DR. HOWARD EVANS: Here is the skin of a Burmese python. So here we have a Merino sheep. So this smoky shrew was caught by a cat-- a student's cat.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: I'm here with Dr. Howard Evans, one of my most favorite faculty. Dean is not supposed to say that, but in this case I can't help myself. Dr. Evans' cows class of 1944, PhD in Comparative Anatomy, class of 1950, faculty member since 1950 at the Veterinary College, and an individual who is known to virtually every veterinarian around the world by virtue of his scholarly publications.
Howard, "Howie," would you tell us how your interest as a child in the natural world brought you to Cornell?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yes. I think I've always been interested in animals and, of course, the most common animals around New York City were insects. So I used to go to the American Museum all of the time with whatever I'd caught and have them identify it.
So then one day an exterminator came to my building where I lived, and he went around the building with his box of chemicals. He'd put out these different chemicals in different spots. And I was following him around and I said, how do you know what to put out? He said, well, listen kid, if you want to learn that, you go to college.
I said, you go to college to learn how to kill bugs? So he said to me, where do you think you'll learn it? I said, well, I really never thought about it. And that was the beginning.
So I said, where did you go to college? He said, well really I never went to college, but my company sends me to a college every summer to learn new ways to kill bugs. And they sent me up in the middle of New York state. Very like the country up there. And he said, you wouldn't believe it, kid, but there's a building three stories high, and on every story there's a man looking through a microscope at bugs. So I said, wow, that's the kind of place I want to go to.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So what was Cornell like when you came here in 1940, right?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: 1940, yes. It was a fairly small place, as I remember-- well, small in regards to colleges nowadays. I think there were 9,400 students here. And DeWitt Clinton High School where I came from had 12,000, so Cornell was smaller than my high school.
But of course, we didn't all go to school at the same time at Clinton. They had three sessions-- in the early morning, middle, and then later. I took the early morning so I had the entire afternoon off, and that's how I got to go to the museum which is only a few blocks away.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: And you must have loved the natural environment here-- coming from the city and coming up to Ithaca. Did you explore in the region?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: When I came to Ithaca, yes. It was like a big field trip. I couldn't get over it. Six Mile Creek-- you could walk up Six Mile Creek and see all kinds of birds and find fossils along the creek bed. It was really wonderful.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: How did you come to start as a professor at Cornell? What was your initial appointment and--
DR. HOWARD EVANS: That was an interesting happenstance, I would say. When I came out of the Army and then came back to Cornell, I had just finished my sophomore year when my ROTC unit was called. So I never graduated.
But while I was in the Army, people were writing back to their colleges and some of them were being graduated. So they said, why don't you write back? Maybe they'll graduate you.
And I said, I've only had two and a half years. How would they do that? He said, well, who knows?
So I wrote a letter to Cornell asking to be graduated so I could come back as a graduate student, and they wrote me a reply. At the time I got the reply, I was already in Panama because I had asked for jungle service after I returned from the non-invasion of Japan. I was on my way for the invasion of Japan. And the war ended, and they turned the ship around, and I came back.
And they wanted to send me home to go back to school. And I said, well, the term has started already. I don't want to come back now.
So he said, where do you want to go? I said, I'd like to go to some jungle so I get some experience. So this fellow said, well, they're all coming home from the Pacific. You can't go to any jungle there. I want to go to the Philippines.
So I said, well, there must be a jungle somewhere. He said, well, look at this list. And he looked down this long list and he said, here's a spot-- Panama. And I said, Panama? That's a cement ditch that goes from one side to the other. That's how much I knew about it.
And he said, well, there must be more there, because they send people there for jungle training. So I said, yeah, that's true. There must be.
He said, well, make up your mind. Do you want to go there? If you do, don't say a word to anybody because you'll get in trouble and I'll get in trouble.
So I said, I won't say a word. He said, OK, just watch that bulletin board at the other side of this room here. Come in every day and look at that bulletin board. When your name comes up, you do just what it says.
So the next day, a bulletin board had said "report to this camp on the Mississippi River." And I said, wow, what's that all about? Jackson Barracks, it was called, on the Mississippi River. So I thought this fellow had just not done what he said he would do.
