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Louis P. Gratacap

Louis Pope Gratacap, long-time curator at the American Museum of Natural History, was born in Gowanus, Long Island, New York on November 1, 1850, the son of Lucinda Benton and John Louis Gratacap, a merchant. Soon after his birth his family moved to Richmond, Staten Island, where he lived in the family homestead for the rest of his life as a bachelor. He graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1869 with a bachelor's degree, and in 1870 enrolled at the General Theological Seminary with the idea of becoming a minister; after a year, however, he dropped out. He then worked for a while at the National Park Bank, but left to resume his education at the Columbia School of Mines, where he studied under Dr. Thomas Egleston and received a Ph.B. [sic] degree in 1876.

Gratacap then worked as a chemist for a gas company while becoming involved at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1880, he was awarded a master's degree from his old alma mater, CCNY, and was appointed assistant curator of mineralogy at the American Museum that same year (under R.P. Whitfield in the Department of Geology). In 1886 he and others, including George F. Kunz, founded the New York Mineralogical Club, with Gratacap as permanent curator of the Club's mineral collection. He had no personal collections except for an extensive personal library.

In 1890 Gratacap was made curator of mineralogy at the American Museum as well; under his watch the museum received the Spang Collection (1891), the magnificent mineral collection of C.S. Bement (from J. Pierpont Morgan) and the Tiffany Gem Collection, all of which he installed and meticulously cataloged. His best known and most enduring work was his Popular Guide to Minerals (1912), which included 74 photos of specimens from the Bement collection. However, he wrote extensively on many other subjects including the geology of New York City, theological subjects, politics (Why the Democrats Must Go, 1914) and even fiction and science fiction, e.g. The Certainty of a Future Life in Mars (1903) and A Woman of the Ice Age (1906).

Gratacap's friend Gilman Stanton wrote of him: "He was always ready to help the humblest, beloved by all who knew him, cheering the discouraged, helping the sick and unfortunate often to his own inconvenience, devoting his time to folk who had no claim upon him, ready with a helping hand or good cheer to brighten his corner. His modesty made him reserved, but once intimate his friendship and enthusiasm knew no bounds."

He died suddenly on December 19, 1917, and is buried in Old Trinity Churchyard in New York City. He was succeeded as curator at the American Museum by Herbert P. Whitlock.

STANTON, G.S. (1918) Louis Pope Gratacap. Bulletin of the New York Mineralogical Club, 2 (1), 1-4.
KUNZ, G.F. (1918) Biographical sketch of the late L.P. Gratacap. The American Museum Journal, 18 (4), 302-304.
U.S. Federal Census, 1870, 1880.
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The Mineralogical Record - Louis P. Gratacap Louis P. Gratacap in his office at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
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