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Celebrating Buffalo’s “Chain of Connection” with Alexander von Humboldt

by Stephen Vermette Mayor Byron Brown has
declared Sept. 14, 2019 as
You are aware of the Hum- “Alexander von Humboldt
boldt Parkway, but do you Day” in the City of Buffalo.

know its namesake? It is Prus-

sian (German)-born Baron Alex-

ander von Humboldt volume set titled Kosmos – rep-

(1769-1859). You will have an resenting the universe in a single

opportunity to learn about this work.

man, his accomplishments, and While Alexander von Hum-

connection to the city during boldt never set foot in the city of

Buffalo’s upcoming 250th Anni- Buffalo, a red carpet was rolled

versary Celebration extending out in the form of a grand cele-

through late summer/early fall of bration which took place 150

2019. years ago, on the centennial of

Across the globe, more plac- his birth (Sept. 14, 1869). This

es and species are named after Alexander von Humboldt celebration was fueled by Hum-

this individual than anyone else, (1769-1859). boldt’s scientific stature and Humboldt poster presented by Stephen Vermette to Maureen
a testament to a man who was a public adoration and local Ger- Gleason (left) and Diane Pesch-Savatteri (right) of the Concor-
major figure in the science of his that are visible in our world – man pride in a native son (almost dia Foundation, Inc. of Buffalo, NY. The poster is titled: “Look-
day, whose work laid the founda- Alexander von Humboldt’s ge- half the city’s population was ing Back at Buffalo’s Humboldt Centennial and Its German
tion for the sciences of physical nius was in connecting those German). Community.”
geography, biogeography, ecolo- dots to reveal not just the mean-
ing in them, but previously un- The celebration was orga-

gy, geophysics, meteorology, seen patterns and linkages of nized by the German community great cosmopolite, was of itself a

and climatology. seemingly disparate information, and the Buffalo Society of Natu- feast for the eyes and soul.”

Charles Darwin described referred to by Humboldt as ral Sciences, today known as the The Buffalo Express de-

Humboldt as the “greatest scien- “chains of connection.” Buffalo Museum of Science. The scribed the celebration as “a star-

tific traveller who ever lived” Humboldt’s world view was celebration was a mix of oration tling combination of beautiful

and described his affect as a writ- one of interrelated questions and music, described, at the time, effects”; festoons of evergreens,

er “…he like another sun illumi- teasing out how the world as taking “no secondary place in oak leaves, and flowers; a color

nates everything I behold.” worked. Humboldt’s brother the history of great celebra- pallet of American and German

Many of Humboldt’s travels (Wilhelm Humboldt) described tions.” colors; a gilded framed and flow-

were in Latin America. While it best: “Alexander maintains a It was written in the Buffalo er-wrapped portrait of Humboldt

most scientists of the 19th centu- horror of the single fact. He tries Courier that “The sight of so suspended midway between the

ry were content to discover, col- to take in everything.” Hum- many people, embracing many floor and ceiling; as well as a

lect, and catalog nature – boldt’s crowning achievement nationalities, under one roof, to large banner with the word

characterizing the many “dots” HUMBOLDT, also edged by
flowers and evergreens.
Young Humboldt preferred to roam and exploreby Stephen Vermette
On the day after the celebra-
lexander von Humboldt tion, it was written in a local
newspaper: “It is a curious query
Awas born in Berlin on Sept. whether the records we’re mak-
ing to-day…will be a mere mat-
14, 1769. As a young boy Hum- ter of curiosity to the masses who
boldt was tutored at home. The will bask in the light of another
late 17th and 18th centuries were century’s increase of knowledge.
was the publication of the five- do honor to the memory of the What will they think of our opin- Stephen Vermette (right) pre-
senting the OberBürgermeis-
It is left to speculation ter of Dortmund, Ullrich
whether this was an early Sierau (left), with Mayor By-
trait, but the writer Goethe, ron Brown’s proclamation de-
upon visiting the family claring September 14, 2019 as
home, did note that he Alexander von Humboldt Day
walked away impressed by in the City of Buffalo. photo
courtesy of Stadt Dortmund / Ro-
land Gorecki.

a time known as the “Age of Humboldt’s youthful grasp ions of Humboldt …?” The Humboldt penguins will

