Not quite a year ago, I took a call at the Special Collections and University Archives reference desk from Dr. Henry H. Bauer, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Science Studies and Emeritus Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences here at Virginia Tech. Dr. Bauer had been contacted not long before by a researcher exploring the life of British author Digby George Gerahty, better known by pseudonyms Stephen Lister and Robert Standish. Hoping to pass them along to his new acquaintance, Dr. Bauer wished to retrieve from the papers he donated to SCUA in the 1990s any copies of his brief correspondence with Gerahty in the summer and fall of 1980.
I was intrigued as to the exact contents of the correspondence, but thought I had a good sense of how the exchange would read. Maybe Gerahty wrote to pick Dr. Bauer’s brain about the particulars of some chemical reaction he wished to feature in a story. Maybe he wrote to run some dialogue by Dr. Bauer to ensure a scientist character sounded authentic. Surely, Gerahty was the one seeking information and surely the answer would be based in some cold, hard truth tested a thousand times in a sterile lab.
You must realize from the title of this post that I had set myself up for a bit of a shock.
You see, Dr. Bauer’s research explores unorthodoxies and ethics in science and places a high value on skepticism of that which is commonly accepted. In 1980, Dr. Bauer was conducting research for his 1986 book The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, and wrote to Gerahty for specifics regarding his role in the resurgence of the Nessie mythos:
Gerahty’s response was kind and his straightforward account left little doubt as to his feelings regarding the existence of the Loch Ness Monster:
For a skeptic of the fantastic, like myself, this clear and concise explanation leaves little to debate. For a skeptic of norms and the commonly accepted, like Dr. Bauer, it was “happy coincidence”:
The next letter from Gerahty graciously noted that Dr. Bauer’s interest in the Loch Ness phenomenon had prompted him for the first time to consider whether “there might be something in the story,” before providing further details as to why he remained an unbeliever:
Dr. Bauer and Gerahty wrote to one another for only a short while, and by late 1980 their correspondence had dropped off. Dr. Bauer wrote again in late 1983, without knowing Gerahty had died at home in the South of France two years earlier. Gerahty’s widow responded, explaining:
It is with great sorrow that I have to tell you that my dear husband died two years ago.
It was impossible for me to write to fan mail people and people like yourself who had been in touch with Stephen Lister so I do hope you understand.
There was reference to my husband’s death in all the papers — but as “Robert Standish” which is perhaps why you missed it.
While it seems Dr. Bauer never convinced Gerahty, he did forge a meaningful, if brief connection with a person who had touched his life in more ways than he had known:
As always, we’d love to have you stop by to check out these or (almost) any other items we hold at SCUA. Click here for more information!