So I started asking around, what do they do at Jackson Barracks? And sure enough, the third person I asked said, Jackson Barracks? That's where they send people if you're going to Panama. I said, oh, really?
So I kept quiet, and sure enough, that's what happened. They put us on a ship in Jackson Barracks. We went down the Mississippi River for about 90 miles and ended up in Panama.
And I was supposed to be at the Malaria Control School where I could learn some entomology. And when I reported in they said, we have enough people in this Malaria Control School. We don't need any more. And besides, the general is now on vacation because the war is over-- see, the war had ended. The general's on vacation, why don't you just go away for a week and come back a week later?
That's the first time in the Army they ever told me to disappear for a week. So I said, what should I do? He said, oh, just get on a bus every day and ride around Panama. You'll see what it's like. And that's what I did. Every day I'd go into town and get on a different bus and ride around Panama.
And finally, the general came back and I went in for an interview. And he looked at my record at Cornell, and I had taken all these courses in botany. And this general looked at it, he said, what's all this flower smelling you were taking in college? I said, flower smelling, what do you mean? And he named the course, and I said, oh, that's camouflage.
He named one, I said that's malaria control. Whatever he named it, it was something pertinent. So this general got the idea, and he said, well, that's very nice. I'd like to send you to the Malaria Control School, but right now we need somebody to run the [INAUDIBLE] Bakery.
I said, well, I've never been in a bakery. He said, that's all right. I'll give you two weeks and we'll let you visit all the bakeries in Panama and see what it's like, see how they run. And his mind was made up. I was going to be the bakery officer for the Panama Canal.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So Howie, at two and a half years you asked for a degree from Cornell. What did Cornell say?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah. Cornell wrote me a letter-- the Dean of the system there. And he said that, although you're deficient, we've decided to graduate you.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Ah.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: So I graduated deficiently, but it was a graduation degree. So the next letter I wrote was to the graduate school saying I'd like to be a graduate student in entomology. And I got a letter back saying, "you're accepted as a graduate student in entomology, but we don't know anything about ships and things like that."
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Now, you've mentioned a trip already, and I know that you and Erica have participated in so many Cornell trips. You've gone with Emeritus President Frank Rhodes and Rosa Rhodes to many, many, many trips, and have been a part of that knowledge base for many of those trips. Can you tell us a little bit about your most interesting trips?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah. This is this business called Cornell Adult University, and the idea is to involve alumni in trips with Cornell people. So every trip is hosted by a Cornell professor or two, and you pick the place you want to go to and they work out the travel arrangements. So all you have to do is run the program, and they run all the hotel reservations and bus trips and things like that.
ERICA EVANS: We spent a sabbatical leave in Hawai'i. I don't know if Howard told you that. And then Ralph Janus said, why don't you do a CAU there? And we had a very interesting experience in that we had wonderful ideas in all the things we did. But what we never figured was that to move 40 people takes a lot more time than to move two.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: In this picture here, we're on an island in Antarctica. There are lots of islands. Every day you'd hike on the land and see albatross nesting, and penguins all over.
ERICA EVANS: The King penguins are actually the nicest, because they are so relaxed and friendly. If you'd sit down on a rock, they would come over and pull your gloves off and just come and see what you were doing.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: That's Frank and Rosa Rhodes. Can you see them? Frank and Rosa Rhodes-- we've done four trips with Frank and Rosa.
ERICA EVANS: Any trip with Frank and Rosa Rhodes is just the most wonderful thing that can happen to you, because they are such great traveling companions. They are so thoughtful. They both are so people oriented.
And Frank and Howard get along so well, because they respect each other's knowledge, I think. When Howard sees something that is not on the itinerary or what he was supposed to speak about, he'll say, Frank, look at that! Tell us about this!
FRANK H.T. RHODES: The one to Antarctica is the one that stands out particularly because Howie was given permission to take home a dead penguin. And he found one, and proceeded on the ship's deck to dissect this thing and take out its innards. And then he very carefully preserved it and had to carry it through customs bringing it home. And that penguin is still present in Howie's lab in the vet school.
