August 19th 2010 | Director

William P. Braker

Bill began working for the Shedd Aquarium by going on fish collecting trips in 1950. He was later hired as a ‘tank’ man taking daily care of the fish.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

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Bill Braker, I was born in Chicago in 1926, long time ago.

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And what type of schooling did you have?

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I went to, I think, a typical Chicago grade school, then for high school, I went to Morgan Park Military Academy and onto Northwestern for college and to George Washington University in Washington DC for a master’s degree.

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And your master’s degree was in?

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In zoology.

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And did you serve in the army?

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Served first of all in the Merchant Marine for 18 months, then came back, and we were supposed to be exempt from further service. And then when the Korean War broke out, they grabbed me again for two years. Very fortunately, I was not sent overseas and it was during that period when I was detailed to Fort Myer, Virginia, right across the Potomac from Washington that my wife and I went to George Washington and got those master’s degrees.

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How did you have and develop an interest in fishers?

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Well, as a kid, I went fishing in a little lake up in Michigan, near Three Rivers, Michigan. It was called Fisher Lake, and my mother was sort of the neighborhood mother. She taught school, and during the summer, she’d go around and gather up a bunch of the neighborhood kids and take them places in Chicago. Take us to the beach at 55th Street, Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium. Museum of Science and Industry. And I went to the aquarium many times like that. Of course, I think as all kids, you don’t really appreciate what’s there, but I did take an interest in and learned the names of quite a few fishes. After high school, I saw nothing at the aquarium until Dr. Orlando Park, who was one of the great ecologists of that time, took us there on a field trip.

00:02:39 - 00:03:45

And he pointed out characteristics of a lot of the fish that we saw. And pretty soon, they were just not things with scales swimming around in the tanks. They were animals who had certain characters that coincided with their body length with their jaw structure. And I said this is pretty neat. Graduated, and it was 1950, and jobs were just hard to get. And I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I said I’m going back to the aquarium and see if they have an opening. Well, it just so happened that they had a space for someone that they said was temporary, but they needed someone to go on a collecting trip to Key West, Florida. So I said, okay, I’ll take it.

00:03:46 - 00:04:49

And I did went to Key West, came back. Oh, and Mr. Chute, who was the director at that time, originally came from Boston. He had been a director of the South Boston Aquarium and retained his Boston accent until the day he died. And as he was telling me about the trip, he said, “And if you walk out, we’ll keep you on.” So I guess I walked out, unfortunately, it was soon, pretty soon after, I started back that the army grabbed me for the Korean War. By that time, my wife and I had been married and I had to trudge off to the trenches, leaving her at home. And that’s how I got started at the aquarium. Well, you mentioned a collecting trip.

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Can you tell us a little about that first sojourn into the world of professional fishers?

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Yeah, well, those collecting trips are really a story unto themselves. We had no real boat. We had small, almost skiffs, and we rented a barge in Miami from Bacchus Towing Company, and put all our equipment on the bars. We had a little house about the size of a two-car garage. We lived in that house, and all of the tanks that were used to transport the fish, we brought down in our railroad car, which is a story in itself, and loaded all of these things onto the barge, and were towed by a tugboat down to Key West, where we were anchored out in Key West Harbor. And from there for two weeks out of the small collecting boat run around set traps, one hook and line fishing, pulling sanes, whatever. And alongside the barge were what were called live cars. They were about four by four by four feet in dimension.

00:06:21 - 00:07:49

And when we came back with a boatload of fish, we would sort them out in these live cars, and butterflyfish here, and triggerfish here, and groupers here. And after two weeks, then the tugboat came back and picked us up. And we had loaded, taken all of those fish out of the live cars and put them in the transport tanks, back to Miami, and picked up all of the transport tanks, put them in our railroad car and back to Chicago. Now that procedure was repeated many, many times until air transportation became perfected and we stopped using the car. It finally kind of gave out. It was replaced by another more modern car. But even that after air transport became reliable, we got rid of the second car. But that thing had been out to the West Coast, back and forth many times when we went to Hawaii or up to the Far Pacific, we’d take it to Los Angeles, or San Francisco and get on a Matson freighter.

00:07:50 - 00:08:52

I know I’m jumping all around the place here, but that’s basically what the collecting trips were. One of them, when I came back to the aquarium, we headed for the island of Bimini, which is just 60 miles across from Miami. And we just hit a tremendous storm out there. It was the storm, Garwood, I’m sure you remember that name. Big yacht man, he was on his catamaran called the Ventura, and the Ventura broke up in that storm. He had to be rescued by the coast guard and we were going across the Gulf stream in that flat bottom barge. And the barge would go up like this, and came, bam, down like that, and up again. And we thought this thing is gonna break apart and to tell you how bad it was, we had all of our kitchenware, plates stacked on shelves.

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And I swear it was like watching a cartoon where the plates go up, and then they come (mumbles) back like that. And you had to hold on to them, bunks we were in to keep from falling out. I was very glad to get to Bimini. You mentioned the railroad car.

00:09:11 - 00:09:14

Would you tell me a little something about that?

00:09:14 - 00:10:23

Yeah, sure. The car was divided basically into two sections. One section, which is about a third of the length of the car was living quarters. And they used typical old Pullman berths with an upper and a lower. And for six men, there was a small gully in there, a toilet and the rest of the car was dedicated to the space for the tanks. And the tanks were lined up on one side of the car, one on the other, and then they were fed by circulating pumps. And that’s how the fish were brought back from Hawaii or I shouldn’t say from Hawaii, from Los Angeles or Miami. The second railroad car, which was built by Thrall Car Company up in Chicago Heights was one of those fluted stainless steel outsides and then had high-speed roller bearings.

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And we had our own generator that was driven by the axle. And while you were standing still, there was a propane generator that kept electricity going, and it was quite comfortable to ride in that. Okay, a little historical thing.

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How did the Shedd come to be?

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Well, that’s a long story. Mr. Chute, as I mentioned before, came from Boston and there was a fellow in Boston by the name of George Morse, M-O-R-S-E. And he was kind of a promoter, I think in the best sense of the word. And somehow, and I don’t know the answer to this, but somehow he came to Chicago maybe he was invited, but he came and his first project was to get enabling legislations for the Illinois legislature to build Brookfield Zoo. Well, for reasons unknown to me that did not go through. So, George, I think at this time had become acquainted with a number of the movers and shakers in Chicago and whether it was his idea or one of this cadre of influential people thought, well, maybe we should have an aquarium. So George worked on that and talked to another number of people, including Mr. John G Shedd, who at that time was the president of Marshall Field and Company. Mr. Shedd came from New England from New Hampshire.

00:12:30 - 00:15:16

And he came to Chicago when he was 17 and started working at Field & Leiter, which was the predecessor of Marshall Field Company. He started working in as a stock boy in the linen department making something like $15 or $20 a week. And from that humble position worked his way up to become president and chairman of Marshall Field. So they got talking to Mr. Shedd and someone along the way, ask him, “Don’t you remember Mr. Shedd “when you were a boy back in New Hampshire, “and you were lying on the banks of whatever river it was, “and looking down and seeing those fish down there “you thought someday, “you’d like to have an aquarium, “so the public could see these fish.” Now, I don’t know if the story is apocryphal, but it makes a good story to which he says, “No, The only interest I ever had in fish was eating up.” So later on, when he finally decided to give the money for the aquarium, and of course, the press was hovering around and said, “Mr. Shedd, why did you decide to give money “to build an aquarium?” Well, when I was a boy back in New Hampshire, lying on the banks (laughs) So, I don’t know if, I asked Mr. John Reed, who was Mr. Shedd’s grandson and eventually the President of Shedd Aquarium Society. And he says, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s true or not.” He says, “That’s probably something the press made up, but anyhow, it’s a good story.” So George Morse was involved then in getting the aquarium started, and he was actually the aquarium’s first director, but there was no aquarium built at that time. So, of course, they probably asked George who they could get to design the aquarium and so forth. So he said, “Well, you know, I know a guy back in Boston.” So they brought Walter Chute here, and he worked in the office of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White for a couple of years, working with the architects, designing the aquarium. And which opened then briefly to the public.

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It was not stocked, but they let the public walkthrough and just look and see what the place looked like. And then in 1930, open it up in June, fully stocked with fish.

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And then the director, when it was fully stocked?

00:15:39 - 00:16:22

Was Walter Chute, who had come to help design the aquarium. And I have to look back and for those days it was one of the most workable aquariums that I ever saw. It was easy for the tank man, as they call them in those days, aquarist now, to work there, it was easy to bring specimens in to get them to the tanks. You could walk around the whole place in back of the scenes without having to climb up and down ladders. And that it was very, very well-designed.

00:16:24 - 00:16:30

So it’s look at the time was revolutionary, groundbreaking for an aquarium?

00:16:30 - 00:18:12

Well, Walter Chute with George Morse and one of the architects from Graham, Anderson by the name of Shavani, took a trip to Europe, and they went to aquariums in Germany, and Italy and other places and collected the best ideas they could from every aquarium. They went to Naples, and they went to Berlin, and places like that. And I think took the best ideas from those aquariums and incorporated it into the design of Shedd, along with any new ideas they may have come up with. One of the stories that Walter Chute told me is that the architects asked him, “Well, now how high should the tanks be above where the aquarists are standing?” And Chute looked at him, and he says, “Oh, about the height of the second button on my vest.” So that’s why that the tanks were that high. What were some of the Keystone exhibits at the time when it opened that you recollect that were told to you. Well, most of the tanks were… I’ll have to say without much imagination, the actual tanks themselves. They were rectangular or square concrete tanks, but probably the size of some of the tanks were at that time pretty extraordinary.

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The shark tank, which was 30 feet long and held maybe 30,000 gallons, I believe, my memory is getting a little dimmer and all that. The majority of the tanks were 1200 gallons. Smaller ones were four to 500 gallons, but they fit in very nicely that the aquarium was designed by form following function. And that it did very, very well, instead of building a great palace and then jamming things into it. The displays were laid out first, and then the building, which is Greek colonial style, like the Field Museum. And it was well done. Of course, it outgrew its first design. It got antiquated, there’s no question about it.

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And so we worked on that for many years to upgrade it.

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When you first started, how many people were working there?

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40 people, 40 people. And this was 1950 when I started. Guards, janitors, souvenir sales, ticket sellers, office help, was the director, the assistant director, a secretary, and a bookkeeper, that was there. Engineering department, six tank men, as they call them on those days. And that added up to 40 people. And the budget, believe it or not, was $250,000. That included everything.

00:20:13 - 00:20:17

So you were hired by Mr. Chute as a tank man?

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00:20:18 - 00:20:20

What was your relationship with him?

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Well, I didn’t see too much of him, being way down at the bottom of the totem pole. He was a little difficult to get along with. If you kept your nose clean and you did your job, you hardly ever saw him or heard from him at all. I had to laugh, the assistant director was a fellow by the name William Brunskill. And I can remember, you didn’t do anything unless you were told to do it. And one day, this particular tank looked a little scuzzy. So I jumped in, I siphoned it down, got in, started scrubbing the walls, and so forth. And he came around, and he looked in the front of the tank and saw me in there, came around and back, and he says, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m cleaning the tank.” He says, “Well, you shouldn’t be doing that “unless somebody tells you to do it.” Okay. (laughs) So that was my experience with Brunskill.

00:21:39 - 00:22:22

Chute came, of course, with aquarium credentials. I don’t believe Mr. Brunskill had any, I don’t know he was hired long before I got there. So I don’t know what his background was. But that was sort of the attitude there that if you’re told to do something, do it. Of course, you could scrub the floors, which we had to do, that was a weekly job. And feed the fish, that was a schedule thing. But don’t do anything else unless you’re told to do. So that was a surprise.

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What professional things from the aquarium field did you learn, or personal things did you learn from Mr. Chute?

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What pearls of wisdom did he throw at you?

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Well, he taught me how to tie my shoes. I was tying my shoe, maybe his shoe, I don’t know. He had a hard time getting down because he’d had a staph infection in his hip early on. And he walked with a very decided limp. And we were somewhere, and his shoelaces untied, maybe we were out on the street, maybe in Miami, and he couldn’t get down to do it. So I just got down, and he says, “That’s not right.” He says, “You’re tying that in a granny knot. “It’s gotta be a square knot. “And this is the way you tie a square knot.” (laughs) So I’ve been tying my shoes correctly ever since.

00:23:20 - 00:24:58

I could never figure out why my shoelaces always became untied. Well, it was ’cause I wasn’t tying a square knot. After I returned to the aquarium, I came back in 1953 as assistant curator. After I got out of the army, I went to work at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and the National Cancer Institute in the Tissue Culture Section. And my wife and I had to wait until we got our degree from Georgia, Washington. So I continued working at NIH and every year in the Potomac, they have this big herring run and you can go down to the bridge right there in Washington and collect herring either with big dip nets or with big trouble hooks that you cast out and try to snag them on the way back, but they didn’t take a hook. So I happened to write back to Walter Chute and say, I’m here, and I told them the story about collecting. And know he wrote back and says, well, I guess they’re plankton eaters, and the mouth is too small to really take a hook and so forth and so on.

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Have you ever thought about rejoining the aquarium staff again?

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And he says, “We’re looking to hire,” I’m repeating his words, “We’re looking to hire a young man “and train him to run the aquarium. “And the salary will be $3,600 a year.” Well, that sounded like big money ’cause I was making 3,500 at NIH. So my wife and I talked it over, I flew back to talk to Chute in person and decided we’d come back to Chicago, and probably one of the best decisions I ever made in my life, except for getting married to my wife. Got to throw that out.

00:25:48 - 00:25:51

Was your impression that he was looking for an heir apparent?

00:25:52 - 00:26:21

Well, that’s what he said, when he said, “We’re gonna train them to run the aquarium.” So it was a little sticky when I came back because I was the college kid and I knew everything, you know, don’t tell me what to do. And so it got… I’m really surprised he put up with me, I’ll tell you the truth. But he finally did, and he brought me along.

00:26:21 - 00:26:25

And to answer your previous question, what did he teach me?

00:26:25 - 00:27:26

Taught me a lot about collecting fish, taught me a lot about keeping them proper way, nothing scientific. And he was… Oh, I’ll continue, taught me a lot about the administrative and of running the aquarium, keeping the books. And it sounds very simple, but it was simple in those days, monthly reports. And then, of course, we didn’t put out the annual financial statements. We had an auditing firm do that. He did not want any research going on in the aquarium. He was so afraid that he would somehow or another poison his system there.

