Archive for Sunday, December 28, 2003

Hair didn’t aid museum director’s appeal to Legislature

December 28, 2003


If you think Kansas University had an easier time with the Kansas Legislature 100 years ago, think again.

In 1893, the KU Natural History Museum was booming and needed a new building. Confined to one room in old Snow Hall, the museum was bursting with collections of exotic animals, plants and fossils pouring in from expeditions all over the world. Students were flocking to its biology classes. To cap it off, museum naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche had just returned from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago with his huge diorama, part of the Kansas Pavilion, that had taken the world's fair by storm: "The Panorama of North American Wildlife."

Chancellor Francis Snow sent Dyche to Topeka to lobby the Legislature. It took six years for the Kansas Senate to appropriate $65,000 to build a new museum. It took one day for the House to kill the appropriation, after it was attacked by Buck Dawes, Republican floor leader from Leavenworth, and William Coy, representative from Oskaloosa.

Here is Dawes' floor speech, March 4, 1899: "It's a shame that the professors come up here from that school and neglect their work to lobby for these buildings. We have given enough to that institution already."

Rep. Coy's speech hit below the belt: "I don't want to go home and face my people and tell them that we couldn't provide a suitable place for our destitute insane, but that we did spend $65,000 for a building to cover Dyche's dead animals."

As reported by the Topeka Capital, the House debate then descended into a raucous free for all. One representative dumped his wastebasket over the head of a colleague who was speaking, upon which all the House members dumped their wastebaskets and chased each other into the adjacent hallway "much to the dismay of the janitors."

Dyche was an intrepid explorer, scientific collector, taxidermist and showman -- he has been called the P.T. Barnum of natural history. But he might have had quicker success with the legislators had he done one simple thing: gotten a haircut.

Dyche, a handsome fellow, had a full mane of hair that was regularly discussed and pictured in the newspapers. His hair had reached hippie length in October 1895, after he returned from an eight-month expedition to the North Pole. And he did not have time to get a haircut until three months later, Jan. 13, 1896.

The day after the haircut, the headline in the Lawrence Journal blared: "DYCHE'S LOSS: The Noted Northern Explorer Is Shorn of His Locks."

The article continued: "Prof. L.L. Dyche went into Willard's barber shop last Saturday night and for the first time since he started on his trip to the frozen regions of the north, way along last spring, had his hair cut. The locks that have attracted the attention of everyone ... and that have been talked about and pictured in innumerable newspapers, are now a thing of the past ... and changes the looks of the professor a great deal. When Dyche left the barber's chair on Saturday night it was hardly possible to recognize him at first, and he went down the street with very many fewer greetings from his many friends than he is accustomed to get."

I first learned of the fuss over Dyche's hair and haircut from the Lawrence Journal-World, Jan 14, 1996, seven months after I became director of the museum. The "100 Years Ago" feature that day carried the following item:

"100 Years Ago On Jan. 14, 1896, a haircut drew favorable comment. The Lawrence World stated: 'Prof. Dyche is to be congratulated on having the reaper get in its work on his locks. The professor has done what he should have done long ago.'"

Eventually, on March 1, 1901, after more lobbying by Dyche, the Kansas Legislature appropriated $75,000 to build what became Dyche Hall, KU's signature building. Completed in 1903, Dyche Hall is 100 years old this year. Its legacy, and that of its namesake, Lewis Lindsay Dyche, are enormous.

For 100 years, the limestone blocks that built Dyche Hall have encompassed our discovery of the life of the planet, past and present. The limestone is life itself, formed hundreds of millions of years ago from the tiny skeletons of animals and plants that lived and died in an ancient sea that covered Kansas. The limestone is also permeable and porous. For me, that's a metaphor for 100 years of the diffusion of knowledge from Dyche Hall to science, to society and to generations of KU students.

Here's to the next hundred years.

Leonard Krishtalka is director of Kansas University's Natural History Museum & Biodiversity Research Center.

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