Figgins, J. D. (Jesse Dade), 1867-1944

Jesse D. Figgins was the first professional director of the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science), serving from 1910 until his resignation in 1935. Due mainly to his insight, the museum was at the forefront of the revolutionary change in archaeology that recognized that human beings coexisted with extinct Pleistocene megafauna in North America. Figgins was born in 1867 in Frederick County, Maryland. Initially he prepared for the ministry, but an interest in natural history took command and he abandoned schooling to study and collect birds and animals in the wild. His field efforts ranged across the Piedmont and the coastal plains from Maryland to the Carolinas. Figgins' first employer was the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. After several years there, he left to join the team of U.S. Navy Lieutenant R.E. Peary as a naturalist on 1896 and 1897 expeditions to northern Greenland. Among other items, the team brought back for the American Museum of Natural History in New York a huge meteorite, the Cape York, weighing over 30 tons, and many mammal and bird specimens. American Museum officials were impressed with Figgins' work and asked him to join the staff there. He organized and became head of their Department of Preparation and Exhibition. In 1910, recognizing the need for a professional director to oversee daily operations, the Board of Trustees of the new museum in Denver hired Figgins. He brought to Denver not only great ideas and experience in collecting, preparing and exhibiting material, but also important contacts with established eastern museums. He built a competent and loyal staff. Figgins also applied his expertise directly in preparation of many exhibits, including personally painting many of the backgrounds. Figgins was quick to follow up on opportunities for the museum. He set up a paleontology program and through personal contacts involved the museum in important excavations near Colorado City in West Texas and at Agate Springs Fossil Beds in Nebraska. It was under Figgins' direction in 1926 and 1927 that spear points were found in direct association with extinct Pleistocene bison bones at Folsom, N.M. This discovery pushed the antiquity of humans in North America back to about 10,000 years before present. Figgins resigned in 1935 to direct the establishment of a new museum in the southeastern U.S. The project stalled and was abandoned when World War II began. Figgins then became affiliated with the University of Kentucky and was writing a book on the birds of that state when he died in Lexington in 1944.

From the description of Jesse D. Figgins papers 1904-1969. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science). WorldCat record id: 69257282

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