Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Art of Survival

When I came out of the war, I could not be recognized.
                                                     ~ Paul Fussell
                                                   as quoted in The War:  An Intimate History, 1941 – 1945
                                                   by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, 2007

This post has no connection to fossils or perhaps to any part of natural history, unless consideration of how humans cope with unimaginable tragedy qualifies.  It's a topic I've written on before concerning Robert F. Scott's ill-fated journey back from the South Pole and the tragic deaths in paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott's family.

A recent obituary for Mildred Dalton Manning, a stranger to me, told a story of World War II that paralleled in crucial ways that of the late Anne Goldthorpe, whom I did know.  (Matt Schudel, Mildred Dalton Manning, Army Nurse and World War II Prisoner, Dies at 98, Washington Post, March 13, 2013.  I have chosen to refer to Mildred Dalton Manning mostly by her maiden name, Dalton, which was her name during the war.  The Post obituary referred to her as "Mrs. Manning" throughout which struck me as just odd.)

The Goldthorpe and Dalton stories are ones of the World War II generation, stories of courage, resilience, and, above all, survival, not only in the moment, but also in the aftermath.  In 1941, both women were nurses in the Philippines; Goldthorpe was a civilian nurse, Dalton was an Army nurse (who became one of the "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor").  Each was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner for the duration of the war.  Dalton's obituary prompted me very belatedly to learn about, and reflect on, Goldthorpe's story.  In the process, I have come to appreciate some of what she experienced, and to understand what I believe was a profound and moving way in which she responded to her wartime ordeal.

Canadian-born Goldthorpe trained as a nurse in the second decade of the 20th century.  After nursing in various places in the United States, including Washington, D.C., she journeyed to the Philippines in 1931, where she served as a nurse under the auspices of the American Episcopal Church.  She became the superintendent of nurses at Brent Hospital, in Zamboanga, on the Philippine island of Mindanao.  (She is identified as holding this position in a report of Episcopal Church Historical Society in The Blue Book, 1982 (?), p. 103.)  When the American forces surrendered in 1942, all citizens of Allied countries were ordered by the Japanese to turn themselves in.  Goldthorpe and several other nurses fled into the mountains on Mindanao.  It was then that she began to keep a diary in a ledger she found in an abandoned grocery store.  Several weeks later, she and the others decided to surrender to the authorities; they were initially interned in a house in Zamboanga.

(I have relied for most of the details of Goldthorpe's story on Neil Henry's article A Journal of Human Endurance:  A Woman’s Diary of Ordeals in Prison Camp Under Japanese, which appeared in the Washington Post, March 20, 1983.  The article is hidden behind a paywall as are all of the other articles subsequently cited here.  A slightly truncated version of this article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on May 18, 1983, can be accessed through Google newspapers.)

At first, Goldthorpe reacted positively to her captors, writing in her diary, “They are very good to their prisoners.  Their contention is they can afford to be generous when they are winning the war.”  But, soon enough, as the fortunes of war turned against Japan, the prisoners’ treatment worsened markedly.  Ultimately, they were shipped by freighters to Manila (a journey marked by sexual attacks on some of the women) and then imprisoned at Santo Tomas.

Santo Tomas.  I now have some idea what that meant.  Dalton was imprisoned there as well following the American surrender.  The picture below shows a building on the campus surrounded by prisoners’ shanties.  (This photo was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; it is identified as a U.S. Army image and in the public domain.)

Over a nearly three year period, almost 4,000 prisoners – men, women, and children – struggled to survive in this overcrowded prison camp.  Accounts of life here are woven through Ken Burns' documentary The War (2007) and its accompanying book, The War:  An Intimate History, 1941 - 1945 (2007).  At first, the Japanese told the internees they were in "protective custody," but when three men tried to leave, they were recaptured, beaten, and executed.  As difficult as conditions were at the outset, when Japanese civilian authority was replaced by the Japanese military, and as Japan faced the growing prospect of defeat, conditions at the camp deteriorated dramatically.  Hunger was a constant reminder to the internees of their plight.  "Nearly everyone had some telltale sign of malnutrition:  emaciation, failing vision, edema, beriberi."  (The War, p. 221.)

Goldthorpe’s diary captures how real the threat of starvation became for the prisoners at Santo Tomas.  For instance, the entry for July 23, 1944, reads:
We talk of food all the time, and magazine pictures of food fascinate us . . . we are desperately hungry for sugars and proteins . . . three and four men fainting in the food line every day.
The entry for January 5, 1945, is compelling:
I worried last night about a lump in my stomach.  Then I found it was my backbone.  I never expected to feel that from the front.
Evidence of the malnutrition in the camp is clear in the photo below, which shows former prisoners at Santo Tomas in 1945.  (This photo was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; it is identified as a U.S. Army image and in the public domain.)