Enlightenment,” a period where of science. Goethe encour- On Humboldt’s Semiquin- throw a birthday party at the

reason was the primary source of aged him to continue his centennial, the Buffalo commu- Aquarium of Niagara. Both the

knowledge, and where scientific learning. Unfortunately, nity has responded to the Buffalo Museum of Science and

activity challenged the norms. Humboldt’s interests were reporter’s curious query from Aquarium of Niagara will orga-

Humboldt was educated in the not taken seriously at home. 150 years ago by planning a sec- nize activities for children. Lec-

classics but, given the times, was As a young man, Hum- ond Humboldt celebration. Our tures will be given, to be hosted

challenged by his enlightened boldt did not outgrow his 250th Anniversary Celebration by the Aurora Historical Society

tutors to “dare to know.” aloged his backyard – labeling fascination with nature and sci- searches out the many chains of (President Fillmore visited Hum-

Humboldt’s childhood was plants, shells, insects − whatever ence. Though he was being connections between Humboldt boldt in Germany), Canisius
described by some as unhappy, attracted his curiosity. steered toward a career in public and our community. Once again, College, and the WNY Chapter

given the constraints of his strict Adults, witnessing his wan- service, his interests in nature the German community is in- of the American Meteorological
Calvinist upbringing and the up- derings and his growing collec- and science were rekindled dur- volved through the Federation of Society.
per-class position of his family. tions, referred to him as “the ing his formal schooling and by German American Societies of And currently the Burch-
In correspondence he character- little apothecary” in reference to the individuals with whom he Buffalo.
ized his home as “Castle of his penchant to collect. Later in kept company. field-Penney is considering a

Boredom.” Mayor Byron Brown has de- presentation on Humboldt’s “na-
life Humboldt, famous for his One such person was Georg clared Sept. 14, 2019 as “Alex- ture paintings.” Humboldt-relat-
However, there is another ability to come up with big Forster, a German who had ander von Humboldt Day” in the ed poster presentations will be
side to his childhood, one that he ideas, wrote “Our imagination is sailed with the famous explorer City of Buffalo. At the time of found across the Buffalo region,
had more control over. It turns struck only by what is great, but Captain Cook, who, in turn, in- this writing, the celebration will including at Concordia Founda-
out that Humboldt’s “class- the lover of science should at- troduced Humboldt to others of include a commemorative tree tion events, at the Millard Fill-
room,” by his own doing, ex- tend equally to little things.” like mind. As a child Humboldt planting at the Martin Luther more Presidential Site, and

tended beyond the walls of his It was his youthful backyard had read about explorers and King Jr. (formerly Humboldt) during the Buffalo German Fest
home, to his backyard (a country roaming that allowed Humboldt then, as young man, he was Park. The Buffalo Museum of in Cheektowaga. You get the
estate with plenty of acres to to acquire an early appreciation meeting them! Humboldt was Science will host a presentation idea!
explore). of nature’s “little things”. determined to be a scientific ex- by Andrea Wulf, author of two There will be numerous op-

Novelist Theodor Fontane As the curator of his back- plorer in his own right – to study highly praised publications on portunities to learn about and to
described the young Humboldt yard collection, Humboldt took the “little things” beyond his Humboldt: “The Invention of celebrate the genius of Alexan-
as “restless and a bit wild, pre- pride in what he had learned. backyard and to propose, in Nature”; and the recently re- der von Humboldt. While details
ferring to roam outdoors or read Charles Darwin, at his first time, those great ideas that leased graphic novel “The Ad- will be advertised by the partici-
about explorers.” Humboldt meeting with Humboldt (then 70 struck the imagination of the ventures of Alexander von pating organizations, an over-
found solace outside at “play,” years old), commented on Hum- world.
Humboldt”, as well as hosting a view of activities can be
when free to wander and curious boldt’s tendency to talk a lot.
Illustration by D.J. Crum- “SciNight” with a Humboldt obtained by going to:
to wonder. He collected and cat-
rine. Drawn upon a request to theme, and a rededication of the https://geography.buffalostate.e

present Humboldt to a young museum’s “Humboldt” room. du/humboldt-celebration.

audience.
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