It boggles the mind to imagine contributing to science while doing time in solitary, locked behind the imposing walls of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. But back in the late 1800s, an inmate started making use of his brief daily allotments of time in a narrow exercise yard to collect what were likely to be his only living companions – insects.
The inmate’s collection apparently captured the interest of 19th century entomologists, such as Henry Skinner of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Skinner reportedly came to the prison to see the collection.
And then, long after Eastern State closed in the 1970s and became a historic site and museum, the insect collecting inmate apparently captured the imagination of entomologist Greg Cowper, also of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Cowper has expanded on the original collection and created an exhibit on display at the penitentiary.
Tonight – Monday September 9 – Cowper will give a lecture on the collection and the prison’s natural history as part of the “Science on Tap” series held at the restaurant/bar National Mechanics, 22 South Third St. in Philadelphia’s Olde City. Here’s what the Academy’s website says about Dr. Cowper:
Greg Cowper, a curatorial assistant in the Entomology Department, has completed fieldwork in New Zealand, Africa, the Caribbean, and the eastern and southwestern United States. His research interests are in the systematics, evolution, and biogeography of Heteroptera, the true bugs.