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When, in July 1914, word of World War I made its way to Lang and
Chapin, they hurriedly began the mammoth task of getting their collections
back to the coast of Africa and then on a ship for New York City.
After months of hauling crates through the rain forest and along
the Congo River, Chapin made the journey home with the collections
by way of Liverpool, running a German blockade of the harbor. For
Lang, who was born in Germany (which, in 1915, was an enemy of the
U.S.), the return to New York was more complex and time consuming.
He went by way of Angola, Lisbon, and a Portuguese steamer to New
York. Back home, Lang became an Assistant in Mammalogy at the American
Museum and spent the next few years processing his African specimens.
By the end of their six years in the Congo, Lang, Chapin, and their
assistants had collected spectacular specimens of okapi and square-lipped
rhinos (still on exhibit in the Museum's Carl Akeley Hall of African
Mammals). More importantly, they had collected the most complete
record of the plants, animals, and cultures of the Congo Basin up
to that time, including 5,800 mammals, 6,400 birds, 4,800 reptiles
and amphibians, 6,000 fish, over 100,000 invertebrates, and 3,800
anthropological objects. In addition, they had 9,890 photographic
negatives, more than 300 watercolor paintings, and many volumes
of field notes. At least fifteen volumes of scientific findings
were later published based on the expedition's work, many of which
continue to stand as both seminal and definitive works in their
In 1990, the museum mounted an exhibition called African Reflections,
documenting the expedition, the ethnographic collections, and the
impact that the Lang-Chapin expedition had on the art and cultures
of the region. The exhibition traveled to five museums throughout
the United States and its catalogue won the Arts Council of the
African Studies Association trienniel award for Best Book on African
The Lang-Chapin collections are still used by scientists who come
to the American Museum of Natural History from around the world.
Lang, Chapin, and their thousands of African assistants never could
have imagined that their collections would one day be digitized
and made universally and instantaneously accessible on the Web.
They would surely be pleased to see the Digital Library Project
breathing new life, reach, and power into their work.
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More Expedition Readings
(click images for larger view)
Tents near the Ituri River