1913: This bucolic scene somewhat belies true nature of the Buffalo Bayou watercourse in Houston. The river traffic from nearby rail lines, breweries, ice manufacturing plants, cotton yards, and other commercial concerns often made the area a busy wharf district.
4 March 2016: Taken across the bayou toward the west from the south bank of Buffalo Bayou beneath a labyrinthine confluence of bridges and freeway overpasses. The pedestrian walkway overhead is placed near the exit ramp from Interstate Highway 45 and I-10 as motorists enter into the city. The confluence of Franklin, Congress, and Smith form a triangular gateway to the city, and patrons entering the central post office are familiar with the confusion of streets. Few entering this mini-plaza would guess that beneath the pavement lies a once historic area now relegated to the homeless and an occasional running enthusiast. Note just right of dead center there stands a tiny figure of a man in shadow feeding a goose who lingered there for a long time taking note of my photographic activities.
To: Dr. E. R. Felt.
Albany, New York.
From: E. Bethel
Dear Dr. Felt:- I mailed you last eve a gall from a vine which I got in Gautemala [sic] and the work of a mite (I take it) on a malvaceous looking plant from New Orleans. I saw many such galls in Costa Rica Hondorus etc. but those stanions tear things to pieces so, did not try to send any. Cordially yours E. Bethel
En route to Denver, where I am due Friday
A true naturalist at heart, Ellsworth Bethel may have chosen this postcard as a metaphor to represent Nature struggling to overwhelm the castles of civilization. He was returning from an insect collecting trip in Central America with gifts of science to his colleague and friend in New York, Ephraim Porter Felt. Dr. Felt graduated Massachusetts Agricultural College and Cornell University, becoming state entomologist in 1898. He was director of Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories in Stamford, CT until death at his office there in 1943. Among his publications are: Key to American Insect Galls (1918) and Plant Galls and Gall Makers (1940).
After mailing this postcard, E. Bethel returned to his duties in Denver as biology instructor at East Side High School. At a time when good science was often done in secondary school by scientists with links to the research communities of the day, Bethel collected insects, plants, and fungi (especially slime molds) and freely shared his specimens.
Born in 1863 in Smyrna, OH, Ellsworth attended Scio College and East Tennessee Weslayan University and moved to Colorado in 1890 where he became a widely regarded naturalist and teacher. In honor of his accomplishments, he was granted an honorary MA degree by the University of Denver in 1905. Gifted with boundless energy and enthusiasm, he was too busy with science to marry until October 3, 1924 when Dorothy S. Stokely of Philadelphia became his wife. Within 13 months he died unexpectedly on September 8, 1925 in Denver and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, CO.
The bee genus, Betheliella, and the species, Godronia betheli, Gymnosporangium betheli, Aecidium betheli, Uromyces betheli, and Peridermium betheli were named in his honor.
I was in possession of this postcard for a number of years anxious to find the location because the postcard was from a scientist in pursuit of science in the early 20th century, a rarity indeed in any collection. The breakthrough came when I found in Daniel Montsanto's book of Houston Postcards an image of the back of the Hotel Brazos which included the ice plant near the water's edge. Postcards of the private dining area at the back of the hotel permitted an unambiguous identiciation of the site [see graphics below].
Perhaps the most celebrated collector of gall wasps was Alfred C. Kinsey, the noted sexologist and author of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1848) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). He was by training a biologist, attaining his Sc. D. under William Morton Wheeler, the noted ant biologist, in 1919 at Harvard University. Kinsey's dissertation was on gall wasps, and he travelled extensively in search of specimens, his itinerary including Guatemala. It is very likely he was familiar with Ellsworth Bethel the scientist. Kinsey's collection of 7.5 million insects (“the finest collection of its kind in the world”) is now housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (See Christopher Turner, A Lot of Gall, Cabinet Magazine: Vol. 25 (Spring 2007) for images of Kinsey's gall wasps and their galls.)