The recent dedication of Snow Hall, at Lawrence, Kansas, is an event in the history of the State, both historic and prophetic. Since the incorporation of the University of Kansas, and before that event, there has been a steady growth of science in the State, which has culminated in Snow Hall, a building set apart for the increase and diffusion of the knowledge of natural science, as long as its massive walls shall stand. It is named in honor of the man who has been the inspiration and guiding spirit of the whole enterprise, and some incidents in his life may be of interest to the public.
Twenty years ago Professor Frank H. Snow, a recent graduate of Williams College, came to Kansas, to become a member of the faculty of the State University. His election to the chair of natural science was unexpected, as he first taught mathematics in the university, and expected in due time to become professor of Greek. As professor of the mellifluous and most plastic of all the ancient tongues, he would undoubtedly have been proficient, as his college classics still remain fresh in his warm and retentive memory, and his literary taste is so severe and chaste as to make some of his scientific papers read like a psalm. But nature designed him for another, and some think a better, field, and endowed him with powers as a naturalist that have won for him recognition among the highest living authorities of his profession.
Upon being elected to the chair of natural history, Prof. Snow entered upon his life work with an enthusiasm that charmed his associates and inspired his pupils. The true naturalist must possess large and accurate powers of observation and a love for his chosen profession that carries him over all obstacles and renders him oblivious to everything else except the specimen upon which he has set his heart. Years ago the writer was walking in the hall of the new university building in company with General Fraser and Professor Snow, when the latter suddenly darted forward up the stairs and captured an insect in its flight, that had evidently just dug its way out of the pine of the new building. In a few moments he returned with such a glow on his countenance and such a satisfied air at having captured a rare but familiar specimen, whose name was on his lips, that we both felt "Surely here is a genuine naturalist."
Some years ago an incident occurred in connection with his scientific excursions in Colorado that is quite characteristic, showing his obliviousness to self and everything else save the object of his scientific pursuit, and a fertility in overcoming danger when it meets him face to face. He was descending alone from one of the highest peaks of the Rockies, when he thought he could leave the path and reach the foot of the mountain by passing directly down its side over an immense glacier of snow and ice, and thus save time and a journey of several miles. After a while his way down the glacier grew steeper and more difficult, until he reached a point where he could not advance any further, and found, to his consternation, that he could not return by the way he had come. There he clung to the side of the immense glacier, ready, should he miss his hold, to be plunged hundreds of feet into a deep chasm. The situation flashed over him, and he knew now it was, indeed, a struggle for dear life. With a precarious foothold, he clung to the glacier with one hand, while with his pocket knife he cut a safer foothold with the other.
Resting a little, he cut another foothold lower down in the hard snow, and so worked his way after a severe struggle of several hours amid constant danger to the foot of the mountain in safety. "But," continued the professor, speaking of this incident to some of his friends, "I was richly repaid for all my trouble and peril, for when I reached the foot of the mountain I captured a new and very rare species of butterfly." Multitudes of practical men cannot appreciate such devotion to pure science, but it is this absorbing passion and pure grit that enable the devotees of science to enlarge its boundaries year by year.
Once, while on a scientific excursion on the great plains, with the lamented Prof. Mudge, he nearly lost his life. He had captured a rattlesnake, and, in trying to introduce it into a jar filled with alcohol, the snake managed to bite him on the hand. The arm was immediately bound tightly with a handkerchief, and the wound enlarged with a pocket knife, and both professors took turns in sucking it as clean as possible, and ejecting the poison from their mouths. This and a heavy dose of spirits brought the professor through in safety, although the poison remaining in the wound caused considerable swelling and pain in the hand and arm. When this incident was mentioned in the Kansas Academy of Science that year, some one said, "Now we know the effect of the bite of the prairie rattlesnake on the human system. Let some one, in the interests of pure science, try the effect of the timber rattlesnake on the human system." But like the mice in the fable, no one was found who cared to put the bell on the cat.
Professors Mudge and Snow, because scientists were so few in the State at that early day, divided the field of natural science between themselves, the former taking geology and the latter living forms. Professor Mudge built up at the agricultural college a royal cabinet, easily worth $10,000, and Professor Snow has made a collection at the State University whose value cannot be readily estimated until it is catalogued and placed in cases in Snow Hall.
As a scientist, Professor Snow is an indefatigable worker, conscientious and painstaking to the last degree, never neglecting anything that can be discovered by the microscope, and when he describes and names a new species, he gives the absolute facts, without regard to theories or philosophies. For accuracy his descriptions of animal and vegetable life resemble photographs, and are received by scientists with unquestioned authority. He possesses another quality, which may be called honesty. Some scientists, whose reputation has reached other continents, cannot be trusted alone in the cabinet with the keys, for they are liable to borrow valuable specimens, and forget afterward to return them.
It is possible only to glance at the immense amount of work performed by Professor Snow during the last twenty years. Neglecting the small fry that can only be taken in nets with very fine meshes, he ascertained that there are twenty-seven species of fish in the Kansas River at Lawrence. Work on this paper occupied the leisure time of two summers, as much time in such investigations only produces negative results. For several years he worked on a catalogue of the birds of Kansas, inspiring several persons in different parts of the State to assist him. Later this work was turned over to Colonel N.S. Gross, of Topeka, an enthusiast in ornithology. Colonel Goss has a very fine collection of mounted birds in the capitol building at Topeka, and he has recently published a catalogue of the "Birds of Kansas," which contains 335 species. Professor Snow has worked faithfully on the plants of Kansas, but as other botanists came into the State, he turned the work over to their hands. For several years he has given a large share of his time and strength to entomology.
Nearly every year he has led scientific excursions to different points in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, etc., where he might reap the best results.
Once, during a meeting of the Kansas Academy of Science, at Lawrence, Professor Snow was advertised to read a paper on some rare species of butterflies. As the hour approached, the hall in the university building was thronged, principally by ladies from the city, when Professor Snow brought out piles of his trays of butterflies, and without a note gave such an exhibit and description of his specimens as charmed the whole audience.
In meteorology, Professor Snow is an acknowledged authority, wherever this science is studied, and he has, probably, all things considered, the best meteorological record in the State.
Personally, Professor Snow possesses qualities that are worth more, perhaps, to his pupils, in forming character, than the knowledge derived from him as an instructor. His life is pure and ennobling, his presence inspiring, and many young men have gone from his lecture room to hold good positions in the scientific world. When one sees him in his own home, surrounded by his family, with books and specimens and instruments all around, he feels that the ideal home has not lost everything in the fall.
Snow Hall is the natural resultant of twenty years of earnest and faithful labor on the part of this eminent scientist. The regents displayed the rare good sense of committing everything regarding the plans of the building, and the form and arrangement of the cases, to Professor Snow, which has resulted in giving to Kansas the model building of its kind in the West, if not in this country. Very large collections have accumulated at the State University, under the labors of Professor Snow and his assistants, which need to be classified, arranged, and labeled; and when the legislature appropriates the money to furnish cases to display this collection in almost every department of natural science, Kansas will possess a hall of natural science whose influence will be felt throughout the State, and be an attraction to scientists everywhere. - Chaplain J.D. Parker, in Kansas City Journal.