Frederick's Top Matches
About Frederick George Orsinger
Director of Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Director of National Aquarium, Wash., DC
Book "Life On A Half Shell" by Frederick Rothman all about F.G. Orsinger
The Great Gray Battle Ship
by Victor John Orsinger
My father had a formidable temper. This seems unusual as he was a sentimental, romantic man. Was it because he was small, shorter than any of his sons? I've heard that short men feel they must be pugnacious. It was said that he was an awesome boxer as
a young man, and his nose, crushed at the bridge, was the result of some terrible beating. He told me that he smashed it in a childhood sledding accident, before doctors were doing "nose jobs."
Despite his temper, which was Herculean in scope and Olympian in range, he would cry silently when his wife was in pain or when his children made him proud. A damp trait I have inherited.
My mother was so apprehensive that I might develop a temper like Pop's that she would clamp down firmly on me when I showed signs of incipient rage, warning me of what seemed to her to be a familial scourge.
The night I graduated from high school, valedictorian covered with glory and numerous gold medals (of which superior scholarship was not one), he told me as I drove his shiny black 1935 Plymouth home with Mom in the back seat that he had lost some of
the greatest opportunities of his life because of his temper. It was a strange thing to tell a seventeen-year old, aflame with self-importance. It took some time and thinking to divine his reasoning and timing for that remark. His eyes were wet, I knew.
A man came to our house one day and gave my father a battleship. It was all gray, about five feet long, all meticulously carved from balsa, bristling with guns and lifeboats and funnels and smokestacks. All that winter the great gray battleship
dominated our living room mantelpiece.
One warm day in the Spring that followed, Pop announced that he and Mom would be away that afternoon. My brother Billy, then about 6, and I, then about 8, wandered across the grassy slope on the side of the house down to the concrete fish pond, forty
feet in length, that Pop had built for his pet fish. We crossed the little bridge he had fashioned and I guess we both had the same idea at the same time: Why not launch the great gray battleship on this serene sea?
Only minutes later, we had this graceful monster off its mantel perch, launched upon our peaceful inland ocean. It was a sunny, quiet Spring day punctuated only by yelps of delight as we two young boys propelled the great ship across the pond with our
Remember Thor? The thundering god of the heavens who throws bolts of lightning? That was Pop, back with Mom from their afternoon whatever. He peered down the slope and saw us with the battleship in the pond. Flew literally, he did, into a towering,
monumental rage. Our insolence and disrespect inflamed him. He stormed down to the pond, gave us both hearty thrashings, then -- and this was the painful part-- grasped the great gray battleship in his muscular fists and tore it apart, bit by bit,
before our eyes.
---March 1, 1980
Burial Mass @ St John Baptist De La Salle Church, Chillum, MD
Fred became the curator of the National Aquarium in Washingtom DC. This is an abstract from an article published by them.
According to an April 1936 department press release titled "Uncle Sam's Fish," a visitor to the basement of the 8-acre building would find "one of the most attractive features of Washington...a place of beauty with its green terrazzo floor and walls,
its artistic columns of terrazzo finish with marble base and cap, and graceful palm...a colorful background for the glassed-in habitat of the fish."
At the time, the aquarium was considered state-of-the-art. "A new experiment in painted backgrounds to create ideas of distance has been tried most successfully in several of the tanks," touted the release.
Commerce officials also recruited the curator of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Fred G. Orsinger. Orsinger, the 1936 release noted, "has the reputation of being able to keep fish, in confinement, alive longer than any person in the United States."
Orsinger, a heating contractor by training who picked up fish husbandry as a hobby, had a bit of P.T. Barnum in him. Even in its heyday, the aquarium's principal visitors were students. To attract the wider public, Orsinger made a point of stocking the
aquarium not only with regional species but also critters such as Super Diamond, the two-headed turtle. Visitors took perverse pleasure in watching one of Super Diamond's heads snatch food the other head was swallowing, presumably headed toward the
same stomach. After Super Diamond died, Orsinger's successor followed up with another double-headed turtle, Siamese Sue, who died after three years in captivity.
Then there was Spencer the sturgeon. Spencer was something of a celebrity before the aquarium moved to 14th and Constitution, having survived an application of chlorine in the city water supply in 1920 that wiped out his three brothers and left him in
bad shape. Orsinger kept Spencer's star bright by feeding stories about him to the press. According to a Jan. 14, 1932, article in the Washington Star, aquarium officials planned "to comb the aristocracy of sturgeons to procure him a mate." Reporters
always knew they could turn to Orsinger when they were desperate for copy, recalls his son, Bill Orsinger, a retired physician who lives in Northern Virginia.
When Spencer entered "piscatorial eternity," in 1935, Orsinger eulogized him in the Post. "What Jumbo was to the pachyderm family, what Babe Ruth was to baseball, that's what Spencer was to acipenser rubicundus," Orsinger said. Apparently, however, he
and other aquarium officials had been a little too picky about finding Spencer a mate. According to another news story, Spencer died two nights before his "wedding."
By the time Orsinger stepped down as director, in 1949, 250,000 visitors were filing through Room B-077 each year. Yet the aquarium had already begun to fall behind the times.
Buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery