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New York Zoological Society. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences and New York Aquarium records, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990)  

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Guide to the records of the New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990)

Guide to the records of the New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990) 3001

Guide to the records of the New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990)
3001

Collection Overview

Repository
Wildlife Conservation Society Archives
Creator
New York Aquarium.
Creator
New York Zoological Society. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences.
Collection Number
3001
Title
New York Zoological Society. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences and New York Aquarium records
Date
circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990)
Extent
19.05 linear feet (19 Hollinger boxes, 1 half-Hollinger box, 9 cartons, 1 bound volume/album container, 1 flat box)
Language
English
Abstract
The collection holds records from the New York Aquarium and the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences. The New York Aquarium, founded in 1896 and operated by the New York Zoological Society since 1902, was moved from its original Manhattan location in 1941. After an interlude at the Bronx Zoo, a new Aquarium opened in 1957 in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The Aquarium’s research laboratories, which had also been moved offsite, reunited with the public Aquarium a decade later, in 1967. The Aquarium portion of the collection consists of materials from Directors Christopher W. Coates, Paul L. Montreuil, and Ross F. Nigrelli, from its Education Department and curatorial staff, and exhibit records dating from the Aquarium’s original building through the tenure of Director Louis E. Garibaldi. The OLMS material consists of correspondence, administrative records, and topical files from OLMS Directors Ross F. Nigrelli and George D. Ruggieri, and document the construction of the laboratories at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, the scientists who worked there, and their research interests and activities. There are also files from NYZS trustee and Aquarium supporter Nixon Griffis and an early scrapbook on the Aquarium.

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Indexing Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • New York Aquarium.
  • New York Zoological Society. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences.
  • New York Zoological Society.

Personal Name(s)

  • Coates, Christopher W., (Christopher William)
  • Griffis, Nixon
  • Montreuil, Paul L.
  • Nigrelli, Ross F., (Ross Franco), 1902-1989
  • Ruggieri, George D.

Subject(s)

  • Aquarists
  • Aquarium animals
  • Aquatic animals
  • Marine biologists
  • Marine ecology
  • Marine laboratories
  • Public aquariums
  • Public aquariums -- Design and construction

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Certain portions of this collection are subject to access restrictions. Please contact the WCS Archives regarding possible access restrictions.

Usage Restrictions

Please contact the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.

Acquisition Information

Internal transfers, 1980 (Acc. 1980.099, 1980.146, 1980.147, 1980.149, 1980.150, 1980.155, 1980.158).

Internal transfer, 1982 (Acc. 1982.005).

Internal transfer, 1986 (Acc. 1986.008).

Internal transfer, 1992 (Acc. 1992.014).

Internal transfer, 2001 (Acc. 2001.012).

Internal transfers, 2016 (Acc. 2016.001, 2016.003).

Repository Contact

Wildlife Conservation Society Archives

2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY, 10460
718.220.6874
library@wcs.org

Processing Information

Collection processed and finding aid created by Leilani Dawson. May, 2014.

Related Collections

Collection 1009. Charles H. Townsend records, circa 1880-1936. 

Collection 3007. Louis E. Garibaldi records, 1960-1999.

Collection 3008. George D. Ruggieri records, circa 1906-1988 (bulk 1973-1987).

Collection 3009. Charles M. Breder and Christopher W. Coates records, 1939-1956.

Collection 3011. James A. Oliver records, 1966-1977 (bulk 1970-1976).

Collection 3021. Myron Gordon records, 1900-1978 (bulk 1940-1958).

Collection 3053. Ross F. Nigrelli records, 1929-1987 (bulk 1945-1980).

Collection 3054. New York Aquarium senior staff records, 1955-1979 (bulk 1964-1979).

Please contact the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives for information on additional holdings related to this collection.

Preferred Citation

[Item], [Date]. New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences records, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990). Collection 3001. Wildlife Conservation Society Archives, New York.

