Thursday, January 13, 2011


William Holland as Chancellor at what was then Western Pennsylvania University

William Jacob Holland was an accomplished man. He served as the Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh from 1891-1901 and then as Director of the Carnegie Museum from 1901 – 1922. He was an accomplished paleontologist and zoologist, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and wrote many important papers on dinosaurs, fossil mammals, and several books on living moths and butterflies (1, 2, 3).

Holland the lepidopterist in later years
 Holland was a scientific luminary and under his Directorship the Carnegie Museum became one of the world's premiere natural history museums. Holland visited the Uintah Basin on several occasions, both conducting his own field work in Tertiary strata and reviewing the operations at the Carnegie Quarry.

Holland (foreground) and William Reed collecting a Diplodocus skeleton in 1899

In 1921 National Park Service Acting Director Cammerer wrote to Holland about the development of a museum at Dinosaur National Monument. Since the Carnegie Museum was running the quarry excavations, the Director’s input was desirable. However, in his surprising November 9, 1921 response Holland did not mince words(4):

“….Douglass, who is of a somewhat poetic temperament…wrote to me to suggest that the scene of his immortal labors ought to be marked by the erection on the ground of a stately edifice in which there should be assembled plaster casts of the dinosaurs which we have extracted from the spot. This might involve an expenditure at this particular “hole in the ground” of a very formidable sum of money. The vision, as he painted it to me, was a structure like the famous “Walhalla” not far from Munich, which cost the Bavarian government nearly one half a million to erect…”

“…no doubt the erection of such a building would give employment to some of the unemployed in Vernal and might enhance the value of certain acres at present covered with sage-brush in that vicinity. I do not, however, think that the people of the United States would be justified in undertaking any such wild scheme.”

“… the whole thing sums itself up in saying that it is questionable whether the United States Government would be justified in appropriating money simply to preserve intact what is in truth only a “hole in the ground”, so that people living twenty-five miles away may have a place to which to resort to gratify their curiosity when they have nothing else to do.”

“When we get done with our work of taking up the bones which we find in the quarry there will be nothing left there, and in my humble judgment, as a citizen of the United States and as a heavy tax-payer, I could think of nothing more scandalous than a proposal to do what has been suggested, unless the method of the “Pork barrel” is to prevail.”

One would have expected nothing but support from the Carnegie Director, so what can we make of Holland’s comments? I haven’t read all the relevant correspondence, but based on the quotes above in Beidlemann’s report (4) I’ll venture some guesses.

The reference to the Bavarian “Walhalla” in the first quote seems to be a cheap shot. Take a look at the Walhalla complex at    Nothing that Douglass wrote invokes  such an extravagance of buildings. Quite the contrary. Douglass described the structure as a relatively simple one that used the quarry sandstone as its north wall.

Another seemingly cheap shot is the reference to the project enhancing the value of “certain acres” in the vicinity. Douglass had a homestead about ¼ mile from the Carnegie Quarry. Maybe Holland is referring to that, maybe he is referring to the land in Jensen and Vernal. In any case, many supporters of the museum idea seem to have been genuinely interested in it as a unique and spectacular educational exhibit, not just for the US but for the entire world. It was not just a scheme to inflate land prices.

I suspect the third and fourth quote provides the best insight into Holland’s thinking and that relates to how the Monument came to be. I will explore this more in a future post, but suffice it to say that the idea of creating a National Monument came about only after the Carnegie Museum failed to obtain a mineral claim to the quarry to prevent others from excavating there. It seems that Holland saw the long term objective of the excavations at the quarry to collect, either by his institution or others, as many of the fossils in it as possible given the conditions and expenses involved. He expressed this previously in a 1919 letter to Cammerer (4):

“Of course this Museum [i.e. the Carnegie] does not propose indefinitely and forever to continue deepening this quarry, which now represents a formidable outlay of time and money, we have expended in developing it already more than one hundred thousand dollars. We shall eventually, no doubt, wish to desist, especially as the work is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, but that time has not yet arrived. There are no parties to whom we would be more ready to turn over the work than to the authorities of Utah University, provided they can give assurance that the work will be done in a highly scientific and thorough manner.”

More telling, is Holland’s June 7, 1920 letter to Douglass:

“As I told you several years ago, this work at the so-called ‘Dinosaur Monument cannot be continued forever by us, and we ought to work strenuously while it is day and then the place ought to be abandoned and turned back to the public domain…” (emphasis added)

So Holland probably never really envisioned a permanent in-place exhibit of fossils at the Monument or maybe he saw it as a threat to the continued extraction of bones. In a way, this resistance is a testament to the unique vision that Douglass had about developing the Carnegie Quarry in a way never attempted before at a fossil vertebrate site.

Fortunately, Holland, in spite of his gravitas, did not prevail and the development of an in-situ exhibit of bones within a museum ultimately came to be (although not until the late 1950s). In the meantime, this need would be met by a more traditional museum built in the Monument.

A Note on Sources

Much of this blog is based on R.G. Beidelman’s report Administrative History, Dinosaur National Monument. This fascinating report is the best summary of the history of the Carnegie Quarry between its discovery and 1956, much of which has never appeared in print. It contains abundant quotes from correspondence, newspapers, etc. and provides complete citations to where these documents can be found in the National Archives. Although it is in an unpublished internal report, it is available on-line from the National Park Service at It is an interesting read.


(2) Avinoff, A.1933. Obituary: William Jacob Holland. Annals of the Carnegie Museum XXI: i-iv (appendix) + portrait.

(3) Leighton, H. 1933. Memorial of William Jacob Holland [1848-1932]. Geological Society of America Bulletin 44(2): 347-352

(4) Beidelman, R.G. 1956. Administrative History, Dinosaur National Monument. Unpaginated. (available on line at:

Photos: Wikpedia and Carnegie Museum

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