|Our game of fossil hunting in
the strip coal mines of Will County, Illinois is now viewed seriously
by experts because of the impressive scores we have piled up. We
have collected and split open probably 250,000 nodules, from which we
have selected about 25,000 as worth taking home. These have been
sorted into five grades, and the fifth grade of about 15,000 specimens
has been destroyed. This leaves about 10,000 specimens, from
which we have selected about 5,000 of the first two grades. Some
are new to science and will be published as such; others are extremely
rare; and the rest are unusually fine specimens of the more common
species. And finally from all this, things have simmered down to
our final selection of about 2,000 specimens, "developed" and made
suitable for exhibition in any museum. About 300 forms of plants,
and 25 of animals have been identified and these scores are
mounting. We think this collection to be the finest of its kind
in all the world. Pictures of some of them are here presented.
All this may make a big dent in the mind of the professional scientist who specializes in such things and knows them by their formidable Greek names. But the amateur scientist or only mildly interested layman does not bite so readily. He has not studied paleobotany and has no desire to begin. It is not difficult to arouse his curiosity but difficult to hold it. He dislikes learning or lessons, and I have found that he has not cared very much for coal fossil plants and animals because he could never get much fun out of them. I have felt the same way too. I have collected these things and looked at them in museums and found small satisfaction in either. Evidently the fossils had no practical use, and as a rule they did not impress me with their beauty. A science which cannot serve people with either use or entertainment must be in a bad way. We have not been able to make our coal fossils useful, and so we have endeavored to make them entertaining by cleaning them up and bringing out their inherent colorations. We find that most people are interested in them because they rather like to look at something 250 million years old, all dolled up. We also find that people become interested in these plant pictures, would like to know something about them, but shy away because these things smack of deep learning and lessons and nobody wants to go through all that. But there is not very much to learn to give them what they want. A little book of pictures and notes like this one is enough, and any intelligent person can get his fill of this science in a few hours. It is not a thing to labor over in order to get understanding and entertainment out of it.
But the main thing, as we have found, is that with much labor, the plant pictures are made attractive and people like to look at them.
[all in his own handwriting and signed] George Langford, March 1, 1939