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ROY CHAPMAN ANDREWS
Roy Chapman Andrews was born on January 26, 1884. His childhood
ambition was to become a naturalist and an explorer. A restless spirit,
even into old age, Andrews was only comfortable on-the-go and in the
wilderness. He always had an ambition to explore the world. Even into
his final years, Andrews never lost these virtues.
Since he was a lover of nature, Andrews became a skilled
taxidermist when he was still in elementary school. This taxidermy
skill led to his desire to join the staff of the American Museum of
Natural History. Taxidermy was not the only draw to the AMNH, Andrews
loved nature and wanted to go on and lead expeditions. Andrews desire
to lead expeditions may have sprung from his rather centralized
childhood ; Andrews never left his hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin until
after college ( which he took at Beloit ). In 1906, Andrews took his
first steps toward his childhood goals.
Before Andrews graduated college he wrote the American Museum of
Natural History. The director, Dr. Bumpus, wrote back telling Andrews
that no jobs were available. This bad news also came with good news,
for Bumpus was impressed with Andrews'enthusiasm and told Andrews that
when Andrews had business in New York he could stop by for a job.
Andrews' business in New York was getting a job at the AMNH, and when
he graduated college he went to New York.
Andrews' meeting with Bumpus is near legendary. The meeting went
well at first, until Bumpus laid down on Andrews that there were no
jobs anywhere in the museum. Andrews, stunned, blurted out that he
would take any job, even a janitorial job. Bumpus, though puzzled
that a college graduate would want janitorial work, gave Andrews a job
mopping the floors at the taxidermy department under the title of
departmental assistant. The job would only be temporary and when a
better job came up Andrews would get it.
Andrews happily mopped floors, straightened up rooms, mixed clay,
and did odd jobs for his boss James L. Clark and Bumpus. Andrews's
first months at the museum were some of the best months of his life
according to Andrews. He loved his jobs and roaming the museum after
hours. Soon, Bumpus came through on his promise for a better job and
gave Andrews a job working with James Clark and a paper modelling expert
on a model of a whale. The work was tedious and unsatisfactory until
they fired the paper modelling expert and finished it with paper mache (
the model was later replaced, but for its time, it was a remarkable
The success of the project opened Andrews' eyes to whales. Andrews
soon started doing scientific work on whales. He worked on whaling
ships to observe whales. Andrews had many significant sightings of
whales and was the first naturalist to see a mating pair of whales and
the first naturalist to see a whale birth. He took some of the first
pictures of whales and became somewhat popular and lectured frequently.
Andrews's success soon brought him an offer that he couldn't refuse ; a
chance to go to Borneo and the East Indies in the spring of 1908.
Andrews' transport was the Albatross, a drilling and exploring
vessel that Andrews loved. Andrews' first assignment on this expedition
was to explore an unexplored island. Andrews was dropped off with two
Filipino boys to be picked up later. The Albatross, however, turned
out to be two weeks late. The boys went near mad in that span, while
Andrews had the time of his life. He caught his own food and built his
own shelter while collecting specimens for the museum. Andrews
commented that he could live forever on that island and he was unhappy
when the Albatross returned.
Later in the "Paradise" expedition Andrews was bushwhacking through
the wilderness on another island with a native guide. The guide
suddenly told Andrews that there was a python right in front of Andrews'
nose and was about to wrap around him. Andrews could not see the python
and he fired gunshots blindly around him. The snake dropped with a
bullet right between its eyes. Andrews estimated the length to be
twenty feet and the weight to be a half ton or more. This experience
was not the only time Andrews escaped death on an island on the
"Paradise" expedition ; Andrews bushwhacked through an island with
savages on it that, though Andrews never seen them, were out to kill
Andrews as evidenced by the angled, poisoned stakes that surrounded
paths where Andrews walked.
Not all of the dangers on the "Paradise" expedition came on
tropical islands ; the sea spawned the next near-death experience.
Andrews always had a wish to be through a typhoon, and while on the
Albatross that wish came true ; en route to Japan the Albatross crossed
through a typhoon. Andrews complained that he never got to enjoy
himself because the waves and winds caused the ship to tip and turn so
most of his time was spent helping the crew keep it afloat. Andrews,
while in the typhoon, witnessed a a chilling experience for one to be
in a typhoon ; Andrews watched through binoculars a man on a nearby
British gunboat get washed off the gunboat and into the sea, never to
be seen again. Luckily, both Andrews and the Albatross survived the
ordeal and Andrews had, " ...a grand time."
Andrews continued on his expedition. He spent times in Japanese
meat processing plants observing whales the whales that went through.
However, these freshly dead whales did not excite whales, and soon he
went on a whaling ship. Andrews commented that the first thing he
noticed on the boat was the harpooner, Johnson, who he looked insane.
Andrews' first impression turned out to be correct.
The vindication came to be one of the most amazing experiences that
Andrews ever experienced. It was sparked by Johnson's mistake when he
harpooned the whale ; the whale did not stop or die. Johnson decided
that a crew was to go out on a boat to kill the whale and Andrews
decided that he wanted to go on as a oarsman. The other members of the
crew included the first mate and a Japanese soldier. The mate took the
harpoon and thrust it into the whale, but instead of dying the whale
got mad. The whale swung its giant tail up and it landed on the boat ;
Andrews had to jump out before the tail would smash him. The boat was
smashed and to top the bad situation, sharks attracted by the whale's
blood, went circling around the men. Andrews had to kick and punch
away the sharks and take a wood beam to shove down open-mouthed shark's
throats. The Japanese soldier had his leg bitten off by a shark. With
all of the trouble in the water, Johnson would seem to care, but he
kept chasing the whale ( which was never caught ). Andrews stewed about
this incident years afterward and particulary stewed over the fact that
he never got to punch Johnson to a pulp.
All these experiences aside, Andrews survived unscathed and left
the Orient. This year and a half gave the AMNH the largest collection
of cetaceans at the time. Andrews did not want to head home but he did
so reluctantly, heading through the Suez Canal and roaming through
Europe for a few months until he had no money. He came to New York with
only enough money for taking a streetcar to the AMNH.
Andrews had reached his dream of becoming a seasoned explorer.
Characteristically, rather than resting in the U.S. for a few months,
he started on another expedition immediately. On this one he
rediscovered an "extinct" whale, the Californian gray whale, went up a
Korean mountain and almost got killed, and explored the Yaku River in
Korea. The most notable experience on this river trip happened when he
was late at a checkpoint, and was thought to be dead. The news spread
through the world. There was a memorial service in Beloit and the whole
world remembered his potential and accomplishments. He read this all
from a newspaper. He telegraphed the museum to say that he was alive,
much to the museum's joy and his parents. Andrews then, after
exploring Russia and Scandinavia, went back to graduate school to write
his thesis on the Californian gray whale.
After the ( rapid ) completion of his thesis, Andrews led a small
expedition to the Artic looking for a bow-headed whale. The ice was too
thick to pass and Andrews turned back rather reluctantly. Andrews,
though he failed for the first notable time, succeeded in his personal
life by his marriage to Yvette Borup in August 1914. Marriage did not
slow down Andrews and soon after his marriage he set off for a
expedition in China after abandoning his whale research.
China was an interesting place before everything got turned on its
head. The number of varying cultures in China in 1916 was immense, and
Andrews brought some the few documentations of these cultures. The
expedition was a strange one, though, not only for the varying
cultures, but for the environments that Andrews passed through. He
passed through mountains that were so varied in weather that at any
given elevation it could be hot enough to kill or cold enough to kill.
Andrews' China expedition was one of hardships, (at least for the other
members). Andrews had a great time hiking, collecting, and finding
native tribes no matter the weather and how much the other men were
having a hard time.
Andrews met on his journey a variety of tribes ; some had primitive
guns but never seen a white man and other tribes that used a
bow-and-arrow for a weapon. Andrews not only met Chinese tribes, but
had also met malaria. On his China expedition, Andrews passed through
the Salween Valley, one of the most malaria plagued areas in the world.
Andrews remarked that he and his men were walking mosquito nets.
Andrews had a great time nonetheless, even though he was the only
person to contract malaria. Andrews had a mild case of malaria, but
he would, later in life, continue to have malaria fits).
Andrews came back to New York with a huge cache of birds, mammals,
reptiles, fish, and insects. After his arrival, Andrews' child was
born and was named George Borup Andrews after his uncle, another
explorer ( though slightly maligned one ). However, Andrews never got
to spent much time with his son because he enlisted in the service to
fight in World War I after his son's birth. Andrews' major fault was
that he could never stop moving or exploring new avenues. This fault
contributed to numerous family problems.
Andrews never fought a single battle. He went back to China to
work for Naval Intelligence ( he had no assignments ). Andrews set up
permanent camp in Peking, China and soon used the city as his base for
his tours around the whole of China and Manchuria. He went twice across
the Gobi from north of Peking, to Urga (Ulaan Bataar), and went on
horseback to Siberia. Andrews discovered the motorcar when he first
crossed the Gobi. He loved the experience but had to go back to Ulaan
Bataar. The trip back to Ulaan Bataar became one of Andrews' most
Andrews travelled with a man named Charles Coltman on the way back
to Ulaan Bataar. All along the way they were chased by bandits. One
time a group of bandits started shooting at them from a cliff ; Andrews
was nearly missed by a bullet that passed an inch away from. There was
nothing left to do but for the two men to shoot back. Andrews
recollected that he bested Coltman in the way the bandits that they shot
fell down the cliff ; Coltman's bandits rolled down the cliff, while
Andrews' flew off in a "swandive". This experience did not keep Andrews
from the Gobi, and soon he passed through again in the winter months.
It was so cold that Andrews left the Gobi through a shortcut to a colder
place : Siberia! Many of Andrews' men lost fingers and ears due to
frostbite ; nevertheless, Andrews had a "grand time".
Andrews came back from his easy service during the war. But rather
than settle down and relax, Andrews was planning with Henry Fairfield
Osborn an expedition through the Gobi. The purpose of the expedition
was to find fossil evidence of a "missing-link" between humans and apes
(an idea that is fundamentally racist as shown by Gould). That was not
the main reason for the expedition, the others include : botany,
zoology, cartography, archaeology, geology, ecology, etc. Andrews
set off for Mongolia in March, 1921.
Andrews quickly became friends with Walter Granger, the head
paleontologist of the CAE. Granger seemed to find fossils faster than
anybody including Andrews, much to Andrews' dismay. Andrews searched
in vain for fossils and finally found one of modest importance, an
"Balucotherium" skull (later changed to Indricotherium). Andrews had
great fun dealing with the hardships of the Gobi, but all good things
come to an end.
Andrews reluctantly left the Gobi on the first expedition. The
team set back for Kalgan. While at Kalgan there is one amusing matter
involving Andrews and Granger. Andrews and Granger had trouble getting
to sleep on the soft beds that were given to them at the hotel. They
finally concluded that the beds were too soft to sleep on and they set
up their sleeping bags in the flower patch outside and went to sleep
immediately. This story can perfectly sum up what kind of person
Andrews left family and America behind again and stayed in the
area. On one supply trip he encountered bandits ( again ). Andrews was
in his Dodge motorcar. Andrews had heard that these bandits had killed
a man earlier so naturally Andrews was up for a fight. Andrews decided
to give chase to the bandits, in his car. He rushed them yelling at
the top of his lungs ; the bandits' horses jumped before the bandits
could reach their guns. One horse and rider were so frightened that
they stood still. Andrews could of popped the bandit dead with a
gunshot, but he decided not to and opted to shoot the peaked hat off of
the bandit's head. Andrews chased the bandits as far as he could and
looked back on the experience as the most fun he had ever had in his
Andrews was back for his the Second CAE in 1923. The trip was even
more exciting because it had more of everything : bandits, sandstorms,
fossils, hardships, and a surprising visit from some "ghosts" (ghosts
in the mind of their mongolian guide, whose parents had gotten killed
on that spot where they set up camp. Andrews opted for the scientific
route that explained the ghosts and the ghost voices as condensation
coming off from the rocks at night). It was on this expedition that the
first "Protoceratops" ( Oviraptor) eggs were found.