00:27:26 - 00:28:43

Warned people coming in and pour in chemicals in here and doing that. And so going back to when we came on field trips with Dr. Park, he says, “Now, whatever you do, when you get behind the tanks, “don’t ask any questions “about what research is going on here.” He says, “They’re very sensitive about that.” So we kept our mouth shut then. So gradually, little by little, I got him to loosen up a little bit. The first trip that I made to Hawaii, we came back with some, they have oodinium over there. It’s a very small flagellate that gets in the fish’s gills and eventually strangles then and they cut off all the oxygen absorbing ability of… And certainly gets on their body, and it’s an irritant. And I came back, and I went through a whole tropical saltwater system. And he said, “What are we gonna do?” I said, “Well, other aquariums add copper sulfate to their system.

00:28:45 - 00:29:27

And this will kill the Oodinium.” Well, he thought about that for a while. And he could see the handwriting on the wall that we’re gonna lose the whole system. He says, “Well, okay, go ahead.” And first of all, I had to buy a Beckman Spectrometer to measure the amount of copper sulfate in there. So we got that, and yes, it cured it. But then we had to keep adding that over the years because you can cure it, but there’s always reservoir infections there, but he seemed to be satisfied with that.

00:29:27 - 00:29:33

And he said, “Saved the collection there.” What would you say were his strengths and his weaknesses?

00:29:36 - 00:30:42

Well, I think his weaknesses were not wanting to, even though he delegated authority to me, he wanted to be boss. And I think that probably was his big enough weakness. And I think as other, this all stems from the fact he did not have a college education, and I’m not being critical here, but this is the way it was, he didn’t. He had a high school education. And that probably was at the basis of him not wanting research to go on there and anything experimental he was against. He was of the old school. This is how we ran it for so many years, and this is how we’re gonna continue it. His strengths, they were small strengths, and there were a lot of them.

00:30:42 - 00:31:02

So it’s difficult for me to pick out any one particular thing. But as far as I am personally concerned, his strength was bringing me along and training me to do the job.

00:31:03 - 00:31:10

You talked about research, didn’t he have something to do with working on artificial seawater or trying to develop something?

00:31:10 - 00:31:40

Oh yeah, but I think he got that from Frankfurt, Germany. He took their seawater formula and incorporated. But why that ever petered out, I don’t know. We never made it when I first got there. Now later on, then yes, we did put together a seawater formula, but that was a long time after I had started.

00:31:41 - 00:31:47

Who was on the board of directors, in those starting day, and was it an active board?

00:31:48 - 00:32:41

Not really, Stanley Field, who was the nephew of the original Marshall Field was the president of the board. He was also president of the Field Museum and also President of Brookfield Zoo. All at the same time. And so what was good for Field Museum was good for Shedd Aquarium. And we had a terrible, we always had to match the salaries that Field Museum had. And so he was president, then we had people like Daggett Harvey on the board. Now you’re pushing my memory to go back. But there were 15, Mr. Farwell, who was in the food business, a grocery business.

00:32:41 - 00:32:45

And then his son came after him, Frank Farwell.

00:32:49 - 00:32:51

Well, how did Chute relate to the board?

00:32:51 - 00:32:54

Was it good or bad for the aquarium?

00:32:56 - 00:33:56

I think he was terrified of the board. He just didn’t want anything to rock the boat. And we would have one meeting a year. Mr. Field would host it over at the Chicago Club. And every year it was Turkey, Ala king, which you could have a drink ahead of time if you wanted to. It was funny but before the board, Chute would go over to Field Museum and talk to Mr. Field there and take the proposed budget over. And I know he was quite worried about meeting with him that makes sure everything was just absolutely correct that Mr. Field wouldn’t have any negative things to say about him. And then eventually Chute brought me along.

00:33:57 - 00:35:07

And I remember one particular time, I think he proposed that our guards, they couldn’t guard a chicken coop, would be paid, given a raise $5 a month more than the guards at the Field Museum. I said, “How come you’re doing this?” And Chute, he kind of shook his head. So I jumped into the fray, and I said, “You know, Mr. Field, “we’ve got this nice pension fund now. “And the aquarium, because it has so few employees, “we have to have a certain number of people “to keep that pension fund going. “And if we don’t attract enough people like our guards “with a suitable salary, ‘we’re gonna lose the pension fund.” And he looked at me, he said, “Good idea, Braker. “Okay, I’ll approve it.” Well, my heart was going like this. I had done something right.

00:35:09 - 00:35:15

Did the board affected in the beginning of the development of the Shedd Aquarium, Did they help?

00:35:15 - 00:35:57

I’m sorry, say again. Did the board affect and help the development of the aquarium in the beginning under Chute and as well– Well, you know, that goes back beyond. I think they were more caretakers. I saw no big ideas come out. They never went out to raise any money for the aquarium. They just, Chute’s taken care of it. We charged 25 cents for an adult admission, and 10 cents for kids four days a week. Three days were free.

00:35:57 - 00:36:09

Thursdays were free, Saturday and Sunday were free. We raised $30,000 a year, which hardly paid the salary of the people selling the tickets and the guards taking the tickets.

00:36:11 - 00:36:21

None of them ever, to my knowledge, ever came up with an idea about, Hey, why don’t we do something to bring the aquarium into the 20th century?

00:36:22 - 00:37:01

And the aquarium was suffering. Suffering badly from a case of the shorts in those days. One of the saltwater galleries, when I started there, was completely closed down. The saltwater had gotten into the steel reinforcing rods in the front of the tanks and expanded and broke all the glass fronts. They couldn’t be prepared. It was during world war two. We were not an essential industry. So we couldn’t get the steel to repair the tanks.

00:37:02 - 00:38:07

Finally, I think they saw they could do this. And this is just before the Korean War, and the windows slammed again because we were in another war period. We weren’t essential. So after the Korean War, then finally, I guess they had enough money salted away by this time that we brought in contractors, which was a Gerhart Mining Company, an old, old, very reliable firm to fix that gallery, it was number two. And then they went to number one, and then number three, on the saltwater side, and got all those going. And the skylights, in back of the public area, there were glass skylights all the way around. Those things, the framework was all lead, and they were starting to sag, And the reinforced, the wire-reinforced glass was starting to crack. So they replaced all of those skylights.

00:38:10 - 00:38:58

And then eventually later on in the seventies, we redid the whole water circulation system with PVC. The original system was all lead, and that eventually got clogged up with debris and salt and crustacean. So that was the start of bringing the aquarium out of its doldrums. And then I think building the coral reef tank in the middle of the rotunda was probably the really defining moment when the aquarium started to get out of low gear and become the institution that it is today.

00:38:59 - 00:39:03

When you were assistant curator, how did you start to approach the care of the animals?

00:39:03 - 00:39:05

How’d you figure out their diet needs?

00:39:10 - 00:40:11

I think it was just sort of a hit miss. We had absolutely no research on what was suitable for what animals. And I guess, quite frankly, in those days, it was easier to replace them than trying to keep them alive. That was the attitude back then. We fed things like horse heart, Codfish, horse meat, ground up and chopped up in small pieces. But there was no attention paid to what the nutritional value was of it. Fill our stomachs, and I’ll be happy. Eventually, then we brought in some people who had a little more training in keeping tropical fish.

00:40:12 - 00:41:12

The fellows that were there when I were there had absolutely no aquarium training at all. They did what they were told. We had one fellow who was a retired Mason, one guy who was a retired Iceman, a fellow who worked at, excuse me, I’m having a brain spasm, a stack yards, who used to sell hogs. One who was a cigar maker from New Orleans. And I can’t remember what… There were two more, I don’t remember what they did, but that was the caliber of people we had. And we finally, one by one, as they retired, found people, we hired one fellow who had come from Germany and worked over there, and the German aquariums were way ahead of us. And he knew quite a bit about it.

00:41:12 - 00:41:17

He was one of the aquarist that we hired. You mentioned saltwater.

00:41:17 - 00:41:20

Can you tell me a little bit about bringing up water from the Gulf of Mexico?

00:41:20 - 00:42:13

(laugh) Well, originally the water was brought in, in tank cars from Key West, Florida. Railroad tank cars, in those days, the railroad ran all the way from Miami to Key West. And so tank cars were sent down there, and they were in a constant shuttle. There’d be four in Key West being filled up, four in Chicago being emptied. And then two going or four going down, four coming back. So it was shuttle like that. And they brought up enough I think a million gallons to fill the three reservoirs there. That’s how it came up.

00:42:13 - 00:43:54

Then later on, as you know, I mentioned before, they did make up some artificial water, according to that German formula, but they didn’t need as much water because of the one gallery that was closed down completely for so long. But after that was opened up, then we needed to bring up more water. Debated and debated, and a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you try a barge load?” I said, “Well, that sounds pretty good.” So I approached Mr. Chute and I explained to him how we could get a barge. And he always smoked a cigar, and he gripped the cigar, not here, but like Groucho Marx with this hand like this, and he took the cigar out of his mouth and he looked at me, and he said, “No.” That angered me quite a bit. So I just got up, and I stomped out the room before I got out. I think he was surprised that I did that. I said, “Well, don’t you ever even want to hear about it?” He says, “Oh, I’ll hear about it.” So I went back and sat down, and I talked more about it. And he picked up the telephone, and he called the chief engineer, and he says, “Come on up here a minute.” So chief engineer came up, and he says, “Braker here’s got an idea to get salt water in here,” and he talked.

00:43:54 - 00:45:16

And the chief engineer said, “That sounds okay.” So, end result of that was we hired a barge. I think it was the John I. Hay barge line. And they had a barge down in New Orleans that was used to haul molasses. So we used that, and we went out of line on the Intercoastal Waterway out between Cat Island and Ship Island, which is near, I forgot the name of the town. Anyhow, when I filled up the barge to rinse it out, pumped it out, then filled it up again, brought it back, came up the Mississippi River. And this was in October or November and brought it up through the Illinois Waterway and brought it over and parked it right in Lake Michigan, right below the aquarium. And we talked to the fire department and they sent over a civilian defense pumper and they pumped the water into our reservoirs. Well, when that water came out of the hose, it looked like a rust bucket.

00:45:16 - 00:45:50

The inside of the barge was rusty from the saltwater in it that time. And I thought, oh, this is trouble. And then all of the plankton in it died off. And the aquarium smelled like a sewer plant from all of that. And I thought there goes my job. So I called a chemist, consulting chemist. I said, “Well, we got this problem.

00:45:50 - 00:46:10

“What do we do?” He says, “Well, just filter it through charcoal.” So I said, “Okay.” So went to the chief engineer, we had a big tank that we carried we used to call them in those days jewfish, which now you can’t say, you got to call them giant groupers, right?

00:46:11 - 00:47:22

And we built a big charcoal filter with charcoal about the size of wheat grain and we pumped the water through that, came out like artesian spring water. Well, the problem was eventually those little tiny rice grains of charcoal, they went through also, and as they were pumped through the system, they got into the valves at each tank and clogged up the valves. So we were constantly working on that until all the charcoal was on the system. So we did this two or three times, bringing up water. The next time we put big fine mesh nets at the overflow out of the charcoal filter, and caught all that stuff before it was going in. So that’s how we got the charcoal, and then eventually made our own, or bought, what was it called, Neptune salts to make it. And I think they still use the Neptune salt at Shedd now. That was one of the challenges.

00:47:22 - 00:47:24

Were there other challenges in exhibiting fish?

00:47:24 - 00:48:11

Oh, there’s a lot of challenges. (laughs) Every day I think there was a challenge. People would, I made a couple of big mistakes. We had a tank with alligator garfish in it, and that’s all was in there. And I thought we need a little more action in this tank. So I had a big, largemouth bass. I said, “I’m gonna put that in there.” I went back, I threw the largemouth bass, ran around to the front to look in. By the time I got out there, the largemouth bass was this way in the jaws of the alligator gar, so I should have known better.

00:48:13 - 00:48:16

I just was so anxious to get something in there.

00:48:16 - 00:48:20

And what was kind of the evolution after that, of moving up?

00:48:20 - 00:49:31

Okay, I can’t give you dates on this, but we had a fellow there by the name of Lewis Reimers who had come up. He started back at the aquarium around 33 or 34 when the world’s fair was on. Started out as a night janitor. In those days, the walkways through the park were crushed cinders, and people would come in the aquarium with all that crushed cinders dust on their feet. And had night janitors, and they had to swab the floors two or three times every night. Well, he was on that crew, and it was very, very conscientious guy, just wonderful. And he gradually worked his way up. He went to being then a tank man and eventually became the collector.

00:49:32 - 00:50:44

He’s the guy who got all the collecting aquarium put together and made sure that it was in good shape for the next year. And he was collector when I got there, and I worked with him getting all his collecting equipment ready. I think that was my first trip to Key West that I described. And then when I left to go in the army, I came back, and Lewis had come up through the ranks, and he’d been made a curator, and I was assistant curator. And then later on, when Chute was getting close to retirement, then they appointed me as assistant director. I felt sort of unnecessary having over Lewis’ spot there, but he took it very nicely. Congratulated me and so forth. So that’s how I made the jump to assistant director and then the director’s chair.

00:50:44 - 00:50:55

Okay, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Captain, we gonna take a little break. Oh, finally. Tell me when you’re ready. We’re all set. All set.

00:50:57 - 00:51:01

When did you become director of the Shedd Aquarium?

00:51:03 - 00:51:12

I wish you’d told me his question was coming. (laughs) When did I? 1964.

00:51:14 - 00:51:18

And why did you consider becoming director?

00:51:18 - 00:51:21

How did that come about?

00:51:21 - 00:51:22

Why did I consider?

00:51:23 - 00:51:51

I had no way to go in and pound on the desk and say, I demand to be director. I mean, I guess I did my job there. And as far as I’m concerned, working at the aquarium and being the director was absolutely best job in the world. Absolutely the best. I can’t think of anything else I would have done. I would do the same thing over again.

00:51:51 - 00:51:53

Did they approach you?

00:51:53 - 00:51:54

Was there a national search?

00:51:54 - 00:52:25

What, wait a minute. No, there wasn’t. There was some talk I understood from one of the trustees, that they talked about a national search, but I was there. I was assistant director, I guess it only was logical that that would be the next step up into the director’s chair. So it wasn’t me that decided to be director. I was put in that position. Did they come to you, put the proposal to you.

00:52:25 - 00:52:26

Was it the board?

00:52:26 - 00:52:27

Was it Mr. Chute?

00:52:31 - 00:53:37

I guess it was just sort of an understanding. I guess the board had met some time, something I didn’t know about. Whether it was a fellow by the name of W. Paul McBride, who took over from Stanley Field. And he then and probably maybe an executive committee met something I didn’t know about and made the decision that they would appoint me director, I guess somebody said, “Oh, well, we have to have a nationwide search.” And another board member said, “Well, wait a minute. “This guy has been here. “He knows the aquarium. “He knows what it’s all about. “If he doesn’t work out, “you can still go on a nationwide search if you want to.” So, as Chute said to me, “If you will walk out, we’ll keep the on.” So I guess I walked out.

