New Yorker in Beijing: the home of Walter Granger (1872-1941)

20 January 2010. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

While reading about the American paleontologist Walter Granger today, I made a small discovery that sent my nostalgia flying through the streets of Beijing where I roamed in 2009.

A publication by Vincent Morgan and Spencer Lucas in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History Bulletin in 2002 narrated the life of Walter Granger, the chief paleontologist of the Central Asiatic Expedition (see earlier entries such as this) of the American Museum of Natural History, whose expeditions in Inner and Outer Mongolia made some of the most spectacular fossil discoveries of the time (dinosaur eggs, Velociraptor, the giant Paraceratherium, etc.).

In that publication, Morgan and Lucas (2002) figured Granger's call card, which printed on one side:

"Mr. Walter Granger
Paleontologist, Third Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, U. S. A."

and on the other side, in Chinese:


The first line was Granger's title and association, and the second his name. The third line was the street where he was housed. It was this last line that gave a clue as to the present day location of this historical residence.

The narrow alleys of imperial Beijing were called "hutong", which are too narrow for modern automobiles but passable by horse-drawn carts and pedestrian traffic. Many hutongs had identical names, but on Granger's card it was indicated that this particular hutong, "Gongxian Hutong", was located on the East City district of Beijing, or Dongchengqu.

As of 2009, this hutong is still adjacent to the China Art Museum, a prime piece of property in modern Beijing that is adjacent to the northeast wall of Gugong, the Forbidden Palace.

[aerial satellite imagery of the northeast corner of Beijing city center. CAM, China Art Museum; GXHT, Gongxian Hutong, ex-residence of Walter Granger; GG, Gugong or Forbidden Palace]

On more than a few occasions, we (my fiancée and I) passed the China Art Museum and the adjacent hutong on our way to the shopping street of Wangfujing, a tourist trap, unknowingly glancing at the treed alleys from cable bus line 111 at what was the residence of Granger; a paleontologist who made history with the discovery of Chinese fossils to the north, where our IVPP paleontologists work today.

The passage of time washes away the minute and the routine, but leaves echoes in its wake.



Morgan, V.L and S.G. Lucas. 2002. Walter Granger, 1872-1941, Paleontologist. New Mexico Museum of Natural history and Science Bulletin 19: 1-58.