Holding a vicious iguana by the tail

I just finished reading Galápagos: World’s End by William Beebe, written in 1924 about his expedition as a naturalist to the Galapagos islands. Bits of it were so boring I used the book to fall asleep every night for a week. Then something awesome would crop up. Some chapters of the book was written by “the Historian of the Expedition”, Ruth — and I suspect she had her hand in elsewhere too. She was diving into shark infested lagoons, freaking out over weird moonfish, swimming with sea lion pups, and cutting her feet up over sharp lava as she caught and collected and dissected damn near every animal on the island. When I hit this photo of Ruth Rose I finally had to go look her up, feeling that her story or diaries must be entertaining all the way through. She was the expedition historian so I figure much of the notes and writing is really hers, though the book wasn’t hers. She did a ton of the labor of hunting and collecting. And she fell in love with the cinematographer. I’d like that story!

A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition
A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition

I like her bathing suit too!

Ruth Rose (Jan. 16, 1896 – June 8, 1978) was the daughter of Edward E. Rose. In 1926 she meet (and later married) cinematographer Ernest Schoedsack when they were both working on a New York Geological Society expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Together with partner and fellow producer director, Meriam C. Cooper, and animator Willis O’Brien, they made “King Kong”, released in 1933. Rose shared in many of Schoedsack’s and Cooper’s wildness film productions, and worked as a writer or script doctor on King Kong, Son of Kong, She, The Last Days of Pompeii and Mighty Joe Young.

The people marooned on the Galapagos have the best hardships. Raw seal, blue-footed booby blood, turtle fat and meat and the 2 gallons of water that come out of a turtle’s crop. Sealskin moccasins 6 layers thick that are still cut to ribbons in one day of walking across the lava. And in the story told by the taxi-cab driver near the end of the book, while Beebe has returned to New York, was brilliant – his crew went three months without cooked food, until the assistant cook took off one of his filthy shirts and a squashed box of matches fell out of the undershirt’s pocket.

Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas
Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas

Most of the bits written by Beebe switch ghoulishly from admiring the pretty and rare animals to butchering them. He’ll watch a hawk and her young all day long, romanticizing away and blaming the buccaneers for eating all the giant turtles to extinction, and then 2 minutes later he’s dissecting the nest of hawks and gnawing some roast iguana tail while loading up the cargo hold with 400 lbs of turtles, finishing off the despoiling of the islands in the name of imperialist science.

William Dampier and Raveneau de Lussan both sound interesting to look up later!

One thought on “Holding a vicious iguana by the tail”

  1. Thank you for your post about Ruth Rose – I have been trying to get enough information to put together a monograph -‘ life and times of Ruth Rose’ ; but I had no idea that she part-wrote the book that you reviewed. Ruth Rose was the step-sister of Helen Kibbey who married Patrick Henry Bruce. Both Pat and Helen had been students at the New York School of Art in 1900 and later met in Paris in 1905. There is a painting by Helen Kibbey entitled ‘Nannette Laughing’ which is a portrait that Helen Kibbey painted for her ‘apprentice piece’ for the New York School of Art. It shows a very young looking Ruth Rose ( 6/7 years ) holding a doll. Unfortunately Helen gave up painting after the birth of her only son Roy Bruce. Perhaps she thought that there should only be one artist in the family.

    I have now ordered the book by W. Beebe and I have to thank you for putting me onto this text : it will not fill in all the gaps but it will help.

    Best Wishes
    Peter Lancaster
    Corfe Castle

Comments are closed.