00:53:37 - 00:53:38

Was that his final advice to you?

00:53:38 - 00:53:44

Or do you (crosstalk) No, that was when they first hired me.

00:53:44 - 00:53:47

Did he give you any ending advice when you were taking over the helm?

00:53:51 - 00:54:28

When he retired, they kept him on as sort of a, I guess consultant would be. And he sort of looked at me pathetically, and he says, “Well, I don’t know where I’m gonna sit, “where I’m gonna have an office.” And I said, feeling very guilty about this. I said, “Well, you know, we’ll put your desk right here in this office.” So I lived with him being in my office for a year until then, he finally left and moved to Arizona.

00:54:29 - 00:54:35

And to digress a bit when Chute was there, when you took over, there was an apartment in the aquarium?

00:54:35 - 00:55:39

Oh, yes, yes, absolutely. It was designed originally with an apartment in it. And Chute said we did this because nobody else in Chicago knew the complete workings of the aquarium. And he said, I felt that I had to be on the spot almost 24 hours a day in case something went wrong. So they incorporated the apartment right in the aquarium. And it was probably, as they call them, in down south in New Orleans, a shotgun apartment. It was built on the southeast face of the aquarium. And you’d come into a reception hall, and immediately there was the bathroom, and you go a little bit further out of the reception hall and was the living room.

00:55:39 - 00:56:34

And then down a corridor, the bedroom was off to one side, and then a dining room, and then a big kitchen with a breakfast next to it. So design-wise, it left a lot to be desired, but it was his free of charge, all his heat, light. The only thing he paid was telephone. So he did very well for the time he was there. I think he was, for the time was compensated pretty well. And so he lived there with his wife until he’s started getting interested in dogs. And he raised schipperkes. And right outside the apartment, he had a bunch of kennels where he kept the schipperkes.

00:56:34 - 00:57:33

And he finally then decided he would have to get out in the country. So he bought a piece of property out, in what became Elk Grove Village just immediately next door here. And he moved out there, but he still kept the apartment and he kept his dogs out there, and he would move out there for the summer and then come back to the aquarium for the winter. He was afraid of driving in. And then eventually in the winter, he stayed in the apartment during the week, but went out to the house on weekends. And then eventually he moved out there completely, but he still kept the apartment to go down and have his lunch during the day.

00:57:33 - 00:57:35

Did you ever live in the apartment as director?

00:57:35 - 00:57:52

I did not live in it, but I inherited the apartment and my wife and I used it occasionally when there was some event going on downtown, didn’t wanna drive home at night. We stayed there, and I used it for my lunchroom also.

00:57:53 - 00:57:59

When you became director, what was the condition of the Shedd Aquarium when you inherited it?

00:58:01 - 00:59:19

Well, it was a heck of a lot better than when I first started out in 1950. ‘Cause we had made a lot of these changes to the physical plant of the aquarium. Got it dressed up, but there was not much that was done to let’s say the educational value or that sort of thing, or the appearance of the tanks. But the physical plant was getting put back together again. Later on, I think the first big project they took on was the coral reef tank. And originally, it was just a swamp pool there with turtles and carp swimming around it, with a rock garden in the middle. And every year, the Park District would come over with plants and plant it up for us. So we decided that that would be the first project on really revitalizing the aquarium.

00:59:21 - 01:00:28

So we took a trip around the country, that was myself, Donal Olsen, who was our architect on the board, Larry Carlton, who went along, and one other person, I can’t remember who it was. But we flew around the country mostly to the West Coast to see what those people were doing at the aquarium. It was Walter Chute revisited back in the twenties and came home and decided that putting the coral reef tank in place of the swamp tank would be a thing. And the board was rather hesitant to go through with this because it involved raising money for it. And they had never been asked to raise money before, they were afraid that they would fail. And it was a grand sum of $2 million, can you imagine. My gosh, $2 million. But they went out, and they did it.

01:00:29 - 01:01:51

And then they said, “Well, that was pretty nice. “We did this big job.” And so I think a million 1.2 went into building the coral reef tank, and then the rest of the money was used to start rehabilitating the mechanical system, taking the lead pipe out, putting in plastic pipe and new pumps. The original pumps were, what was called naval bronze, the same sort of bronze that they used on navy ships to prevent corrosion. Hills McCanna metal was another name for it. Well, those things were like old model Ts. They kept running and running and running and running, but you couldn’t get parts for them anymore. So we went over, and we put in a product called carbide that was made by Union Carbide Company, and replaced all of the circulating pumps with those and the piping was replaced. And I think that the coral reef tank was a big hit and a great improvement for the aquarium.

01:01:51 - 01:02:00

So these were things that you wanted to start, were there other procedures or organizational things when you became director, you wanted to try and get into place?

01:02:00 - 01:02:46

Oh, sure. I mean, I had a lot of ideas what we should do. Education department, volunteer department, research department, just improve the laboratory to just to do routine water analysis, we never had that. I wanted a library, development membership department. None of those things were in place. So over the years, I brought all those fortunately to fruition. A business department, we never had a business manager. All of that stuff fell to me and the bookkeeper.

01:02:49 - 01:03:43

And then eventually we brought in a business manager and he took a big load off of us. I talked to Lee Webber, who was director of the Field Museum. And he had been doing the same thing at the museum. He didn’t have a business manager. And he said, “Boy, life is a lot different around here, “having a business.” Institutions were living in the dark ages in those days. And so one by one, those things came to fruition, having the education department, and we were getting members on the board who could understand that the aquarium was still partially back in the dark ages. And you got support from those people.

01:03:44 - 01:03:49

You mentioned members of the board, what was the makeup of the board, and how did they help?

01:03:49 - 01:04:32

You mentioned the beginning of fundraising. Yeah, well, the first place they started enlarging, the membership of the board. Originally, when I got there, it was 15 people. And then I can’t remember exactly how many were added. We had to change the bylaws and say the board shall consist of X number. Maybe it went to 20, 25. Nowadays, I think it’s 55 people that are actual board members. And I think you get to a point where it becomes a little wobbly, a little top-heavy, having too many people on the board.

01:04:32 - 01:06:25

It’s hard to get things done, but as more board members were added, then you started to see the birth of an education committee, a collections committee, a business committee that started helping with the ideas coming to improve the aquarium from these people. And today, that situation is pretty rampant. You have an awful lot of people that I won’t say dictating, but consoling the staff and particularly as they call them now, the president and CEO, on what the best way is to proceed with this. So as each new department was formed, then we started to get board members who could help in those membership development committee. Unfortunately, we never got anyone in there until recently who had any knowledge or background in research. It was very difficult to come because I think they’re more interested in the financial aspects of the aquarium than they are in the research. But now that’s changing also. But most of the people who were brought in were people who either could contribute sizable sums to the aquarium, or who knew people who would be good donors.

01:06:27 - 01:06:33

Did board members come to you with favorite projects that they wanted you to see, you do?

01:06:33 - 01:06:35

Bring in certain type of animals?

01:06:36 - 01:07:11

Just once I had that thrust on me, and it was such a minor thing that I… A friend of one of the board members had a shell collection and he didn’t know what to do with it. And he thought maybe putting it on exhibit at the aquarium, like a museum exhibit would be good. So I got pressured to put that on, but that’s about the only time that that happened.

01:07:12 - 01:07:23

To what extent did space constraints, indoors or outdoors on the aquarium hinder your ability to plan for improvements that called for more space?

01:07:23 - 01:08:07

Well, fortunately, we had a lot of open unused space. It was the top, the main floor, where the exhibits were and the public was there. Then the middle level, which was where the filters were. And these were just big concrete boxes that the water came in and flowed through gravel bed and back into reservoirs. And that was all. You could stand on one side of the building and shoot a gone and not hit anything there. And then the basement area where all the equipment was, the pumps, and so forth. And the big reservoirs.

01:08:07 - 01:09:28

There was more than a million gallons of water in reservoirs down there. So, originally we filled up that mezzanine area with the education department and then with the business office and with the volunteer office. And eventually, that space was all filled up. Now they have so many people, they have 220 people working there. And with improvements in the way the exhibit tanks are filtered and purified that they have done away with some of those big reservoirs, drain them, and you walk down there, and they’re all offices in the old reservoirs. So, I’m sure that they needed more space. And to do that, and now I’m taking a quantum leap ahead for mostly office space that they added on a big office area above the oceanarium and put in… And I think they told me that that is space for about 140 people up there.

01:09:29 - 01:09:33

What types of things would you have dreamed to do?

01:09:35 - 01:10:50

Well, I think I would have put in a very substantial research department and that was something that I never was able to get to. We improved the laboratory. We brought in some research people, but I wasn’t able to expand and make a large research department, which I think that’s one of my failings, it’s not really the word I want, but one of the unrealized goals. But as I said, the education, the library we had, I think the preeminent aquatic library of any zoo or aquarium in the country. And unfortunately, that’s been whittled back quite a bit. With the electronic age, you don’t have to have all of those, that massive library for people to do research and you just go on a computer and do it.

01:10:53 - 01:10:56

What was the direction you wanted education to take?

01:11:00 - 01:11:50

I think the biggest overall direction was just getting school children in there and teaching them as much as they could absorb about the aquatic world. We got some good instructors in there and hopefully sending these kids home with a better appreciation, about what lives under the waves and how they live there, and why they should be protected. And that sounds very simplistic, but when you take second, third, fourth graders and even up in the high school, that was our goal. You mentioned artificial seawater.

01:11:50 - 01:11:58

How did that come about and how did that change affect the evolution of the Shedd exhibits?

01:11:59 - 01:12:37

Well, how did artificial seawater affect the… I don’t think there was any appreciable effect or improvement. We were able to keep up the volume we needed ’cause you’re always wasting water and you just can’t help it. You’re cleaning the tanks. You’re siphoning the water off. Sum has to go down the drain. So in order to maintain the volume the artificial seawater was a big boon to us, and it was as good as it getting natural stuff.

01:12:39 - 01:12:42

How important was the use of acrylics in exhibition?

01:12:44 - 01:12:47

How important were acrylics?

01:12:51 - 01:13:22

I cannot answer that question. I don’t know. The only reason, of course, is they’re hopefully non-toxic, they don’t corrode, they don’t rust. And so, in some of the exhibits, they were useful that way, but it was never a big deal, at least for me, be able to work with acrylics.

01:13:22 - 01:13:28

Was there a time that the Shedd switched from glass fronts to acrylic panels in exhibitry?

01:13:30 - 01:13:32

Well, how did they switch?

01:13:33 - 01:14:17

The glass fronts on some of the bigger tanks, yes. They went to the acrylics, and you could get larger pieces. And, of course, they’re in the huge tanks, like the oceanariums, particularly at SeaWorld, places like that, acrylics were very useful where you can get enormous sizes. And that’s certainly is one way, which acrylics helped with that. I’m trying to remember the name of the acrylic company in this country, and I’m sorry, the name escapes me.

01:14:19 - 01:14:30

What professionals in aquariums or otherwise did you respect and learn from, and who had the most influence on you?

01:14:32 - 01:14:37

What other aquarium directors had influence on me?

01:14:40 - 01:14:43

And then you’re gonna ask me, why did they have an influence on me?

01:14:43 - 01:16:01

I think we learn a lot from these people, but it’s hard to go back and say, Joe taught me this, Mike taught me this. I think people like Dr. Ross Nigrelli from the New York Aquarium, Murray Newman from the Vancouver Aquarium, a number of people from SeaWorld ’cause they’d gotten a jump, I think on the rest of us, as far as exhibiting larger animals, especially mammals. Ken Norris, who came from Marineland of the Pacific had a big influence with his ideas on design. I think mostly our coral reef tank sort of followed his design of a big reef tank that he built or designed out in Hawaii at Sea Life Park. There were a number of other people who, get a little smidgens here and there. I can’t think of any major ones outside of that.

01:16:02 - 01:16:08

Did you develop relationships with Japanese and Asian aquariums or European aquariums?

01:16:09 - 01:17:24

I did develop relationships with European aquariums. And with Asians, particularly (indistinct) from Nagoya. And I worked with him very closely in designing his new aquarium, both the phase one, as they call it, and then phase two. I think I was pretty much responsible for developing and designing his dolphin and whale tanks over there in Nagoya. And he’s still is a good friend, but he’s retired, so I don’t see anything of him anymore. Noah Gebauer from Stuttgart, I think was a very, very good friend. I don’t say I used his ideas, but I could see his big influence on the aquarium, and you’ll walk into his place, and it was spotless. It was like a hospital.

01:17:24 - 01:17:38

It probably cleaner than a hospital. And so well designed and laid out. He did a wonderful job there. And your time as director, you’ve met so many people, some I presume famous people.

01:17:40 - 01:17:44

Did anybody make a big impression on you and did they ever have an impact on the Shedd?

01:17:46 - 01:18:22

Well, they certainly had a big impact on me. I might say proud to have these people be my friends and my colleagues. I think Charlie Schroeder, even though he’s just a Zoo man. I thought Charlie was director of the San Diego Zoo. He was just a wonderful, wonderful person. I thought he was great. Chuck Bieler, who came after Charlie. Although Chuck was not an animal man.

01:18:23 - 01:19:21

He certainly taught me a lot about fundraising, development. And I think he still works part-time, giving advice to the San Diego Zoo, Murray Newman, should I say I stole some ideas from him, his outdoor exhibit for killer whales. Our architects one up there to look at the outdoor killer whale exhibit. And we use that sort of approach when we designed the oceanarium to make it as naturalistic as possible. How would you describe the relationship with the aquarium and the other two institutions in Chicago that showed living animals and creatures, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Brookfield Zoo.

01:19:21 - 01:19:25

Was there a communication between the two of you or the groups?

01:19:25 - 01:19:27

Are you jealous of one another?

01:19:27 - 01:19:28

What was your relationship?

01:19:30 - 01:20:44

Well, I think we had a good relationship with both institutions. There were a couple of maybe a little touchy things that we solved. Brookfield Zoo had put in here’s back their dolphin exhibit, Seven Seas Panorama, and that was torn down and the new dolphin thing. And when we were thinking about putting in the oceanarium, we went out and met with George Rab and director or the, excuse me, the president of the society. God help me with her name, please. I should know, it should come to me right away and it won’t. Penny, Penny Cohom, at that time, it was now Penny Beattie and said, we wanna put in the stall for an exhibit and I could see George kind of freeze-up and Penny kind of freeze up, and we said, we’re not gonna step on your toes. We’re gonna stay with cold water exhibits.

01:20:44 - 01:21:14

You’ve got the tropical dolphins. So we hammered it out, and we made that gentleman’s agreement if you will about it. But there’s no reason that there should be any animosity between the institutions. I mean, I don’t think there is between Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo. You have duplicate exhibits, duplicate animals there. And I think one reinforces the other.

