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About Park Benjamin, Jr.
see photo in media: US Naval academy seal designed by Park Benjamin
Park Benjamin (1849–1922) was an American patent lawyer, physician, and writer. He was born in New York City, graduated at the United States Naval Academy in 1867, resigned from the Navy in 1869, and graduated at the Albany Law School in the following year. He was associate editor of The Scientific American from 1872 to 1878 and subsequently edited Appleton's Cyclopedia of Applied Mechanics and Cyclopædia of Modern Mechanism.
Park Benjamin, Jr. was born in New York in 1849. His father, Park Benjamin, Sr., was extremely famous in his time, as a poet, editor and founder of several newspapers. He was sued for libel by James Fenimore Cooper, and was on personal terms with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, as a critic, singled him out as the greatest American writer of sonnets. Walt Whitman, one of Benjamin's employees and protégés, hated his poetry. By the time his first son was born, he had settled down to quiet retirement in Long Island. By the 20th century, Park Benjamin, Sr. was virtually forgotten.
Junior graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1867 and published a book of his etchings of the academy that year. He resigned from the Navy, and after a year at law school was admitted to the New York Bar in 1870. He studied science at Union College and received his Ph.D. in 1877. Before completing his doctorate he was assistant editor of Scientific American (1872–78) and then editor-in-chief of Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics (1879–96). By the time Benjamin began working at Scientific American it had become more associated with the commercial side of science and patenting of inventions. He was editor when Edison brought in his phonograph to the Scientific American patent agency, and its uses were for the first time described in an 1877 issue. Both Edison and younger brother Dr. George Benjamin were contributors to Appleton's when P.B. began editing.
In between those editorships Benjamin established, at 37 Park Row, a "Scientific Expert Office" that offered advertising and promotional help, as well as metallurgical and chemical expertise for inventors and manufacturers. Benjamin wrote three books on the history of electricity, one on the Voltaic cell and one on the U.S. Naval Academy. Like the later Scientific American editor, John Bernard Walker, he was very interested in the Navy and in coastal defenses, the northeast coast particularly. According to his article in the Who’s Who, his story, The End of New York (1881), meant to warn of the navy’s inadequacy, made quite an impression at the time. It features balloons which can float over targets and release bombs, an invention it seems he was quite worried about since he wrote an article warning about the dangers of balloon weapons the year before the story came out. This creative method of siege was used first by Austria against the rebellious Venetians in 1849. The balloon bombs were successful and their use was reported in Scientific American in 1849. Who knows why Benjamin saw it as a threat to New York thirty years later? "The subject is woefully trite," wrote the Nassau Literary Magazine when the story was reprinted in 1885, "the plot is extremely simple...Its interest is derived solely from its novelty." The End of New York may seem slow, and sometimes thick in Naval detail, but it is a unique origin point in American fiction. It was the first story in the mode of George Chesney's The Battle of Dorking (1871); at least six other stories in this collection fall in that category, and Benjamin's predates the next by seven years. These stories are defined by describing an imaginary invasion, having a clear purpose to expose the weaknesses of the author's home country defenses, and showing how those defenses could be improved. Many of these invasion stories use famous contemporaries as characters, but Benjamin's story is the only one that kills off some of these real people, like Captain Greer, Lieutenant-Commander Jewell and Vice-Admiral Rowan (at the end of Chapter II). His work is the first New York story to describe specific buildings toppling into the streets, and the ruin of the city and mass evacuation in its gory detail.
In 1918, Benjamin's daughter Dorothy, 25, eloped with opera star Enrico Caruso, who was 45. Caruso was the most famous tenor in the world at the time. Benjamin initially approved of the marriage but later withdrew his consent citing the differences in their "ages, nationality and temperament." Another of his daughters married that year and Benjamin was also conspicuously absent from her wedding.
In 1919, Benjamin legally adopted Dorothy's long time governess, Anna M. Bolchi, as his daughter. His wife was ill and living in a sanitarium at the time. Caruso died in 1921 at the age of 48 and Benjamin died the next year at the age of 74 at his summer home in Stamford, CT. All of his children, except Dorothy, were at his bedside when he died.
He left each of his biological children one dollar in his will. The adopted girl, an Italian immigrant, had been left the bulk of the estate worth half a million dollars. The text of the will was printed in the newspapers with its scathing comments on the children. "Because of their long continued, persistent, undutiful and unfilial conduct" they had "acted less as children than as parasites and who have defied me." Benjamin’s widow, died in the sanitarium one month after him, at age 56, which left Bolchi in total control of the estate. The children then sued to contest the will on several counts, dropping the suit six months later when a financial settlement was reached with Bolchi. A year after his death, Bolchi scattered Benjamin’s ashes in the exact middle of the Atlantic, as per his wishes. A few months later in London, she married Benjamin’s lawyer, Benjamin Fullman. The lawyer had suspiciously drawn up both Benjamin’s will and the adoption of his future wife.