Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 24

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 24

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This is the grave of Bob Marshall, New York Jewish elite, socialist, forester, and wilderness advocate.

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A truly fascinating individual, Marshall grew up in the Jewish community of New York and Syracuse, where his father was a constitutional lawyer and champion of getting persecuted Russian Jews to move to the United States. His father was also an early naturalist and frequently took his children into the forests, where he worked in organizations to protect the Adirondacks and Catskills. His son Robert, always known as Bob, embraced the forests. He decided to become a forester in his teens, went to Syracuse and majored in forestry, and while there became a charter member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He started working as a forester in 1925 in Montana and traveled around the West working the rest of his life. By this point, his father had died and he became independently wealthy. He continued to work and instead used that money to try and create social change. As early as 1930, he published influential essays on the need for wilderness. While after World War II, the Forest Service would be strongly opposed to wilderness, during the 1930s, there was enormous internal controversy within the agency between foresters who wanted to serve the timber companies and radicals who wanted to completely rethink the government’s relationships with the forests, regulate timber companies, ban clearcutting, and promote wilderness. And while the former side of this debate won after 1940, the latter foresters became influential in building environmentalist thinking after the war.

He actively identified as a socialist as early as 1932, writing, “I wish very sincerely that Socialism would be put into effect right away and the profit system eliminated.” He became Washington, DC chairman of the ACLU, promoted federal funding for scientific research, worked with tenant rights organizations, and co-founded The Wilderness Society in 1935. He fought against racially discriminatory hiring practices within the USFS and promoted the forests being used for recreational opportunities instead of strictly for timber company interests. Unfortunately, he had a bad heart, which did not run in his family, as his brother lived to the age of 96. He had a heart attack on a train from Washington to New York in 1939. He was 38 years old. His estate of $1.5 million went to promote wilderness, socialism, and civil liberties. In his honor, after the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, the Bob Marshall Wilderness was created in Montana.

Bob Marshall is buried at Salem Fields Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

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  • the ordinary fool

    Wow – I’d never heard of this guy. Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

    Any biographies of him you’d recommend?

    • I’m not sure there is a good biography out there, although I don’t read many biographies so I might be missing something. There is a 1986 book evidently called A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall, although given that I’ve never heard of it before, I am a bit skeptical. He comes up a lot of course in histories of wilderness. The best book I could recommend here is Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement. That book has a full chapter on Marshall.

      • twbb

        Roderick Nash pays a lot of attention to Marshall in Wilderness and the American Mind.

  • jpgray

    I spent five days backpacking in the Bob Marshall wilderness in Montana, and it was an awesome experience in every sense. Its having the highest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48 aside…

  • DrDick

    His legacy is commemorated near here with 1.5 million acres of wilderness, which contains the largest grizzly population in the lower 48.

  • dp

    I’d never heard of him either, but it seems he had a short life well spent. This is much more interesting than the plutocrats’ graves!

  • petemack

    Good story. Got any pictures of dead horses to post next?

  • Crusty

    Erik, no more posts about accomplished, interesting individuals who died younger than me, por favor.

  • West of the Cascades

    Very interesting, thanks. I’m working on a brief this weekend and quoting Bob Marshall Alliance v. Hodel extensively, had only the vaguest notions until now of how important he was to the early wilderness movement. It helps remind me that there are still a lot of good people in the Forest Service, even when the decisionmakers keep trying just to get out the cut and the cows.

    • DrDick

      He is a bit of a folk hero here in western Montana.

  • JustRuss

    Fascinating individual. Shame he died so young.

  • I live within a day’s drive of more than a few wilderness areas, but the Bob Marshall is my very favorite. It’s so big that it can really achieve a sort of equilibrium. It teaches you to respect bears, too.

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