Items Separated

One Hollinger box of Nigrelli personal papers (students’ theses, 1949-circa 1971 and undated) were transferred to 3053 - Nigrelli.

Approximately two Hollinger boxes worth of post-1973 NYA & OLMS subject and annual files, as well as 1.5 cartons of OLMS personnel records, were transferred to 3008 - Ruggieri.

Approximately two-thirds of a carton of Garibaldi personal papers, 1985-1991, were transferred to 3007 - Garibaldi.

A significant volume (approximately 1.5 cartons) of NYA and NYZS publications and ephemera was transferred to 2016 - Publications-Printed Ephemera.

Approximately 1.5 cartons of personnel records were separated and set aside for HR review.

Two large binders of Aquarium postcards were transferred to the WCS postcard collection.

A few inches of publications and ephemera from other zoos and aquariums, conservation organizations, and New York City and New York State groups were set aside for potential inclusion in a Zoo History special collection.

WCS Archives staff have information on additional separations.

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Historical Note

The New York Aquarium was founded in 1896 at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. Soon thereafter, in 1902, the New York Zoological Society [NYZS] was given control of the Aquarium, which the Society has operated ever since. NYZS installed Charles H. Townsend as the Aquarium’s Director, and under his leadership the Aquarium was a wildly popular destination for viewing freshwater and marine animals. From its earliest years the Aquarium also sponsored a research program; Ida M. Mellen, Charles M. Breder, Jr., and Christopher W. Coates were among the scientists employed as ichthyologists in this era.

When Charles Breder assumed the position of the Aquarium’s second Director upon Townsend’s retirement, he had the misfortune of starting his tenure just as New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses was eyeing Battery Park for demolition in order to make way for his proposed Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. That bridge was defeated by opponents in favor of a tunnel, but nevertheless in 1941 Moses largely dismantled Castle Clinton, closing down the Aquarium and sending its exhibits to temporary quarters at NYZS’s Bronx Zoo. By the 1950s, Moses supported a new New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, conveniently reachable from the suburbs surrounding the city via Moses’s system of expressways, bridges, and parkways spanning from Westchester to Long Island and eventually across the harbor to Staten Island and New Jersey.

On the NYZS side of things, the construction of the new Aquarium was shepherded by Christopher Coates, who became its third Director in 1956. The New York Aquarium reopened to much fanfare in 1957, and its modernized exhibits were once again hugely successful. Coates retired from the directorship in 1964 and resumed his research efforts. In the meantime, over the ensuing decade, the Aquarium’s next three Directors oversaw the institution through a transitional era characterized by New York City’s changing demographics and increasing financial difficulties.

Meanwhile the Aquarium’s research program had continually expanded in size and scope. Even the closure of the old Aquarium did not deter its scientists; NYZS rented space at the American Museum of Natural History to accommodate new labs focused on genetics and marine biochemistry and ecology. Research interests included oncology, teratology, aquaculture, and marine natural products. This last field was particular fruitful for Ross F. Nigrelli, who was named Chairman of the Marine Biochemistry and Ecology Laboratory in 1957 and who had isolated the antibiotic toxin holothurin in 1952. Starting with the opening of the new Aquarium, Nigrelli and other advocates of the Aquarium’s research program pushed to reunite the labs with the Aquarium proper.

These advocates included NYZS President Fairfield Osborn. Upon Nigrelli’s appointment as the Aquarium’s Director of Research in 1964, Osborn moved to aid Nigrelli with the fundraising, planning, and other efforts needed to make that vision a reality. In 1965 architect Harmon Goldstone designed the laboratories’ new building; during construction the building and the labs were officially dedicated to Osborn and thus became the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences [OLMS], with Nigrelli at their helm. OLMS opened in 1967, and while the period from 1965 to 1975 was a time of growing pains for the Aquarium, the era was OLMS’s golden age. When Nigrelli retired in 1973, his Assistant Director, George D. Ruggieri, SJ, assumed his responsibilities.

