Palmer, William (Deceased)
William was born in Penge, a district in the south of London, on August 1, 1856, and spent the first 12 years of his life in that area. His father, Joseph, was a skilled modeler and taxidermist, and contact that William had with his father’s working quarters and his colleagues influenced his early interest with natural history. William came to New York in 1868 with his father, mother, and sister for a new job that his father had at Central Park dealing with restoration of extinct animals. In 1873, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where the elder Palmer secured a position at the National Museum as a taxidermist and modeler, which he had until his death in 1913. In spite of William’s exposure to museum work, his interests were in other fields including medicine. He attended school in New York City, but had to abandon his plans when he received no support from his father. He obtained a good job in Washington, D.C., with a mercantile firm, but pressure from his father forced him to leave the job for a position at the Museum as an assistant in modeling and taxidermy. He served for several years under the tutelage of his father learning the art of a preparator, including molding and casting of animals and antiquities, and the preparation of papier-mâché models of the towns of various indigenous cultures. In the spring of 1883, William traveled to New Haven to make paper models of the giant squid and octopus that were used for display in the Great International Fisheries Expedition in London. In the autumn of 1885, William married Arminia Knowles of Washington, D.C.. Although she did not share his enthusiasm for natural history, she was a faithful and devoted wife and yielded to his plans for long expeditions, which sometimes threatened to upset their home life. In 1887, William accompanied Dr. Lucas to Newfoundland, Labrador, and New Brunswick to collect specimens and report on living species. A notable trip was made to Funk Island to obtain remains of the great auk. In 1890, William made a more distant trip to the Pribilof Islands of Alaska to hunt for walrus and other specimens for the museum. William’s skill with taxidermy and preparation of vegetative material was becoming well known by other museum preparators and he was sent to Chicago to assist in exhibits for the World Fair and to other cities where exhibitions were held. In 1900, William traveled with Joseph Riley to Cuba for collection of animals and plants, and then again to Newfoundland in 1903 to obtain a skeleton and mold of the sulfur-bottom whale. A cast was made of the mold of this 78-foot specimen and then colored for display along with the skeleton in one of the halls of the museum. William also made numerous local trips in Maryland and Virginia and recorded many specimens, both extinct and extant, that he reported in the literature and some of which became part of his extensive personal collection. At Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, he discovered a complete fossil skeleton of a porpoise, later identified as Delphinodon dividum. After an extensive trip in 1909 to Java, where over 2,100 bird specimens were collected, he devoted much time to the preparation of exhibits in the new museum building, including exhibits on Carolina paraquet and flamingoes. He also had the distinction to prepare the mounted specimen of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, after its well publicized death at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. In early April 1921, William accompanied Gerrit Miller to the American Museum of Natural History to examine cetacean material they were studying. While in New York, William became ill one evening while attending a meeting of the Explorer’s Club. In the morning his condition was considered serious and he was removed to the Bellevue Hospital. He died there on April 8, 1921,and was buried in the Rock Creek Church Cemetery in Washington, D.C. William was a founding member of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1900 and was the president from 1913 to 1915.