The Birthday Eccentricity of Naturalist Charles Maynard

by Jonathan Hobratsch

May 6th marks the anniversary of the birth of my great-great grandfather, the naturalist Charles Johnson Maynard. He was born on May 6, 1845 in Newton, Massachusetts. By 1870, he had established himself as a leading figure in early American ornithology. He was the editor of the first American ornithological journal, The Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club. Maynard wrote the first practical and affordable guide to taxidermy. He arguably started the first bird walks in the country. He also discovered several species, primarily birds and mollusks. An entire subgenus of cerion (Carribean land snails) is called Maynardia in his honor.

Maynard was also known for his eccentric behavior. One such eccentricity is an apparent fascination with the date of his birth. Below I give five examples of his date of birth dictating his behavior:

The Publication of the Naturalist’s Guide

On May 6, 1870, Maynard’s influential taxidermy book, The Naturalist’s Guide (along with a guide of birds of Eastern Massachusetts) was published by Fields, Osgood, & Co. This is the same publishing company that, under the former name Ticknor and Fields, published famous New Englanders Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Thoreau and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Maynard somehow convinced the publishing giant to withhold publication until his 25th birthday.

America’s First Ornithological Journal

On May 6, Maynard and fellow editor Henry Purdie presented the April issue of the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club to the members of the organization. Maynard, who had attempted to start an ornithologist journal years earlier with Ruthven Deane, was the primary worker behind this newer journal. Purdie appears to be a helpful, but passive force in the organization, and appears to have allowed Maynard to lead the project. As such, the journal was delayed until Maynard’s 31st birthday.

Soon after publication, Maynard left the state to look for birds to add to his research collection, when he was apparently expected to stay in the Boston-area as editor. When he returned, both Maynard and Purdie had been removed and replaced by older and more experienced ornithologists, Joel Allen, Elliott Coues, Spencer Baird and George Lawrence.

Creation of a Natural History Society

By 1899, the Newton Natural History Society was dwindling in membership. Maynard proposed creating an offshoot specifically geared towards teachers and students of natural history. He decided to call it the Maynard Chapter of the Newton Natural History Society, and inaugurated the organization’s birth on May 6, 1899, Maynard’s 54th birthday. By selecting his personal house, laboratory, and museum (barns full of animals and specimen) as lecture rooms, Maynard was able to get the society and its member to furnish his property for free. Membership significantly increased.

Bird Walk Publication

From 1908 to 1920, Maynard published an annual report of his bird walks and bird classes, Records of Walks and Talks with Nature; although, his bird walks had been taking place for over a decade. In most of the publications, he would make special note of his own birthday. As with all of his later publications, Newton created the journal himself, making his own ink, setting the type, engraving and coloring the images, basically creating everything but the paper.

Retirement

Maynard officially retired on May 6, 1921, his 76th birthday. While he did end publication of his Records. He still conducted research, wrote books, taught classes. Additionally, his birthday obsession continued. One of his post-“retirement” publications was entitled, “Meeting of the Maynard Chapter of the Newton Historical Society on their Leader’s Eightieth Birthday.”

Maynard lived four more years, reluctantly dying on October 15, 1929.

 

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Bird petting hand 🙂 your Native American name! (He means Indians) –Paul

    Liked by 1 person

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