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March-April 2012

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In Memoriam: John L. Baum (1916–2011)

John “Jack” Leach Baum was born in 1916 in New York City, the second of three sons of then-prominent New York architect Dwight James Baum and Katherine Crouse Baum. A geologist and mineralogist, Jack died on 16 October 2011 at the age of ninety-five at his home near Franklin, New Jersey. It was in Franklin, after graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1939, that Jack established himself and where, along with his wife, Augusta, he raised his family and served as resident geologist for the New Jersey Zinc Company at its Franklin mine, and later as its chief geologist, until his retirement in 1971, following thirty-two years of service to the company.

Jack initially worked under the stewardship of geologist Allen W. Pinger, whose position he assumed upon Pinger's retirement in 1950. Lawson H. Bauer, the company's chief chemist and mineralogist, respected for his analytical work, befriended him, contributing much to Jack's understanding of the mine's unique mineralogy. From the outset of his residency, Jack began to develop what was to become a vast accumulation of knowledge of the Franklin mine's complex geology, mineralogy, and lengthy history. His work included the mapping of the regional geology and recording of the geology and mineralogy of the Franklin and Sterling Hill orebodies. Much of the detailed knowledge of the Franklin orebody we have today derives from this work. It was this familiarity and his academic prowess that enabled Jack to author or coauthor more than three-dozen scientific, semitechnical, and historical papers. He was a lifelong member and fellow of several professional societies, and acknowledgments of his contributions to the scientific writings of others abound.

The closing of the Franklin mine in 1954 saw Jack being sent far afield performing exploration work on behalf of the company in search of zinc, titanium, uranium, molybdenum, and rare earths. Prospecting from Quebec to Florida, and as far west as Colorado and Utah, involved periods of long absence from his home. Jack told of one such trip into the Canadian bush, during which their pilot abandoned their party, much to the deep concern of his family. Fortunately, surviving on meager provisions discovered in an old, abandoned encampment they encountered, they were able to canoe and portage back to civilization, arriving just in time to greet their disbelieving would-be rescuers.

His prospecting, in addition to employing geophysics and geochemistry, used geo-botanical analyses in search of plant anomalies exhibiting an elevated presence of sought-after metals. This work accumulated into his taking more than thirty-six thousand soil samples. Closer to home, diamond drilling to depths of 6,000 feet directed by Jack proved the absence of further recoverable zinc resources, thus foretelling the demise of mining in Franklin.

These experiences alone may have served well for one lifetime; however, there is more, much more. During Jack's tenure with the New Jersey Zinc Company and the four decades that followed, he reached out in support of his community, his scientific colleagues, and the many others who expressed the interest and desire to learn from what he knew and had experienced. Reserved in his politics, he nonetheless contributed to his community, serving first in Franklin and later in nearby Hamburg on their town councils and zoning boards. He subsequently sat on the County Municipal Utility Authority for seventeen years.

It was nature, however, and the things that surrounded him that had captured Jack from the beginning. He had a passion for learning to the extent that he read, cover to cover, the entire set of encyclopedias his family had provided for him. His interest in rocks and minerals began early, at the age of eight, inspired by his grandfather and trips out West during his youth. It stayed with him through private school and as he entered Harvard, where he became a student of Prof. Charles F. Palache, briefly changing course to major in geological science. Although his forte was to become geology, there is little doubt to those of us who knew him that his interest in minerals had not been swayed entirely.

Prior to the closing of its mine, the mineral collecting community at Franklin was largely limited to Jack and the miners underground, who often benefited from his knowledge. This encouraged the recovery of innumerable mineral specimens that would have otherwise been lost to production and facilitated the creation of many important local mineral collections that later benefited science. Much of Jack's private collection, often visited by research scientists and cited in their work, was donated to the Smithsonian; he reserved a portion and bequeathed it to the Franklin Mineral Museum and his family.

The presence of the nonminer collectors began to grow coincidental to the closing of the Franklin mine. Encouraged by Jack, these collectors formed the Franklin-Ogdensburg Mineralogical Society in 1959. He joined its board of trustees and later served as its president. In 1965 the Franklin Mineral Museum opened with Jack as its volunteer curator. Under his guidance, the museum and its collections grew, as did its curatorial demands. Retirement from the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1971 provided him with the time necessary to respond to those demands, which he continued to do without compensation for thirty-five years. It was during these times that I was first introduced to Jack. I subsequently joined him as a trustee, which provided me the opportunity to share many enlightening moments with him. I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge he possessed that went far beyond the earth sciences.

His demeanor was that of a gentleman. Although a remarkably sharing person, he remained a private and respectful person. All who knew him found him to be both casual and quietly formal. His office at the Franklin Mineral Museum was always open to visitors, as was his home. His greetings and those of the gracious Augusta were always cordial. Our visits with Jack—after business, if there was any—invariably turned to ones of show and tell; this was Jack. There was always a story, always a lesson. Occasional candor was accompanied by a boyish chuckle and a delight in finding humor in the moment. His wit and wry sense of humor were unmatchable.

His appreciation for history would often reveal itself in conversation and his writings. His respect for those things that preceded him inspired him in his work, knowing it, too, should be done well and preserved. His sense of this need saw him reaching out to things of a historical or scientific nature that he encountered during his work, preserving them to the extent that he could, knowing they might otherwise be discarded and lost for all time.

The significance of his contributions to science and to the benefit of others was acknowledged in the naming of a newly characterized member of the apatite group, johnbaumite, first found and described from Franklin, in his honor by Dr. Pete J. Dunn and others in 1980. His support of the scientific and collector community continued through the next two decades. He was curator and sage of the Franklin Mineral Museum until 2001, when he retired and was designated curator emeritus. During the next decade, until his passing, he continued to share his experiences and knowledge of the geology, mineralogy, and history of Franklin and its mine, giving him a legacy spanning a remarkable three-quarters of a century of service to others. One cannot help but smile at Jack's journey through life; it was a continuous adventure of discovery, engendering a deep appreciation of the things he lived and loved to share.

Speaking for all who knew him, we extend our deepest condolences to Augusta, sons Dwight and Peter, and all of the Baum family as we share their sorrow at his passing. He is the last of the Franklin giants of his era.

Bernard T. Kozykowski, an architect, is a former miner with the New Jersey Zinc Company, a past president of the Franklin-Ogdensburg Mineralogical Society, and a trustee of the Franklin Mineral Museum.

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