A marvel of unpreparedness

Elmer S. Riggs, vertebrate paleontologist at Chicago’s Field Museum, was also a poet who crafted whimsical verses inspired by his prehistoric trade. His admiring granddaughter, Marian Maas, proudly delivered a selection of these unpublished rhymes to historian Paul D. Brinkman at an interview at the Field Museum in 2000. Below are two examples with unknown dates of origin.

The Tragic Apatasaur

The Apatasaur grew so big and fat,
With never a shield to cover his slat.
His teeth were short and his claws were blunt,
And he was not built for the fighting stunt.

The robber-beasts fell on his helpless hide,
And they sliced him long and they sliced him wide:
They reveled and fattened on his cumbrous bulk
And left him stranded: a helpless hulk.

Naught but his frame was left beside
The mud-flat there at the ebbing tide.
When the waves came in and covered him o’er
With sand from the deep, and mud from the shore.

The ages passed with their work and play,
And a bone-digger came on a lucky day.
To the crumbling cliff where Apatasaur lay.
He picked and he shoveled and he dug him out:
A creature to be wondered and talked about.

Then they mounted him in the relic hall
Hung with creatures great and creatures small.
And they pointed him out from all the rest
As a marvel of UNPREPAREDNESS.

-Elmer S. Riggs

A bone digger and his Apatosaur in the relic hall
A bone digger with his Apatosaur in the relic hall

Riggs’ second poem has no title:

I am the geological
Scissors and Paste
I piece together
what the centuries waste
I dig in the rocks
and I delve in the sand.
I gather strange creatures from sea and from land

I am the geological
Scissors and Paste
I piece together
what the centuries waste
I dig in the rocks
and I delve in the sand
I gather strange creatures
from sea and from land.

-Elmer S. Riggs

A scan of Riggs' original manuscript
A scan of Riggs’ original manuscript

-Transcriptions, writing, and technical support supplied in part by Michelle Sclafani.

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8 thoughts on “A marvel of unpreparedness”

    1. I’m glad to know that Elmer is still having an impact on future earth scientists. Thanks’ for your comment, Shadowfax.

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