On this day in 1899, Raymond Ditmars - then a reporter for the New York Times - published an article about his fellow snake-collectors.
Artist Charles H. Higby kept an eight-foot albino boa named Yao, a king snake, and a slim black racer among ‘the Oriental furnishings of his studio, on Fourteenth Street’ as inspiration for his ‘peculiar work, elaborate in decorative effect … seen on many of the theatre programme heads of this city’ .
Meanwhile, Frank Speck, Jr., of Hackensack, New Jersey, possessed ‘a complete collection of the reptiles of the State’ including ‘two lively black racers, which constantly dance up and down the glass front of their cage to the consternation of nervous callers’.
Ditmars reserved his greatest admiration for Professor George R. O’Reilly, ‘among the most enthusiastic collectors of ophidians’.
O’Reilly has 'been in nearly every temperate and tropical country in the world in his search and study of serpent life. Prof. O’Reilly’s experiences range from the ludicrous to the other extreme. In Africa he was worshipped by the natives, and in the West Indies was regarded as a raving maniac.'
'His collection, to the uninitiated, is positively alarming; and wherever he takes up his abode the entire neighborhood becomes immediately uncomfortable.’
(New York Times, February 19, 1899)