Collecting Fossil Plants and Animals
in the Pennsylvanian Deposits of the Will County, Illinois Coal Measures
The Field Notes of George Langford, Sr. in the Years 1937-1960.
Prepared and organized by George Langford, Jr., 1973.
Copyright George Langford, III, 2010
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Indoor Work
We did inside work, only when inclement or too cold weather prevented journeys to the field.  We brought back all we could and whenever we could and piled it up in the office.  Often we had accumulated 1,000 specimens or so before we got to washing, sorting and mending them.

The first thing was to put away the commonest and least desirable.  The rest were washed and scrubbed, the broken specimens being set aside for mending.  After eliminating the poorest material, the balance was sorted into about four selections, the poorest being put away in boxes.  Next came good duplicates and study specimens, and finally a No. 2 and then a No. 1 selection comprising exhibition material and things that appeared unusual or new.  Generally, it took nearly a day's work in the office to clear up a day's work in the field.

[The office was available because the McKenna Process Company was cyclical at best and was starting to fail around this period.  Much of the effort that my Father and Grandfather were expending was in making "type" collections to be sold to various museums in an effort to generate sufficient cash to keep the company afloat. - GL,III, ed.]

[unsigned, but in the handwriting of] George Langford, Sr.

This was our main incentive, although it took us some time to become thoroughly conscious of what we were driving at.  As we got farther along with our collecting and realized that we were accumulating many kinds of good things, some of which were doubtless new, we became more interested of course, but our chief interest was in the fact that we had found a way to put some life and beauty into these dirty and apparently dead fossil plants.  This was first suggested by the washing process, which brought out the true and darker stone color.  This color disappeared when the stone dried.  This color, which came and went away again varied in the different kinds of stone.  It was not the original color of the plant, nevertheless in a display of specimens there were varieties of color. 

The field of stone around the plant was of a lighter shade than the plant itself.  So we brought out and fixed the plant color and dulled the field color, thus making a pronounced contrast between the plant itself and the field of stone around it.  All this necessitated first removing all mineral deposit which defaced the plants in the great bulk of specimens.  This was the slowest job of all as the deposits had to be picked off with pointed tools bit by bit and brushed away until the plant was quite clean.  It was a tiresome job, and perhaps the result was not commensurate with the effort, nevertheless it was my evening's work and still is [about 1939 - GL,III].  I may be a bit queer in the head to persist with such a practice, but I see clearly the life and beauty in these plants that is hidden there, and it is a pleasure to bring out these attractions so that others can see and appreciate them.  Further, these fossil plants are not only inherently life-like and attractive; in combination with their stone settings, they are inherently artistic also.  They are a combination of fine design, engraving, sculpture and coloration, which when seen in their stone settings of contrasting coloration go to make it an artistic composition.

These are strange plants, said to be 250 million years old.  Some are ferns resembling our modern ferns somewhat, but many are strange-looking.  Their fine degree of preservation and great variety have aroused the interest of many collectors.  They have long held the attention of scientists familiar with plants now extinct.

Throughout the month of January 1938 I spent from two to four hours every evening, and from six to eight hours on Sundays and holidays, doing this developing work.  The slowest and hardest part of it was cleaning the specimens of the tenacious mineral deposits.  On some of the large complex colonies of fronds, as in Pecopteris, it took me from twelve to sixteen hours to clean and develop a single specimen.  The smaller and less complex plants did not take so long, and yet some of them, less than six inches long, took me ten hours to finish [just] one of them.

I was particulary interested in noting the reactions of various men and women to the developed specimens as compared with the untreated ones.  In every instance, both men and women exhibited only passing interest in the untreated specimens, and a very lively and sustained interest in the treated ones.  In February 1938 this finally led to a talk by my wife [Sydne Holmes Langford] to the Gardeners of the Womens Club of Joliet, Illinois.  Sydne used pictures on a screen in her lecture, which was very well received before a capacity audience in Mr. Charlstrom's house on Western Avenue.  I prepared five card tables of developed specimens as an accessory to this lecture.

[unsigned, but in the handwriting of] George Langford, Sr.