Humboldt Sestercentennial

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Since the publication of Andrea Wulf’s “The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World” in 2015, I have loved the story of this man, once the world’s most famous “natural philosopher” (predating use of the term “scientist”) that we have all but forgotten. No longer. 

He was lauded throughout the world in 1869 on the Centennial of his birth (September 14, 1769).  Fast forward to this September 14, in 2019, where at OSU’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster we will celebrate the Sestercentennial of his birth: 250 years.


Drawing of Alexander von Humboldt and Friends
Schiller of the "Ode to Joy" lyrics, Goethe of "Faust", and von Humboldt and his brother. What a morning wine break! From Andrea Wulf's book.  


Our Program:

The Science and Culture of our Senses: Floral Aromas, The Taste of Fruits, the Textural Feel of Leaves and Stems, The Sights of Secrest, the Sounds of Birds

Anthropogenic Climate Change: Evidence and Horticultural Impacts – Dan Herms

Climate Change and the Politics of Federalism – Sara Chatfield

Man and Nature in Northeast Ohio – John Pojacnik and Tom Koritanski

The Nurture of Edmund Secrest – Jason Veil and Paul Snyder

Alexander von Humboldt: Goethe, Schiller, Darwin, Bolivar, and You: An Introduction – Jim Chatfield and Matt Shultzman

***And the night before…The Ohio premiere of “Humboldt Unbound”, a play performed by assorted wandering minstrels, in the amphitheater at Secrest Arboretum.*** 


Dan Herms holds forth
Dan Herms holds forth. Cathy Herms and Matt Shultzman listen. Sort of.


Sara Chatfield holds forth
Sara Chatfield dances to Humboldt's tune


Jason Veil in Secrest Arboretum
Jason Veil awaits you in the Summer Love Clematis entry to the Secrest arboretum amphitheater area


Secrest Arboretum amphitheater
Trees.  Trees. Trees. And the Secrest Arboretum amphitheater site of "Humboldt Unbound" the night before the actual Sestercentennial of Alexander von Humboldt's birth.


…It was two hundred fifty years ago today…Well, almost (five more weeks), but Sgt. Pepper notwithstanding, on September 14, 2019 Secrest Arboretum on the OSU Wooster Campus, OSU Extension, and the Davey Tree Expert Company will host the birthday celebration (September 14,1769) for Alexander von Humboldt.  Hundreds of thousands of people around the world celebrated on the centennial of his birth in 1869, from Adelaide to Argentina, from St. Petersburg to San Francisco. And according to Andrea Wulf’s wonderful 2015 book, The Invention of Nature, 8000 people poured out into the streets of Cleveland, Ohio!


The bust of Alexander von Humboldt in New York City's Central Park
The bust of Alexander von Humboldt in New York City's Central park


We do not expect that many this time, but hope many of you will come to the Secrest Center and the Arboretum grounds for a day of science and the senses. From the aromas of Secrest flowers to the flavors of Ohio produce, from the biological, geophysical and political sciences of climate change, to the sights of Secrest plantings and natural areas and the sounds of seasonal songbirds.


Fragrant Franklina flower
The fragrant Franklinia shall be flowering. Benjamin Franklin met von Humboldt after vH1 left South America.


There is no cost for the program; bring your own picnic lunch but we will provide morning and afternoon refreshments.  Let us know you are coming (not required) by sending your name and contact information to: (must be lower case “c”). Or you can contact Sarah Mays of OSU Extension at or 330-263-3831, fax: 330-263-3667.  Prizes (books, plants, foodstuffs, and more), some especially reserved for those who let us now you are coming, will be part of the fun.


Fall foliage of Kousa dogwood
Fall color shall be just beginning at Secrest. Here is a Kousa dogwood.


As noted, Dan Herms on the evidence and horticultural significance of climate change, Sara Chatfield on climate change and the politics of federalism, Jason Veil and Paul Snyder speaking of Edmund Secrest and the Nurture of Nature, John Pojacnik and friends speaking on the Nature of Northeast Ohio, Matt Shultzman and Jim Chatfield with an introduction to Alexander von Humboldt. And poetry. And music. And flowers and trees. Charles Darwin said “he would not have sailed on the Beagle if it had not been for von Humboldt”. Goethe said “spending a day with Humboldt was like having lived several years.”

Come stand on the shoulders of this giant. In her equally wonderful new book (a graphic novel), The Adventure of Alexander von Humboldt, Andrea Wulf speaks of von Humboldt’s early realization of man’s role in a Nature not simply to be conquered or feared, but one in which we are deeply imbedded. And, “Unlike other scientists, Humboldt insisted that we should understand nature not only through reason but also through our imagination. So much has changed. Today, as news about climate change becomes more dire, we are constantly bombarded with dry statistics and numbers that are so abstract they’ve become almost meaningless.”


Katsuratree arch at Secrest
Enter new imaginings at the Katusratree Arch at Secrest


The Slide at Secrest
Feel the winds of time wash over you at the Secrest Slide


“[channeling AVH]: How can you rescue the planet when all you do is fret about the acidity of oceans but forget the beauty of the wild dance of waves?  Or what about the dawn chorus of urban birds?  Or the delicious smell of a forest after a sudden rain shower on a summer day? Why does no one dare to talk about the awe for nature anymore? In my book Views of Nature I wrote that nature is in some kind of mysterious communication with our feelings.  Isn’t that still important?”

It is. Alexander von Humboldt: you know him, even if we have sort of forgotten. The Humboldt Current. The Humboldt squid. Humboldt County, CA and the redwoods. Hmm, Humboldt Fog cheese; perhaps we shall have some. Come spend the day.


Secrest Arboretum sunset
Sestercentennial sunsets at Secrest to come.