This feature is devoted each month to one of the personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share a fictional interview we had with:
Daniel Moreau Barringer
Interview by James Tobin
What or who got you interested in meteorites and how old were
you when you got your first meteorite?
My first real exposure to meteorites was when I went back to college in my late twenties and my life took a different direction away from the law. I found that the atmosphere of the law office was not really to my liking. I have always loved the outdoors and thought something in the field of mining might be the ticket for me. It was after courses in economic geology at Harvard that I went to the University of Virginia. There I took chemistry and mineralogy and got my first real contact with meteorites. So I was around thirty I guess. But, I have to say that it was simply an intellectual interest. They held no real fascination for me at that time. I did not have even one meteorite among my rocks.
What was your first meteorite?
It was a Canyon Diablo as you can imagine. As I said I was not fascinated by them years ago. But, out in the west in 1902 I chanced to hear a story while smoking on the porch one evening at the San Xavier Hotel in Tucson. A story about a deposit of iron; perhaps of meteoritic origin. I was dubious, but it could be a great opportunity so I investigated the story. There turned out to be a great amount of surface meteorites in the crater area. One of those found then was my first meteorite. Little did I realize how many more I would soon have.
Do you still have it?
Yes, I still have it. Its right here. This one. As you can see there is nothing particularly interesting about it. It certainly is not one of the finely sculptured Canyon Diablos that we found so many of. Looks more like an iron potato than anything else.
Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating.. etc)?
I have been involved in the debate over the age of Meteor Crater and find that a fascinating topic.
The study of the meteorites has mainly been to determine more about what happened in the impact and what their chemical make up is. I have been involved at times with these investigations. Some of the analysis procedures are very critical if the noble metals are to be found. That is an area of special interest for me. I have sometimes given advise to the chemists on how to make sure that the platinum and iridium are not lost in the analysis.
Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?
My sons share my interest. They have been close to the work at the crater now that they have gotten older. Reau has been involved in the investigation of another crater which May also provide similar deposits of iron and nickel. But, the rest of my family tends to think of the crater, and meteorites as an obsession that I would be better off without.
Would you say that you are a collector of meteorites?
No not really. I am a man that has though some interesting circumstances become the processor of more meteorites by weight than anyone else on Earth. But, they are mostly one kind.
Do you ever hunt for meteorites?
In one sense I have been on a constant hunt for a very large meteorite or asteroid really, for many years. But, I know what you mean. Yes, as I am out in the country and hiking about I have my eye to the ground more these days. I had a bit of a scare at one point a number of years ago. I was hiking around the plains at Meteor Crater and found a small stone meteorite. We called them aerolites in those years. I worried for many days after finding it that it might be part of the big meteorite. It might indicate that the main mass was not solid iron. It was full of meteoric iron, but proved to have no platinum or iridium. I reassured myself that it was not part of the one that made the crater. I donít know where it is right now.
What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?
I suppose that would be the largest iron we have found so far at the crater. We named it the Holsinger fragment. Samuel found it while I was away in London. It seems so long ago now, and he died so soon after finding it. That was back in 1911. I recall the small museum on the rim was not really completed when he passed away. We put the meteorite in there. It became my office on the property as well. Visitors often came by to see the crater. I had a small hammer that I left on the big siderite. They loved to strike it and hear the ringing sound it made.
It is still my favorite I guess.
Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses, breccias, melts, tektites, and such?
Yes, I am truly fascinated by impact metamorphosed rocks. Meteor Crater has some wonderful examples of shocked and melted rock. I am still searching the area for true glass products, but so far nothing has been found. Only rocks that contain veins and bits of glass.
Are there any other areas of interest you enjoy that relate to meteorites?
I enjoy writing. As you May know I published two books some years ago. Minerals of Commercial Value, that was a great project. It was taken mostly from my prospecting life and my geological training. The Law of Mines and Mining in the United States on the other hand was a mixture of my legal experience and my mining experience. But, in recent time the papers that have been publish about the crater have been both a learning opportunity and wonderful mental exercise. It seems for me that I learn much during the process of writing and expression. Much that was not fully coalesced in my mind becomes clearer as I write about it. Many of the things I thought at the beginning of my investigations at the crater have turned out not to be as I first envisioned them. We have been breaking new ground here and I have learned much over the years.
What do you think will be the outcome of the debate now raging between you and others over the latest Moulton report on the crater?
This is his second report and it is a very comprehensive study from a mathematical point of view. But, many variables that we do not understand well, are being assumed in it. I think that time and exploration will still result in the discovery of a great mass of iron at the crater. His first report was met with many opposing opinions, this a more in-depth report, yet I think the same result will happen again. Until we know more about the size and nature of the body or swam of bodies; until we know more about the speed it hit the Earth at, we can not say what the effects on the mass were at impact. I have only begun to work through the report. In fact I only receive a copy yesterday. So I can not really comment too much. I have been dictating some letter though, to send to our consulting scientists as I notice things in the report.
Well, Mr. Barringer we would certainly like to thank you for giving us this time and especially since it is so near Thanksgiving. We look forward to seeing what happen as the debate brought to you by others continues. Have a wonderful Holiday Season.
Editorial note: The staff at Meteorite Times was saddened to read in the New York Times yesterday of the passing of D. M. Barringer on November 30, 1929 at his home in Haverford two days ago of a massive coronary thrombosis.