MARCH
2012

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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03-22-12

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Old Books and Bugs


That rite of the post-winter season - spring break - has come and gone. Again! This year we visited Arizona. We didn't attend a spring training baseball game but did do some other things.

We toured a copper mine at Bisbee. We stayed overnight at the Shady Dell. Our accommodation was a restored 1950s vintage travel trailer, complete with '50s music on the radio. We walked a bit in the Saguaro National Park, west of Tucson. We stopped at Patagonia Lake State Park, an area frequented by Geronimo some years back.

We, like any good tourists, also visited Tombstone. We almost got to see a gunfight. Right there on the main street, some tough-looking outlaw cowboys weren't getting along very well with the local lawmen, including Wyatt Earp, his two brothers and Doc Holliday. Down the street they went, a-shouting and a-jawing at each other until they ended up at the OK Corral - at which point both groups skedaddled into the saloon. The rest of us tried to follow. It was an Old West trap. We were going to be charged a pretty penny to see what happened next: a real highway robbery - of the tourists of Tombstone.

We also managed to visit a used bookstore in Tucson. Actually, I did a little more than visit; I purchased a couple of old tomes dealing with insects. I may not spend money on a gunfight reenactment, but I will part with a few coins for an old bug book. My first purchase was "Ants," by W. M. Wheeler. It was the second edition of a 1905 book that, according to the author, was the first "comprehensive treatise" on ants in the English language. It's a big book, and the author admits that some parts are likely to be dull reading to many folks. Maybe I'll read it someday.

The second book I purchased was "The Life of the White Ant" by Maurice Maeterlinck. That book was about termites - often called white ants. Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright and poet who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. I had a copy of his other insect book, "The Life of the Bee,” so I wanted to check out his treatment of termites; some say the book was plagiarized.

Maeterlinck's termite book was printed in 1939. Like many of my used insect books, this one had some history associated with it. The book was signed "Helen C. Bryant - Ann Arbor - 1940." I know nothing of Helen Bryant, but she may have been associated with the Detroit Public Schools, for tucked behind the front cover of the book was an unused check from the Detroit Public Schools Arithmetic Bank. Further, just before a section of the book entitled "Their Destiny," was a sheet of paper detailing three financial transactions, beginning with a balance of $366.28 and ending with a balance forward of $72.03.

How the book ended up in a Tucson bookstore, I don't know. But I don't think that Helen, or anyone else for that matter, had read the book in its entirety, because three sets of two pages had not been separated by the original page-trimming process.

Many old books have been discarded from libraries. Such is the case with my copy of "Fabre's Book of Insects." This 1935 printing and has been rebound. It was originally owned by the LaPorte (Ind.) Public Library and, if overdue, would have resulted in a 2-cents per day fine.

Another one of my discarded library bug books is "The Insect Menace" by L. O. Howard. According to a stamp in the book, the Delphi, Ind., library discarded it on Feb. 27, 1967. Nonetheless, Elisabeth R. Best signed and dated the book Feb. 25, 1967. I purchased it in 2001.

My copy of Vincent Dethier's "To Know a Fly” was originally a gift, according to the inscription on the front page. The inscription began, "I enjoyed this book so much that I'm sending it off to you at once and getting some more copies for myself." I can't decipher the name of the giver or the recipient, but it is high praise for the book.

My favorite old bug book is "The Tale of Freddie Firefly” by Arthur Scott Bailey. I found this 1918 children's storybook in an antique store. It is a book for bedtime reading and shows the wear and tear of such use, including ripped pages, tattered edges and a page where a child obviously spit up. I hope the latter was not a commentary on the quality of the book!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox