By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The collections we catalog are often the result a lifetime of research and collecting. These scientists go out routinely to collect, and usually take part in one or two expeditions over a career. When I first looked at the finding aid for SIA RU 7231 collection of Waldo LaSalle Schmitt (1887-1977), I was surprised to find more than 15 different expeditions listed. Some of these cover multiple years. I knew there would be plenty of material to include. Several questions came to mind. How did he manage to take part in all of them? Was he invited? Did he organize them? Did he ever spend time at home? Delving into the life of Waldo was going to be interesting.
Waldo Schmitt's Expeditions
- 1911 Bureau of Fisheries Expedition to Lower California
- 1911 Bureau of Fisheries Chignik (Alaska) Biological Survey
- 1912 Bureau of Fisheries Survey of San Francisco Bay
- 1914 Bureau of Fisheries Halibut Survey of Washington and Oregon
- 1918 Bureau of Fisheries Spiny Lobster Investigations, La Jolla, California
- 1925-1927 Walter Rathbone Bacon Traveling Scholarship Expedition South America and Falklands
- 1930-1932 Fieldwork at Carnegie Marine Laboratory, Dry Tortugas, Florida
- 1933-1935 Hancock Pacific-Galapagos Expedition
- 1937 Smithsonian-Hartford West Indies Expedition
- 1938 Presidential Cruise 1938 to Galapagos
- 1939 Hancock South America Expedition
- 1940 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska King Crab Investigation
- 1941-1942 United States Navy Trip to the Galapagos
- 1955 Smithsonian-Bredin Belgian Congo Expedition
- 1956 Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition I
- 1957 Smithsonian-Bredin Society Islands Expedition
- 1958 Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition II
- 1959Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition III
- 1960 Smithsonian-Bredin Yucatan Expedition
- 1962-1963 Palmer Peninsula Survey, U.S. Antarctic Research Program
Waldo has proven to be a fascinating figure. As you might imagine by my reference to him by his first name, his personality shines through his papers and records and inspires a certain level of affection.
He was a Zoologist whose specialty was decapod crustaceans (the order that includes crabs, lobsters, and shrimp), and held several positions at National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) eventually becoming Curator of Zoology. Waldo conducted a tremendous amount of work in the Caribbean and Galapagos Islands, but additionally collected in places as far flung as Democratic Republic of Congo and Antarctica. He had the enviable position of taking part in multiple expeditions across the globe, and was invited or suggested (as he was for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidential Cruise of 1938) for other expeditions because of his reputation.
It seems clear from his materials that Waldo had a personality made for expedition work. He was personable, had a colorful way with words, and was always ready with a story. Waldo often put particular care into accounts about places he visited, locals met, and interactions with expedition participants. His diaries were being read by colleagues back at the Smithsonian, along with progress reports, and he seemed to make a point to make the accounts good reading. These field books make places and events easy to visualize.
I have found answers for some of my initial questions while cataloging the collection. Waldo formed strong relationships with several individuals who funded multiple expeditions. In other cases, I have found correspondence from colleagues inviting his participation, or, in the case of the Presidential Cruise, a letter from a supervisor suggesting him. I have found only a few expeditions that he seems to have run. Materials in the Smithsonian-Bredin Belgian Congo Expedition, 1955, indicate he preferred to be a participant and focus on collecting. As far as a balance with home-life, most of the expeditions covered portions of the year. During these times, letters to and from his wife impart a strong sense familiarity and affection. I have also found notes sent to him by his children while he was out collecting. But perhaps the title of his biography by Entomologist Richard E. Blackwelder states it best: The Zest for Life, or, Waldo Had a Pretty Good Run: the Life of Waldo LaSalle Schmitt.