01:21:14 - 01:21:18

Did you compete for funds from individuals?

01:21:18 - 01:21:55

No, you know that’s funny thing, and I’ve thought about that for years, that Lincoln Park has its cadre of supporters. Brookfield Zoo has its cadre of supporters, and Shedd Aquarium has theirs, and I saw very little left, any overlap. Any time there was a ball or a fundraising party, I would look at the board members and very carefully and very seldom did I see any duplication of benefactors there.

01:21:57 - 01:22:00

As director, what were the frustrating times?

01:22:00 - 01:23:20

(laughs) Day by day, I think the biggest problem, the head of any institution has is personnel. There is just no end of little nit-picky things that go on in your, that’s how I lost my hair, I was worried about that sort of thing. You get so frustrated dealing with this nonsense that goes on. I had a lot of good people, but even the good people are just, nibbling here, nibbling there, and they support you, but you always gotta hear about there’s a little grousing goes on all the time and everybody wants to be the director. Everybody thinks all you do is sit there and sign checks, but they don’t know what else goes on. And I’ve had people ask to come to staff meetings who are not staff members. Oh, I’ll just sit there. I won’t say anything, but I just want to see what’s going on.

01:23:20 - 01:24:12

I said, no, you can’t do that. You’d have everybody in the aquarium in there. So, I think that’s my biggest headache was… And then the next biggest headache, which didn’t last as long, was the animal activists. I mean, that really was a big, big pain for me, but that too passed, and you don’t see them anymore. They’re not on your doorstep. They’re in Washington DC trying to get legislation to block, you shouldn’t have elephants in zoos. You shouldn’t have killer whales in aquariums, but they just go on, and it never stops.

01:24:12 - 01:24:47

And that was a big headache. Fundraising, I think, was a big headache. Originally getting your board to accept the fact that if you want to improve and continue to be first-class as an institution, you’ve got to go out and raise funds. You just can’t sit there and vegetate like the aquarium was when I first joined it.

01:24:50 - 01:24:55

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the aquarium when you took over and when you left?

01:24:58 - 01:25:00

Strengthen and weaknesses?

01:25:02 - 01:26:02

Quite frankly, when I joined, I don’t think that the aquarium had strengths. I don’t think people looked at the aquarium as being a viable institution. It was just sitting there. And part of it was not the aquarium’s fault. It was a group of things that happened all at the same time. So I’ve mentioned before, the war come along, they weren’t able to get certain goods. We were an institution that needed raw materials, steel, and so forth. And all these things dumped at the same time.

01:26:02 - 01:26:32

They didn’t have the money, they couldn’t get the improvements. So it just sat there and vegetated. And I think the board at that time was a weakness because really, the members of the board were not really interested in seeing the aquarium go anywhere. So I don’t think it had many strengths at that time, it managed to survive, and that’s it.

01:26:35 - 01:26:37

What are its strengths now?

01:26:38 - 01:27:57

I think it has probably, and I guess maybe I’m maybe bragging a little bit. I think it is the outstanding aquarium, if not in the United States, in the world. I think it has brought a tremendous improvement, not only to the institution but to the City of Chicago. It’s the number one attended institution, at least in the City. And maybe there’s a state tourist thing. I think it’s a park down in South Central Illinois that demands more visitors, but we have been number one in attendance now for many years. It used to be that we, the aquarium, and the Field Museum followed each other on a graph line like this, with the Field Museum being, let’s say a hundred percent in attendance and the aquarium being 75%. And you could bank on that.

01:27:57 - 01:28:37

It tracked almost exactly. Now the aquarium leads the museum in attendance and Art Institute and Museum of Science and Industry, Brookfield Zoo, Lincoln Park. Well, of course, Lincoln Park doesn’t keep track of their attendance. So they just walked through to the beach, so that’s somebody visiting the zoo. So that’s a big strength. You go there some days and look at the lines coming out the front door to get a ticket. It is just amazing.

01:28:40 - 01:28:42

The Shedd sits on Park District land?

01:28:42 - 01:28:44

Shedd’s on Park District land, yes.

01:28:44 - 01:28:49

How did the politics of the City affect the workings of the Shedd, if at all?

01:28:51 - 01:29:48

Very, very little, the politics of the city has hardly any effect, few years back, of course, we’re on Park District land. And a few years back, there was a little rumble about, well, you know, you’re on Park District land. You ought to be doing such and such. But it pretty much faded out by itself. I’d say over the years, we’ve had a very, very good relationship with the Park District. Now since I’ve retired, I’m not right upfront and know how the aquarium interacts with the Park District, but I have not heard of anything that would be detrimental to the aquarium at all.

01:29:49 - 01:29:53

Did you have to deal with the mayor when you were director?

01:29:53 - 01:29:57

No, did not have to deal with the mayor at all. Never did.

01:29:58 - 01:30:01

Did you have to deal with commissioners of the Park District?

01:30:01 - 01:31:07

Yeah, not with the commissioners, but with the head of the Park District. And that was pretty congenial. They would wanna know what our budget was. We would ask them for a certain amount of money, which, of course, we didn’t get what we asked for, but Shedd Aquarium and the other cultural institution shared a museum’s tax levy. And we meaning the institutions, split that up among ourselves, however, we felt was fair. Originally, there were six institutions in that, and I think by the time I left, there were nine institutions. We got several more coming in, like the Sabo Museum and the Mexican Museum. And sorry, one other, I can’t remember what it is.

01:31:07 - 01:31:36

So then the pot got split nine ways instead of six ways. When I was there, the Planetarium was not in the mix because it was supported entirely by the Park District. But then the Planetarium ask if they could get in. They brought their own financing with them, but still, then we split the pot, also to include the Planetarium.

01:31:40 - 01:31:53

(indistinct chatter) How did the Shedd Aquarium get its money in the beginning?

01:31:54 - 01:32:58

In the beginning, God made heaven and earth. There was an agreement, I’m trying to gather my thoughts on that. There was an agreement that if Mr. Shedd built the aquarium and he gave $3 million… Oh, let me, let me back up a minute. He was presented with two designs by the architectural firm and he was presented with one that the architects estimated would be $2 million. And then over here, Mr. Shed, you can have this one for $3 million. So he decided to go with the $3 million design, and thank goodness he did. So the contract was let, and (indistinct) I think was the general contractor for that.

01:33:00 - 01:34:29

And as a course, as they went along and then as now, there were cost overruns, and they needed another quarter of a million dollars. And that’s big money back in the late twenties. So Mr shed’s daughters then came up with the extra money to build it. And there was an agreement with the Park District that if Mr. Shedd built it at the Park District would finance its operation. And here I’m a little foggy right now, but it was either finance the operation completely or partly, and I don’t think it makes too much difference how much they were gonna put in. But it was still not enough, So Mary Shedd, one of Mr. Shedd’s daughters gave a million and a half dollars in government bonds to support the aquarium for operations. There was some stipulation that for the first few years, that the aquarium could only use $10 million of the interest money off of those bonds. But the principle was never to be touched.

01:34:29 - 01:35:20

And we still have that principle, which has increased in value. Oh, and the other stipulation was the money had to be kept in government bonds. And I think at that time were paying 1%. So you can imagine how much that produce. But eventually then the board and the family, Mr. Shedd’s family, I think principally John Shedd Reed said, you know, that’s unrealistic today. We take that money and put it into both equities and bonds determined by the aquarium’s finance committee. So that hurdle was overcome. So that’s basically how the aquarium was funded.

01:35:20 - 01:35:51

And the souvenir counter, that was a wash. As a matter of fact, it may have been a deficit as far as I know. But that souvenir sales were pretty meager in those days. So that’s how the aquarium got its… And at 25 cents a person and an attendance of 500,000 people a year, you didn’t realize much from attendance income.

01:35:52 - 01:35:54

When did you begin fundraising?

01:35:58 - 01:36:10

Again, my memory is foggy on that, but I think shortly after I was appointed director, and that was in the mid 1960s.

01:36:11 - 01:36:13

Was that for coral reef?

01:36:15 - 01:36:59

Yes, as a matter of fact, that was the first major fundraising we had. And we did not have anybody on board as far as the department goes at that time. The board members just kind of got together, and they did that. And they had a lot of naysayers at that time. Oh, we’ve never done this. I don’t know how we’re gonna possibly raise two million dollars, but they did. And it wasn’t that difficult. And then, of course, they walked around with their thumbs on their lapels and said, boy, this was great.

01:36:59 - 01:37:06

Look what we did. That’s fine, they did it. So the coral reef was this grand exhibit that opened up.

01:37:06 - 01:37:09

Were there any problems with it?

01:37:09 - 01:38:22

Well, there’s always problems when you open up a new exhibit, in trying to find suitable decorations in there. We had, I believe it was Richard Rush Studios do a lot of the false corals and sea fans and that sort of thing. Operation wise, it was a big jump from what we had done before with our wall tanks, to the circulation and the pumping of this. We had to put in diatomaceous filters to keep the water clear. That was a big jump. We also put in a Neptune microfloc filters, which were filters that were built opposite of how a normal filter is built. You end up with fine particulates on the top that take out the fine stuff. And then that has to be supported by middle-grade filters and then bigger ones at the bottom.

01:38:22 - 01:39:36

Well, these microfloc filters were built like that from the bottom up, but then they were reversed. So you had them fines on fines and then medium and then big ones. Well, the problem comes when you backwash your filters with a large, medium-fine stuff, you backwash at twice the rate of the filtration rate, and that actually lifts the bed and jumbles all of the dirt and stuff out of it. Then as you turn off the backflow, the filter resorts itself according to size and to weight. You can’t put the fines on the bottom because everything would get mixed together. So then the next thing is to build fines on fines. Medium-sized, big-sized, but those things are designed by weight rather than by particle size. So you put if you’ve got silicone here for fines, then you put granite on there, which has a high specific gravity.

01:39:36 - 01:40:09

And then I don’t know what comes next. I think it was charcoal and then big chunks so that when you turn off your backwash rate, everything in the bottom settles according to specific size and weight, but then the top ones realign according to the specific gravity, so that the granite comes down, then the charcoal, and then a big boulders like this.

01:40:09 - 01:40:23

So the advantage of this is that you’re taking out the big chunks first, instead of having the big chunks clog up the fines on the bottom, right?

01:40:23 - 01:41:18

So that we were gonna buy these filters from a company, I hope they’re not listening because they might come back in to sue us. I think it was out in Oregon. And I said we can build those things ourselves. We can go to Chicago tank, Chicago bridge and iron or cold tank works (indistinct). And just had the tanks built. And then we put in the filtration material ourselves, and it was a heck of a lot cheaper that way. So those things came in with the diatomaceous earth filters and they gave us a beautiful, beautiful, clean tank, beautiful water in there that cleaned it up pretty well.

01:41:18 - 01:41:22

You were able to keep the water in there all the time, never overflow?

01:41:22 - 01:41:23

Oh, well.

01:41:23 - 01:41:25


01:41:25 - 01:42:33

That was completely different than the fillers. It did overflow. We had a bunch of old-time engineers who did their job. They grease the Zerk fittings and they did those menial jobs. But the new computerized tank was just too much for them. And one night, I guess they went to backwash the system and got the tanks running, but they didn’t know how to shut it off. And so the water kept building up, and building up and building up, finally, over the top of the tank, it went, and out under the floor in the rotunda and into the main foyer, out the front door, down the front steps, and down the indoor steps, down to the washrooms, which are on the mezzanine. Finally, the chief engineer was gotten out of bed, mad dash down to the aquarium and got the thing to shut off.

01:42:34 - 01:43:27

But years later, the marble flooring around the coral reef and the rotunda started coming loose. And that seawater had gotten down in between there and broke up all the mortar underneath. So we had to take up the entire marble floor and replace it. So that came back to bite us about five years later after the big overflow. But so then we should have done this originally. We put in what I call the boob tube, as a big overflow, probably about 12 to 14 inches in diameter in case this happened again, the water would go down the overflow tube, down into the reservoirs, and we never had a problem after that.

01:43:31 - 01:43:40

When you were fundraising, how well did you adjust to that responsibility of the director fundraise, were you called upon to do that?

01:43:40 - 01:45:06

Yeah, I was, I had to be part of it and all that. All directors participate in fundraising. So yes, I did. I did get into it, and very, fortunately, I think I was paramount and again, I don’t wanna sound like I am patting myself on the back, but I don’t think that many of the board members had an idea that they could also be paramount in fundraising. They’d never done it, and some of them said, “Come on, we can’t do this.” And they were looking at a big chunk of money, the oceanarium, we were looking at a cost of 43 million. And some of them just couldn’t believe that we could raise that much money. Fortunately, I had run into one of Lincoln Park Zoo’s big supporters, Art Nolan, at an event at Lincoln Park Zoo and we got to talk, and I said, “What do you do?” And he said he headed up the Rise Foundation, that it was his wife’s relatives that had made their money, I think, in the stock market. And for a while, they were tied up with some IRS problems.

01:45:08 - 01:46:29

I don’t know the details, and they couldn’t give the money away, so the money kept building up. And then finally the IRS had told them they’ve got to get rid of some of this money. So Art’s names stayed in my mind, and I got a hold of him, and I said, “We’re thinking of building an oceanarium here, “and I’d like for you to come down “and see what we’re talking about.” So he came down, I think with his wife, Pat, and we talked about this, and then they went away, and then they came back, and we talked about it some more. And finally, he called me one day, I was at a finance committee meeting over at Harris bank. And I got out of the meeting and went on the phone, I called Art, and I said, “Okay.” And he says, “Well.” He says, “and we’re ready to give the aquarium $3 million.” I could have dropped on the floor. And I walked back into that finance committee meeting and my chest was puffed out. I said, “Guess what, guys, we just got 3 million bucks.” Their jaws dropped. And so that was a big contribution.

01:46:30 - 01:46:42

And the other big amount I got was from the State, and the Shedd board had been vacillating back and forth, back and forth.

01:46:42 - 01:46:45

Should we do it, shouldn’t we do it?

01:46:45 - 01:46:46

Should we do it, shouldn’t we do it?

01:46:47 - 01:48:00

And they had hired Lohan’s Company, it was at those days called FCL, Fujikawa, Conterato, Lohan as architects. And they would go ahead a little bit, and then the board would say, “Wait a minute. “We don’t know if we can raise this money or not.” And then they’d tell them, “Go ahead with your design.” “Wait a minute. We don’t know.” Well, the architects were getting somewhat and I can’t blame them, irritated and frustrated. So I had a little conference with myself, and I said, the board needs a push on this, and I’m gonna go out to people, and I didn’t know who the people were, but I was gonna go up to somebody and just ask them, and tell them, I’m not here to ask you for money. I want your opinion. And I talked to a couple of people and I had a friend who worked for this design-build company, A. Epstein International.

