It Was the Summer of '65
It was the summer of ‘65….The GREAT MOVE to the new West Wing of the NMNH
By Dave Pawson
Dr. Don Squires was the Chair of the recently established Department of Invertebrate Zoology. Back then the Department was based mainly in the southwest corner of the ground floor of the original museum building, where Exhibits is now housed. Stacked in the wide corridor, about four high, were the numerous quarter-unit cases containing the dry collections. And behind those, in a large separate room, was the wet collection, occupying two floors. The Mollusk Division, along with its dry collection, lived in splendid isolation on the fifth floor of the east wing. It was not until many years later that the Mollusk Division and its collections moved into the third floor, west wing.
As the west wing building neared completion, the IZ staff continued to grow rapidly, and several staff members were in temporary quarters in what is now the second-floor exhibit hall on the northwest side of the main building. The western end of that hall, abutting the new west wing, was temporarily hung with sheets of plastic, and, as construction progressed, the plastic sheets would move with the wind, and clouds of dust would blow back and forth. The occupants of that temporary area referred to the area, almost affectionately, as “Gustingdust”.
When the west wing was completed then came the exciting time when we: 1) moved into our brand-new office space; and 2) moved the wet collections onto the first and second floors of the west wing, and the dry collections onto the third floor. Crustacea occupied the entire first floor, Worms one-half of the second, and Echinoderms one-half of the third floor.
Moving the collections required some detailed planning for the contents of every one of the old shelves had to be transported into the new quarters, and the collection was also to be expanded so that, for example, one old shelf of alcohol material would have been destined to go to two or three shelves in the west wing, on either the first floor or the second, or both… A complicated labeling system of numbers and letters adorned every shelf, old and new (sound familiar?).
Finally the time came to do the move, and we all pitched in. It took many days of hard labor. I will never forget one incident in which I was accidentally involved. As I mentioned above, the wet collection in its old space occupied two floors, and the actual intervening floor was made of open iron grill-work. One day I was moving some large and heavy ten-gallon alcohol-and-specimen-filled glass containers using a hand-truck. These containers were too big and heavy to go up onto shelves, so they were assembled on the grill-work floor at the far ends of the aisles. I approached one of the containers a little too quickly, and my right foot penetrated the thin glass of a container near its base. All at once, a torrent of dark brown and smelly alcohol fell through the grill floor onto the head and shoulders of Dr. Marian Pettibone, who so happened to be standing directly below me! She was instantly soaked by the smelly and cold alcohol, and she loudly let fly with some words that I didn’t think she knew!! Fortunately, like all of us, she was clad in old clothes, and eventually, after she had recovered, she was very nice about the entire incident…but she gave me a wide berth after that, until the move had been completed!
Eventually we were installed in our luxurious new home. When the move was completed, we all went to a restaurant downtown and had a long celebratory lunch.