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©AMNH/D. Finnin

The Lost Book of Titian Peale, America's First Lepidopterist

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©AMNH/D. Finnin

When Titian Ramsay Peale II died on March 13, 1885, the 85-year-old went to his grave believing that his life’s greatest work—a book describing the butterflies and moths of North America—would never be published. And for more than a hundred years, that seemed to be its destiny. But now, 130 years after his death, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has finally printed portions of The Butterflies of North America, Diurnal Lepidoptera: Whence They Come, Where They Go, and What They Do, which Peale spent five decades working on, through tragedy and hardship, right up until his death.

“It became apparent to me, after poring over his manuscript and his paintings, that [Peale] was the original American lepidopterist,” David Grimaldi, curator of the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at AMNH, said at an event for the book. “He was working before any of the other Americans who are credited with being the early American lepidopterists. He just never published his work.”

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The son of famed naturalist, portraitist, and Philadelphia Museum founder Charles Willson Peale, Titian was born on November 2, 1799 and named after a brother who had died the year before at age 18. The two had more in common than just a name: Like the first Titian, Peale devoted himself to lepidoptery, the study of butterflies and moths, which he took an interest in from childhood. Both Titians were also gifted artists. “He followed very closely in his older brother’s footsteps,” Grimaldi said, “and was very proud of that, in fact.”

But he was more than a lepidopterist: Peale was an accomplished artist who received his first professional commission—creating plates for Thomas Say’s American Entomology, a work Grimaldi called “one of the first original American works on entomology”—when he was just 16. He would later contribute 10 plates to American Ornithology, written by Napoleon’s nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte.

Peale was also an explorer, traveling with Say to Florida and Georgia—“wild and wooly places” at the time, said Grimaldi—and working as an assistant naturalist on the Stephen Harriman Long expedition to the Rocky Mountains, the first government-sponsored scientific trip to the American west since Lewis and Clark. Later, he traveled to Suriname, Colombia, and Brazil to expand the collections of what by then had come to be called the Peale Museum, which he took over with his brother, Benjamin, when their father died in 1824.

Still, lepidoptery was Peale’s true passion, and by 1931, he was working on a proposal for a book that he called Lepidoptera Americana: Or, Original Figures of the Moths and Butterflies of North America: In their Various States of Existence, and the Plants on Which They Feed, Drawn on Stone, and Coloured from Nature: With Their Characters, Synonyms, and Remarks on their Habits and Manners. The book would have 100 hand-colored lithographs. Peale’s plan was to release four plates every two months, beginning as soon as possible. 

All he needed were subscribers. According to Tom Baione, director of the Department of Library Services at AMNH, “At that time, scientific works were often, but not exclusively, published with the help of subscribers. So if you could find enough people who would agree to purchase the book, then you could proceed and perhaps produce some extras that could be sold to additional interested buyers.”

Unfortunately, only 27 people signed up for Peale’s book—far below the number he’d need to begin sending out folios. He continued to work on the book anyway.

©AMNH/D. Finnin

In 1838, Peale embarked on what Grimaldi called “probably the most adventurous exploration of his life,” as one of the naturalists on the United States South Seas Surveying and Exploring Expedition, the first seagoing expedition sponsored by the U.S. government. “[The expedition] went all along the Eastern coast of the New World, up along the West coast of South and North America, out to the Hawaiian islands, to the Galapagos, Fiji, and New Zealand,” Grimaldi said.

During the four-year trip, Peale identified and collected specimens of about 400 new species of Lepidoptera—which he then lost, along with his notes and private library, when the expedition’s ship, the Peacock, wrecked off the coast of present-day Portland, Ore., in 1841. 

Things were about to get worse. Much, much worse. 

Peale returned from the expedition to find that his Lepidoptera collections, which had been in storage awaiting a move to the Academy of Natural Sciences, had been destroyed in a fire. Then, the Philadelphia Museum—his family’s museum—closed permanently. Saddest of all, he lost his wife, a son, and a daughter, one right after the other.

“All through that difficult time,” Grimaldi said, “lepidoptera were the things that engaged him and brought him solace.”

©AMNH/D. Finnin

By the time he was 48, Peale realized that he was not going to be able to make a living on the study of lepidoptery or selling his art. So in 1848, he took a job as an assistant examiner at the United States Patent Office in the Division of Fine Arts and Photography in Washington DC. “He became a pioneer in photography,” Grimaldi said, but he didn’t slow down work on the butterfly book he still hoped to have published, “even though he had a means to much more quickly capture, with fidelity, these beautiful specimens. He continued to paint, continued to collect, continued to study and observe life history stages.”