A marine biologist and Jesuit priest who had started his career at the Aquarium’s research labs in 1962, Ruggieri quickly gained increasing responsibilities at both the Aquarium and OLMS, having been named Coordinator of Research when the Labs joined the Aquarium in Coney Island in 1967, becoming the Assistant Director of the Aquarium at the same time he took over the directorship of OLMS, and becoming the Aquarium’s Director in 1976. Ruggieri championed the Aquarium and OLMS both within NYZS and outside of it, ensuring the completion of previously planned exhibits whose construction was threatened by budget shortfalls, expanding outreach to donors and politicians as city funding sources dried up, and tirelessly promoting OLMS research efforts even as major sponsors increasingly shifted their attentions away from non-academic research labs. Ruggieri’s passing in 1987 marked the end of an era for both institutions.

The Osborn Laboratories never recovered from the loss. Although the Aquarium continued to support its scientists, no new Director was named after the last one stepped down in 2005, at which time what was left of the laboratories’ research program was folded into the Aquarium’s work. The Aquarium, by contrast, has enjoyed renewed successes. Major exhibits that Ruggieri had started planning for, such as Discovery Cove and Sea Cliffs, were brought to fruition by his successor, Louis E. Garibaldi. Additional new exhibits have come on line since then, with the 2010s seeing a new wave of construction at the Aquarium after the devastating effects of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

New York Aquarium Directors
1902-1937 Charles H. Townsend
1939-1943 Charles M. Breder, Jr.
1956-1964 Christopher W. Coates
1964-1966 Paul L. Montreuil
1966-1970 Ross F. Nigrelli
1970-1975 James A. Oliver
1976-1987 George D. Ruggieri, S.J.
1987-2001 Louis E. Garibaldi
2002-2006 Paul Boyle
2007- Jon Forrest Dohlin
Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences Directors
1964-1973 Ross F. Nigrelli
1973-1987 George D. Ruggieri, S.J.
1987-1994 Louis E. Garibaldi
1994-2005 Paul Boyle

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Scope and Content

The collection consists of records from the New York Aquarium and the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences. The Aquarium material consists of Directors’ files, departmental files, and exhibit records. The Directors’ files consist primarily of subject files kept by Directors Christopher W. Coates, Paul L. Montreuil, and Ross F. Nigrelli, and document the construction, opening, and initial operation of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, as well as its ongoing operation and expansion. The departmental records were for the most part created by the Aquarium’s animal curators and its Education Department. Major subjects include the Aquarium’s volunteer/docent program, its educational programs, the duties of Aquarium tank-men, the animal collection, and relations between Aquarium staff and their colleagues at the New York Zoological Society. The Aquarium’s exhibit records document the planning, design, construction, and appearance of the Aquarium’s animal facilities. The series is arranged roughly chronologically, starting with Charles Townsend’s labels from the original Battery Park Aquarium and continuing through the Sea Cliffs exhibit that opened in the early 1990s. The OLMS material includes correspondence, administrative records, and topical files from OLMS Directors Ross F. Nigrelli and George D. Ruggieri. The records document the planning, funding, and construction of the laboratories at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, the scientists who worked there, and their research interests and activities. The collection also includes personnel files with additional material pertaining to the research interests of and grants pursued by OLMS and Aquarium personnel, materials from NYZS trustee and Aquarium supporter Nixon Griffis, and a scrapbook of clippings concerning the New York Aquarium from around 1900.

