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From Our Archives - Robert Crandall

Shared by Sandy Chamberlain

Spring has sprung and with that comes thoughts of flowers and butterflies! We have a wonderful collection of butterfly specimens at Tioga Point Museum, donated by Robert Crandall. It is believed he collected these during the 1930’s, when he was in college in Arizona and locally while he was a volunteer at the museum.

Robert Heggie Crandall, born in 1915, was a prominent nature photographer and was a former Athenian. He began his career as a boy in Athens by collecting butterflies and insects while recuperating from pneumonia. According to his brother Richard, he would lie in bed, recovering, and watch a spider, becoming fascinated by it. When he was a patient in the hospital, he was encouraged by Dr. Guthrie to pursue his interest. He devoted much time to the study of animals and insects after leaving the hospital.

From an article in the LA Times, written by Berkley Hudson in 1990:

At age 75, in 1990, Mr. Crandall recalls his fascination with insects and crawly things dates from his childhood and an actual memorable bite! “I was 8, giving a black widow spider a bath”, Crandall said of his first serious nip which occurred after he decided his pet arachnid needed a “shine.”

As a precocious youngster, he gave scientific talks before community groups, prompting his hometown newspaper to label him, “The Spider Boy.” At the age of 11, he took two unusual bot flies to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. A curator cajoled him into donating them, quickly doubling the museum’s collection of the species.

According to Gordon Gordh, a UC Riverside entomologist, he (Crandall) could work in any museum. “Science is improved considerably by his immense collecting talent. He’s probably never gained the notoriety he deserves.”

From some notes acquired by Todd Babcock during an interview with Richard Crandall, Robert graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in Business, Entomology and Zoology. He was a commodity trader after WWII and earned a comfortable living enabling him to build his insect collection. He was offered a professorship teaching position, but was declined since he was not comfortable speaking in front of people.

Upon his death, he left his collection to a woman who helped him later in life. She was going to sell the collection and had an offer from a collector. Robert’s brother, Richard, matched the price and bought his brother’s collection and donated it to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

From a mini biography written by I. S. Mowis:

He was known as the “Ant Man of Altadena”. In his lifetime, he amassed a vast collection of over half a million (catalogued) insect specimens, housed in 445 drawers. An old Admiral fridge in his home contained parasitic wasps and a tub in his bathroom was home to a Gila monster. A giant toad inhabiting the toilet scared the odd visitor.

Mr. Crandall has had insects named after him, including a tiny bee Perdita crandalli.

Mr. Crandall has had much written about him, since he started photography, but in 1954 he climaxed his career by the part he played for Walt Disney as one of two photographers for the film, “The Living Desert.”

As a nature photographer, “Bob was an absolute genius at getting insects to essentially perform according to script.“said Taras Kiceniuk, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and Caltech lecturer. In the 1950’s, Kiceniuk helped Crandall develop jury-rigged zoom lenses before they were commercially available.

At the time of the interview with Mr. Hudson, in 1990, “Crandall is working on a new short film, “Adventures of Adam Ant,” the story of one ant’s life. He is dedicating it to his only child, Robert, who committed suicide with cyanide from the lab, and to his wife, Fanny, who just after their son’s death six years ago had a fatal fall while hiking alone in the San Gabriel Mountains.”

It has been said that those who knew Crandall called him hardheaded, brilliant, yet often playful and childlike.

Crandall was quoted as saying, “I’ve heard that according to actuarial tables, entomologists live longer than any other group because, you see, they can find something new every day. Then there’s always the excitement of whether you’ve snared a yellow jacket in your net!”

Mr. Crandall died in Altadena, California on August 27th, 2006 at the age of 91.

More information is available in our archives, including several trays of butterfly and insect specimens of Mr. Crandall.

The Tioga Point Museum is open 12-8p on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the year. You are invited to come and explore!


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