A "Biological Laboratory" had been founded on the shores of Long Island Sound in 1890 followed by a "Station for Experimental Evolution" in 1904 (renamed the "Department of Genetics" in 1921). Both were under the direction of M. Demerec during the 1940s and 1950s (Watson 1991). Duringthe 1940s, the Biological Laboratory sponsored the work of summer researchers, while the Department of Genetics supported by the Carnegie Institution had a number of permanent staff members. Several European experimentalists who had fled their homelands gathered at Cold Spring Harbor (CSH). By the mid-1940s these scientists had forged to a large part a new discipline in the biological sciences-"molecular biology." Among them were the physicist Max Delbrück and the microbiologist Salvador Luria who conducted joint experiments on bacteria-eating viruses (bacteriophages). For most of the year they had teaching duties at the universities of Nashville and Indiana, respectively, but took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the summer research program at CSH to continue their own research. From 1945 onwards they taught for many years at CSH their highly popular "Phage course."
When Mayr's attempt at studying experimentally the nature of isolating mechanisms in birds had failed (p. 228), he complained about this to Dobzhansky who answered "Why don't you do this kind of work with Drosophila? I shall spend next summer at Cold Spring Harbor. Let us then do some joint papers. I contribute the Drosophila technique and you set up the experiments asking the right kind of questions." Hence, beginning with 1943 and continuing until 1952, Mayr and his family spent their summers in Cold Spring Harbor (CSH), Long Island, one hour away from New York City. Dobzhansky left for Brazil in early 1943 on short notice. Therefore, cooperation began in 1944 continuing until 1946. The Mayrs usually spent about two months in Cold Spring Harbor each year. He would commute to his office in New York, but at least one month was vacation. The results of Mayr's experimental work on isolating mechanisms in Drosophila during these years have been discussed above (p. 228). Natural history observations which Mayr made in the outdoors included a song sparrow that went every day to an ant nest to ant himself (Mayr 1948f); yucca moth larvae which remained in the yucca "fruit" until there was a heavy rain. Then at once they bored themselves free, dropped to the soft, wet ground and dug themselves in to pupate. Other observations concerned the species of insects found in CSH mushrooms and photic signaling of fireflies. Mayr was also a frequent participant of the annual Cold Spring Harbor Symposia (1946, 1947, 1950, 1955, 1957, 1959) and presented papers at two of them: 1950 on the Origin and Evolution of Man (where he spoke on "Taxonomic categories in fossil hominids," 1951g) and 1959 on Genetics and Twentieth Century Darwinism (his talk entitled "Where are we?," 1959f).
For Mayr these summer weeks meant an incredibly important development. It was there that he acquired his extensive knowledge of advanced genetics and molecular biology. He had numerous long conversations particularly with Bruce Wallace during the summer of 1950 who taught Mayr the new genetics of "gene pools," "in which the selective value of a gene depended on the genetic environment rather than on having a constant value. The gene pool had a cohesion, or exhibited homeostasis" (Provine 2004: 1044). "I not only became a close friend of Max Delbrück and other leading molecular biologists but also of many foreign visitors, particularly the 'French contingent' (Monod, Lwoff, Jacob, Ephrussi) as well as others," like Hershey, Dulbecco, Spassky, and Wallace.
"I had perhaps even more contact with local biologists and saw a great deal of Barbara McClintock who was rather aloof but quite delighted when a visitor dropped in once in a while. Dobzhansky's student Bruce Wallace did very interesting work in population genetics but, perhaps more importantly, was an even stronger holist than Dobzhansky. Jim Watson was there for several summers and became a close friend of my daughter Christa. Indeed I met a large percentage of the more prominent biologists of the period in Cold Spring Harbor. I never would have had this opportunity at the American Museum. I have often been asked where I had acquired my extensive knowledge of molecular biology but the answer is quite simple: at Cold Spring Harbor.
Whenever new discoveries were made at Cold Spring Harbor or elsewhere, they very frequently became the subject of heated arguments. I remember when Avery discovered that nucleic acids were the crucial genetic material, Cold Spring Harbor was split into two camps. The phage group under the leadership of Delbrück did not believe it nor did Alfred Mirsky and several others, while another group consisting of Rollin Hotchkiss, Ernst Caspari, Bruce Wallace, and myself accepted it rather quickly."
