A L Heermann, A Life Corrected (III)
- Pt. III: Back From The Dead, A Cautionary Tale
A. L's death date is first published in the Proceedings of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (vol 18, 1866). It's stated that at their January 2, 1866 regular meeting, an announcement was made that Adolphus L. Heermann died on Sept. 2, 1865. All biographies of A. L. used this date but probably not from this reference; instead they relied on the 1907 Stone article.
The 1907 paper by Witmer Stone is online ( http://www.dvoc.org/CassiniaOnLine/Cassinia11/C11_01_6.pdf ). If you go to page 5 of this paper, to the paragraph starting "I left San Antonio in August, 1864...," you will see that Heermann's brother, most likely Theodore in Texas (but not named in the paper), had written Henry Dresser about A. L.'s death in Texas. Notice in this paragraph that the last sentence containing Sept. 2, 1865 is **outside** of Dresser's quoted statement. A. L.'s subsequent biographers interpreted this last sentence to mean that Theodore had written that date in his letter to Dresser (and therefore Dresser to Stone 40 + years later). Initially I also thought the same, until inconsistencies in the information led to only one conclusion: Stone's death date sentence can only have come from the Philadelphia Academy Proceedings of 1866 ....... and the Proceedings date is wrong!!
Theodore Heermann swore that Adolphus died on Sept. 27, 1865 when he got a death certificate in New Orleans for his brother, probably for probate reasons. I have a certified copy of that document as well as some documents from A. L.'s New Orleans probate file which also shows the Sept. 27, 1865 date. I then checked the microfilmed records of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and found that written on A. L. Heermann's membership card is the same death date of Sept. 27, 1865. So why did the Academy publish a date of Sept. 2? The answer is in the microfilm rolls containing the original minutes of the Jan 2, 1866 meeting. On those written minutes, the bottom of the "7" of Sept. 27 is mostly obscurred due to a glued strip of paper covering the last two lines on the page right below the entry for Adolphus and thus the probable reason for the resultant mistranscription in the Proceedings.
I then attempted to track down Witmer Stone's letter sources. According to archivist Henry Mcghie, Henry Dresser's papers at the University of Manchester's Museum do not contain the Theodore Heermann letter to Dresser. However, Witmer Stone's professional papers are archived at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and through the courtesy of archivist Megan Gibes, I received a copy of the Mar. 28, 1906 Henry Dresser letter to Stone as well as a followup postcard to Stone dated Apr. 19, 1906. Dresser had trouble recalling when the brother's letter arrived telling of A. L.'s death, writing in his Mar. 28 letter that it may have been in December of 1864 "if I recollect right for I have no note of it." Dresser then corrects himself on his followup postcard, writing that his correspondence with Adolphus "ceased in July 1865 ... nearly a year after my return to Europe, so he must have been alive then." Dresser did not know the day, or even the month that A. L.'s death occurred when he replied to Stone in 1906.
As Austin Dobson in De Libris (1908, p. 195) stated about biographical facts: "But with the painful biographer, toiling in the immeasurable sands of thankless research, often foot-sore and dry of throat, these trivialities assume exaggerated proportions; and to those who remind him -- as in a cynical age he is sure to be reminded -- of the infinitesimal value of his hard-gotten grains of information, he can only reply mournfully, if unconvincingly, that fact is fact -- even in matters of mustard-seed" ... and in honoring the memory of an important early naturalist. Joel Weintraub, Dana Point, CA (Feb. 2013)
Adolphus Lewis Heermann
California and Southwest Naturalist and Ornithologist
21 Oct. 1821 (New Orleans, LA) to 27 Sept. 1865 (Bexar County, TX)
Rest in Peace