|Arthur M. Greenhall, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.|
Arthur “Art” Greenhall was a zoologist; but even more importantly, he was an adventurer and an explorer. Paul Greenhall describes his father as, “a true 20th Century pioneer with his fervent desire to explore, observe and document.” Art travelled the world collecting and studying animals that many people have only seen in books or on TV. He put out a record, wrote multiple books, was interviewed for magazines and newspapers, and became one of the foremost zoologists of his generation.
Art grew up in New York City where he spent his teenage years chasing snakes around Central Park and removing them from people’s homes for extra pocket money. During his time collecting snakes he found that some had tiny spurs near the end of their tails and concluded that “snakes have hips!” He shared his findings with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and received $100 for his submission (about $1400 today!).
|Arthur M. Greenhall recording tortoises at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.|
After returning to New York, Art went to work with Ditmars and accompanied him on trips throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. Art acted as the contact point for the team and was particularly good with finding animals for sale in the market and making friends with the locals who could help them find a particular animal. His work earned him the nickname “Snake Hunter” among the locals whose help he enlisted.
|Arthur M. Greenhall recording a tiger at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.|
On one such trip, Art and Ditmars made their way to Trinidad, where Art managed to capture the first photograph of a vampire bat feeding. Ditmars went on to write the book Snake Hunters’ Holiday, published in 1935, about their time in Trinidad and Art used the book to lure his future wife Elizabeth into joining him on his adventures.
After he and Elizabeth were married they moved to Portland where Art was appointed the Director of the Portland Zoo. They spent 4 years in Oregon and after the birth of their children, Alice in 1943 and Paul in 1946, they moved to Michigan where Art became the Director of the Detroit Zoo.
While in Detroit, Art acquired an audio recorder and, at first, used it to play tricks on his family. He also used the recorder on multiple occasions to record his family and friends in a candid setting. Once the novelty wore off, Art saw the scientific advantage of the recorder. He took it with him to work at the Detroit Zoo and spent many hours recording some of the 4,000 animals in the zoo. These recordings later caught the ear of Moses Asch and in 1954 the album Sounds of Animals: Audible Communication of Zoo and Farm Animals (FX 6124) with Art’s narration was released by Folkways Records (You can listen to samples from the album and his narration here). In the album, Art talks about the different sounds the animals make to exhibit different emotions. It is easy to hear how the animal’s calls change with their mood and surroundings. His narration almost makes me wonder if translation of animal sounds might one day be possible.
|Arthur M. Greenhall recording a flamingo at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.|
His work recording animals drew the attention of Science Illustrated and they interviewed him on his work for the December 1948 edition of the magazine. The pictures seen throughout this post were taken during this interview.
Art hated the cold weather in Michigan and his taste for travel and adventure were far from gone. He applied for a position with the Trinidadian government and in 1953 was appointed Zoologist of the West Indian British Colony. The family spent 10 years in Trinidad where Art worked simultaneously as Zoologist Curator of the National Museum and Art Gallery (formerly the Royal Victoria Institute and Art Gallery) and Director of the Emperor Valley Zoo. He also worked as Consultant Zoologist at the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory investigating vampire bats and their effect on rabies outbreaks. He also spent time collecting animals for the National Museum and Art Gallery, the American Natural History Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
After the family’s return to the United States in 1963, Art was sent to Mexico by the United Nations to study vampire bats and rabies. He grew to become one of the world’s foremost leaders in the study of vampire bats and their effect on the spread of rabies, publishing multiple books and articles on the subject.
|Arthur M. Greenhall recording grizzly bears at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.|
Art was a lover of animals and nature and that is reflected in almost every aspect of his life. He even had a hand in creating the Asa Wright Nature Centre in an effort to preserve the land of one of his close Trinidadian friends. Art took advantage of every opportunity to see the world and expand his knowledge of zoology and other cultures. The adventures Art took and the places and people he got to see throughout his life are truly enviable.
Kenna Howat, Intern
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections recently acquired a small collection of materials relating to Arthur M. Greenhall. The collection has been processed and described, thanks to Fall 2014 interns Jessica Coffin and Kenna Howat. To access the finding aid, or make an appointment to view these materials, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.