Mayr described the atmosphere in CSH in his letters to Stresemann:
"Tomorrow I shall be leaving for Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratory where I usually spend part of the summer. Gretel and the children get some swimming, while I watch what the male of Drosophila species A does to the female of speciesB. However, evenlgetall theswimming Iwant. Awhole groupofgeneticists spend the summer there and it is a most stimulating atmosphere" (12 July 1946). "During the first week I take a holiday and spend the mornings and afternoons at the beach. Last night Mrs. Delbrück arrived to be followed by her husband within two days; they will remain until 11th July. The von Koenigswalds will arrive this afternoon. Michael White, the British cytologist, who intends to settle in Texas, is here and I understand that Prof. Willier will appear soon; also Ernst Caspari, a student of Kühn. As you see, we live in a very stimulating 'intellectual environment.' I am learning immensely, in particular in fields where I know nothing. During the last months new discoveries in the field of bacterial genetics have been made almost daily. One knows now roughly how many genes a bacteriophage has!" (30 June 1947; transl.).
Most of the scientists came to CSH with their families and therefore their wives and children became friends as well. The international atmosphere, in spite of the war and postwar times, was a great relief for all of them. As "enemy aliens" Mayr and many others owned no car and, of course, they had no close relatives in the States. These circumstances and the facilities given at CSH were the reasons for so many foreign scientists gathering there. But of course numerous North American colleagues came also to pursue their research and to participate in the workshops and seminars.
The physical and social environments of the Biological Laboratories in Cold Spring Harbor were as congenial as the intellectual environment, and it is not surprising that the Mayr family all loved being there. The campus during the 1940s and 1950s included two lovely old houses built in the 1830s as residences for families working in the whaling and textile industries owned by the Jones family. They had been renovated into numerous apartments for summer rental and the Mayrs lived in several different apartments in Hooper House and Williams House over the years. The campus clustered around a lawn, which sloped toward the bay from Long Island Sound. There was a tennis court, and play equipment for children near the edge of the water stream, which flowed into the bay. It was an excellent environment for birdwatching and blue herons, green herons and swans were permanent residents. Families made use of a dock near the head of the bay for swimming and boating.
The community building, Blackford Hall, was a general gathering place where people congregated for meals, mail collection and socializing (Fig. 6.1). There was a large room opposite the dining room which was used for frequent seminars and other less serious performances. People often hung out at Blackford Hall in the evening playing music, playing ping-pong, discussing science and testing their theories with their peers.
Children had an unusual amount of freedom in the safety of the Bio Lab campus. They would often play in groups of wide ranging ages which offered some
supervision from the other children. Adults were also usually nearby. Children could entertain themselves at the water or in the woodlands. Even young children attended some afternoon seminars and listened to the adults talk science. As adolescents, the Mayr girls both worked as lab assistants in the Bio Lab, washing Petri dishes and sterilizing equipment. After the Mayr family had moved to Cambridge in 1953, their younger daughter spent two summers in CSH during college vacations working at the Bio Lab on her own.
Ernst Mayr's reminiscences of five friends from the days at CSH follow below: A. Buzzati-Traverso, E. Caspari, M. Delbrück, B. Wallace, and C. Stern:
(1) Adriano Buzzati-Traverso (1913-1983): "Adriano was my closest Italian friend. We met in Cold Spring Harbor and we were equally interested in modern population genetics. Adriano, however, in contrast to many others, tended to study the genetics of wild populations and was very much interested in scientists who worked on freshwater organisms or like myself on birds.
In 1951, he invited me to give a series of lectures in Pavia, which were subsequently published. I was put up at the Collegio Ghislieri, a renaissance palace, very elegant, but not heated after the 1st of April, not heated. I nearly froze to death. They put an electric heater on the podium where I lectured. The Po Valley can be extremely cold, even in April. Adriano was always full of plans of how to bring Italy up to the international level of research. He wanted to have his own institute in Naples funded by UNESCO but attached to the University of Rome. The genetics establishment at Rome didn't want to have this separate institute, but Adriano was afraid that if it was under the director of the genetics department at Rome he could not carry out his plans. This ruined the last years of his life. He died rather unexpectedly and rather young of liver cancer in 1983.
Adriano was always full of plans and full of ideas. It was always fun to talk with him. As a person he was very simpático."
(2) Ernst Caspari (1909-1988): "One of the greatest pleasures of the summers that Gretel and I spent at Cold Spring Harbor was that we met there just about every summer also the Casparis. He was one of Alfred Kühn's most prominent students and some historians believe that he should be given credit for discovering the one-gene-one-enzyme relationship. Being Jewish, he was driven from Germany, and eventually found a haven in Rochester. His original research never reached again the heights of his success in Germany. Caspari was a broadly interested and widely read biologist, intelligent and critical, and was particularly good in writing review articles. His wife Hansi was also German Jewish, and Gretel and I found that we were very close in our thinking in most matters, so we were in each other's company most of the time. Caspari, in contrast to the phage group, was one of those who were at once convinced by Avery's demonstration that DNA was the genetic material and he quickly convinced me also. Whenever I had problems in experimental zoology or physiological genetics, I always discussed them with Caspari. He was an inveterate smoker and eventually he developed cancer of the bladder and succumbed to it after a long struggle."
