Regular readers of this blog will remember my many references to Chickies Rock in Lancaster County. This 110-foot high quartzitic rock is located north of Columbia and can easily seen crossing the Susquehanna River. The rock is arch-shaped being folded up by the giant collision between Africa and North America that occurred during the construction of Pangaea some 350 million years ago. At Chickies Rock, trained eyes will find ripple marks, cross–bedding and a fossil that actually has made this location a famous site. It is the finding of this fossil and the story behind Scolithus linerais that composes this blog.
The finding of a fossil is always a cool experience. You are the first person to ever see that particular specimen and you probably know, each specimen is unique in appearance. Some of you have probably experienced that feeling while fossil hunting. Just think now if you find a fossil that has never been described before and you know that your find could be very important.
This is the case of Samuel S. Haldeman. Samuel was born on the homestead just at Locust Grove, now Bainbridge, Lancaster County in 1812. His father was a great business man having interests in furnaces, a grist mill and . He attended a classic school in Harrisburg and then spent two years at DickinsonCollege, although he did not receive a diploma.
After his marriage in 1835 to Mary A. Hough of Bainbridge, he moved to a new residence at the base of Chickies Rock, Marietta. Not only did he design the stately home built by his father, he laid out the grounds with native specimens of trees and shrubs gathered from the surrounding woods, and some foreign varieties, all of which were planted with his own hands.
For a time he managed a saw mill. In 1836 Henry D. Rogers, having been appointed state geologist of New Jersey, sent for Haldeman, who had been his pupil at Dickinson, to assist him. A year later, on the reorganization of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, Haldeman was transferred to his own state, and was actively engaged on the survey until 1842, preparing five annual reports, and personally surveying the counties of Dauphin and Lancaster. In 1840 he began the publication of his monograph on the “Fresh-Water Univalve Mollusca of the United States,” in which he described the Scolithus linearis, a new genus and species of animal fossil, the most ancient organic remains in Pennsylvania. During the year 1842/3, he gave a course of lectures on zoology at the Franklin Institute.
In 1852, Haldeman was appointed professor of the natural sciences in the University of Pennsylvania. In 1855 he went to DelawareCollege, where he filled the same position. While there, he also lectured on geology and chemistry in the state agricultural college of Pennsylvania. In 1869, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania as professor of comparative philology. He remained there until his death, which occurred at Chikckies Rock, Pennsylvania.
Haldeman was an earnest advocate of spelling reform. He was a member of many scientific societies, was the founder and president of a Philological Society, and one of the early members of the National Academy of Science.
Samuel loved many aspects of the natural sciences. He built and lived in a mansion at the north end of Chickies Rock. He studied the plants living there and discovered Scolithus fossils. Not certain of its origin, Samuel sent a letter to Charles Darwin in an attempt to identify the specimen. Although I haven’t seen the correspondence or even sure if a letter still exists, historians have stated “that the fossil is Scolithus, a worm borrow of an ancient animal.” Samuel continued his communication with Charles, helping Charles write the final pages of the classic “The Origins of Species.” It was determined that Scolithus was a relatively short lived species of only several million years. The age was placed on the Precambrian and Paleozoic era boundary, on today’s geologic time scale as 545 million years. Because of its short life span was a species, any rock containing Scolithus can be dated at 545 million years old. This is known tov a geologist as an index fossil, used as a dating tool.
Samuel died in September, 1880 at his mansion. He left behind 200 publications covered six disciplines he had studied. Samuel Stehman Haldeman gave his life to his scholarly pursuits, and his influence, though largely unnoticed, is astounding. Many of the most famous and influential scholars of the past were directly influenced by Haldeman both personally and professionally. Haldeman was able to aid in progressive research on many fronts, both scientific and linguistic. The fact that Haldeman was constantly on the cutting edge of every field he studied suggests that he was a man who challenged convention, a man who truly thought for himself. Samuel Haldeman was not only one of the greatest American scholars, but also one of the greatest American thinkers.
What brought this blog to mind was that I finally visited the HaldemanMansion in Bainbridge this past Sunday. I was the speaker at the Annual Meeting of the Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society and had a chance to see some of Sanuel’s specimens in his collection. I even assisted members with identifying several of the artifacts they had questions about. This society has done much work on the mansion and are still looking for funding to do more, for example, installing a new roof. This is a great place to visit during the summer when they have open houses and appreciate some of the history of a great person in our local history.Read More