Henry Osborn joined the expedition in its late phases. Andrews
recalled that Osborn's most memorable experience was when some bandits
roamed into camp. The bandits were well-known and dangerous, but
Andrews and his men surrounded the bandits and held them captive.
Later, after the bandits were released they were killed by the "Gobi
Police". Andrews looked back on this small incident with glee, for
Osborn had as good of a time as Andrews.
The discovery of dinosaur eggs made Andrews a celebrity (again).
Everybody renewed their funds to the expedition. The only problem was
that the museum was still short of money ; the museum quickly lost its
debts with the $5000 dollars from the egg. Andrews also held public
lectures to bring more popularity to the AMNH (or more popularity to
himself). The next CAE was better and bigger than ever. There would
be two more CAEs in 1928 and 1930, but Andrews never got to see perhaps
the greatest place in the world ; the Flaming Cliffs.
Yvette Borup finally had enough with all of Andrews' expeditions
and long periods where he would wander off. In 1930, she divorced him.
Andrews was hurt, and he moved to permanent residence in Peking where
he wrote books. Andrews felt that he could live in Peking for the rest
of his life and possibly slow down. However, this wish could not come
true, and Andrews had to leave Peking due to the increasing danger of
living there. Andrews reluctantly went back to America.
Andrews never went on another expedition. His popularity remained
rather constant due to his writings and public lectures, but he never
reached the peak he experienced during the CAEs. Andrews decided to
keep his goals small. Soon, his life was back in swing ; he became
President of the Explorers Club and received the Explorers Medal, which
was the world to him. During this time, Osborn retired and a
replacement went in to fill the void left by him. But soon, the
director suffered a heart attack and Andrews was offered the job of
temporary director. Soon, he became full Director and he lost his
restlessness for the time. The best thing that happened to Andrews
during these years was his marriage to Wilhemina Christmas ( "Billie" ),
which lasted until his death.
Andrews went from janitor to Museum Director at the only place he
held a permanent job. Andrews built the Akeley African Hall and the
Hayden Planetarium at the AMNH. These projects only temporarily killed
his restlessness. The permanent cure was when he bought Pondwood Farm
in Connecticut. He bushwhacked through the wilderness around the place
and built his home there (for more on his later "adventures", read _ An
Explorer Comes Home _). Andrews loved the place so much that he even
retired from the museum on New Years Day, 1942, so he could spend more
Andrews loved Pondwood with all its native wildlife. Pondwood
reminded him of Beloit and his childhood and the farm managed to keep
him settled down. Andrews summered at Pondwood and wintered in Arizona
later in life. He loved his later life and experienced bliss not felt
since his days on the abandoned island. Andrews' adventure ended when
he died in 1960.
Roy Chapman Andrews was an adventurer in every sense of the word.
He was a restless soul and a showman. He did not contribute much to the
study of science, but he has become a scientific hero. All of his CAE
adventures are fairly well-known, but he had a life before the CAE and
this life is little-known. Andrews can be considered one of the models
for Indiana Jones, whether he was or not is meaningless, he was
pound-for-pound more interesting than Indiana Jones ( he was like
Indiana Jones in his hat, revolver, and fear of snakes ). Andrews
lived a life that few have lived, and that is the interesting part of
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