(3) Max Delbrück (1906-1981): "As with Caspari, it was Cold Spring Harbor which brought Gretel and me together with Max and Manny Delbrück. We saw them there virtually every summer in the 1940's and up to 1950. As everyone knows, Max was a charismatic figure, almost always surrounded by a group of his admirers. Although trained as a physicist, he had become interested in biology through Niels Bohr in Copenhagen who always thought that there were some undiscovered physical laws lurking in living organisms. This is well described by Lily Kay (1985) in a paper on Max Delbrück. In Max' lab no experiment was ever made without having been thoroughly analyzed in an almost Socratic manner. If the experiment would not lead to clear-cut results it was not to be done. Whenever anybody attended his seminar he could expect afterwards a severe dissection by Delbrück. I remember a paper presented by Alex Novikoff who argued against extreme reductionism and in favor of higher levels of integration. Alas, Novikoff was too far ahead of his time and Delbrück massacred him unmercifully.
Gretel and I spent many evenings with the Delbrücks quite often playing bridge, which I normally don't do. And I still remember one evening when Max and I bid a grand slam and made it. I knew this would never happen to me again, and I didn't play much more bridge after that occasion. After supper in the evening we always sat on a wooden railing along Bungtown Road talking about things, particularly talking shop. This is where I learned much of my molecular biology, because I was one of those fortunate people who, so-to-speak, were present at the birth of molecular biology in Cold Spring Harbor. This is where I met Ephrussi, Monod, Lwoff, and all the other greats of molecular biology. One evening when I sat on that railing Delbrück sat next to me and started asking me questions about evolution. I was most happy to give him all the answers I could. The next evening when I sat there again Max sat down next to me and continued the questioning. After a while I said to him, 'Max, why do you want to know so much about evolution?' He answered, 'Because I plan to give a course on it next winter.' I said, 'But Max, how can you give a course on evolution, you know nothing about it!' to which he answered, 'That is precisely why I want to give this course.' I think this conversation sheds a good deal of light on his enterprising spirit.
Whenever we went west we visited the Delbrück's. On three occasions we were invited to come along on one of their famous desert trips. They were quite unforgettable. One usually drove as far as one could into the desert, usually continued walking for a certain distance, then laid down in one's sleeping bag under the starry sky. Eventually Max was diagnosed to have multiple myeloma. The treatment at that time was not yet very well established, and an experiment, very much encouraged by Max himself to try interleukin was a disaster. As a result he succumbed to the disease rather quickly. However, he was still alive when we found out that Gretel had exactly the same disease. He wrote her a remarkably humorous letter saying that it was a wonderful disease having all sorts of advantages, the greatest one being that doctors couldn't operate on you. I forgot what the other advantages were that he had somehow or other invented. We stayed on good terms with Manny and have visited her since, but there is no doubt that Max's death has left quite a void in the circle of our friends."
(4) Bruce Wallace (*1920): "He was one of Dobzhansky's best students. It so happened that I was on his PhD. committee and I have been in contact with him ever since. If I remember correctly, I published his dissertation, or at least the gist of it, in Evolution.
Wallace's first job was in Cold Spring Harbor where he did population genetic work inspired by Dobzhansky. He was at Cold Spring Harbor during many of the years when I was there in the 1940s and early 1950s, and there was no one in Cold Spring Harbor with whom ItalkedasmuchaswithWallace. LikeMichael Lerner, he belonged to the relatively small group of population geneticists who were particularly interested in the interaction of genes rather than as the mathematicians, only in additive factors. As far as my general attitude toward the genetics of evolution is concerned, I was probably more influenced by Wallace than I was by Dobzhansky. Dobzhansky was not nearly as holistic as Wallace, perhaps because Dobzhansky was more like Sewall Wright, who was equally only mildly holistic. The manuscript of my 1954 paper was read and criticized by Wallace, and in fact one of the figures in that paper was inspired by Wallace's suggestion.
Wallace was a superb experimenter. He knew how to set up the crucial experiments, and didn't mind the immense amount of work some of them involved. What is unfortunate is that he was very poor in expressing himself in lectures and equally poor at presenting his ideas in print. After one of his lectures you were always wondering what he had really proved. One of the consequences of the opaqueness of his writing is that his work did not have nearly as much impact as I think it should have had."
