Monday, October 29, 2018

"Giff and Stiff" Explore the South Pacific


As a native Pennsylvanian, I have long been interested in the career of Gifford Pinchot, a Progressive stalwart, pioneering forester and great conservationist, close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and two-term governor of the state.  Pinchot was an activist, and his wife, Cornelia, joined him as a women’s rights advocate and three-time congressional candidate.

Between his nonconsecutive gubernatorial terms, Pinchot led a family expedition first to the Caribbean and then on to the South Pacific in 1929.  During the seven-month voyage aboard the “Mary Pinchot” yacht, the family and several scientists collected bird, fish, animal, seashells, and plant specimens.  Among the explorers were the Pinchots’ thirteen-year-son, Gifford Bryce “Giff” Pinchot, and his friend Stephen “Stiff” Stahlnecker. 

In 1933 when Giff was still a teenager, he published an account of that fascinating trip: Giff and Stiff in the South Seas.  I finally obtained a copy of the book and I’ve been enjoying reading the account which also includes black-and-white photographs and line engravings.  One reviewer compared it with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and it is a magnificent story. 

The young man developed a myriad of interests, including sailing and conservation, and became a Ph.D.-trained scientist and professor at Johns Hopkins. He was present in 1963 when President Kennedy dedicated his family’s 102-acre estate in Milford, Pa., Grey Towers, as The Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies.  Dr. Pinchot died in 1989.

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