01:48:01 - 01:48:11

So he got me in to go over and I had lunch with Mickey Kupperman, who was the president and maybe his vice-president?

01:48:11 - 01:49:31

And we had a nice little lunch and they showed me around their office, which was in the old Montgomery Ward Mail Order Building over on the near west side. And then I had sketches that the architects had made, and I said, “This is what we’re thinking of.” And again, I emphasized, “I’m not here to ask you for money, “I want your opinion.” Well, they said, “You know, we’re not really into gauging the ideas “and the tourist attractions here. “So what you need to do is go over and see Ernie Martin. “He’s really pushing Chicago tourism.” I said, “You know, I’ve met Arnie once, “but he doesn’t know me from (indistinct).” “Well, I’ll call Arnie for you?” So, Mickey turnaround, dial and he says, “I’ve got a guy over here from the Shedd Aquarium. “And they’re thinking about building such and such. “And I told him, you would be a good person to talk to.” “Sure, send them over.” So we wound up our meetings there. I thanked him for lunch, went downstairs, got in a cab. The cab driver had a Bob Collins, big orange cap on, I’ll never forget that.

01:49:32 - 01:49:35

You remember Bob Collins and his big orange?

01:49:35 - 01:49:51

And I went over to Arnie’s and went upstairs. And Arnie’s came over and said, you just sit down, have a cup of coffee, I’ll be with him in five minutes, which he did. And I told him what we’re thinking about. And I said, “I’ve got some sketches here.

01:49:51 - 01:49:52

What do you think?

01:49:52 - 01:50:50

Is this gonna be a good attraction in Chicago?” We talked about it for a minute. And (indistinct) came over, and again, I emphasized to Arnie. I said, “I’m not here to raise money.” (indistinct) came over and says, “Excuse me, Mr. Martin.” He says, “The governor, Jim Thompson, “is down at the sidewalk cafe having a hamburger. “He just likes to say, hello.” The governor had come into town to go salmon fishing, but it was too rough out there. So he came over to Illinois to have one of his hamburgers. So he says, “Come on, bring that stuff. “We’ll show the governor.” So I went downtown, and he said, “Show the governor what you got here.” And I laid this all out, and I talked to him for a half-hour. And he says, “You mean, we’re gonna have this in Chicago.” I said, “Yep, if we can raise the money, “we’re gonna have it.” We’ve got $5 million out of the State of Illinois.

01:50:50 - 01:51:23

And that chance meeting, I couldn’t have planned the day any better. Got $5 million. So that along with the Rise Foundation, 3 million and what I’d stuck away into my back pocket at the aquarium, we went ahead with it, and I don’t think we would have done it if it hadn’t been for those two major, major contributions to it. So you use the political process in a way to raise money. Yeah, I guess so.

01:51:23 - 01:51:27

Did you continue to use the political process to look for funding?

01:51:27 - 01:52:43

Well, yes, because we had a deal with the Park District at that time, as did Field Museum, as did Science and industry and the other institutions on Park District property, that they would duplicate what we had. We had programs set aside. I wanted to build a penguin exhibit and I wanted to build a laboratory, and a research department. And I had all this stuff put away, and I had managed to squeeze out about five and a half million dollars set aside in a building fund. And the Park District was going to duplicate that. So we got five and a half million from the Park District, 5 million from the State, $3 million from Rise Foundation. So we’re looking at 11, 5, 16, almost $20 million. So we only had to go up and raise about 15 million off the street, which they did.

01:52:43 - 01:52:55

And so I think maybe that was some, as you call it, some political process there, but that had already been decided before we went onto the major fundraising.

01:52:56 - 01:52:59

Was it difficult to secure corporate money?

01:53:01 - 01:53:37

I think it was difficult to secure corporate money, foundation money, private money, but they worked on it, and they got… Actually, we raised more money, maybe by about a million or $2 million, than our goal was. We had Delco Corporation that gave us a sizable donation. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the other foundations, but they came through, the proof is in the pudding.

01:53:37 - 01:53:41

Were there any surprise donations that came out of the blue?

01:53:43 - 01:54:31

People’s estates or something that… There were Mark, but I honestly cannot remember any surprise donation. We did have one, it was a woman doctor. I think her name was Gustafson, who had gone on one of our aquarium tours, a trip to the Galápagos. And after she went on that trip, she was a member, and we hadn’t heard from her anymore. And just out of the blue, she gave us something like a million dollars. Nobody ever approached her. She just, actually, it was out of her estate.

01:54:32 - 01:54:39

Bill, the oceanarium must’ve been a wonderful and was a wonderful exhibit.

01:54:39 - 01:54:41

How did the board feel about the exhibit?

01:54:42 - 01:55:43

I think there were a majority of the board, majority of the members of the board were enthusiastic about it. There were some that were lukewarm, not because they didn’t like the idea of the oceanarium. They were tentative because they didn’t think we could raise the money. And then there were several who were just downright opposed to it. They didn’t think it would do anything for the aquarium. They didn’t like the idea of it. We would interfere with Brookfield’s dolphin exhibit. So we lost a couple of board members over that who have since come back and told me since I’ve retired that we were really wrong.

01:55:45 - 01:56:44

It’s been a great thing for the aquarium. Great thing for the city. There were others who, as I said, were lukewarm, you’re never gonna raise the money. We can’t do this. And then after it was a fair complete sort of stuck their fingers in their lapels and said, “Wasn’t this a great thing we did here?” So I think that’s probably par for the course for a lot of boards who are faced with fundraising. They didn’t want to fail, and they personally, they didn’t wanna fail, and they didn’t wanna fail because of the reputation of the aquarium. But after we put it through and after that, the board has been just a hundred percent. I mean, I think they’ve had two more major fundraising campaigns and they’ve gone through it.

01:56:45 - 01:56:58

I think the last one they had was something like $67 million and they accomplished that. And now I think we’re on our third one. You spoke about the oceanarium.

01:56:58 - 01:57:01

How did you develop this vision for the oceanarium?

01:57:03 - 01:57:07

Well, I felt that the aquarium really…

01:57:08 - 01:57:16

How do we develop a vision for it, the aquarium really needed a good kick in the pants?

01:57:19 - 01:58:37

We had done pretty much what we could do within the confines of the original aquarium. And we had done a few things like putting in a Southeast Asian exhibit, but we needed to go farther than that. And it seemed to me that the really important aquariums in the country had major Marine mammal exhibits. Now we’d had some aquatic mammal exhibits. We had freshwater dolphins there, and we had one poor old saltwater dolphin that we had to confine in a 30,000-gallon tank. And he shouldn’t have been in there, but the fellow who had them was using them for some sort of acoustic research program in an outdoor pool in the Boston area. And he couldn’t get anybody to take this animal, and we did it more to rescue them than anything else. And so we had him in that tank for awhile.

01:58:40 - 01:59:03

So it was my opinion we just had to go with an expansion for Marine mammals. And obviously, we couldn’t do it within the confines of the existing aquarium. We had to go and expand the perimeter of the building. So that’s how that came about.

01:59:04 - 01:59:12

And how did you develop the list of animals that you were going to maintain in this new exhibit?

01:59:16 - 01:59:23

I guess I just sat down and said, okay, what do we want to exhibit?

01:59:23 - 02:00:24

And of course, killer whales were the big, big thing and then dolphins. And I’d always liked the Pacific white-sided dolphins, Lagenorhynchus. And so it was designed for that, and also for beluga whales because this was to be a saltwater, cold water exhibit, and belugas were such great animals. That’d be the thing to exhibit. Eventually, killer whales kind of dropped out of the picture. It was getting too difficult to get them. And the problems with maintaining them, I thought eventually became a little too difficult. So we just settled in on white-sided dolphins and the belugas.

02:00:24 - 02:01:34

The belugas have been just such a great attraction. They’re easy to maintain. They’re funny, laughable animals. And they take to being in an aquarium very well. Public loves them, and the white-sideds are so athletic and give people a very, very good idea what these animals are physically capable of doing and how I hate to use the word intelligent, because I know that that’s a sore spot, but they are, they are, and are intelligent animals. And unfortunately we did not collect enough of them, in my opinion, to maintain an ongoing self-reproducing group of aquarium animals. We should have probably collected twice as many as we did. We put in a permit to get six of them, we should’ve gotten 12.

02:01:36 - 02:03:09

And thinking back on it, now we’ve not had good luck in a breeding program. And you want me to get a little more technical on this WCLE, who was another one of the authors of animal ecology, along with Orlando Park, Tom Park, K.P. Schmidt, L. Emerson, WCLE wrote that, I think the seminal work on animal ecology. And I was fortunate to have courses with Orlando, with Tom park, with L. Emerson, K.P. Schmidt at the Field Museum was one of my mentors. I never knew Allee, but Alle had a thought. It was just called the Allee Effect in that, there is a critical mass of animals that you have to look at in order to get successful breeding. And once that critical mass gets below a certain number, you lose the breeding program. And I think the easiest one for us to remember is what happened with the passenger pigeon. They got below a certain point where being colonial breeders, they just stopped breeding.

02:03:09 - 02:04:34

And that’s why we lost them. I think this is probably one reason why we’re not getting successful breeding with white-sided dolphins, because out in the ocean, they’ll see them in pods of 2, 3, 400. And I think you’ve got to have that critical mass or close to it in order to get successful breeding. So we should have gotten more, but hindsight is 2020, and hopefully the aquarium will be able to acquire some animals say from other aquariums where the animal has been for a number of years, wants to trade them off or something. So I’m hopeful we can get that. And I think that’s probably at the basis for our not being successful in breeding the animals. And, of course, now, at this point, they’re getting probably beyond the breeding stage. Well, when you were acquiring these animals and you were identifying them, there were probably forces out there who were opposed to you bringing in captive animals into a captive situation.

02:04:34 - 02:04:42

What effect did that have on acquiring those specimens and how you had to acquire them?

02:04:42 - 02:04:48

Well, you’re talking about the animal activists, the animal writers now.

02:04:48 - 02:04:50

How that affected our collecting?

02:04:55 - 02:06:12

It’s through roadblocks in the way. They protested every step of the way, they tried to block our permit. They tried to block our collecting activities, but they’re dealing with the wrong guy ’cause I wasn’t gonna cave to them. I like a good fight. And they even got the Marine Mammal Department in Washington to call us down, to defend our position, which I think we did very neatly. When we went for belugas up in Canada, they came up, a woman from Canada, with her lawyer, and came out on the water, and tried to convince the guys who were collecting the belugas for us, that they shouldn’t be doing this, that they’re putting them in prison, on and on and on. Tried to stop our collection up there. A couple of the look…

02:06:12 - 02:07:29

They rented a boat to go out in the water. Somebody, I don’t know who shot the transom of their boat full of 22 holes. Nobody would sell them gasoline for the outboard motor. They got some somehow. So that sort of thing. When we were up there to get the animals, we got the notice that some people in Seattle tried to get a federal court order to block us from bringing the animals into United States. We were taking the animals to the Tacoma Aquarium to hold them there until the oceanarium was finished, and to train the animals out in Tacoma because you can’t bring wild animals right in and expect them to be trained. So it was about a year before they actually went on exhibit in Chicago, that they were out in Tacoma.

02:07:30 - 02:09:02

And we heard that this potential court order was in the works. And so I called our lawyer down in Washington. He’s on vacation in Germany, finally got a hold of him. He’s on a train in German talking to me on a phone up in Canada. And then he suggested I get ahold of his colleague in Washington. And the colleagues said, “Whatever you do, “you personally do not talk to the lawyer in Seattle, “but I’m advising you “that you know that there might be this court order, “I’d advise you “not to bring the animals into the United States.” And I said, “Thanks for the advice.” So that guy tried to call me two, or three, four times, and I wouldn’t talk to him. And we were scheduled to ship the animals out on Saturday of that week. This was a Wednesday, and I got my crew together, and I said, “Okay, here’s the situation.” I said, “We’re getting out of here tonight.” So I said, Ken Ramirez was our Marine mammal expert.

02:09:02 - 02:09:52

I said, “You find a plane “that we get these guys out of here tonight.” And gave up some of the others duties. They were to round up every single ice cube in town that we could find. And unfortunately, when we went up there, they were having terrible forest fires in Canada and the bridge, the trestles, wooden trestles were burned out. So they couldn’t get trains going up there. And all of our equipment was on a train down at Winnipeg, or yeah, Winnipeg, to get up to carry our collecting, our transport tanks up there.

02:09:53 - 02:09:54

But what do we do?

02:09:54 - 02:11:16

Well, fortunately, Tom Hutton from the Tacoma Aquarium, we asked him to go along to help us out with this ’cause he’d been there before collecting belugas and he says, “You know, Bill, “you ought to have some waterproof containers.” And he says, “I know just what you want. “I’ll have a made here, and I’ll bring them with me.” So Tom, fortunately, was there, and he had these big vinyl bags. So we built a sort of makeshift frameworks to hold the bags. And we’re all set with that, And Ken got a plane two-engine plane that was big enough to put the animals in and would hold 12 people. We put everything together. And I said, “Jeez, we don’t have any foam rubber mats “for the animals to rest on.” We had the slings, with holes cut in the slings for their pecs and their tail to fit in to. You know what, they shouldn’t be laying on their flippers ’cause it cut off the blood supply. So we were all set.

02:11:16 - 02:12:08

We didn’t have an foam rubber mats. And John, sorry his last name has left me right now. He owned the motel where we were staying, and he said, “You’ve got foam rubber.” He says, “Go in the motel. “There’s foam rubber mattresses in there. “Take what you need.” So we went in and got them out, cut out holes in those things for the transport. The plane was due in about midnight, and it got in, and we were out there with the animals, all ready to get on. The plane didn’t come, didn’t come, didn’t come. Finally, it came, and then the pilot and the co-pilot had already put in all of the time they were allowed for that day.

02:12:08 - 02:13:15

So we had a wait for a new crew to be flown to him, to take the animals out. We’re up at Churchill. So they finally got there. Three o’clock in the morning, the plane took off. Put down in Calgary to get more ice and freshwater for the belugas and get some food for my staff who was accompanying the animals. They finally got into Sea-Tac airport just before nine o’clock in the morning. And these guys are there, ready to rush in to the judge, the federal judge up there, who fortunately for us had been off the next day at some meeting. And they got over there, and the judge says, “I understand that the animals “have already arrived in the United States.” And he says, “I can’t do anything about it.” Well, they were (indistinct) and accused of us of sidestepping all sorts of legal niceties and so forth.

