The Dry Dredgers of Cincinnati, Ohio

The Dry Dredgers of Cincinnati, Ohio

By Jack Kallmeyer, President

The Dry Dredgers officially organized as a club associated with the University of Cincinnati in April, 1942. The group was an offshoot of an evening lecture series started at U.C. in 1937 entitled, “Cincinnati 400,000,000 years ago.”  The lecture series included field trips on the weekends led by Professor Kenneth Caster.  The lectures continued for at least the next four years adding the archeology of the local Indian cultures to the geology and paleontology topics.  Some thirty-three enthusiasts of paleontology approached Professor Caster in April of 1942 asking him to formalize the group with him as U.C. advisor.  This began our long association with U.C. that continues to this day. Succeeding Professor Caster as club advisor was Professor Richard  Davis who preceded our current advisor, Professor Emeritus David Meyer.

The Dry Dredgers is perhaps the most oddly named group amongst the many amateur organizations dedicated to paleontology across the United States. We come by the name honestly through a well-recognized and esteemed early paleontologist, James Hall, who had no idea that his casual comment would inspire others to cast it in stone as the name of an organization in 1942. Hall’s statement: “Geology dry dredges the sea bottoms of antiquity” (Fox, ca. 1952).  Our founding sponsor at the University of Cincinnati, Kenneth Caster, proposed the name Dry Dredgers in 1942 and explained the origin as being from an 1895 Charles Schuchert quote of Hall in an article entitled, “Dry-dredging the Mississippian Seas” (Caster, 1982).

Most of the documented early history of the Dry Dredgers has been lost to what I can imagine was a very disappointed thief who absconded with our box of archival material.  This box had transferred from President to President through the years.  After that unfortunate incident, we established an official archive through the University of Cincinnati.  Our materials are now organized and kept safe.  We have rebuilt some of our early history from the donations and estates of our early members but many gaps remain.

Members of the Dry Dredgers are collectors, curators, and philanthropists – men and women – young and old.  From our 1942 beginning of about 33 charter members, we are now a group of around 250. For many years the membership remained around 100 until we made two additions.  One of our members, Greg Courtney, observed that people with children would join and then leave after a year because our programs were too technical.  After becoming Education Chair, Greg instituted a Beginner’s Class held 45 minutes prior to the main meeting and program.  The other change was the addition of our website by another talented member, webmaster Bill Heimbrock. These two changes contributed largely to the increase in membership.  We have very recently become active on Facebook and Twitter and have hope that this addition will bring in even more members.

We collect for as many reasons as there are members.  We have members who want to know the name of a prized self-collected fossil and whether it is unique or rare.  Others are not content with a basic identification and seek knowledge about the bigger picture of ancient life. Some maintain their own personal museums of exceptional specimens. Many have amassed large collections of the abundant and well-preserved Upper Ordovician fossils from the Cincinnatian – we are spoiled in this regard since collecting here should more properly be termed Ordovician beach collecting.  Greater Cincinnati is world famous for the abundance and excellent preservation of the Upper Ordovician fossils found here.

University of Cincinnati professors David Meyer and Carlton Brett working with Dry Dredgers member Ron Fine on his newly discovered fossil of unknown affinity. Nicknamed “Godzillus” by Fine, the discovery made international news.
University of Cincinnati professors David Meyer and Carlton Brett working with Dry Dredgers member Ron Fine on his newly discovered fossil of unknown affinity. Nicknamed “Godzillus” by Fine, the discovery made international news.

Whether new to collecting or more experienced, Dry Dredgers members are interested in advancing science.  Over the many years of our existence, members have donated fossils of all types to the University of Cincinnati and to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History.  A large portion of the research collections at the Cincinnati Museum Center Geier Collections and Research Center came from Dry Dredgers (Hunda, 2014).  Dry Dredgers have contributed specimens, shared localities and assisted with field work with graduate students and professional paleontologists since our early beginnings. Retired Miami University (Oxford, OH) Professor John Pope stated that, “Many of the important fossil discoveries in this region have been made by members of the Dry Dredgers” (Kallmeyer & Meyer, 1997).  At least two of our members are currently working directly with professionals on research papers that will potentially introduce new species of organisms not previously known from the Cincinnatian – quite an accomplishment for an area that has been studied by many elite paleontologists for almost 200 years.  The Dry Dredgers website has a listing of all publications involving the Dry Dredgers or individual members at:

The Dry Dredgers has become an internationally known organization through the efforts of our members.  We have had dedicated and enthusiastic advisors from the professional ranks, close associations with the many curators who have been with the Cincinnati Museum Center, energetic graduate students and club members who have brought their individual expertise to the organization and running of the club.  Because of the efforts of these many people, we have moved from a small club barely able to finance the bulletin mailing to one that has the ability to do philanthropic spending.  Proper stewardship of these assets will allow us to continue this well into the future.  The Dry Dredgers have established an endowment fund that supports the research projects of students, professionals and amateurs (The Paleontological Research Award). We contribute annually to the U.C. Caster Endowment Fund that supports graduate research.  A number of Cincinnati Museum Center projects have been funded by the Dry Dredgers including the recently opened “Cincinnati Under the Sea” exhibit.  Spending in these areas supports our mission of stimulating interest and promoting education in stratigraphy and paleontology and encouraging collection, preservation and classification of all fossils.

The historic 1957 Marchand Ordovician diorama restored for the new Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit that opened June 13, 2014.
The historic 1957 Marchand Ordovician diorama restored for the new Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit that opened June 13, 2014.

We are looking forward to participating in National Fossil Day in October and are partnering with the Cincinnati Museum Center toward that end.  We will celebrate on October 18 with a Fossil Festival event at the Museum that will include many family oriented activities at the Museum plus special exhibits of private collections and a fossil identification service.  The events will end on October 19 with self-guided field trips to a number of collecting localities in the greater Cincinnati area.  The events are still in the planning stages.

May 2 & 3 of 2015 will be the 50th anniversary for Geofair.  This fossil, gem, and mineral show is co-sponsored by the Dry Dredgers along with the Cincinnati Mineral Society.  Unlike other smaller shows in the area, Geofair has a substantial educational content and is family friendly.  The 2015 show will be held at the Sharonville Convention Center – see for more information.

The Dry Dredgers legacy has been a 72 year partnership between professionals and amateurs.  We look forward to continuing this tradition in the years ahead.

Fox, Edith, 1952 quoted in an introduction to a talk presented to the Dry Dredgers by William Shideler.

Caster, Kenneth E., 1982, from a talk to the Dry Dredgers.

Hunda, Brenda, 2014, Opening remarks for new “Cincinnati Under the Sea” exhibit.

Kallmeyer & Meyer, 1997, in Geology Today, Vol 13, Number 6, “The Dry Dredgers of Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.”