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Arrangement

This collection is arranged in eight series, with assorted subseries as follows:

Series 1
 New York Aquarium Directors’ records, 1936-1979 (bulk 1957-1970)
(Subseries 1.1)
 Christopher W. Coates, 1936-1964 (bulk 1953-1963)
(Subseries 1.2)
 Paul L. Montreuil and Ross F. Nigrelli, 1963-1970
(Subseries 1.3)
 Reports, 1957-1979
Series 2
 New York Aquarium Departmental records, 1966-1986 (bulk 1971-1975)
(Subseries 2.1)
 Animal and Education Department files, 1966-1976
(Subseries 2.2)
 Operations Department attendance logs, 1971-1974
(Subseries 2.3)
 Public Affairs Department, 1985-1986
Series 3
 New York Aquarium Exhibit records, 1903-1998 (bulk 1983-1993)
Series 4
 Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences records, 1948-1975
(Subseries 4.1)
 Directors Ross F. Nigrelli and George D. Ruggieri 1967-1974 annual files, 1948-1975 (bulk 1966-1974)
(Subseries 4.2)
 Research Coordinator George D. Ruggieri subject files, 1955-1972 (bulk 1968-1970)
(Subseries 4.3)
 Audio recordings – Working Conference, 1969 February 8-9
Series 5
 New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences personnel files, 1950-1979 (bulk 1964-1974)
Series 6
 Nixon Griffis subject files, 1956-circa early 1990s (bulk 1967-1984)
Series 7
 Additions, circa 1930s-1990s
Series 8
 Materials about the Aquarium, circa 1900

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Other Finding Aids

The Wildlife Conservation Society Archives holds additional descriptive information pertaining to this collection; please contact the archivist for more detail.

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: New York Aquarium Directors' Files, 1936-1979  (Bulk, 1957-1970)

Scope and Content

Much of this series consists of topically-arranged correspondence and administrative records from the Christopher W. Coates era. Although the primary correspondent is Coates, Curator James W. Atz and Assistant Director Carleton Ray are also represented. The files document the construction, opening, and initial operation of the New York Aquarium [NYA] in Coney Island, as well as its ongoing operation and expansion. There is extensive correspondence between Coates and NYZS President Fairfield Osborn—as well as material from the Aquarium Planning Committee—that documents the funding and planning of exhibits, donor relations, and the efforts to build what would become the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences. The files include a particularly extensive set of correspondence between Coates, Atz, Ray, and their colleagues at their peer institutions, many of whom Aquarium staff consulted in conjunction with the reopening of the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. These materials include correspondence with Jacques Cousteau and other luminaries of marine conservation and the aquarium field.

The Aquarium’s animals are also well represented, with files and records documenting fish, electric eels, penguins and other birds, walruses, and seals. These materials include detailed files, including photographs, concerning the Aquarium’s acquisition of a pair of abandoned baby walruses, including one, Ookie, who would go on to become an Aquarium superstar featured in a Popular Science pictorial and a children’s book. There is also documentation of the Aquarium’s efforts to debunk the popular children’s ‘sea-monkey’ kits as nothing more extraordinary than brine shrimp. Additionally, the series provides glimpses of the surrounding cultural and political climate of the era, for example as detailed in the Aquarium’s efforts to obtain the property of its neighbor, the Cyclone roller coaster, and in the display of an Atlas inter-continental ballistic missile on its grounds as part of Armed Forces week in 1959, at the height of the Cold War.

The series also includes a mixed set of correspondence and administrative records dating from the tenures of Aquarium Directors Paul L. Montreuil and Ross F. Nigrelli. The majority of the documents were written either to or by the two Directors, with additional material by Curators Carleton Ray and James Atz, Associate Curator Robert Morris, NYZS General Directors John Tee-Van and William Conway, and the Genetic Laboratory’s Klaus Kallman. Topics include the acquisition and maintenance of NYA collections, budgets and NYC capital requests, the Aquarium’s Coney Island Boardwalk property, and U.S. and international aquariums. There is also documentation of the Aquarium’s master planning processes. Of special note are materials pertaining to the Aquarium’s plans for the first Earth Day in 1970.

Finally, the series includes monthly reports from the Director of the Aquarium to the Executive Committee of the NYZS Board of Trustees. These records include draft versions and documents missing from the separate, official collection of Executive Committee reports. The reports document the progress of research efforts by OLMS staff, Aquarium attendance, exhibit planning, the acquisition and health of Aquarium animals, and special events such as Ookie’s debut and the Atlas missile displays.

