Dr. Jaggar and the Sand Crab

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Above (from left to right): Dr. Jaggar, Mrs. Woods, and Captain Woods.  Below:  Dr. Jaggar and his amphibious vehicle, the `Ohiki, at Keauhou.


On January 3, the ongoing eruption at Kilauea marked its 30th anniversary. Yes, Madame Pele has been spewing lava, smoke, fire and fumes for over 30 years, to the delight of thousands and the despair of countless others, including the unfortunate residents of Royal Gardens. Many of us who live in Kona, of which I most certainly am one, are heartily sick of this stubborn volcanic extravaganza. Our blue skies have been dimmed and despoiled by VOG and murk for decades; we have itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and disappointing sunsets. I do not care if another dribble of molten material ever escapes from Halema`uma`u or Pu`u `O`o again. In fact, if the magma puddle beneath our island sank into oblivion, never to re-emerge, I would rejoice and throw a party!

The Smoking Spirit of one man in particular would not share my view. Dr. Thomas Augustus Jaggar loved living on an island wracked, ripped, quivered and quaked by volcanoes. He pulled up his roots, firmly twisted into New England’s academic bedrock, and came to Hawaii to learn about volcanoes in nature’s laboratory. He was consumed by a desire to witness, understand, record and predict earthquakes and lava flows like no one else before him (and maybe even since). His very admirable goal was to save lives and protect property, having witnessed massive destruction and painful death caused by poisonous gases, burning mudflows, volcanic explosions and devastating tsunami around the world. He was a man who, in modern parlance, thought outside the box. Once Hawaii got into his bloodstream, he enthusiastically jumped all hurdles and threw himself into the volcanic fray. Dr. Jaggar spied possibilities where others (the faint hearted) might pull back, and his enthusiasm and energy attracted a band of friends and followers who delighted in his unorthodox ideas and hair brained schemes.

Our photo this month was taken in February of 1938 at Keauhou Bay in North Kona. It illustrates one of Dr. Jaggar’s Original Ideas: `Ohiki, his amphibious vehicle designed to cruise from dry land into the ocean, all the better “to probe, pry and pick out; to prod, as the earth, with a digging stick.” (Pukui and Elbert) Note the fantastic hybrid design: two paddle wheels and an outboard motor at the rear to propel the craft in water, and four automobile tires to drive `Ohiki on dry land. I am no mechanic, but somehow the steering wheel is attached to something (an old Model A chassis?) that steers this charming craft. Even the headlights are still intact – such a good idea on a dark night at sea. Why did he want such a thing when boats abound? Did `Ohiki do away with the necessity of a mooring and midnight row boat escapades?

By Hilo standards, Keauhou is a veritable shrimp of a bay, a miniscule dimple in the flank of Hualalai. However, in a district where sandy bays are few and far between, Keauhou was deeply loved. Whether Keopuolani gave birth to her youngest son at Keauhou because she HAD TO (she was cruising by in her canoe and realized her time was running out) or because it was the BEST PLACE for sacred sons to be born, I am not sure. However, Kauikeaouli was born in 1813 at Keauhou; Kamehameha ordered the island’s largest holua slide constructed nearby to celebrate his birth; and numerous heiau in and about the bay attest to its former religious significance. All in all, Keauhou is pretty darn great. What I especially like about this photo is how remarkably untouched by human hands Keauhou appeared to be at this time.

In this photo, I assume `Ohiki’s captain is Dr. Jaggar in his broad brimmed lauhala hat, looking as if he were all set for a day on the ranch instead of the beach. Someone is assisting him at the prow. (Is that Mrs. Isabel Jaggar in a bottom’s up position at the bow or simply some cargo?) His friends at Keauhou, including home owners Captain and Mrs. Robert Woods and Mr. and Mrs. Roy Wall, delighted in inviting the doctor and his charming wife, the former Mrs. Maydwell, down to Keauhou for rest and recreation. Astute observers will note this sandy beach no longer exists where it once did. Development at the bay, masterminded by the powers that were at Bishop Estate in the 1960s, have penned up this sand behind a wall and transformed it into a volleyball court. Dr. Jaggar would not approve.

My cousin, Brysson Greenwell, remembers visiting Dr. Jaggars’s home at the Volcano when he (Brysson) was just a boy. “You got into the house over a bridge which was above a horrible volcanic crack – really rather scary! Mrs. Jaggar had a small monkey called Wally and a parrot named Polly.” The Jaggars also owned a home at Keopuka, South Kona, where Brysson remembers the doctor built an intriguing observation platform, an excellent place to look out to sea and to spy – what else - erupting volcanoes!

