|Birth: ||Oct. 26, 1908|
New Jersey, USA
|Death: ||Jun. 6, 1966|
Hollis Koster, a local resident of Hermann City near Green Bank, was a self-taught botanist in the South Jersey Pines and contributed much to the documentation of southern New Jersey flora in the 1930s and 1940s. Physical specimens are filed in Philadelphia and his studies extended to Pre-World War II Germany.
By inspecting his old letters and interviewing those who knew him, a unique trail of history and New Jersey knowledge is revealed.
Hollis, who passed away in 1966, was one of eight children that grew up in a rambling homestead once known as the Hermann Hotel. The hotel supported an earlier nineteenth century glasstown along the Mullica. The Kosters, of German descent, came to the site to manage the hotel and stayed for three generations. Hollis was the grandson of Augustus Ernst Koster, the family patriarch.
Hollis returned from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 1934, and began his careful collection of plants. Along the banks of Crowley Landing in the weeds, down to Pleasant Mills and in the High Hammock cedar swamp, Hollis could be found with tall boots and fern in hand. He had his own label printed entitled, "PLANTS OF SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY" and used it often to document his mounted plants including such names as the following:
Sphagnum cuspidaturn Ehhh
To develop his hobby, he began to contact pharmaceutical firms for botanical crude drugs. An August 24, 1934 correspondence with Sharp & Dohme in Philadelphia advised him to contact Fritzsche Brothers in New York for oil wintergreen. Also, the S.B. Penick & CO. in Weehawkin offered him a variety of roots, berries, herbs, ginseng, barks, beeswax, leaves and flowers. Their specials for January 1, 1938 included deer tongue leaves, queen's delight root and shonny haw tree bark.
Hollis probably made a few dollars from this hobby since the Penick & Co's literature states, "In some sections individuals ship to us; in others, local merchants buy from collectors and send their accumulation to us." The literature describes the method of collection as follows:
Roots are generally gathered from the time the frost is over in the Spring until the Fall when frost sets in. Fall-dug roots are generally heavier than Spring-dug roots. Roots should be washed clean of all dirt, and slicing, cutting or splitting does not lessen their value (except Ginseng). Barks generally peel best when the sap is up. Barks of root should have no root-wood attached. Roots, barks, and barks of root may be dried indoors or in the sun. The term "rossed" means the removal of the outer or corky part of the bark. Leaves and herbs should be gathered green, not dead or brown, nor picked up from the ground. Flowers or blossoms should be dried in the shade or indoors. Strong sunlight often burns them dark.
If Hollis was an agent for this or other companies, he probably collected the plants that offered medicinal value, rather than acting as a common sphagnum gatherer. As his brother, Glendin, recalls, "When everybody went berry-picking, he always became absorbed in gathering his specimens."
Much was from his own backyard which included the site of an old glassworks The area was great for all kinds of rare flora to grow. Historian Charles Kier once told me that the lime in the soil enabled the growth of profuse spleen wort.
Among the effects of Hollis was found an unattributed note entitled, "Distilling the Essential Oil's of Medicinal Plants." An extract of this "general formula" is as follows:
"Put the plants or their parts, as the leaves, flowers, tops etc. to be distilled, and from which the oil is to be extracted into the retort, or still; and add enough water to cover it. Then distill by a regular heat, into a large refrigator, or condensing worm, which seperates the oil from the water, which comes over in the receiver.
The substances as a general thing should be bruised, before being put in the still, to facilitate the process of carrying over the oil with the steam rapidly into the condensor.
The following plants, or their parts are distilled as above, and just plain water being used, there-by steam carrying over the oil at a temperature of about 215 degrees F. Anise, Caraway, Cloves, Wormseed, Cubeb's, Frigeron, Fennel, Wintergreen, Pennyroyal, Juniper, Lavender, Peppermint, Spearmint, Criganum, Pimmento, Rosemarry, Rue, Savine, Sassafrass.
The essential or volatile oils, are found in every part of the wild or cultivated plants. It is the essential oils which confer upon the flowers, leaves, fruits, seeds, barks, woods etc. their peculiar, and characteristic oders, to them we are indebted for our most delightful perfumes..."
Perhaps because he wished for a greater variety of plants, Hollis became associated with a plant exchange with Otto Behr in Germany. The "Berliner botanischer Tauschverein" allowed Hollis to exchange monies and local plants for European specimens. These transactions began in the Spring of 1935 and challenged Hollis to learn the German language since Behr did not write a word of English. Despite the growing threat of war in Europe, the correspondence became more refined and regular. On May 19, 1935 Hollis submitted the following plants, or "units", from his home at Green Bank:
15 Pyxidanthera barbulata Michx. - New Jersey
5 Vaccinium corymbosum L. - New Jersey
5 Salix tristis Ait. - New Jersey
5 Comptonia peregrina (l.) coulter - New Jersey
15 Sphagnum Torryeyanum Sull - New Jersey
10 Sphagnum phylaesii brid. var.ramosum warnst - New Jersey
15 Sphagnum cyclophyllum sull + lesq. - New Jersey
Green Bank had been the mailing address since Hermann disappeared off most New Jersey maps at the turn of the century. Behr's address was simply, "Forst i.L., - Deutschland". At the outbreak of the Second World War, correspondence came to an abrupt end. Hollis, who had worked as squad foreman at local CCC camps, performed defense work at New York Ship in Camden for the duration of the war. According to local historian Budd Wilson, Hollis tried to enlist with his brother Rodney, but Hollis was classified 4F.