(5) Curt Stern (1902-1981): Mayr knew the geneticist Curt Stern from the latter's lectures at Columbia University and then they met at Cold Spring Harbor: "Another German refugee who was a good friend of Gretel's and mine was Curt Stern. He, together with Tracy Sonneborn, was the clearest lecturer I ever encountered. He was able to make the most difficult genetic interactions perfectly simple. His special field, morphogenetics, is very difficult, and he was perhaps the only specialist in his time. Earlier he had made some decisive discoveries which facilitated his finding a position after he had to flee from Germany. He was always grateful that he had managed to bring his parents to America, something neither Ernst nor Hansi Caspari had been able to do.
Stern had a tremendous sense of justice. He had what in German is called 'Zivilcourage.' During the war when Germans were viciously attacked in the American newspapers and even in Science, Stern pointed out that such accusations were not true for all Germans but that the majority of the Germans, he was quite sure, did not share the Nazi ideas. To publish something like that in the middle of the war required great courage and indeed, Stern encountered a good deal of hostility.
I first encountered his name when I got my PhD in Berlin at age 21 with the predicate summa cum laude. At that time, I was told that the only person in recent years who had achieved the same distinction was a person with the name of Curt Stern. I did not actually encounter him until many years later in the United States when he was lecturing at Columbia University. I believe Stern originally was a student of Max Hartmann, but later felt much closer in his interests to Goldschmidt. Stern always stood up for the right things, but did it in such a pleasant and modest way that we all admired him. Having been trained in the Dahlem embryological-cytological school, he had only an incomplete understanding of evolution. I once attended a lecture of his, the ultimate aim of which was to demonstrate the possibility of sympatric speciation. He did so because owing to his Dahlem upbringing he felt that most new species originated by saltation. The memoir about Goldschmidt which he prepared for the National Academy [Biographical Memoirs, vol. 39 (1967): 141-192] is quite admirable in bringing out both the great achievements of Goldschmidt without minimizing his faults. I always regretted that he was so far away, first in Rochester, then in Berkeley, so that I had only few chances of direct interaction with him."
In 1950, Mayr joined the Laboratory's board of directors, serving until 1958. Ten years later, James D. Watson became director of the Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory and, through his fund-raising skills, inspiration and the ability to attract able researchers, raised that institution to even greater reputation as a center of advanced studies. In 1953 J. Watson and F. Crick had discovered the structure of the genetic material and, in 1956, Watson "arrived [at Harvard] with a conviction that biology must be transformed into a science directed at molecules and cells and rewritten in the language of physics and chemistry [...]. He treated most members of the Department of Biology with a revolutionary's fervent disrespect" (Wilson 1994: 219).
"Not surprisingly," Mayr told me, "Watson made quite a few enemies. One of them was young E. O. Wilson who attempted to join Watson's group. But Watson brushed him off rudely. This offended Wilson deeply, who was always friendly and obliging. Now he hated Watson. This is why in his biography [1994: 219] he calls Watson the 'Caligula of biology.' This reveals his anger but not a particular knowledge of the classical literature. To the best of my knowledge, Watson never indulged in any of the vices attributed to Caligula.1
Contrary to much gossip Watson was not unfavorable to organismic biology. After all he had been an ardent birdwatcher in his younger years and had supported in Cold Spring Harbor natural history courses for the children of the scientists. When the three rooms in the Blackford dining hall were given names, Watson was responsible for having one named the ERNST MAYR room. This, I am sure, was to recognize the contribution I had made in the 1940s to the general intellectual atmosphere at Cold Spring Harbor. Even though in most years I did not run a lab, it is at CSH where I did much of my scientific writing in those years."
Blackford Hall was renovated and enlarged in 1991-1992. Its new reading room was named for Efraim Racker (1913-1991), noted biochemist, molecular biologist, and artist, and the two new upstairs dining rooms were named for molecular biologist and geneticist Rollin Hotchkiss (*1911) and for Ernst Mayr. The dedication ceremony of these rooms took place on October 4, 1992. The entire Blackford dedication in early 1993 was part of a celebration honoring the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. The Racker Reading Room and both upstairs dining rooms, Hotchkiss and Mayr, are adorned with portrait sketches of scientists working at CSH, drawn or painted by E. Racker, such as those of Ernst Mayr, M. Delbrück, A. Hershey, R. Hotchkiss, J. Monod, B. Wallace, J. Watson, and several others. All these facts document the friendly relations within the CSH community over more than half a century.
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