Series 2: New York Aquarium Departmental Files, 1966-1986  (Bulk, 1971-1975)

Scope and Content

The majority of the records in the series consist of outgoing memos, correspondence and other materials created by the Aquarium’s animal curators and its Education Department. Curatorial files were created by James Atz, John Clark, William Flynn, and Stephen Spotte, as well as Assistant / Associate Curator H. [Howard] Doug Kemper; Education files were created by Director of Education Karen Hensel and Aquarium Instructor Douglas Dixon. Atz and Clark are somewhat less well represented than the other creators, Kemper and Hensel somewhat more so. The records document the activities and concerns of the Aquarium’s curatorial and education staff from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. Major subjects include the Aquarium’s volunteer/docent program, its educational programs, the duties of Aquarium tank-men, collection research and acquisition, and relations between Aquarium staff and their colleagues at the New York Zoological Society. There are also more general materials produced for the public, for example fact sheets and bibliographies, as well as correspondence between the public and Aquarium staff (including 1972 correspondence between curators and two young boys who wrote in expressing their desire to acquire penguins from the Aquarium and/or accompany Aquarium staff on a South Pole penguin-collecting voyage).

Additionally, the series includes daily and hourly totals of Aquarium attendance for the years 1971-1974, when the Aquarium was experimenting with evening and night hours, as well as a file containing 1985-1986 correspondence with the Aquarium Committee of NYZS Board of Trustees from Kathy Schaeffer, the Associate Manager of Public Affairs for the Aquarium.

Series 3: New York Aquarium Exhibition Files, 1903-1998  (Bulk, 1983-1993)

Scope and Content

The Aquarium’s exhibit records document the planning, design, construction, and appearance of the Aquarium’s animal facilities. The series is arranged roughly chronologically, starting with Charles Townsend’s labels from the original Battery Park Aquarium and continuing through the Sea Cliffs exhibit that opened in the early 1990s. The greatest volume of materials pertain to Sea Cliffs, but there are also files on Discovery Cove, as well as a small amount of material documenting Aquarium expansions proposed or built in the 1970s (the Whale-Dolphin stadium, wet labs for students, and early proposals for a children’s area, which eventually became Discovery Cove). The Discovery Cove and Sea Cliff files come from Louis E. Garibaldi, who was promoted from Associate Director to Director upon the passing of George D. Ruggieri in December, 1987. The earlier material, however, appears to come from a range of offices: Directors Nigrelli and Oliver, Associate Director Ruggieri, and the curatorial staff of the period (1969-1974).

The Sea Cliffs records provide a comprehensive view of the exhibit process at the Aquarium. The documents offer in-depth coverage of the planning, design, construction, and opening of the exhibit. Materials include architectural drawings, contracts and agreements, correspondence, cost estimates, field observation reports, interpretive plans, meeting minutes, opening day ephemera, press and publicity around the opening, and more. They document the Aquarium’s ongoing relationships and negotiations with New York City and with the various firms that worked on the exhibit. On a poignant note, documents pertaining to the Sea Cliffs opening day celebration note that one of the groups of school children invited to the ceremonies was comprised of 125 kindergarteners from Gravesend’s PS 95, who had been trapped in the World Trade Center during the (first) bombing a few months prior to the event.

Series 4: Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, 1948-1975 

Scope and Content

The majority of the series consists of annual alphabetical file runs of correspondence, administrative records, and topical materials from the Director’s Office of the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences [OLMS]. The first few years of the files (1967-1969) contain primarily the records of OLMS Director Ross F. Nigrelli. Over time, however, a greater percentage of the material in each folder comes from George D. Ruggieri, reflecting his promotions and concomitant increased responsibilities as he rose from Research Coordinator to Assistant Director of OLMS (1970) and from that position to OLMS Director and NYA Associate Director (1973). The files for 1970-1971 are evenly mixed, and the documents in the 1972-1974 files are mostly Ruggieri’s.

