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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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The 1899 Expedition
The 1899
Expedition


 

Original Participants
Original
Participants

Brief Chronology
Brief
Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Science
Aboard the
Elder

History of Exploration
Exploration &
Settlement

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities
Alaska
Natives

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Charles Augustus Keeler

1871-1937


Charles Keeleer

Charles Keeler, posing in Grecian robes. The picture is possibly a photographic study that his wife, Louise Keeler, might use for book illustration work.
Source: California Academy of Sciences.
Perhaps the oddest character on the George W. Elder was poet, scientist, architect, and religious innovator, Charles Augustus Keeler. At the time of the expedition, Keeler was the director of the Natural History Museum at the California Academy of Sciences. But he was better known to the bohemians of Berkeley as the author of The Simple Home, a short book promoting rustic homes and a healthy lifestyle. He was dramatic, romantic; it was not unusual for neighbors to spot him cavorting on his lawn wearing Greek robes and a wreath of flowers in his hair. It was his common practice to jog through the neighborhood, then rub himself down with rock salt and corn meal, then rinse himself in an ice cold shower.

On the Harriman Expedition, Keeler served as poet and bird-watcher. He contributed the descriptive essay on birds that was later published. Like Muir, he was disturbed by the killing of animals for specimens. During his poetry reading at the Kodiak July 4th Celebration, he chided his fellow Americans for their role in the Spanish-American War. "Ye who have failed to rule a wilderness, now preach of liberty in tropic seas...Oh Lord, must our dear sons be slain, such men to please?"

Keeler returned to San Francisco with two new close friends, John Muir and John Burroughs, and with renewed environmental zeal. He worked for the preservation of the Berkeley hills while at the same time serving as director of the Chamber of Commerce. He founded the First Berkeley Cosmic Society, a club dedicated to a Baha'i-like faith that he espoused. For a while he gained fame as a poet, touring the world; he even presented a poem to the Emperor of Japan. He was not inclined to change his poetic style to suit changing tastes though, so he eventually took to writing plays for radio. His serialized shows, "Skipper Brown's Yarns" and "The O'Flanagan Family," were hits in the new medium. Charles Keeler died in California in 1937.

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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