02:13:15 - 02:14:24

And the other thing that helped us so much was that we had a fellow, up from the department of fisheries and oceans of Canada. They’re watching us collect, making sure we did everything right. And he was on our side, quite frankly. And I said, “You know, we’ve got a problem. “Because according to our permit, “we have to notify the Fish and Wildlife Service “that we’re coming in. “We have to give them 24 hours notice.” He says, “I’ve got the home phone number. “He’s a friend of mine in Seattle, “I’ll call him for you.” So he called him, told him what the problem was. I talked to him, I said, “I’m notifying you, we’re bringing in the animals tomorrow morning.” Okay, he said, “Fine.” Now, if it hadn’t been for those two accidental events, we probably would have been fined by the government for bringing them in without following all the details of the permit.

02:14:26 - 02:15:43

And, of course, the activists were really angry with us that we managed to end-run them on that. Bringing in the white-sided dolphins, the first group we got in without too much trouble, we held them at the University of California. And I’m sorry, my memory is slipping, but right there on the coast, maybe at Santa Cruz, and Ken Norris at that time had a research program going on there. And he said, “Okay.” He says, “I’ll keep your animals for you, “if you will allow us to do some training “and some research on them.” I said, “Great, you know, go ahead.” So we kept them there until they were… But that was half of our collection. The second collection, the activists were just swarming all over us. And this time, I think we’re gonna get two or three animals. So, we chartered a boat that went out of Ventura, California.

02:15:43 - 02:16:44

That was a big steel haul boat. And our collecting permit was to collect them in the Santa Barbara channel between those islands, they call the Santa Barbara Islands, and the mainland, that’s where Catalina is. So we managed at the last minute to get the permit modified so we could go outside of the islands. And so they were ready for us, the activists were ready for us to come back into San Diego. They were sitting out there in their boats at the entrance to San Diego Harbor. So this boat, they went out bing, bing, bing. They collected the animals very clearly and then came back into San Pedro. And the guy who ran the boat knew one of the fisheries, commercial fishermen there, and arranged for us to come into their dock.

02:16:44 - 02:17:16

They unloaded them. They put them on a Hertz rental truck, and drove him down to San Diego and went in the back way where we were keeping the animals, and they’re still out there, at the mouth of San Diego Harbor, waiting for us to come in, when animals were in our tanks there. And it was a boatyard where we set it up. So those some of the things we had to deal with. Now, you mentioned that you got the permits, but we’re called to Washington to defend getting the permits. Yeah.

02:17:16 - 02:17:17

What did you say?

02:17:17 - 02:17:21

What was your defense, or what was your explanation of why (crosstalk)?

02:17:22 - 02:18:08

We just followed the reasons given in the permits, why we wanted them, they were for public education. We didn’t use the word research ’cause you have to have a separate permit for getting an animal survey, but these were for public display, public education. And we just reiterated what we had said before. And the hearings just didn’t do what the activist, he didn’t get anywhere with that. And, of course, we were operating with some pretty high caliber lawyers down there that did us a heck of a lot of good in getting it through. So we got the permit.

02:18:08 - 02:18:14

Did you not think about false killer whales, and didn’t you get a permit to collect them?

02:18:14 - 02:19:00

Yes, we did. That was part, false killer whales were part of the original plan. But I finally realized that we were in too much of a scatter gun program that we probably should focus, make our focus a lot narrower. And if we got the belugas and got the white-sided dolphins, that’d be fine. And I think that was a good decision because people have not had all that much luck in keeping false killer whales. So that was how that came about. You’ve had some famous Marine mammals.

02:19:00 - 02:19:03

Can you tell us the story about Chico?

02:19:03 - 02:19:41

(laughs) Chico, the story about Chico, the freshwater dolphin. I had heard, and I can’t tell you where, and maybe you can help me with this name. There was an animal dealer in Florida whose first name was Joe. And I know that you know him, Joe. A little… Sorry, I can’t. But he had this animal, and he was keeping it in a warehouse in Miami. And the animal was in a little concrete tank in this warehouse.

02:19:41 - 02:20:01

It was about two or three concrete blocks high, and Joe was keeping it in there. And he said I asked him about it. He obviously wanted to sell it. So I said, Okay…

02:20:01 - 02:20:05

Hannah, Joe, Hannah, you remember him?

02:20:05 - 02:20:59

Yep Okay, so he brought it up himself on a cargo plane, and it was in the middle of winter, and it was just colder than I’ll get out. Joe came up, and he was dressed for Florida weather, but he’s shaking like this. And that’s how we got Chico and kept them for years, I think almost 20 years. But before that, Chico had been brought up out of Quito, Ecuador, I think, and the plane got as far as Panama with mechanical problem. And Chico, and a couple of the other animals were put out into some lagoons in Panama.

02:21:00 - 02:21:02

And what happened to the others?

02:21:02 - 02:21:39

I’m not sure whether they died or what, but this one, Chico, was saved and then transport it up to Miami, where Joe bought it from that dealer and kept it there. And that’s how we got Chico, and he was a great attraction. And early on, he was very amenable animal. Later on in his life, he got to be a little snappy, but he was a great, just a great, great display animal.

02:21:40 - 02:21:44

Did people give you a difficult time about maintaining him?

02:21:45 - 02:22:47

We had one particular woman who was a college professor at South Side community College down on Crawford Avenue. And she was just all over us like flies on raw meat and just sunk her teeth in. She would just would not give up. And she finally got a like-minded person up in Evanston, or one of those north shore towns to join the battle. And they just kept at it, and at it, and at it, like a bulldog sinks its teeth in. Well, eventually, I think they ran out of steam, but she made life miserable for me particular for several years there. And I found out, had come down to the aquarium to be a volunteer there. And I didn’t know it.

02:22:47 - 02:23:32

And she came to one of the volunteer classes and sat right up in the front row. And I had to go down there to talk to this new class of volunteers and tell them what was expected. And so she’s sitting right there. Dummy, I didn’t recognize her at all. I would have welcomed her into the aquarium. Mrs. Preston, Janice Preston. I heard that you used to have an army helmet behind your desk. Yeah. (laughs), What was that (crosstalk) I don’t know, to help me in the battle against the activist, they gave me this army helmet and I would put it on once in a while and laugh about it.

02:23:32 - 02:24:43

It was funny. I think some of my staff gave me that. I understand that you had a role in developing and founding the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Yes, I think maybe I’m founding AMMPA, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. I think maybe I’m given a little too much credit for that. Of course, we had something called the Marine Mammal Interest Group that some of us put together and all of us were having trouble like Steve Spotty, people like that, with the activists. And we finally got up back and form AMMPA to try to deflect and blunt their attack. And then from that Marine Mammal Interest Group that faded into AMMPA and I think I’ve been given a little much to credit for helping found that.

02:24:43 - 02:25:24

But I was part of it, and now not being in the operating part anymore, I’ve kind of drifted away, but I like to keep up with what they’re doing. And Marilee Menard, who is the executive director of the group keeps me posted and sends me monthly reports on it. And I like to comment on some of her writings. And, of course, I like to believe that I know more about it than anybody else in there. I give my opinions, but it’s fun to up with what’s going on.

02:25:24 - 02:25:36

Is there a function still, primarily regarding aquariums and Marine mammals, and animal rights organizations, or do they have another purpose?

02:25:36 - 02:26:54

Well, I think you’re right in what you said there. They’re always on the lookout for that, but they also have become very active in trying to direct existing animal aquariums, those keeping Marine mammals into what I’ll say doing the right thing. That we don’t wanna be treating our own animals over the whips and lashes and trying to get them to be models for maintaining animals. They have to… We’re the guys who know-how, including myself, we know how they should be maintained. We’re the experts. So we’re setting our own standards, the highest possible standards so that nobody can come back and criticize us for abusing animals if you wanna use that term. You mentioned you’re the guys who hopefully know what’s going on.

02:26:55 - 02:27:02

In the curatorial ranks, how have the curators changed from when you became director?

02:27:03 - 02:27:08

I think how have the curators change and directors?

02:27:08 - 02:28:31

I think that we have spread out to be more encompassing instead of just worrying about our own institution, that we’re worried about the other institutions and worried in a good way that we’re helping the others if they’ve got a problem to say, Okay, if you’ve got a problem, let’s all work on this. Let’s solve your problems. So that if you are doing something that really isn’t up to par, we all want, all of us, want to help you get over this problem. And I don’t think it was always like that. I think people were unknowingly concerned just about their own institution. Now, I think it’s more of a cooperative thing that they want, you know, if you’re doing something wrong, it’s gonna reflect back on me. So let’s solve the problem and get everybody on the same boat.

02:28:32 - 02:28:35

How did you interact with your curators?

02:28:35 - 02:28:37

Differently, than Walter Chute did with you?

02:28:39 - 02:28:41

Yeah, I would say yes.

02:28:41 - 02:28:44

How do I interact with my curators?

02:28:46 - 02:29:10

Quite frankly, I think I operated on the basis of tell me what your side of the story is. And if I don’t agree with it, I’m gonna tell you so, and we’re gonna do it my way. That happened a number of time.

02:29:10 - 02:29:23

After all the director of an institution has got to say, the buck stops here, and if it goes wrong and your board comes to you and say, why did you do it this way?

02:29:23 - 02:30:00

Well, Joe Blow said that this was the right way to do it. And then the board is gonna say, look, it’s your responsibility to get it right. So, you have to make the final decision on that. If you don’t, you’re gonna get booted. So they could come to you with ideas. Oh, absolutely, absolutely, no question. ‘Cause, they may not agree with that, but I tried to listen to them. And if what they said made sense, it was a good solution.

02:30:00 - 02:30:05

Fine, let’s go ahead with it. If it was a harebrained scheme, I’d tell him so, that’s it.

02:30:08 - 02:30:16

When did you feel, or why did you feel that the Shedd needed collecting vessel and how difficult was it to make that process happen?

02:30:18 - 02:30:20

Why did we get a collecting vessel?

02:30:20 - 02:31:55

Okay, well, for one thing, quite frankly, I got tired of being towed across the Gulf stream in a flat bottom barge. And once you’re there in the Bahamas somewhere, you were stuck. All you had was maybe a 20 or 25-foot boat to set traps, pull sanes and so forth. And also, we were to the point, I think the world was getting to the point where more and more people were going out to collect specimens and it was getting more difficult to get the variety you needed. So I talked to the board, and I had at that time, a very, very supportive president, John Bent. And I said, “John, we just have got to be able “to travel farther afield, “to get the variety and the numbers of the animals we need.” And I said, “In order to do that, we need our own boat “where we’re not dependent on somebody else “to take us somewhere “and I believe it’s going to be able “to go and come as we want.” And he says, “Well.” He says, “That makes sense.” So we start looking for a big enough boat and we found one in Florida in Miami that was privately owned. And it was an older man. And he didn’t have any use for the boat anymore.

02:31:55 - 02:33:00

So it needed some work, and it needed a lot of changes to be able to make it a good collecting boat. So we bought the boat, I think it was 75 feet long. It’s a wooden haul. It was very seaworthy. And so we took it up to Fort Lauderdale, to a boatyard up there that had some connection with the Donnelley family here in Chicago and had the thing outfitted to put a big tank in the back on the stern wheel and then smaller tanks up in front of the wheelhouse. And it was just a great boat, except it was single screw. And it had a small extra generator that could be converted into a get home motor in case the big one gave out. So we put in a…

02:33:00 - 02:33:56

Oh, and as I said, there was a generator. So we put in new generators, we couldn’t do anything about the propulsion engine. We couldn’t put in another engine and make it twins screws. And it was very economical to run, although it made about 8-9 knots, which is pretty slow, but it was a very, very good improvement. It was a thousand steps beyond what we had before and it increased our range and our variety of collecting spots. So it assisted in the growth of the aquarium in a way. Oh, I think so, yeah. I think it gave us a lot of opportunity to diversify our collection, and the boat was used also then for educational programs.

02:33:56 - 02:34:40

We could take high school. We had a high school marine biology class, we’d take the high schoolers on these trips. And that was very, very important, a very popular program to take those kids down there. You can imagine that much high school kids, “Man, we’re going to Florida on a boat.” They could scuba, I don’t think they snorkeled. We didn’t wanna take that responsibility. And it was a big, big plum for us to have that boat. And you were able to lease it to other organizations. We leased it to other aquariums and to dive groups to go down there.

02:34:40 - 02:35:10

We had to be careful on the dive groups, there was somebody who was licensed as a divemaster, and that person had to have his own insurance. And we imbursed him for the insurance in case somebody got in trouble underwater, had an accident. ‘Cause that’s the only way that we would allow those dive groups to go on, is if we had that insurance covering them.

02:35:10 - 02:35:19

And when the first vote coral reef became obsolete, was it hard to sell the acquisition of a new boat?

02:35:19 - 02:36:26

Well, I think some people on the board had doubts about whether we should replace it, but fortunately John Bent was still on the board at that time. And we had a new director, or a new president, Don Olson, and he supported the idea. So we did, and we got a boat committee to go down. And we found, I don’t know, I can’t remember the name or the date, it was around 1980 when we had this big economic collapse and the boat building industry went defunct. And we were able to find a boat down in, that hadn’t really been built. The hull had been built, but it was down on Louisiana. And they gave us a very, very reasonable price on the boat. They wanted to keep their men working.

02:36:26 - 02:37:23

So they cut their profits on that. We hired a boat architect from up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to design it for us. And the aquarium still has that boat. It’s a twin screw, it’s twin generators. It has its own water-making facility a reverse osmosis water maker, which is great. You never run out of freshwater, a little more holding capacity for the fish tanks. And it’s capable of going almost anywhere in the Caribbean, down to the Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic. So that again gave us a lot more flexibility.

02:37:23 - 02:37:47

And again, charter to government agencies like NOAA, they loved the boat. They think it’s great. Still education programs, collecting, chartering to other aquariums that use it. So it’s a big, big, I think, important part of our operation. You mentioned education with the boat.

02:37:47 - 02:37:50

How did the Aquatic Science Center come about?

02:37:52 - 02:38:53

Well, that’s part of the education department, call it either the education department or the Aquatic Science Center. That was something that John Reed’s mother, Mary Shedd Reed financed for us, and her name is on that. So Aquatic Science Center is just another name for the education department. And that also has been very popular. Our library there was part of the Aquatic Science Center. And then after they start moving things around and changing offices, that was moved over into the oceanarium. And then gradually, that’s been miniaturized a little bit. I haven’t been in the new library for a long time.

02:38:55 - 02:39:07

I don’t know what size it is now, but it’s been condensed considerably. You didn’t have volunteers in Chuke’s time. That’s correct.

02:39:07 - 02:39:08

But you did have them when you were director?

02:39:08 - 02:39:09


02:39:09 - 02:39:10

How did that evolve?

02:39:10 - 02:39:14

Well, how did the volunteer department evolve?