The records document the early years of OLMS at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, the scientists who worked at the labs, and their research interests and activities. OLMS research included surveys of pollution in the New York City metropolitan area, multi-generational genetic studies of specially bred fish, research into the nature of barnacle cement, and numerous studies relating to marine creatures and their metabolites as potential sources of food and drugs. These interests also expanded outside of the walls of OLMS, as is seen in the numerous files on the academic conferences, scientific advisory panels, and grant proposal reviews in which Nigrelli and Ruggieri participated. The ongoing pursuit of funds to support the Labs’ initial construction and ongoing scientific endeavors is also well-documented, with numerous records pertaining to grants from federal and private sources. The materials also document OLMS’ relationship with both the Aquarium and with NYZS in general. The files for the first few years contain significant records of the marine research laboratories before their move to join the Aquarium, especially the planning of and fundraising for the Osborn Labs building. There is a fair amount of correspondence between the Directors and the general public, especially relating to visits to the Aquarium and the Laboratories and to the medical potentials of the Laboratories’ research.

In addition to annual files, the series also includes subject files kept by George Ruggieri in his pre-Directorial position as OLMS Research Coordinator. For the most part, this material is very similar to that in the Directors’ annual files. There is particular overlap between the two sets of records on the topic of research grants from funders like the National Science Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Ruggieri’s Research Coordinator files likewise contain parallel documentation of professional societies, advisory councils, and outside labs in which both Ruggieri and Nigrelli took an interest, for example the Bermuda Biological Station, the Marine Technology Society, the Mayor’s Oceanographic Advisory Committee, and the New York Ocean Science Laboratory. There is also some correspondence and other documents relating to Ruggieri’s vocation as a Jesuit priest. Finally, the series contains nine 7-inch open-reel audio tapes that document an unspecified “Working Conference”—presumably of OLMS staff, post-docs, and research fellows—that took place February 8-9, 1969.

Series 5: Personnel, 1950-1979  (Bulk, 1964-1974)

Scope and Content

The personnel materials primarily contain correspondence, grant applications and reports, reprints, and other documents pertaining to the work of the staff of the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences; the series also includes a few files on New York Aquarium employees. Most material of a personal nature was removed and set aside for Human-Resource Department review; the records retained in the collection largely document the research interests and grants pursued by OLMS scientists.

This research focused on the genetics, toxicology, and pathology of various fish, barnacles, crustaceans, and other aquatic species, as well as on related topics like marine ecology. Major funders of the work included several governmental agencies—especially the Atomic Energy Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute, National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation—as well as the Rockefeller and Whitehall foundations.

The files also document the work of being a scientist in the 1960s and 1970s: conducting both bench and field research, giving papers at conferences, the publishing process, the planning involved in setting up a new lab, and the differing levels of responsibilities of various lab staff—for example technicians, research assistants, research fellows, primary investigators, and so on. Other topics include the increasing interest in pollution and its effects on marine ecology and habitats, including the New York Bight. Finally, there are brief but illuminating mentions of the Aquarium’s relationship with Murray Handwerker and the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, and the May-June 1968 country-wide general strike in France.

Series 6: Nixon Griffis New York Aquarium Files, 1956-circa early 1990s (bulk 1977-1984) 

Scope and Content

The materials document special projects Nixon Griffis worked on at the New York Aquarium, first in his position as Assistant to the Director and later as a trustee of the New York Zoological Society. Topics primarily include suggestions for Aquarium exhibits and collecting activity, especially of benthic and mesopelagic marine animals. A few files include correspondence and photographs from William Beebe’s former Bathysphere colleague Otis Barton.

Series 7: Additions, circa 1930s-1990s 

Scope and Content

This series contains materials added to the collection since processing was completed, most notably a production manual for the “Oceans Festival” held at the Aquarium in the summer of 1976.

Series 8: Materials about the Aquarium, circa 1900 

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