Dr. Jaggar established numerous “seismographs” around the island, two close to his Kona home: one at the vicarage of Christ Church, cared for by the Rev. K.O. Miller, and the other at Captain Woods’ home at Haleki`i, mauka of the present day Kealekekua Post Office. No doubt, Dr. Jaggar set up several of these monitors around the island, creating a record of earthquake activity long before the days of fax lines and e-mail.

Such was the power of Dr. Jaggar’s personality and reputation in the community that Armine Von Tempski included him in her novel, Lava, published in 1930. In this tale of family drama and restrained romance, Hualalai erupted and wreaked havoc at Pu`uwa`awa`a Ranch. Among the cast of colorful characters, foremost among them the beautiful heroine, Kulani Garland (based on the very real Mona Kekaha Kulani Hind), an active and attractive volcanologist called Dr. Tom Arlen appears. Dr. Arlen drives around the island monitoring earthquakes, regardless of danger. In the novel, the main ranch house (in real life, the home of the Robert L. Hind family) has one of the doctor’s seismographs on its lanai. The cowboys all know how to pour shellac over the smoked cylinders to preserve the squiggly lines for Dr. Arlen!

The following excerpt is taken from Lava, page 145. Kulani and her cowboys have set up a temporary camp on the bluff at Pu`uanahulu. The ranch house, damaged by several severe earthquakes, has been abandoned for the time being. Kaiko, a close family friend (dramatically blind and elderly), has chosen to remain at Kulani’s side and defy her domineering father, hard as nails, John Garland! Beneath smoke filled skies…

* * * * *

“Well, Tom,” Kai-ko said, leaning on the table, “what have you to report?”
“It’s extraordinary, Kai-ko,” Arlen said, “but the higher up Hualalai Sonny and I went the quieter it got. At the summit I found no fresh cracks, saw no signs of heat and felt no earthquakes. Yet tonight when we got back to the ranch the shock recorder on the veranda registered five hundred and forty-one shakes of varying intensity which seems to indicate that this threatened outbreak will be low on the flank of the mountain.”
Kai-ko thrust his hands through his sparse gray hair and Thelma moved sharply.
“I think, Ku-lani,” Arlen said, “that if you’ll let me have one of the trucks, I’ll go back and sleep at the ranch tonight.”
Thelma gestured protestingly.
“Volcanoes are my – business,” Arlen said, smiling, “I’m paid to study them.”
“I fully expect one of these days we’ll see you riding down a lava flow sitting on a white-hot boulder,” Kai-ko laughed.

* ” * * *

For the record, Thomas A. Jaggar was born in Philadelphia in 1871, son of an Episcopalian bishop. At age 26, he graduated from Harvard with his PhD. in Geology and by 1906 headed M.I.T.’s Geology Department. In 1909, he packed up his wife and children and moved to Hawaii (at his own expense), determined to find a living volcano to study first hand. Something happened in rapid fashion to distress Mrs. Jaggar, for she rounded up her children and left Honolulu within six weeks time amid “rumors of infadelity.” (This appalling spelling is Google’s, not mine) Fortunately, where one romance withered, another soon took its place.

Dr. Jaggar found Kilauea fascinating and proposed building a permanent observatory at Halema`uma`u. It took two years, but with Lorrin Thurston’s (Ka-kina) unwavering support - he rallied businessmen and government officials to seize (and fund) the opportunity before them - Jaggar returned to Hawaii in January, 1912, as founding director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. (Another tidbit: Armine Von Tempski dedicated Lava to “My Dad and ‘Ka-kina’, The Gods of My Childhood”, as well as to Mona Kekaha-Kulani Hind!) As Director of H.V.O. and the only man to hold that office for 28 years, Jaggar left his mark on our island and in our history books. In 1917 he married Isabel Maydwell of Kona and began what proved to be a very happy and productive second half of his life. As this photo shows us, Dr. Jaggar enjoyed his time in Kona, making friends who admired his spirit of exploration, adventure and fun. Dr. Jaggar died in Honolulu on January 17, 1953, exactly sixty years to the day from the moment I began to compose this story. (I am so pleased by this coincidence.) Dr. Jaggar wrote an autobiography called My Experience with Volcanoes, published after his death in 1956. I have not read it, but I think it must be on my list of things to do in 2013. *For the record, `Ohiki also means sand crab, rather a good name. 

Aloha no, e Kona.

by Maile Melrose