Celebrating Fred Hall


(This 1264th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 14, 2015.)


Cahow Painting by Fred Hall

courtesy of James Hall


This afternoon Buffalo Audubon will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Fred T. Hall Nature Center at Beaver Meadow. In partial repayment for his kindness to me personally I offer here a brief summary of Fred's life.


Born and raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Hall developed an early interest in wildlife. By his teens he had accumulated one of the finest butterfly collections in the state. Despite his parents' lack of funds to send him to college, he was encouraged by a family friend to try the entrance examination for the nearby Wabash College. Hall was not only accepted but won a scholarship and was able to enroll. Soon he was hired as a better-paid lab assistant in the college biology department and passed his scholarship on to another deserving student.


After graduation Hall joined the staff of Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester. And it was there that I met him. As a junior high school student, I joined his ornithology class at the Rochester Science Museum. It was a wonderful experience. I was by about twenty years the youngest member of the course and Hall paid special attention to me. He even allowed me to take home the remarkable sketches he made of various bird characteristics. Only later did I learn that he was a highly regarded artist. Unfortunately over time those sketches were lost.


Then came World War II. Hall went though officer training and was commissioned an army captain. He received what was arguably the best assignment of that war: recreation officer in Bermuda.


While he was there, Hall continued his natural history interests and even gained an international reputation in ornithology. He found on a beach the recent skeleton of a sea bird believed to be extinct at the time, a cahow or Bermuda petrel. Although he was transferred shortly after this important discovery, his identification led others to find a few of these extremely rare birds that come ashore for only brief visits to underground caves on rocky outcrops. (In 2012 I wrote about this discovery in my review of local author Elizabeth Gehrman's book "Rare Birds".)


After the war Hall returned to Ward's but he was soon appointed director of the Davenport, Iowa Public Museum. In 1950 he finally came here to serve for 19 years until his early death as director of the Buffalo Museum of Science.


Hall was probably best known here for his weekly live show, "Your Museum of Science," which ran for years. He took many 16 mm movies that he used to illustrate those programs and his family donated some of those films to the museum. And here is where our paths crossed again. In the 1990s as a museum volunteer I went through those films. Although they included many family episodes, they also recorded rare birds, plants and animals he found here, thus contributing scientific evidence.


When Fred Hall died, James Mason, president of the museum honored him: "He was learned in a wide variety of science disciplines, he wrote and lectured on ornithology, botany, entomology and nature photography. His distinguished characteristic was, however, the warmth of his personality, and it was this trait that made him a truly great teacher. Despite full schedule and the arduous duties of director, he always found time to devote to the groups of school children visiting the museum. He displayed a native empathy with young people and instilled in them an awareness of the natural world as well as his own deeply held conviction of the importance of conservation."


Jim Hall, Fred's son and a Hamburg horticulturist, confirmed this, telling how his dad took his wife and five children to visit 45 of our 50 states. "He was," Jim added, "the brightest man I have ever known."


The Fred T. Hall Nature Center is at 1610 Welch Road (off Route 77) in North Java, New York.-- Gerry Rising