Howie and Erica really are a wonderful couple. They have, between them, contributed so much to this university. And I want to tell you how deeply Rosa and I treasure their friendship.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Well, bringing this back, it was quite a problem because it started to smell a little bit. And I wrapped it up in plastic and tied it up and I worried about it at the airport. And when we came to the airport, we laid all our baggage down, they brought a dog out to sniff the baggage to look for drugs.
So I quickly took my knapsack with this penguin in it and I wandered off a ways, and then I could come back later. I didn't want to open it up because the package would smell terribly all the way back. But I managed to save the trachea, you see-- the trachea saved, and the tongue.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Talk a little bit about your scholarly work. You've written some of the foundation texts in veterinary medicine. Everyone that studies anatomy knows your name and knows your work. How did you start becoming involved in, first, Miller's Anatomy of the Dog, and then the Evans and de Lahunta Guide to the Dissection of the Dog?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah. Well, in comparative anatomy, of course, you cover all groups of animals. And it so happened that in my last comparative anatomy class I had a student in the class who was Dr. Christiansen, who was an instructor in the vet college with Miller.
So the way this came about was that I was graduating in 1950 with my PhD. And Miller asked Christiansen, do you know anybody who might be able to take this assistant professorship that's just been established in a vet college? They had a new professorship established.
And so Miller asked Christiansen. Christiansen said, well, my instructor in Comparative Anatomy over in Stimson Hall-- that was the Zoology building-- he's a good anatomist, I think, and I think he could do the job. At which point Miller invited me over to speak to me.
And when I went over and talked to Miller-- a very friendly fellow, you know-- and really, we hit it off just right. And Miller was asking me questions about fish and their breeding behaviors. And so I then was asked if I would join the faculty in the vet college.
And Dean Hagan-- at the time, Dean Hagan pretty much knew what was going on all over the college. Whatever happened, Hagan knew about. So Miller asked Hagan about hiring me, I guess, because it turned out I was the first person hired in the vet college that was going to be paid by the Veterinary College budget who wasn't a veterinarian. That was in 1950.
And when I was offered the job, I talked it over with Erica at the time. I was negotiating with Fargo, North Dakota, for a job there. And they said, don't worry about the weather out here. You hear these lurid stories.
So I went to the library. I'd never heard any lurid story about Fargo, North Dakota, but when I went to the library, I read about them. And it turns out in summer it's 115 and then winter is minus 40, so I wasn't hot for that. So I took the job in the vet college, and that was really interesting. When I moved over, Hopkins was still here in the college.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: One of the original faculty members.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Right, Grant Sherman Hopkins. He was in his 90s, and he used to tell stories about what it was like in the early days at the college.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Uh-huh. So, speaking of stories, I know there's some stories about rattlesnakes. You used to have a rattlesnake in your office. Can you tell us about that?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah, that rattlesnake, that was an interesting thing, you know. I was in Oklahoma in the Army, in the Army in Oklahoma. I'd been sent to Fort Sill.
And one morning driving to a field exercise, I saw what I thought was a big worm crossing the road. It was about six inches long. So I went over. And I was going so fast at the time, and I backed up and there it was. It wasn't a worm, because it coiled up in a little coil and the tail was going but no noise was coming because the thing had just been born.
So I said, wow, that's better than a worm! I'm going to bring that back. The snake started to go away, so I got a stick and I pinned it down and grabbed it by the neck.
Now I have the snake in my hand and I don't know what to do with it. So I think, well, I'll drive with one hand the rest of the way. But as I got in the jeep, I looked at my shoe and my sock and I said, that's what I'll do. I'll put it in my sock.
So I sat down and took my shoe off. And socks in the Army, you know, came almost to the knee. They were quite long. And I put this snake in the sock and I tied a knot in the top of the sock and threw it under the seat.
And by that time I was pretty late for where I was going. And when I got back finally in the evening to take a shower and taking my clothes off, I was startled not to have a sock on, and it struck me where my sock was. It's under the jeep seat.
So I went out to the jeep. And they were parking all the jeeps and there were about 50 out there. And I said, do you remember where you parked my jeep? And the poor guy parking them said, no. I'm sorry, lieutenant, I can't remember.
So I started to look under the seat of each jeep. And luckily, the fifth or sixth one I looked under, there was the snake in the sock. So I brought it back, took my shower, and then I put it in a gallon jar.
