Getting the Drop on Nature

William Finley filming while dressed as a goat. Glacier Park, Montana, 1929. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley D1024.

William Finley filming while dressed as a goat. Glacier Park, Montana, 1929.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley D1024.

Halloween is just a week away. In celebration, this month’s installation of our Reuniting Finley and Bohlman series takes a look at costumes—the innovative wildlife photographer’s best friend.

William Finley and his collaborators are renowned for their ingenuity and stubborn determination in ensuring that they got the best shot. Several photographs show Finley and Herman Bohlman burrowed deep into haystacks or perched precariously in the treetops waiting for birds to land in just the right place (often persuaded by a snack kindly left by the photographers). Finley’s earliest photography blind was a large wagon with a heavy green tarp hung down the sides, inside which he and Bohlman concealed themselves and their camera. In later years, particularly after Finley’s future son-in-law, Arthur Pack, joined the expeditions, the disguises got noticeably more creative.

The Infamous Goat Men of Glacier

On a 1928 expedition to Glacier Park in Montana, Finley and Pack took their efforts to photograph wildlife a step further than hiding in a blind: They donned a white flannel goat costume, complete with horns and whiskers. Writing of the experience later, Finley noted:

Carefully smoothing out my false whiskers, I crawled on to a point where I got good pictures within fifty feet. His white form almost filled the finder as I pressed the trigger. I shot pictures as fast as the film would run, and on to the end; after all, it was rather a simple thing to get the goat at fifty feet and less. It was perhaps just a matter of whiskers—white whiskers.”

To our great fortune, Finley and Pack’s goat antics are preserved in a 1930 Nature Magazine short film, “Getting our Goat.” The 15 minute film features stunning vistas of Glacier’s rugged terrain, intimate depictions of wildlife behavior, and of course, a be-goated Finley doing his best to get the drop on a group of wary goats.

GettingOurGoat

Illustration from Modern Mechanics and Inventions featuring Arthur Pack's cactus disguise.

Illustration from Modern Mechanics and Inventions featuring Arthur Pack’s cactus disguise.

A Prickly Situation

Costumes were deployed again on a 1930 expedition to Arizona and New Mexico that Finley co-led with Pack. This time, Pack hid inside a giant cactus held up by suspenders that concealed both man and camera. As he roamed the desert of the southwest in search of vantage points from which to lie in wait, Pack succeeded in capturing images of some of the region’s most elusive species. Though, given the lack of visible ventilation and seemingly fixed position of the camera, coupled with the extreme heat of the American Southwest, one has to wonder whether this effort led to more frustration than success.

 

Excerpt from March 1931 issue of Popular Science featuring Arthur Pack's cactus design.

Excerpt from March 1931 issue of Popular Science featuring Arthur Pack’s cactus design.

Learn More

To see more, be sure to check up on the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman Collection on Oregon Digital throughout the year as additional materials are uploaded.

This blog series is part of a yearlong partnership between the Oregon Historical Society Research Library and Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives to digitize the Finley and Bohlman photograph and manuscript collections held by our libraries and to unite them online through Oregon Digital and the OHS Digital Collections website. Stay tuned in coming months for future installments about Finley, Bohlman, and their birding adventures around the state.

This project is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.

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