At one point, Peale proposed “a way to facilitate publication [of his book] ... using photography, but which would really compromise the quality of the work,” Grimaldi said. “But he still couldn’t find backers.”

It was also during this period that the men that most consider the early American lepidopterists began to publish. One was William Henry Edwards, a wealthy West Virginia coal mine owner. “[He] was obsessed with butterflies,” Grimaldi said. “He bankrolled gorgeous illustrations of his own lepidoptera of North America, which was published between 1868 and 1872, in various folios.” Another was Herman Strecker, a stonemason who specialized in making memorial monuments for children and published Lepidoptera: Rhopaloceres and Heteroceres in 1872. Peale knew and corresponded with both—Williams even bought 50 of the specimen boxes Peale used to display his butterflies—and, says Grimaldi, both were probably well aware of Peale’s proposed book, thanks to his prospectus.

“I wouldn’t doubt that William Henry Edwards and Strecker rushed to get their stuff done so that they wouldn’t be beaten by Peale,” he said.

Peale—who had remarried in 1850—spent 25 years at the patent office, rising to the position of principal examiner. When he retired in 1873, he moved his family back to Philadelphia, where they lived with one of his grandsons and used his wife’s small inheritance to get by. The Academy of Natural Sciences agreed to give Peale a room to complete his book, which by then he had begun to call Butterflies of North America. He spent the rest of his life devoted to butterflies, collecting, raising, and studying them. 

When he died in 1885, after being ill for just a day, his book still wasn’t complete. It nearly died with him.

©AMNH/D. Finnin

Peale’s manuscript remained in the family until 1916, when the nephew of Peale’s wife donated the book to the American Museum of Natural History. It was composed of 160-odd plates and 145 pages written on legal-sized paper. 

The lepidopterist had made his paintings on heavy paper using mainly gouache paints, with additions made in watercolor, ink, and pencil. “Peale laid out the pages as he hoped they would be pictured in the book,” Baione said. “The name of the plate, and even the plate numbers, are all penciled in, in his neat hand.” Rather than repainting a butterfly’s life stages on a single page, Peale often cut and pasted life stages from previous paintings onto other pages. In many plates, Peale painted a solid background representing the sky—solid blue, gray, or streaked with pink and orange, denoting dusk or dawn. 

After its donation, The Butterflies of North America became part of the museum’s rare book collection, where it was accessed by artists and art historians over the years, according to Baione. “I hate to disparage [Peale’s] scientific efforts,” he said, “but in the art world, Peale is better known.”

There the book remained until last year, when the project to publish Peale’s book began. The photography of the manuscript was supervised by AMNH conservation manager Barbara Rhodes. “My main role,” she told mental_floss, “was in handling the material for the photographer, so we could be certain that things would stay where they were supposed to and he didn’t expose them to too much light. A number of [the illustrations] do have loose components, so that was a consideration.”

The resulting book, titled The Butterflies of North America: Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript, has three sections: the butterfly album, which includes all of the plates from Peale’s book and 14 of the original 145 manuscript pages; reproduced pages from Peale’s prospectus; and a section on a separate work of Peale’s called Lepidoptera: Larva, Food-Plant, Pupa, &c., which features the larvae of different butterflies and moths. Readers will find many butterflies they recognize within the book’s pages, like the Tiger Swallowtail, and some they might not, like Urania sloanus, a butterfly native to Jamaica that has since gone extinct.

And that's not all the museum has planned for Peale's work—there's also a grant proposal to re-treat it. The plates had been contained in a scrapbook until 1977, when it was disbound and taken to a bookbinder, who removed the paintings and secured them to artist’s drawing paper. The paper has curved a bit in the years since. Re-treating will “involve taking the paintings off of the artist’s paper,” Rhodes said. “Fortunately they’re not stuck overall, they’re just dots on the corners, so we think we can get them off reasonably easily and expeditiously. We don’t know if there’s any writing on the backs of these. It’s possible that there is and it just wasn’t documented in 1977. The documentation for this is fairly sparse.”

Rhodes has already made a box especially for Peale's work—a common practice at AMNH—and she plans to rehouse the paintings and repair the leather-bound scrapbook that contains the manuscript. “It’s still in the original cover, but it’s falling apart, unfortunately,” Rhodes says. “So we’ll fix that.”

Thanks to the efforts of Grimaldi and Baione and others at AMNH, Peale is finally getting his due. His story is a sad one, Baione said, “but it has a happy ending. The happy ending is today—his work and his reputation are resurrected.”

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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images
Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller


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