about 15 years. The file is fully digitized and free, although there are missing documents. After the death of Lewis, two children were sent to the NY area (probably Adolphus and Theodore) and educated at the Aaron Skinner boys boarding school in New Haven CT. The rest of the family left New Orleans in 1834, and widow Eliza relocated to Baltimore. Eliza then took her family to Europe in 1836, where the children spent several years. The boys likely schooled in Switzerland, and in Europe Adolphus may have learned some ornithology skills, as he later donated two bird eggs from Switzerland to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. In Aug. 1842 we find Adolphus and Theodore on the ship "Albany" returning to NY from France; their occupations are noted as "gentleman."
Most of the remaining years of A. L.'s life are accurately portrayed by biographers. In 1843 both Theodore and Adolphus went on the Sir William Drummond Stewart hunting trip to the Rockies where A. L.'s nickname was "Dolly the Great." A. L. had expectations that John James Audubon would accompany Sir Stewart for part of the trip, but he did not. A sketch of A. L. on the expedition in buckskin "costume" is shown in Matthew Field's "Prairie & Mountain Sketches." That's followed by medical school (Adolphus may have graduated in 1845 rather than the published 1846), 1845 membership in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and a 1848 Florida collecting trip with Krider, a famous Philadelphia gunsmith and ornithologist. At this time, the often seen photo of A. L. in buckskin outfit with an out-of-control beard and hair and a musket was probably taken in Philadelphia, not the wild west. The origin of the photo, shown as a note in Cassinia, is that it comes from Krider's Gun Store, and the beard is mostly fake (and probably the wild hair is also). Adolphus must have had a sense of humor; besides his staged photograph, his description of kleptoparasitism by Heermann's Gull on Brown Pelican states: "I have never seen the pelican offer the least resistance, or show any anger or impatience at the intrusion or impudence of his little neighbor, who, like a tax gatherer, follows him through life, an evil inevitable" (1859 in Pacific Railroad Survey report).
From 1849 through 1852 the two brothers were in California where A. L. collected specimens including the gull that bears the Heermann name and other vertebrate, invertebrate and plant species. A. L. returned to Philadelphia and the Academy in 1852, cataloguing the egg collection of the Academy, and then was appointed the naturalist/surgeon for two Pacific Railroad Surveys in 1853 and 1854. In 1854 he and Theodore started buying ranchland around San Antonio TX. In 1862 he made one last visit back to Philadelphia, and is said by Nolan and Dresser, in Stone's 1907 paper, to have locomotor ataxia. This can be a symptom of tertiary syphilis (if properly diagnosed), but there are other possibilities such as multiple sclerosis, chronic arsenic poisoning, or genetic diseases. And then we come to his death in 1865 when he apparently had an accident in the field, with his gun going off, killing him.
Joel Weintraub, Dana Point, CA