On February 3, 1945, American tanks breached the front gate at Santo Tomas.  Here is one nurse's account of that moment.
When those sixteen tanks crashed through the gates of Santo Tomas, the Japanese officials rushed around trying to escape or hide.  We hung out of the windows of our dormitories.  Those American soldiers looked like angels despite the fact that their language did not originate in heaven and their wings were tanks.  We were too stunned to move.  The campus was filled with shouting, cheering internees mixed with soldiers – the joy and happiness on their faces indescribable.
(This passage appeared in an article written by Alice Clarke and titled Thirty-Seven Months as Prisoners of War.  It was originally published in The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 45, 1945, and reprinted in the Nursing Forum, January-March, 2000.)

Some of the prisoners exacted revenge against a particularly brutal Japanese lieutenant.  He was wounded by American troops, and the internees - men and women - joined in beating and torturing him.  After his death, his body was placed in a public area for all, including the children, to see.  (The War, p.342.)

Goldthorpe made it back to the U.S. by freighter, arriving in Los Angeles on May 2, 1945 (the date of the last entry in her diary).  She returned to nursing in Washington, D.C., serving for many years as resident nurse at the St. Albans School and as a nurse in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

The consequences of her imprisonment endured.  She was fearful of “anyone in a uniform of any kind.”  Post reporter Neil Henry described, “Once, she said, she broke down sobbing when a streetcar conductor berated her for missing her stop.”  After relating Goldthorpe’s account of breaking down on the streetcar, Henry added, “that was the only aftereffect of imprisonment, she said.”  The “only aftereffect” . . . I have to wonder.  The article touched on a related aspect of Goldthorpe's postwar life but the reporter failed to recognize its significance.  Neil Henry noted that, during her captivity, Goldthorpe “promised herself she would devote an entire year to do whatever she wanted, if she were ever released.”  She kept that promise by studying painting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

There was much, much more to this than just the setting of a post-camp goal to help survive the ongoing present trauma of imprisonment.

Anne Goldthorpe was a close friend of my wife’s aunt and that’s how I came to meet her.  I enjoyed this delightful, gentle woman who lived alone in a dark apartment in Washington, D.C., and who was often visited by a stray tomcat which she fed.  Perhaps the most memorable aspect of her apartment were the many beautiful oil paintings and watercolors she'd painted that lined the walls, and, as I remember, were stacked on the floor against the walls.

I loved her artwork, but it isn't until now, prompted by Mildred Dalton Manning's obituary, that I have taken time to consider what they might have meant to the painter, how they might have helped her to cope with some of the consequences of that wartime imprisonment in the many years that followed.  Recently my wife's aunt died and we inherited some of Anne Goldthorpe's paintings that she'd owned.  The typewritten inventory of these art works described the paintings as part of Goldthorpe’s “rehabilitation.”  That makes so much sense to me.  Indeed, as I reflect on it, I realize it's quite possibly the same subject I've written about before – finding relief from personal tragedy and trauma by total immersion in an activity that seems to take one out of time and self, into a phenomenon that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called flow.

Goldthorpe had no minor fling with painting; this was, as her artistic output testifies, a full romance.  She spent days at the National Gallery of Art, creating wonderful copies of works by many of the masters.  And original works flowed from her brushes as well.

As I write this post, one of her oil paintings graces the wall behind me.  Her copy of J.M.W. Turner’s Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (1835) captures (as my photograph below does not) the original’s brilliant juxtaposition of light and dark that draws in the viewer as if into tunnel.

I can only speculate that the person who painted this gained flow, and any lasting weight of the nightmare of her time imprisoned in the Philippines was diminished, if not lifted, for at least the hours it took to complete it.

Lest it appear that she was drawn to visions of hell, which, to me, the Turner in some ways is, we have a copy of a Monet landscape as well as original watercolors of flowers and birds.  Her irises opened this post and her violets close it.  Indeed, hers is a story of the art of survival.

Unfortunately, I don’t find any evidence that the several hundred page diary that Goldthorpe kept through her captivity has ever been published.  She did type it up and share portions with family and friends.  I have quoted from excerpts that appeared in the Washington Post article A Journal of Human Endurance, and its companion piece featuring several selections from the diary, Three Years’ Internment:  Learning How to Live Without, Washington Post, March 20, 1983.
[Later edit:  A bit of a mystery.  I only knew her as Anne Goldthorpe.  My wife's aunt, who also called her Anne, wrote that she was known as Louise or Aunt Lou to family.  According to Neil Henry's 1983 Post article and the Episcopal Church's Blue Book entry cited above, her full name was Anne Louise Goldthorpe.  The watercolors I've shown above are signed "LAG".  Why?]