02:39:14 - 02:40:41

It’s just, I think, part of the natural growth of the aquarium that almost every other institution in Chicago had a volunteer department. And it’s a great way, right way to expand your programs with very little cost. And people just love to be down there and be part of the overall picture of the aquarium. And they fight, literally fight, not fist and cuffs, but they fight to be a volunteer at the aquarium to be part of that big picture. And the, of course, that has to grown, and grown, and grown. I can’t tell you how many volunteers we have now, but certainly in excess of 200, maybe more. You can have specialized volunteers that (crosstalk) Yeah, specialized. They go in the coral reef as divers, a lot of them participate in the education classes, teaching the kids, taking kids behind the scenes on tours, probably have a couple go on the boat on tours there, as instructors.

02:40:41 - 02:40:46

And they just love it. Do you have a favorite…

02:40:46 - 02:40:51

Did you have a favorite animal or animals when you were director?

02:40:51 - 02:42:22

Yeah, you always have a favorite. For a long time, aquariums had a problem keeping this big south American fish called the arapaima, and they had trouble with them trying to swim through walls of tanks, bang, knock themselves up. And we had an opportunity once to get a small one that was about eight inches long. And I was bound to determine, we were gonna raise that guy, which I did, and he grew, and he grew, and he grew and he got to be a foot, and then he got to be two feet, and then three. And finally, he was over six feet long. And I just loved to show him off eating because when they eat, they open their mouth, and open their gill covers with such force that they suck their prey in. And so we had a whole tank full of goldfish that we fed to this guy. And I just loved to show off the way they fed it to special visitors that come in, and I throw a couple of goldfish and the visitors were just astounded at how he would delight up to them and just then opens his mouth, and the goldfish, you could hear this.

02:42:22 - 02:43:07

You could hear it through the glass front of the tank (grumbles) like that when he sucked them in. That was, I think for a long time, it was my fish, I raised him, and I kept telling the curator, he’s got to put up jump boards ’cause this guy, at night they jump. Okay, I’ll get to him. Okay. I’ll get to him. Well, he didn’t get to it. And the night engineers would make their rounds and punch time clocks. They found them out on the floor one night. And you could imagine there was a little bit of hell raise about that.

02:43:07 - 02:43:23

I was really irritated. You’re with live animals, you are gonna deal with dead animals. That’s a fact of life. Now you said that you helped, he was your fish. You really raised him, or you were instrumental. Yeah.

02:43:26 - 02:43:31

How involved were you in the day-to-day activities and hands-on when you were director?

02:43:32 - 02:44:19

Oh, I always kicked the tires, Mark. There wasn’t a day went by, that I did not tour the back and tour the front. And I can’t tell you how many times, particularly in what we called in those days, the balanced aquarium room, where there were small tanks with tropical fish in it. Go by and look, and I would spot a tank where the fish were obviously sick. They got what we called ich, ichthyophthirius, which is a little parasite on them. And I go on back, and I tell the aquarius back there. I say you got a problem in such and such. Oh, I didn’t see anything.

02:44:19 - 02:45:14

I say, go and look. Oh, sorry, I missed that. Or on the bigger tank, something was wrong with some fish being harassed by others. I say, you know, either get the bully out of that tank or get the victim out, or anything that was wrong with the exhibit, wrong decor and the decorations. Down into the basement, I’d go down and once in a while had to jump on the chief engineer for something wrong with his mechanical plant. And so I did not sit at the desk, and I’m not sure that that happens today. I don’t think directors kick the tires, but that was part of my life there.

02:45:14 - 02:45:20

So did you help to spearhead different ways of handling animals, feeding animals?

02:45:20 - 02:45:23

You had mentioned there were some old-fashioned ways.

02:45:23 - 02:45:25

Was that part of the evolution?

02:45:26 - 02:46:29

Yeah, but I think in cases like that, you know, handling them and so forth, we were getting different people coming in that had some training and they were people that had college degrees that were coming to work there. And they brought their knowledge with them. And I like to see that, ’cause even though I hate to admit it, I don’t know everything in the world. But when I started there, I was the only person in the aquarium with a college background. Nobody else. And eventually, we start bringing in people who had no deeper education backgrounds, and they were very helpful in bringing the aquarium along to where it is today. You talked about the animal rights people acquiring animals, the press must’ve been part of this.

02:46:29 - 02:46:32

What was your relationship with the press?

02:46:32 - 02:46:33

How did you want it?

02:46:33 - 02:46:35

What did you try and do?

02:46:35 - 02:46:53

Well, my relationship with the press, I answered their questions as honestly as I could. I didn’t try to dodge anything. If they’d say, well, the activists say this and that and the other thing.

02:46:53 - 02:46:54

What’s your response to that?

02:46:54 - 02:47:21

I say, you know, maybe they have a point. Maybe the tank is too small, but we don’t have anything right now. Or shouldn’t the animal be better being out in the open on its own. I’d say, you know, maybe it would, but you have to balance this.

02:47:21 - 02:47:31

Is the animal being out in the open ocean, is it contributing more to our overall knowledge of these animals?

02:47:31 - 02:48:24

We were acquiring certain information that we wouldn’t know that can be applied to the free-ranging animals. And I said we can do research on those animals here, or at least observations that will tell us about something that’s going to involve bigger populations out there. And they would accept this. The press was never on our back. They came to us with comments and statements that the activists had made, I tried to make a point of not BS among us. I think they appreciated that, and it did us good.

02:48:24 - 02:48:25

Did you cultivate the press?

02:48:25 - 02:48:28

Did you try and cultivate– No.

02:48:28 - 02:48:32

Did you have activities that you wanted to show them when an animal was born?

02:48:32 - 02:49:04

Oh, sure. Yes, absolutely. We would let them know when a particular important animal died. We’d call them and say, Hey, this happens, and we’re sorry to lose it. But go to a hospital, there’s people dying all the time. So this is an animal hospital in effect. And I think they appreciated that too. The museum doesn’t have a problem. All of their specimens are dead already.

02:49:06 - 02:49:40

I had one person from Field Museum. And I think this was at the time when we still had Chico. And she was all over me about keeping these animals in captivity and so forth. And I said, “Wait a minute, “I’ve been up in your bird department, “and I’ve seen your collection,” just for an example of birds of paradise. “And you open up drawer after drawer, after drawer.

02:49:40 - 02:49:42

“And what do you see?

02:49:42 - 02:49:51

“Dead bird skins of birds of paradise.” I said, “Now tell me what that’s contributing “to the wild population.

02:49:51 - 02:49:56

“Why do you think it’s better to have a dead specimen here?

02:49:56 - 02:50:26

“Is that better than to let the animal live out in the wild?” Well, she never thought about that, but we shouldn’t have a living one in the aquarium. I think she learned a lesson there. Zoos and aquariums in too many cases today appear to be afraid to confront animal welfare or animal rights groups that are anti-zoo or anti-aquarium.

02:50:26 - 02:50:31

Can you give us your thoughts on how best to deal with these types of groups?

02:50:31 - 02:50:33

How to deal with these groups?

02:50:34 - 02:51:11

Okay, I have to go back to my own problems with them. I think there are several ways you can deal with them. One is just to ignore them, hoping they’ll shrivel up and go away. My personal choice is to face them and go to the mat with them. And I don’t know why we don’t say, I’m not diplomatic. If someone comes up and says, I’m gonna put you out of business. The hell you are, I’m gonna put you out of business. I don’t like people threatening me like that.

02:51:11 - 02:51:29

So the other way I think to handle them is to gather all of your artillery that you can. And when they come to you and say, we’re gonna do such and such. You have a response and say, okay, then we’re gonna do such and such.

02:51:29 - 02:51:37

Humane Society of the United States, how much money do you collect every year from your donors?

02:51:38 - 02:52:37

And what percent of that actually goes in to the saving and the welfare of animals. From what I’ve heard, Humane Society of the United States spends about 70 to 80% of their contributions that they receive on their own agenda. They don’t go out and actively save animals. This money gets put back into more fundraising and I don’t know where all that money filters down to, but it sure as heck doesn’t go into the actual saving and the welfare of animals, particularly zoo animals. So I would say that AZA and IMMPA have got to fortify themselves with information like that.

02:52:37 - 02:52:51

And when these institutions and these organizations are attacked, they’ve got to come back with a response and say, okay, you guys, you know, what are you spending your money on?

02:52:51 - 02:53:01

You’re cheating the general public that’s contributing to your coffers. Those are two ways, in my opinion, to handle it.

02:53:05 - 02:53:13

What do you feel aquariums should be doing in general, locally, nationally, and globally?

02:53:14 - 02:53:16

What should they be doing?

02:53:16 - 02:55:04

Well, I think locally, what they should be doing is not only presenting a first-class exhibitry, but they also should be providing an educational program to teach people what these animals are really all about and ways to protect them. And so they get a better understanding of why you have these animals and what I think is falsely called captivity. I like to think of it as in refuge. So that’s what we should be doing and what we can be doing locally to educate people. Nationally, I think zoos and aquariums have to jump in with both feet and support the nationwide organizations, such as AZA, IMMPA, and cooperate with other organizations to promote the image of our institutions. And along with that, to educate the public, when it comes to the decimation of fish stocks in the wild and to show them, okay, this particular species is getting wiped out.

02:55:10 - 02:55:13

What can we do to prevent that?

02:55:13 - 02:55:34

Well, here’s the list of fish that you can eat without worrying about the fact that the animal is becoming endangered in the wild, and to not eat that if it’s presented on a menu or you go to the store and buy it. Try these other things, they’re just as good for you.

02:55:37 - 02:55:39

Should we farm raise them?

02:55:39 - 02:56:50

Well, it’s a possibility, but if you’re gonna farm raise them like the Norwegian salmon farms and Chile, which is the second largest farm raising country in the world, believe it or not, this is sort of counterproductive because all of the waste products on the fish is getting into the environment, and this is not good because it’s so concentrated in that area. So I don’t think that fish farming is really an answer to this. And people have to be given some idea on, you keep taking this thing, you’ll get the bigger ones, the fishermen wanna get the big ones. And you have to understand, you the general public, take the big ones, that’s breeding stock. You can’t take them because that bycatch is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and you’re taking these animals before they’re sexually mature. So biologically, they’re extinct. So I think those are the sorts of things that we have to impress on a public.

02:56:51 - 02:56:59

What direction should aquarium education be going as it relates to conservation and research?

02:56:59 - 02:57:04

Well, I think I may have answered that partially.

02:57:04 - 02:57:08

What should we be telling them education or research?

02:57:08 - 02:58:00

And I think that that is what I just said is part of that. The other part is to talk about global consumption. For example, something that we in this country probably don’t pay too much attention to, but bluefin tuna is another big problem. I mean, this stuff is caught in this country, on the East Coast and in the Mediterranean, flash-frozen, shipped to Japan by air, and we’re wiping out stocks of bluefin tuna. They can’t keep taking them. I think that’s the sort of thing we have to educate the public about. You talked about different things.

02:58:00 - 02:58:09

Aquarium director needs to be aware of, what skill sets does an aquarium director need today compared to when you started?

02:58:11 - 02:58:14

Well, what skill sets did I have when I was starting?

02:58:14 - 02:59:56

I was a biologist. And that’s about the limit of my skill sets was that I was a biologist, and I would advise anybody getting into a zoo or aquarium work these days to think ahead. And while they’re in college to take other courses, prepare themselves for having to be business managers, being able to read a financial report, perhaps taken an education program or two, because if you have long-range plans, you’re going to be responsible for picking out people on your staff that are knowledgeable in all of these areas. I wasn’t, when I started, I didn’t know a debit from a credit. And I would also say, if you think you’re going into aquarium work, or going into zoo work, that you learned something about the animals they’re gonna be exhibited in those disparate institutions. You know, when I joined AAZPA, I thought, for example, that rat tights were leotards for Mickey mouse and I had to learn differently, but I did. and I think I learned a lot about zoos and the animals in them.

02:59:58 - 03:00:25

Philosophically speaking, would it be better to have a director of an aquarium or a zoo who was a, we’ll say, a zoologist or biologist and have as the second, maybe the business person, or would it be more appropriate to have a business person heading the organization, and have the animal expert second or below that?

03:00:25 - 03:01:17

No, boy, you asked me a firecracker there. I will never admit to having a business person be the top dog at a zoological institution. I think that is absolutely wrong. It’s got to be a person who knows her animals and you can get a good business person to be the CFO, if you wanna give them that title. I think that your top person, man, or woman be a trained biologist, trained zoologist, and let that person bring aboard the specialist in the aquarium, education, business, whatever it is.

03:01:18 - 03:01:24

Today, how would you train or think about training a young person to become a curator?

03:01:24 - 03:01:27

Oh, how do I train them to be a curator?

03:01:27 - 03:02:36

I think you start… If you want them to know the whole rainbow of the operation, I would take these people and move them around. And okay, you can pay them the same rate, but get ’em to be a janitor for awhile. See what’s involved there, get them to learn something about the engineering, which I think is a little more critical in aquariums and zoos, and let them take the knowledge, acquire the knowledge that is necessary for the top person to understand so that when that department head comes to you and says, you know, I got to shorten my (indistinct) down here, that you know what he’s talking about. And I think the people under you will appreciate that more if they can come up and explain their problem to you, instead of looking at them blankly and not knowing what they’re talking about. Put your visionary cap on.

03:02:36 - 03:02:46

50 years down the road, how do you see the American aquariums in terms of programs for the public, or their animal collections or other activities?

03:02:49 - 03:03:17

I’m too old to think, 50 years down the road. I don’t think I’m capable of answering that question. I think that we’ve made so many advances in the last 20 years, let’s say. We’ve been on a real fast track, and whether we can continue on that, I honestly don’t know. So, I’m gonna have to take a pass on that question.

03:03:17 - 03:03:23

Okay, but what would be the goals for the future aquarium, American aquariums?

03:03:23 - 03:03:25

What should be their goals?

03:03:25 - 03:03:50

Well, I think the goal is… One of the goals is to figure out how to preserve, and how to exhibit animals with which we have trouble exhibiting and keeping now, how to find out about their breeding potential. And this is all coming along.

03:03:50 - 03:04:19

We’ve got to get better research and education programs in our institutions, and I think aquariums can provide a lot of this information, particularly in breeding programs, and find out, perhaps, excuse me, what’s wrong with this wild stock here and there, what’s wrong?

03:04:19 - 03:04:21

Why aren’t we seeing reproduction out there?

03:04:21 - 03:04:35

And I think the aquariums can cooperate with state and local, and federal agencies in solving a lot of these problems.