I started to wonder what am I going to feed this as I went to sleep. In the morning when I woke up, there was a mouse stumbling along the wall in my bunk that had evidently fallen out of its nest, it was so young. It was stumbling like. And it got to my shoe, and it climbed up in my shoe and dropped in.
So I jumped out of bed and I grabbed my shoe at the top. And I went to the snake and took the screen off the snake and shook my shoe in and the mouse dropped in. Well, when the mouse dropped in there, he wiped his face off and looked around.
And all of a sudden, the snake got very intense, like where it was looking. And then the snake looked around and zapped it. You know, snakes bite by a strike forward.
And the snake bit it, and the mouse just wiped its nose off and didn't seem to bother it. And then the snake bit it again, and again the mouse wiped it off, but this time it got a little sleepy. And I noticed the mouse was just a little sleepy, and the mouse went to sleep.
And at that point the snake came over and tried to decide which the head end was. And it smelled the head end and it smelled the tail end, and it did that for about 12 times. I looked at my watch. I have to go, you know.
And finally it decided which the head end was, and it started to swallow it. But when I came back, there was the bulge in the snake. It had swallowed that mouse.
So from the day it was born, that snake fed very well. So every vet class from 1950 until it died-- it lived 19 years in the vet college. And for 19 years, it ate.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So Howie, in addition to your academic life and your contributions in the university, you've been amazingly engaged in activities in Ithaca. So can you talk a little bit about how you started doing that--
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah, that was a science center, you know. The Science Center started out by using storefronts in Ithaca that were open because they couldn't rent them. And they'd wait for somebody to rent them, and then they'd have to move to another place.
So in fact, when we had that egg drop where you came with your son and contested there for dropping an egg on the floor from the second floor without breaking it. And people had all these rigs of parachutes and balloons. So that was the beginning of the Science Center using these storefronts, and then finally they built their own place.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: And you've been going to a number of schools, so Cayuga Heights--
DR. HOWARD EVANS: In Northeast, that's right.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: I see.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Now, I want to show you the reptiles that I bring to the classes to show the schools various reptiles. And I start off by showing them an alligator. This is a Florida alligator that a friend of mine sent to me.
And you know what the commonest thing is that they find in the stomachs of alligators when they get them in a park? When they get up to eight feet long, they take them out of the parks and frequently they shoot them and look in their stomach. And the commonest thing in an alligator's stomach is a dog collar.
Now, let's see. Oh, here's a green sea turtle. The green sea turtle-- you know, turtles have no teeth. No turtle has any teeth. Just like birds, they have a beak.
So here the beak comes off, and here it is. This beak will come off this turtle. And there we have it-- that's the beak of a turtle, just like the beak of a bird. So as the turtle grows, the beak has to get larger. And the way that happens is, the skin along the edge of the beak just keeps producing new beak, so the beak gets bigger.
And this is interesting, because I went to a house sale out in Cayuga Heights and I saw these on a table, these two things. When I first looked at them, I thought they were rhinoceros toes. Because the rhinoceros has three toes, and they look just like this.
And I said, there are only two toes here. Where's the third one? There should be one over here.
And then I looked at these things a little more and I started to move them around. And I put them together, and lo and behold, when it went like that, I could see these weren't rhinoceros toes. This is the beak of a turtle! Can you imagine how big this turtle was if this is the beak of this turtle? That's the beak of a leatherback turtle.
So here is the skin of a Burmese Python that I dissected one time for open house. When the vet school had open house, the Buffalo Zoo gave me this dead python. And I put it on the table, and we opened it up and looked at everything. And when it was through, I put it in a barrel of alcohol.
And after three years it started looked pretty bad, so I said, maybe I can tan this. And I wrote to a tannery in Pennsylvania, and I said, could this be tanned? And they said, well, we don't know, but if you tan it, what color would you like it? And they sent me these samples. I said, I don't want it any color. I want it just the way it is.
So they tanned it, and they charged me $5 a foot, which wasn't bad. This was almost 12 feet long. That was a little worse. And here we have-- there's the head. And the kids at school really love to unstretch this.
And what I want to show you is where the feet would be. The feet would be down at this end, of course, where the vent is, right here. And I left the two little toes on there. I left a toe here and a toe there.
