|Visitors Scientists, scholars, historians, students and community members are continuously traversing the CSHL grounds to work in a lab, research in the archives, attend a concert or bike to the beach. When did you visit the lab? What are your special memories of the people you encountered?|
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CSH: A Memoir of Younger Days (Anders Kaufmann, son of Berwind Kaufmann)
To most people, mention of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory brings to mind innovative scientific research, Nobel laureates and other distinguished scientists, and a stimulating intellectual environment. While it is all these things to me, it is also much more - it is where I grew up and, although I have not lived there since I received my undergraduate university degree in 1956, it is the source of many fond memories and the place I will always consider home. My father, Berwind Kaufmann, joined the staff of the then Carnegie Institution of Washington in early 1937, moving from my birthplace of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (where Dad headed the biology department at the university known more for football than academic greatness). We lived briefly in Halesite, then moved sometime in 1938 to a house on 25A immediately east of the road leading into the Huntington Country Club. The house is still there, and I remember the 1938 hurricane that uprooted a large apple tree in the front yard and hearing the radio broadcast of the attack on Pearl Harbor after a Sunday morning outing to the lab. After the de Forest Stables were given to the lab in 1942, our family became its first staff residents of the apartment quarters on the south side of the building. For many of the years that I lived there, the Ugo Fanos occupied the other apartment. The building is generally U-shaped, but has 45-degree sections between the horizontal (or bottom) section and the two vertical (or side) sections. The downstairs part of the angled section below our apartment had been used to wash horses and carriages. This area was converted into a large living room with a fireplace built into what had been the opening between the stable and the washing area. The fireplace was built using granite from the foundation of the original de Forest estate house. Because this "downstairs" room was largely below grade at its uphill end, it was always cooler than the upstairs area, a blessing in the humid Long Island summers but a monster to heat in the winter until the fireplace got roaring. The central section downstairs housed our ping pong table, my model railroad layout and other indoor and outdoor recreational paraphernalia.
Because of its somewhat unusual shape, the house became an aviator's landmark, especially for Grumman test pilots. The pilots would fly north to south down the harbor, terrorizing sailors by seeing how close they could come to boat masts before pulling up at the last moment when they spotted the house. One day I saw a plane shred the top of a locust tree about where the road branches off to the Sand Spit.
My father was fond of puns. He named the house the Chateau Cheveau, bad French to be sure, but appropriate for the unofficial crest of the building, which consisted of a cat, a water pump and a horse.
The war years brought rationing and other sacrifices (building blackouts), but to a 7-11 year old these were not special at the time. On two or three gallons of gasoline a week, we did little traveling. On the occasions when we had to go to Huntington, my father would shift the car into neutral at the top of Cold Spring Harbor Hill (25A) about where our previous house was located and see how far we could coast. The record distance was to where 25A turned west to go across the south end of the harbor, but we never could make it to the lower entrance into Carnegie.
The war also brought another kind of research to the lab. In one or more of the buildings that now comprise the Delbruck Laboratory, a version of the proximity fuse was developed and tested. On walks down the "lane" (Bungtown Road), we could hear the fuses or a mockup popping (exploding is too dramatic a word) in the air above us. There was no apparent security around these buildings; it was just understood that this was important government work, and we didn't ask about it or try to go into the buildings.
Summer was always special. The summer people, who included kids my age like Sophie Dobzhansky and John Sansom, meant swimming and the usual outdoor activities. I suspect that our young bunch were lab brats to the adults, but our mischief was limited to noise and youthful exuberance. The lab sponsored a program of nature study courses directed by J.S.Y. Hoyt, a Cornell ornithologist who had a pet pileated woodpecker named Phleo (spelling?) that he had raised in captivity. In her book "Houses for Science", Liz Watson notes that these courses were held in the Wawepex Lab in the 1950s and 1960s, but my memory of the courses in the 1940s is that we were in the Jones Lab.
Summers during the war also included Victory Gardens. The area down the hill from the stable had been part of the deForest formal gardens, and was cultivated annually by both year round and summer residents. Barbara McClintock's gardener - known to me as only Zep - grew broccoli, cabbage, eggplant and tomatoes from seeds and made the young plants available to whoever wanted them. We always grew more than we could consume and can (this was in the days before home freezers), so my parents let me sell the surplus to non-gardeners in exchange for my considerable help with cultivating and weeding the garden. Some of my customers lived in the Davenport House, which we knew as the Charles Addams house since it was reputed to be the model for the setting of his famous pouring-boiling-oil-on-the-Christmas-carolers cartoon. The lawn behind (to the north of) the Davenport House was also the location of Saturday night square dances, organized and called by Carleton MacDowell. Everyone participated, both those with experience and beginners, the coordinated and the less-so. I vividly recall the wife of one future Nobel laureate (who shall remain un-named), who was probably the most un-coordinated person I have ever seen - but she had fun, as did we all.