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Bedeviling Fossil Teeth of Squatina

When Tiberius Cornelis Winkler first described the teeth from what is now known as Squatina prima (Winkler, 1874), he called them the “most curious” of the teeth in the “remarkable” collection of fish fossils he was then identifying.  The Dutch surgeon turned paleontologist focused on their “extraordinary shape,” a slender, conical crown set on a “very unusual” root that had a triangular base.  These specimens were among the fish fossils from the Heersian (no longer an accepted stratigraphic name) in the middle Paleocene Epoch (approximately 61 to 59 million years ago) that Winkler treated in his Mémoire Sur Quelques Restes De Poissons Du Système Heersien (appearing in the Archives de Musée Teyler, volume IV, 1878).  (In the Notes section below, I consider the apparent conflict between the 1874 date in the animal’s full scientific name and the 1878 date of publication of the Archives de Musée Teyler, and provide a source for my comment on the Système Heersien or Heersian.)

Winkler lamented how little he’d been able to learn about these teeth.  He’d scoured the literature but found no description and no clue as to their taxonomic niche; so he really knew nothing or next to nothing about them.  Nonetheless, he exercised naming rights.
It seems to me we might call the fish that possessed these remarkable teeth
                              Trigonodus primus Winkler
in light of the triangular shape of the root.  (p. 14)
The genus name Trigonodus means something like “triangular knots or nodules.”

Though Winkler realized these teeth were from a shark, he was unsure about the family to which the shark might belong, and clearly had no clue about its generic name Squatina, which had been first used by zoologist A. M. Constant Duméril in 1806 (Zoologie Analytique, ou Méthode Naturelle de Classification des Animaux, p. 102.)  Duméril described the genus as follows:
The squatine (squatina), commonly called the angel, is a unique species, whose principal characteristics derive from the shape of the fins which are notched [?] at their origin, and the position of the mouth at the end of its rounded head.
(“Notched” is probably not an accurate translation from the French, more on that later.)

Ah, the angel shark.  A harmless and retiring fish that remains with us today.  Winkler experienced conflicting emotions over his fossil teeth from angel sharks – a ready appreciation of their singular appearance coupled with frustration over their challenging taxonomy.  Even today, it would seem, identifying extinct species within the Squatina genus can seriously irritate paleontologists.

Pictured below is a beautiful Squatina tooth that appeared amid several pounds of washed and screened material from a Late Paleocene formation (probably about 58 million years ago) on the Potomac River.  With microfossils as my intended quarry, I separated out, and set aside, the larger elements from the matrix, then spent many hours searching through the smaller bits of shell and quartz.  In a fit of frustration, all of it nearly went into the trash when nary a microfossil appeared.  That would have been a real loss.  One would have thought that, by now, I’d have learned the important life lesson –
Never write it off (whatever “it” might be), always check it out.
In the Notes below, I give appropriate credit to music critic Neil Strauss for this “check it out” life lesson.

The initial image above (on the left) shows the Squatina tooth from the side – this is how the tooth would sit in a bottom jaw.  The crown emerges from the root at a right angle!   Winkler was indeed correct on this – a “most curious” tooth.  The second image above (on the right) is a view looking at the tooth from the tongue's perspective.  (A slight break in the crown is evident on the right side of the tip.)

The first picture below is of the labial side of the tooth and shows a little apron of the crown that dips over the edge of the root.  The second image is from the backside of the root (the crown apron is at the top).

Finally, the last image below offers a difficult perspective - the apex of the crown is pointed straight at the viewer.  But, I think, this captures the triangular shape of the root that presumably inspired Winkler’s original name.

The angel shark itself is “bizarrely shaped.”  (Leonard Compagno, et al., Sharks of the World, 2005, p. 137.)  This modestly sized fish is (and probably was), on average, about 5 feet long (1.6 meters) and, as shown below in a picture of an extant shark, resembles a ray or skate (indeed, squatina is Latin for “a skate”).  (This picture of a Squatina dumeril was taken by Donald Flescher, NOAA/NEFSC, and was downloaded from the NOAA Fisheries Service website.)

The angel shark is remarkably flat, with its eyes located on the top of its head.  The Squatina is a stealth hunter, lying in sand and mud on the bottom waiting for a passing victim.  One of the features that distinguishes this shark from a ray is that the shark’s large pectoral fins are not attached to its head (hard to see that in the picture above).  I think that’s what Duméril was getting at in his description of the angel shark – “the fins which are notched [?] at their origin . . . .”  “Notched” is probably not really what Duméril intended with “échancrées” but it seems the best of the limited options offered by Google Translate.  Perhaps “separated” would work better.

Why is the fossil record of the Squatina such a taxonomic challenge as to its species?