But when they tanned the skin, they scraped them off. I should have known that when you tan a skin, you scrape everything off. So when you look at it here, that's the length of the tail of a Burmese Python.
Oh, I want to show you this Hudson River sturgeon. This is an interesting swan. It's called a whistling swan. A five-month-old elephant is pretty young, and these are the baby tusks right here.
That's called a leaf mantis. It mimics a leaf. It's actually an insect. You can see the three legs, and these are the wings. It come from Malaysia.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Howie, you and Erica are such a wonderful team, and I wonder if you'd say a few words about how you've worked together and how you've enjoyed this career together.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: I'm very lucky that I met her out in Seattle when I was returning from the Pacific on the S.S. Sacajawea. That was this ship I sailed on. We used to call this ship "the sad sack" because it was so slow the convoy disappeared with all of its destroyers protecting it and we were alone. And the captain said, don't worry, they never try to get a single ship because they don't want to waste a torpedo. That was supposed to be the comforting feature of that.
So when I came back and met Erica in Seattle, I met her at a dance at the University of Washington.
ERICA EVANS: Of course, Seattle was a port for everybody. So we, all of us, always went to the USO and all these things. But I met Howard at the University.
I had a car because I lived at home, and just was able to walk to the university. And he wanted to collect salamanders, so I said, OK, I'll take you. And then it turned out that he was only there for a little over a week is all I knew him. And we wrote to each other for a while, and then it all stopped.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: This rich uncle said to me, why don't you invite your girlfriend-- go to see her? And he wrote a check and gave it to me, and that was it. We were corresponding, and I bit the bullet and went out there. And then her side of the story is probably even more scary, you know?
ERICA EVANS: It was a little bit more involved than that, because I was doing research on the tuberculin reaction, and I was working with Guinea pigs, and I was going to Stanford to give a talk. And the man who did the sections said, you know, you once told me about this guy at Cornell who does clearing and staining, and you said you had a paper. Well, I threw it out because I wasn't interested it. So then I wrote to him, and I said, could you send me another paper? So that's what started it.
And then his rich uncle gave him a ticket, then he came out. We really didn't know each other more than probably two weeks, three weeks, then we got engaged. And then we got married. And I wanted to wait until winter, Christmas, and he said, no, let's do it now.
So he went to teach summer school and he came out. We got married in August. Then when I was on the plane flying east, I thought, what have I done? But it's almost 63 years this year, so I guess it was all right.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Any thoughts about your career, and the opportunity that you've had to influence young people and shape their lives through knowledge and discovery?
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Yeah, I think one of the beauties of college life, and Cornell in particular, is there's so much going on in all different fields.
ERICA EVANS: To me, the thing that has always seemed interesting is that Howard has had several chances to go elsewhere. And we always get within a millimeter of leaving, and he'll change his mind and says, I can't leave Cornell.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: And I must admit, I've always been interested in geology, entomology, botany. At times it's been distracting to be interested in so many things.
ERICA EVANS: One of the things that keeps him at Cornell is the library. He says, we had a sabbatic in California and he would go down to San Francisco and go to the library. And he would come back and he'd say, it's just not like Cornell! And we had a sabbatic in Pennsylvania, and the University there certainly has a good library, but he still felt it wasn't like Cornell's.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: And somehow I think if we could find time for students to include a little more of Cornell, to get out of their immediate environment-- and that's what I've done. I've made a real effort to go to different seminars, to go to different buildings, and see what's going on there.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, that curiosity. And of course, that extends to humanism, social sciences, other areas beyond the STEM fields, and so much to influence. And I know that's a signature feature of your career-- that curiosity and that drive to understand.
DR. HOWARD EVANS: Right.
DEAN MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So thank you very much
DR. HOWARD EVANS: You're welcome.
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Dean Michael Kotlikoff interviews one of the College of Veterinary Medicine favorites, emeritus professor of anatomy, Dr. Howard Evans.
The conversation covers Dr. Evans early days at the university and how he came to Cornell. Also discussed is his service in the US Army, his return to Cornell and his career that spanned 70 plus years.
Included are great story telling, discussions on the early days of the veterinary college, the writing of Dr. Evans text books, his public service, continued travels and his undying thirst for knowledge.