For some reason, many people with amusing names are drawn to nature. Stamford Raffles was a zoologist, Churchill Babington a great bird man. Erasmus Darwin wrote lovely poetry to accompany his work. Born in 1863 near Boston, Outram L. Bangs followed in the grand tradition of these funny named scientists.
Like all of the above, he was a nature lover from a young age. His first love was birds, and with his brother he quickly began assembling what became known as the “Collection of E.A. and O. Bangs”. My own childhood collections were not quite as impressive, most proudly consisting of a Zarley Zalapski rookie card. Which was nice, but won’t get me much glory at this point.
But I digress. The Bangs Brothers were eager bird collectors from the start. At one point the kids discovered that great specimens of Nighthawks were breeding on the roofs of the flat houses in their Boston neighborhood. Knowing that it’d be hard to convince people to let the kids climb on the roof to collect bird eggs, they took to playing ball down the street. They would intentionally hit balls on the roofs of houses, asking to be let up there to “retrieve them”.
This kind of ingenuity is what leads one to Harvard and to eventually be called “one of the greatest ornithologists this country has ever produced” in a eulogy by the Museum of Comparative Zoology. That and some other things like authoring hundreds of papers on his most beloved topic. Up to 1894, he had published no papers of any kind, but in the five years after that he suddenly decided to get busy and put out more than 70 of them.
Bangs was installed as Curator of Mammals at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1900. I may be wrong, but I believe this means he was played by Ben Stiller in a popular family friendly movie a few years ago. On second thought, perhaps not. If the lead character in that film had been named Outram Bangs, I think it would have won a lot more awards. With a name like that, success is always coming your way.