03:04:36 - 03:04:38

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

03:04:40 - 03:05:20

I don’t think I have one. I think I have three. First was convincing my board that we ought to build the aquarium, and we’d build it. Second, receiving the Marlin Perkins Award. And I was so thrilled about that. I can’t tell you how… I got a call from Terry Maple and I just almost collapsed in my chair for him to tell me I was gonna receive the award up in Minneapolis. You can splice this in.

03:05:20 - 03:05:25

I’ve got a third one that won’t come to me right now. And the third is…

03:05:28 - 03:05:29

We’ll come back to that?

03:05:29 - 03:05:31

Yeah. Okay.

03:05:32 - 03:05:41

Are there programs or exhibits that you would have implemented during your tenure that just didn’t happen for any number of reasons?

03:05:41 - 03:07:07

And the third is when I was president that I hired a law firm to defend AAZPA against the government who wanted side pass the Lacey Act, which read, you cannot import dangerous, noxious, venomous animals, and so forth. And some people with the government, and I could name the person if you want me to, Earl Basinger, in particular, was trying to get that turned around so that every animal for import had to be considered as dangerous, noxious, venomous. And so you could not bring in anyhow without a special permit. And we hired the firm of Ginsburg Feldman and Bress, and Martin Jacobs was our man from that thing. They had an office at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue. So you know how expensive they were, and we beat the government on that. So I think that was one of my biggest accomplishments during my term as presidency. That was the third one.

03:07:07 - 03:08:36

Now going back to the programs or exhibits that you would’ve wanted to implement, but for various reasons just didn’t happen. Well, I wanted to get a coelacanth on exhibit and I got two preserved ones which could have gone on exhibit. I had a man drop into my office out of the blue from South Africa and said, “How would you like a coelacanth?” I got all on glue. And he said, “We have contacts in the Comoro Islands, “and they have a bunch of them in deep freeze down there. “And if you’d like one, “I will arrange to have one sent up to you. “But there’s a catch.” Well, I said, “How much is it gonna cost you?” He said, “It won’t cost you anything. “we have some medical missionaries in the Comoros “and they are in great need of saline solutions “for keep blood pressure up.” What do you call that sort of thing anyhow, for injections. And he says, you have an organization here.

03:08:36 - 03:09:14

And I can’t remember what it was. Maybe it was Abbott Labs or somebody. And we would like to get a supply of saline from them. So I said, okay, I’ll work at it. And I think we had a board member at that time from Abbott, and we arranged with them to donate those and send it down to South Africa. And this fella just then went up. Went to the Comoros, and he had good contacts there, and got one out of deep freeze and insulated this with spray foam.

03:09:14 - 03:09:25

He covered the whole thing, put it in a container, took it back to South Africa, perhaps to Pretoria or St, help me, what’s the name?

03:09:26 - 03:10:21

Johannesburg. And they shipped it, got here, had to go to New York, but then it had to go to Dallas because the Doggone cargo compartment from New York, Chicago wouldn’t work right. So they had to send it to Dallas to get on a plane, come to Chicago. And maybe 10, 15 years after that, we had some diplomats from the Comoro Islands, first minister of something, or another, just walk into the aquarium one day and said, “How would you like a coelacanth?” And I think they brought one with them. And we said, you know, that’s wonderful. So here we are. We’re still sitting there with two preserve coelacanths in formaldehyde or alcohol. Never been able to put them on exhibit for various reasons.

03:10:21 - 03:10:54

And they’re still there. Well, today, for some reason, it doesn’t fit in the aquariums plan to put them on exhibit. So I’d like to see that. And eventually, I think some aquarium is going to put a live on that exhibit. Probably the Japanese, I would guess. ‘Cause, they’ve been down in Indonesia working on this. They have coelacanths there as well as off the East Coast of South Africa. That’s where the first ones were found.

03:10:55 - 03:11:01

Well, first, would you explain what a coelacanths is, and a primitive fish essentially.

03:11:03 - 03:11:08

And then what would it take to maintain one, specialty features of the aquarium?

03:11:09 - 03:12:50

Well, coelacanth, first of all, it has no spinal backbone. It’s got what’s called a notochord, and that is filled with an oil that I think gives them buoyancy and also gives them protection against the depth, they’re at for compressing their bodies. Coelacanth means hollow spine and the spines mostly on their dorsal fin are hollow. What advantage this is, I don’t know, but that’s where they get their name. The name Latimeria chalumnae is named after Ms. Courtenay-Latimer, who recognized that this was a particularly valuable fish when it was caught, accidentally off the East African Coast by a captain whose last name was Goossens. He brought it into port, I think at Port Elizabeth, and there was a museum there, and he called her. She came down to look at the fish and she recognized it as something really primitive, but she wasn’t sure about it. So they wrestled this fish into the backseat of a taxi cab and she took it back to the east London Museum and called Dr. J L B Smith, who was known as Alphabet Smith.

03:12:50 - 03:14:10

And said, “I’ve got this fish here. “I think you better come and look at it, “and sort of described it.” And he hustled down there and looked at it, and he says, “God, this is a coelacanth, “they’ve been extinct for 350 million years.” And they finally got it in, he dissected it and named it after her, Latimer, for Latimeria, for her last name and then chalumnae, which is the river that spills out into the Indian ocean there, where the captain caught it. The next one they found was up off of the Comoro Islands and I’m failing now to remember what it was named, but it was different from Latimeria. But with further research, they found out it was the same genus, same species, but it had lost some of its finage, so that’s why it got the wrong name to begin with. Now within the last 10 years or so, they’ve found other coelacanths down off of the Indonesian Islands. And that’s, I don’t know if it’s a different genus, but it certainly is a different species.

03:14:11 - 03:14:14

Do you think a giant squid will ever be exhibited?

03:14:16 - 03:15:01

I don’t know. I don’t know. That I think is probably a more of a problem than the coelacanth. Coelacanth, I think, can be solved by… They seem to be more susceptible to light than to pressure. Temperature is also a problem. I think that can be solved. The pressure doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem as light and temperature is. And you can solve that, getting them into underwater containers and keeping them dark, displaying them in infrared lit tank.

03:15:02 - 03:15:25

Well, I think that that will be eventually done and I think the Japanese will do it. Over the decades, aquariums have moved from fishes and aquatic invertebrates to vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles. Should an aquarium be limited strictly to aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures.

03:15:25 - 03:15:26

Where should the limit be?

03:15:26 - 03:15:27

Or is there any limit?

03:15:28 - 03:15:53

I don’t think there’s a limit to what you should exhibit. Let’s say even a desert community, the desert pupfish is found out there. So if you’re gonna exhibit desert pupfish, why not show it in its entire ecological setting. So you gonna have sand in a fish exhibit.

03:15:53 - 03:15:54

Sure, why not?

03:15:54 - 03:16:04

Because the fish is living out there in the middle of the sand. Shedd Aquarium has a wonderful exhibit on the Amazon.

03:16:04 - 03:16:11

And so you’re not only showing what’s in the water there, but what else is in that ecological community?

03:16:11 - 03:16:44

We’ve got monkeys bounce around the trees. We’ve got birds from the area. And so we’re showing not only just a species of fish, we’re showing whatever else lives in concert with that. An Anaconda lives there, there’s some nice turtles. It goes on and on and on. And I think that’s becoming more and more, more of the wave of the future. Zoological parks, they dominate the animal exhibit field.

03:16:44 - 03:16:55

The Zoos and Americans Association, do they have a clear understanding of aquarium facility needs and should there be an American Association of Aquarium?

03:16:57 - 03:17:01

Well, should there be an association of aquariums?

03:17:02 - 03:18:04

I’ll answer that first. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a splinter group of aquariums by itself. I think it’s more beneficial to combine them with zoos because our one big problem, the two of us, is keeping and maintaining and exhibiting live animals. That’s what we have to do. And we can learn a lot from each other in that respect. I don’t think splitting off is a way to go. I will say in the past, I don’t believe that aquariums got the proper attention out of AAZPA, they concentrated mostly on zoos, and aquariums were the little, little brother over here. I think that has certainly changed.

03:18:04 - 03:18:54

And I think one example of this was the fact that I, as an aquarium director, was elected president of the organization. My successor Ted Batey was elected as director, as the president of AAZPA, that’s two presidents out of one organization. I don’t know of any other organization, unless you can correct me that has had two such presidents. So I think now AZA is recognizing that we’re part of the whole picture and should be included and we’re getting more and more aquarium people involved in the board, on committees. So that’s coming around pretty well.

03:18:55 - 03:19:01

Are there any aquariums in the world that, and you’ve seen a number of aquariums that you admire?

03:19:01 - 03:19:04

And if so, why and where are they?

03:19:05 - 03:19:15

Well, I think my favorite in Europe is probably Stuttgart, although I haven’t seen it for a long time. Berlin Aquarium is very well.

03:19:15 - 03:19:17

And why do I admire them?

03:19:20 - 03:20:26

I think because of the diversity of their exhibits, from the way the animals are exhibited, their personnel, particularly the directors of these aquariums, and the same goes for the Asian exhibits. Outside of Japan, I am not acquainted with any Chinese aquariums, but the ones in Japan, I think they’ve been on the forefront of many, many innovations and exhibit techniques and research also in Japan. And as I said, my favorite is in Nagoya, and maybe I’m prejudice because I helped design it. But I think they’ve got some excellent, excellent people there. During your tenure, you’ve observed many changes in the shed’s immediate environment, including the public.

03:20:26 - 03:20:31

In what ways did the public’s attitude and behavior change over the years?

03:20:33 - 03:20:37

How did the public’s behavior or attitude change?

03:20:38 - 03:20:41

In what way did the public’s attitude or their behavior change over the years?

03:20:41 - 03:21:41

I think the public today are getting more out of their exhibit. And by more, I believe what they retain after they leave the aquarium. And I think the reason for that is the information we’re providing them and how we’re providing that information. So it sticks in their mind is just not a postage stamp exhibit of fish, or a Noah’s Ark, two of these and everything, that walked or flew. So I think the public is going away with a much better appreciation of our aquatic exhibits. And again, I think that has a lot to do with how the information is presented.

03:21:42 - 03:21:47

What do you think about the huge mammoth tanks for sharks and manta rays?

03:21:49 - 03:22:48

Well, I don’t know what to think. It’s just a big aquarium tank. They had can exhibit bigger fish, but it doesn’t mean to my way of thinking that it’s a better exhibit, except they can show a whale shark, they can show a manta ray, but that’s been a progression through the years. SeaWorld coming up with their huge tanks for killer whales. The only difference in those big tanks is that they’re showing something we couldn’t show before. I don’t think education-wise, and by that, I mean the depth of education is any different, except that we’re talking about big animals that are small animals. So, sure it’s nice. It’s innovative to be able to show a whale shark, sure.

03:22:48 - 03:23:26

But you can show a Paddlefish, and it eats small stuff too, and probably the difference in size, paddlefish is skipping a couple of levels in the food chain by eating daphnia and other stuff. The whale shark is skipping a couple of animals in the food chain by eating krill and small fish. So you have got sort of parallel examples here. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think it’s just its size that makes the difference.

03:23:26 - 03:23:46

The aquarium has in the past had temporary exhibits such as this seahorses and frogs, is that something that has had a big impact on the public, and will continue to be a direction that aquariums will wanna take?

03:23:46 - 03:25:10

Oh sure, there was an example of something non-aquatic in that special exhibit where we had the big monster from Komodo dragon. We exhibited that. Sure it’s a reptile, and we’ve had other reptiles on exhibit, but that probably was sort of the farthest from what you would consider to be an aquarium exhibit animal. So I think all of these special exhibits if it’s something you can’t maintain on a constant basis, bring in these special things, and you can broaden the presentation by doing this. You can show a lot broader aspect of certain classes of animals in special exhibits than you could devote to those animals as permanent things. So I think special exhibits are here to stay and a lot of work putting all that together. They take up space, but I think they should continue. What’s your take on the new construction style of aquariums versus I guess I’d say, in the beginning, the Shedd’s more classic design.

03:25:14 - 03:25:19

What should I take for… Well, good battery.

03:25:19 - 03:25:23

Do you want me to describe the style of architecture?

03:25:23 - 03:26:19

I think today, more than ever, aquariums are being designed for form follows function. And I know I’ve said that before about Shedd Aquarium, but to look at Shedd’s exterior appearance, you wouldn’t think it was designed like that, but it was. Today, I think more and more aquariums and probably zoos also, are being designed according to that philosophy. Don’t build a palace and squeeze the animals into it, figure out what you’re gonna need for the animals. And then enclose it. And that’s simple. I think that should be the wave of the future. You’ve been in the profession many, many years.

03:26:19 - 03:26:24

What do you know about the profession that you’ve devoted so many years of your life to?

03:26:25 - 03:26:27

What do you know if someone else asks you?

03:26:27 - 03:27:36

What do I know about the profession. I’ll comment on the people I know, I think zoos and aquariums have got a cadre of the most dedicated people in any professional. Well, you know, doctors are dedicated and so forth, but outside of the medical profession, I think we just have such a great collection of really dedicated people. They don’t get into it for the money that’s for darn sure. I don’t think they’re getting into it for grant, congratulations, pats on the back, all that certainly is nice. But they are dedicated to their animals, they’re dedicated to their institutions, and they love the animals they’re working with. What you can do is go to a zoo where you’ve had a long time animal, and it dies. And you’ve got keepers in tears and sobbing, and it was like their own baby.

03:27:36 - 03:27:52

I don’t think you see that kind of dedication and even let’s say medical professional help me. I don’t know how many doctors I see crying over a lost patient. How do you wanna be remembered.

03:27:52 - 03:27:53

As a crusty old man?

03:27:54 - 03:28:25

Somebody who doesn’t, I don’t take shit off of anybody, and I don’t think I ever did. And I survived. I want to be remembered as somebody who took over a weak institution and I helped build it into something that’s world-class and was gonna be remembered. That’s the greatest time of my life. Thank you, Bill Braker. You’re welcome, Mark.

About William P. Braker

William P. Braker
Download Curricula Vitae


Shedd Aquarium: Chicago, Illinois

Director Emeritus

Bill began working for the Shedd Aquarium by going on fish collecting trips in 1950. He was later hired as a ‘tank’ man taking daily care of the fish. After serving in the Korean War, at the urging of the current director, Walter Chute, Bill came back to work for the Aquarium as assistant curator.

The intention was to groom Bill to take over the running of the Aquarium. In 1964 he became director. For 43 years Director Braker worked to bring the Aquarium to world class status with updated exhibits, expanded professional staff, a strong educational center, developing volunteer programs, and in 1991 introducing the oceanarium – one of many unique and successful exhibits. Working with staff and board members, he conceived and planned this total-environment exhibit as a dramatic re-creation of the Pacific Northwest coastline, home to beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbor seals and sea otters. Director Braker retired in 1993.

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The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Zoo & Aquarium Video Archive or those acting under their authority.