Although Hollis and Otto Behr shared their naturalist world in letters for half a decade with no mention of the events that engulfed both their nations into war, Hollis received the following, written in German, dated October 18, 1947:
Dear Mr. Koster,
I wrote you a letter in the Spring, but it evidently got lost; so I'm trying again.
After this greatest stupidity of world history, I've returned home to Germany in good health. I was a soldier from the first day of the war, and at the end I was in a British P.O.W. camp. I was discharged from an American camp. I can't very well return to my previous home in Forst, because it is in a Russian-occupied area; half of the city has become Polish. The Russians keep all the German officers behind barbed wire, and because I was an officer, I'd like to escape this fate. Therefore I'm staying in the U.S. zone.
I can only pursue my botanical interest in a very limited way. For one thing, I don't have much time, since I'm employed as a laborer. I was a member of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) and I haven't yet appeared before the [denazification] trial tribunal. But I do know that we live best in the U.S. zone because the American people give us substantial support. I'm very thankful for this. Nevertheless, we are hungry. So I am asking you sincerely to send a Care package. I ask mostly for my wife and my child, and would be sincerely grateful to you if you could help us.
If you are not in a position to do this, maybe you have a friend or relative you give my address to.
With sincere thanks,
16 Allendorf (Eder)
Kreis Frankenberg - Hessen
Germany U.S. Zone
The letter, translated years later, is fascinating to say the least. It is unknown whether Hollis responded to this plea or if he had received the earlier letter.
Some of Hollis' collection is said to be in the Batsto Nature Center and I did find some of his plants in the Herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1987, I found his schizea Pusilla, or curly fern, specimen there. This plant, found at Crowley Landing in 1938, was mounted onto an aging page turning a crisp brown. Another visit, aided by more information, would undoubtedly yield other treasures.
The severing of the overseas postal with Behr, did not set-back Hollis' hobby since he had good correspondence with other professionals of botany. The late Reverend Henry C. Beck, author of several Mullica River accounts, saw talent in Hollis and tried to cultivate his acquaintanceships with others although Hollis, a private person, did not always respond. After some prodding, Hollis wrote to Dr. Mintin A. Chrysler of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. On May 6, 1946 Beck wrote, "I know that Dr. Chrysler has had a book on ferns under way for a long while, and I do think that... I could arrange a meeting for you. The more contacts you have of this sort, the more your own work will become known the way I want it to be."
Athough not a fame-seeker, his detailed work caught the attention of the New Jersey botanical community. After receiving a letter from Hollis, Dr. Chrysler, of Middlebush, N.J., immediately wrote, "...your name has been familiar to me in connection with your discovery of the gametophytes of L. alopecuroides. Brief reference is made to your "find" in our forthcoming "Ferns of South Jersey", about which you are good enough to inquire...your report as to new stations for L. clavatum is quite exciting. The only Burlington Co. station in any of the herbaria which I have examined is Bordentown...if you care to send us a specimen from one of the stations which you mention, we would include it in our collection and put a dot on the appropriate map, with perhaps a citation in the text."
Hollis obliged by submitting previously undocumented specimens from the Green Bank region. However, Dr. Chrysler's stated in his return letter of June 27, 1946, "Whether reference can be made to these additions to distribution is not so easy to say, for the manuscript has already been placed in the hands of the publisher."
Dr. Chrysler tried to interest Hollis in a project to plot the various flora species in the Green Bank area on a large-scale distribution map. It is unknown whether Hollis undertook this activity.
Another of Beck's introductions was that of Bill Bailey, an artist of the Saturday Evening Post. Bailey shared Hollis' botanical studies as well as bird-watching and became his life-long friend. Bailey led Hollis and his friends, including Reverend Beck, into the Barrens for outings. Last reports of Bill Bailey was that he retired to Florida.
Hollis relied on his friends for transportation since he did not drive. For this reason, perhaps, he specialized in the flora of the Mullica area near his home.
Hollis' South Jersey botanical activities lessened as the years went on and his health deteriorated. His brother Glendin remembered him as a heavy smoker. Arthur Hollis Koster was fifty-eight years old and was a boiler-room worker at the Center City YMCA, when he passed away in Philadelphia in 1966. Local South Jersey historian Budd Wilson was a pallbearer at his funeral.
Hollis' interests were various and he was known during his day for his knowledge of the glasstowns that dominated Jersey, as well as botany. Hollis had been been an avid book collecter. After Hollis died, his brother Glendin circulated a list of Hollis' books and effects to family members. Glendin gave some of his books to family and the rest to the Glassboro Library. However, many books had been given away to friends by his other brother Rodney out of generosity.
Biography written by Drew Techner.
Leon Abbot Koster (1883 - 1962)
Josephine Garton Koster (1881 - 1945)
Green Bank Methodist Cemetery
New Jersey, USA
Created by: Researcher
Record added: Oct 19, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 30680482