In a nutshell, it’s because the teeth have not changed much over time and the genus has survived for such a surprisingly long period of time.

The long winded explanation is that what we have mostly from extinct angel sharks (and from any other shark) are their teeth and, unfortunately (for identification purposes), the shape of the teeth of this genus is paleontologically “conservative.”  As paleontologist Bretton W. Kent (Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region, 1994, p. 25) observed,
Not only are the teeth similar in different regions of each jaw, but tooth form changes very little during the evolution of this group.  Consequently, it is extremely difficult to identify fossil species of Squatina based solely on teeth.
“Extremely difficult to identify fossil species” are words that chill a collector.  But, according to Kent, although teeth alone don’t usually do it for identification, the prospect is better if you know the “stratigraphic position” from which the tooth came.  In other words (as I understand this), the differences in teeth among different species can be so subtle that identification may depend upon the rock layer of origin.  This, I think, brings geological age to bear on the process as was the case with my little tooth.  Conveniently, there are only three Squatina species represented in the Chesapeake Bay area’s fossil record and only one comes from Paleocene formations, the Squatina prima.  Hence, what I found is Squatina prima.

I was comfortable with that identification, based on Kent’s analysis, until I turned to Jim Bourdon.

In confronting Squatina teeth, Jim Bourdon, amateur paleontologist par excellence, artist, originator of the indispensible website The Life and Times of Long Dead Sharks (commonly referred to as “elasmo” after its URL:  www.elasmo.com), threw up his hands in frustration over the taxonomic confusion.

In the introduction to his treatment of the Squatina genus on “elasmo” titled Squatina Duméril 1906, Angel Shark – Upper Jurassic – Recent, Bourdon derided the species names – hassei, prima, and subserrata – as merely “chrono-buckets,” into which all of the teeth from the same stratigraphic position (he didn’t use the phrase "stratigraphic position," but I think that’s what he meant) are dumped.  In essence, “there appears to be no rhyme or reason for assignments to a particular species.”  (Well, there actually is a “reason” but probably not a good one in this instance – the geologic formations of origin.)  His annoyance at this state of affairs was palpable when he wrote,
I have not the time, material or inclination to straighten out this mess, so I'll merely accept these buckets and use them as such.
As Kent did, Bourdon drew attention to the “conservatism” of the Squatina.  The long life of the genus is a striking attribute, one for which Bourdon offered a note of, perhaps, grudging admiration (maybe, in some small way, this made up for the aggravation the genus’ teeth caused him):
Not too many vertebrate genera have remained around for 150 million years – Squatina is represented by complete skeletons in Germany's Upper Jurassic . . . .
One last question, why “angel” shark?  In fact, in the 1500s, the fish was called the “monkfish” because it looked like a monk.  (Compagno, p. 137.)  From the top, I suppose the head might resemble that of a tonsured friar.  Angel?  I haven’t come across an explanation yet, but the large pectoral wings moving independently of the head may have seemed like angel wings.  Regardless, in the end, we still have to deal with the angel shark's bedeviling little teeth.


1) The early publications considered in this post are in French.  I’ve relied on the Google Translation function and some common sense to render them into somewhat passable English.

2) The 1878 publication date of the volume in which Winkler’s description of Trigonodus primus appears seems to conflict with the 1874 date commonly associated with Winkler in the full scientific name of Squatina prima.  I haven’t been able to determine if Winkler’s memoir was actually first published separately in the earlier year and then subsequently bound in this later volume.  Perhaps it is significant that he begins his piece by noting that he acquired this collection of fossil fish teeth on the first day of 1874.

3) Regarding the lack of current acceptance of  Système Heersien or Heersian as a stratigraphic name (it is the named source of the fossil teeth that Winkler described in his memoir), see Geert De Geyeter, et al., Disused Paleogene Regional Stages from Belgium:  Montian, Heersian, Landenian, Paniselian, Bruxellian, Laekenian, Ledian, Wemmelian and Tongrian, Geologica Belgica, volume 9, No. 1-2, 2006.  (This link will ask to save the PDF to your computer.)

4) I must give credit where credit is due.  I’ve appropriated and massaged writer Neil Strauss’ credo – “I’ll check it out.”  In response to enthusiastic recommendations about music, movies, or people, Strauss, New York Times music critic for a decade, would say, “I’ll check it out.”  And sometimes the result would be life changing.  See, Neil Strauss, Preface to Mingering Mike by Dori Hadar and Mingering Mike, 2007.  Worthy of a dedicated post itself, Mingering Mike’s story is recounted in a recent Washington Post article by Katherine Boyle, D.C. Outsider Artist Mingering Mike’s Works to be Exhibited at Smithsonian, March 1, 2013; and in a couple of NPR stories by Xeni Jardin, May, 2007.
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