CSH winters created their own special memories. My mother and I were Christmas and Easter Episcopalians, attending St. Johns (irreverently called St. Jones after the influential family that was instrumental in its founding). The 5:00 pm children's pageant was a major social event of the year, and it was understood that a family's status in the community was measured by whether their daughter had been cast as Mary. My brother Carl was Joseph one year, but he insists that was by default since there was no other male of the right age attending the church at that time.
The weekend before Christmas was also the occasion for the Kaufmann annual Christmas sing. Everyone from the labs and many local friends came, and the mixture of Christians, Jews, Hindus, non-affiliates and others lustily singing carols which may or may not have been part of their heritages was interesting in retrospect. Carleton MacDowell, who was both my father's colleague and a close family friend, helped us with the decorations and entertaining, and we hosted this party every year that I lived in the house until I finished college.
The lab has changed in many ways, with new buildings and programs but, to borrow a phrase from A. A. Milne, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, like Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, will always be my "enchanted place."
January 3, 2002
Further memories of 1940s
Early in WWII my mother, E.R.Sansome the mycologist, with me in tow, arrived at Cold Spring Harbor. Her laboratory was upstairs in the library building, the books being housed in a room to the left side of the entrance door. Mycology made contribution to the early development of penicillin. I think my mother was relieved thereafter to return to studies on Neurospora, which mycologists seem to have instead of the fruit fly!
We lived in a room in the dormitory building, Barbara McLintock.being on the floor below. Further upstairs other rooms were occupied on a more temporary basis by the summer visitors. Meals were downstairs, under the verandah. .
While the scientists (Delbruck, Luria,and others) were busy upstairs in the library building,we kids enjoyed the out doors.
Most of the time, in summer, this was spent barefoot- a special challenge being the sharp cinder surface down by the power house.- but feet quickly toughened up.
I remember three of the “cold springs“, not counting those feeding the lakes. The brook coursing across the bottom of the dormitory lawn could be easily dammed at source- causing it to run dry. Salamanders were under the stones.
The Blackford Hall was always cool in the heat of summer, thanks to its construction entirely of concrete. As a treat I was allowed to sleep over sometimes. The BB gun which was allowed as a birthday present had its target set up across the road. The woods opposite the Blackford were the site of much mysterious activity.
Another worthwhile place was the field behind the library building. This was a good place for finding stone arrowheads, especially just after the ground had been cultivated. Barbara McLintock had a patch of her maize there. One year there was also a patch of hemp, grown from birdseed. I was told that toxicity was being tested on hapless killifish- which abounded in the brackish water near the powerhouse. I believed this at the time.
Summer visitors included Sophie Dobzhansky, who was currently learning Russian. She saw no reason why others should not benefit from the experience. As she said, there were only a few extra letters to the alphabet , and their odd appearance could soon become familiar. It didn’t work for me.
Music was covered by Reba Mirsky. First you started with the recorder and then you graduated to the flute (girls mostly) or the clarinet. Neither appealed to me- it was the trumpet which was my choice. I was still battling with “three blind mice” when Jonathan left, and with him the trumpet.
As to flute- players, I think Rada Demerec was one successful pupil. I was in some awe of Rada, for she was followed by hand-reared ducks, had a dog called Scoppy, and above all she was a taxidermist, stuffing anything that came her way. Her specialty seemed to be the Belted Kingfisher, probably those that strayed too near the fish-hatchery.
I do remember the man with the Pileated Woodpecker on his shoulder. He was cataloguing the moult, feather by feather. “not including the downy feathers, of course” he said.
The rest of the year meant school - the West Side School- with the inspirational teacher Miss Risley (later, Eva Risley Clarke)
Memorable events, in no particular order (I don’t keep a diary) include:-
The annual firemen’s tea party treat for the kids - held in the firestation on the other side of the harbor.- my double-ended pencil/pen was a long treasured thing.
The annual arrival of the smelt.
The horseshoe crabs.
Winter spawning of “Tom Cod” along the harbor seawall.
The hurricane (’44) which struck the dormitory with such force that the double doors to the verandah
burst open, the screws to the lock having sheared off. The gust travelled across the house and blew out the windows on the other side. A barricade of furniture had to be set up.
The pair of Phoebes which nested every year in the “haunted house”.
The house fire which attracted an impressive surrounding of security guards.
As the war was growing to a close and the u-boat menace had largely gone, mother and I returned to England as passengers on a troopship.
In 1950 we revisited CSHL with my father, F.W.Sansome the botanist/ plant physiologist.
This was a marvellous summer, as I was now a teenager . There were beach parties and Hank Williams on the radio - and girls…….
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