San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionHistory of the Museum

125th Anniversary Memory Book

History of the Museum

125th Memory Book

Inspired by Nature: The San Diego Natural History Museum After 125 Years
by Iris Engstrand and Anne Bullard

Building for the 21st Century
The New Museum
Building Photos

Related Biographies

Charles "Harbie" Harbison
Laurence M. Huey
Laurence Klauber
Charles Russell Orcutt
Katherine "Kate" Stephens
Albert Valentien and the Valentien Watercolor Project

These are some memories and favorite stories about the Museum from visitors to this website.

My exposure to the Natural History Museum, began in 1976 when I began a research project into the life of my grandfather, William Sherman Wright. Mr Wright was, according to my research, one of the first curator's of entomology for the society. William and his family came to the San Diego area in 1898. His father Henry Quackenbush Wright came to San Diego first in 1878. William's brothers, Edward and Ralph both came to San Diego in about 1890. I have written a story of my grandfather's life, and have sent it to the Library, and to Mr. David Falkner of the Entomology Department. I would be interested in communicating with any and all interested readers about my Grandfather, and his history with the society.

James H. Wright
Hanford, California USA - Thursday, February 17, 2000 at 09:14:05 (PST)


Of the many memories I have in working for and with the San Diego Natural History Museum during the past 50 plus years, none comes more vividly to me than those priceless early days that began when a friend asked if I would like to attend a natural history class at the museum. Little did I realize at the time that the decision to join this class would set the course of my future.

Friendships quickly developed under the tutelage of the museum's entomologist and part-time educator, Charles Harbison, more affectionately known as Harbie. It wasn't long before the group decided to form a club sponsored by Harbie. We called ourselves The Specialists, because we each had a different special interest in natural history. Jim Sams studied birds, John Squires - geology, John Kingery - nature photography, Max Homersand - marine algae, Gordon Marsh - insects, Bob Bond - general natural history and I - reptiles and minerals. Most of these people and others to follow have gone on to professions in the natural sciences.

The Specialists met once a week at Brooklyn Elementary School, because during World War II most of the museum building had been converted into part of the naval hospital. Each week one member was responsible for presenting a talk and discussion on his area of particular interest, or instead, we would go on a field trip the following weekend. As you might guess we spent a lot of time field tripping. We visited the tidepools, searched for fossils, hiked various canyons and for longer trips Harbie always had his model A Ford, called Susan, available, and sometimes one or two of our parents would help out. Since gas and tires were rationed at this time, Harbie had to save up his gas coupons by riding the street car to work in order to take us to places like Mountain Springs and Split Mountain. What a thrill that was for all of us. At night we would light a Coleman lantern, suspend a white sheet and attract countless insects, some of which became museum specimens. During the day we would check out the birds and plants, and try out our luck at catching lizards. All of these things were new and fascinating - what an impression all this made on us.

These were fun and inspirational times. Through his devotion to young people and education Harbie placed within us the seed that defined what many of us would become. During the ensuing years of my education and as an educator I have been influenced by numerous people, but only Harbie stands out as my true mentor.

Dick Schwenkmeyer
San Diego, California USA - Monday, October 18, 1999 at 14:12:12 (PDT)


My first contact with the Natural History Museum was soon after I arrived in San Diego in 1946 when Dallas' uncle Joe Sefton showed me some of the special volumes in his natural history library and told me about voyages on the Orca, the museum research vessel that operated before WWII.

It was nearly twenty years later, in 1964, that Tom Sefton asked about my interest in being on the board of the San Diego Society of Natural History. Having always enjoyed wildflowers, shells, special rocks, and birds. as well as having had some board experience, including the San Diego Museum of Art, I accepted. The summer before my term was to begin, I "borrowed" my six-year old niece to attend the parent-child class where for several years Dick Schwenkmeyer introduced future devotees to the museum and the attractions of natural history.

The board sat around a long table in the director's office in big old chairs with sagging leather seats and backs. A sea lion diorama occupied the corner where the boardroom has been in recent years and the popular bird egg cabinets were across the hall. As the only woman, my first duty was reading a tribute in memory of Ellen Browning Scripps on her birthday. I felt surrounded by venerable gentlemen with serious scientific interests. One early informal conversation revolved around what specimens had been named for them. There were snakes for Laurence Klauber, fish for Carl Hubbs, shells for Joshua Bailey, and a few others. Little did I dream that one day I would have my own marsh wren--or that thirty-five years later I would be the venerable one!

Mary Clark
San Diego, California USA - Monday, October 11, 1999 at 18:23:51 (PDT)


One of my life's great privileges was growing up in 50s San Diego, the Granddaughter of Grace and Laurence Klauber. I saw them every week throughout my childhood, frequently as their Saturday "charge." For me, the most fortunate weekends included Sunday time too. "Poppa" was either in his basement laboratory or his bedroom office, preparing a speech or new herpetological paper.

Upon reflection, I think Gramma viewed this time with me as an opportunity for outings in her beloved Balboa Park, close to their Bankers Hill home. By age 3 or 4, I was allowed to select the destination to follow the train and merry-go-round rides. The options Gramma presented to me were visiting the Zoo or the Natural History Museum. Predictable my choice was to go see "... the quiet animals," as opposed to the noisier ones across the street. Where is the stuffed elk now and the skeletal dinosaur relief against the wall that made such a permanent visual impact on me? Each visit today whether for a meeting or exhibit viewing recalls that joy of being allowed to choose how to invest my time.

Janet Klauber
San Diego, California USA - Saturday, October 09, 1999 at 22:17:13 (PDT)