Dinosaur Jim"? Where did this label originate? I don't know. I think he created it. Then it took on a life of its own. A tall man with a strong presence -in a the pith helmet- made good press, and the label stuck for the remainder of his 28 years career. The pith helmet was a key - a Greek Fisherman's hat wouldn’t have done the job. I suspect he ginned up the name and used it everywhere he could, in media releases, photos, on both sides of the large yellow tank on wheels we used to haul water in Dry Mesa. The name became part of dinosaur lore in the U.S.
James A Jensen and his wife Marie Merrell became a conjoined organism actually, a single entity, a symbiosis, a functional syncitium, in which each lost his individual identity. Each inherited the economies and mind-sets of their economically-depressed parents and then had to contend with the Depression and WW II. They met in 1940, in the now-defunct smelter town of Mercur, decided after 6 weeks to go to Alaska to homestead, and were married in Seward in May, 1941, a few months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
His was an “American Success” Story, a brilliant, creative kid who knocked around with a bit of moonshine and a motorcycle, and didn’t graduate from high school. He hit the road, rode the rails and thumbed through 30 states. Then he hooked up with Marie who matched him including not graduating from high school. They jointly took on his dreams and in 1961, his fame began to rise after having woked for Dr. A.S. Romer at Harvard University. He was in Montana when I was living in Europe in 1961. A Finn showed me a clipping about a "James A Jensen" who was credited with the discovery of a 13 foot long triceratops skull in Hell Creek, Montana. I scarcely believed it was my dad but it could be no other. That was the first piece of international publicity that he generated for which continued non-stop for 23 years.
The publicity continued until he retired in 1984. He garnered a constant stream of publicity in national media, starting on TV shows back in the 1960's like “What’s my line?” with Bennet Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallan, “Good Morning America”, and “David Letterman” where he stumped David with a story about a giant dinosaur claw. He appeared in major magazines -National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, People, Atlantic Monthly- and in prominent newspapers -NY Times, Wall Street Journal. His story and discoveries continue to appear in new books about dinosaurs, the story of a kid who never finished high school.
I include in his biography much of his own writings. (His history starts here.) He left stories about his childhood on a dry, dusty farm high in the sandy foothills and about mining in Mercur. He wrote stories about Alaska, including a 150 page manuscript describing a 3 week trip down the Yukon in an 18 foot canoe hunting for mammoths, and left another unpublished 100 page manuscript of his three month ordeal in Antarctica where, in association with Ned Colbert, he found Lystrosaurus on Coalsack bluff, a specie not unlike the cynodont material he found with Dr. Romer, Ruth Romer, Dr. Patterson and Arnie Lewis in the Chanhares Formation in Ichygulasto in the late 1950's. (His manuscript describing two 6-month expeditions with Dr. Romer, et al, to this location was postuhumously through the ministrations of Tom Rich, Melbourne, Australia, as "The Road to Montecito" with excerpts from Dr. Romer's diaries and photos from Arnie Lewis' collection.)
It’s a funny story about him and his computer. At age 65 he learned to use one to write and polish his stories. But he apparently regarded the computer as a fancy typewriter. After he had a story in a final form, he printed it out and deleted it from the computer. No one could persuade him to save his stories on his computer, suspicious, apparently that they would be lost in the bowels of the machine - sort of like the indigenous peoples who feared losing their souls into the camera of an anthropologist.
After setting the stage leading up to employment at Harvard, the story about "Dinosaur Jim" the professional story will be told insofar as I can. I will ask help from the people who knew him and worked with him.
The Table of Contents shows what will be included, stories about his life, some of his writings, some of my own, photos, drawing, newspaper clippings, and articles from paleontologists who knew him.
Jim Jensen, The Older Son
FROM PRIOR WRITINGS in years gone by:
In August, 2001, I went to see mom to talk about estate planning. I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to get samples of Dad’s writings that I had seen in his upstairs studio in pendaflex folders in a banker’s box that was labeled “Jim’s life (in chunks)”. I needed some of that material for the family history I was preparing for my kids.
He’d been dead a few years, and that was the first visit to their home when Mom allowed me to invade the sanctuary that she protected for "Her Jim". That's how she thinks of him. Like a goose lamenting long the death of its mate. His chamber reminded me of an acetic monk’s, closed to all but the worthy. This time she allowed me to explore without restriction the stuff he produced and created, things she previously guarded jealously. Like a dragon and her jewels. The experience was mind-boggling.
You have no idea of the riches, the astonishing wealth of stuff, the range of incomplete projects, the ideas sketched out but not created. I was staggered by the third day. This man wasn’t human. A Mini-Michelangelo. He must not have slept much. It was exhausting to just look in his boxes and drawers and shelves and binders, seeing the residue of the most extraordinarily creative person I have personally known. He had a constant blizzard of ideas, he wrote things down, he sketched things on the back of used envelopes and scrap paper, labeled and dated them and moved on. Ideas and plans flowered in the bed of extraordinary creativity that flourished inside of his soul. Astonishing man. The last straw was to open another drawer and discover that it, too, was filled with dozens of unlabeled boxes of 35 mm slides. Aargh.
I can tell you this: it is nearly impossible to construct a comprehensive, intelligible picture of this man’s creations and plans and observations and collections and experiences. As I intently examined his things, opening envelopes, looking at pictures, flipping through binders and loose papers, I could see the outlines of the man but only because I was already somewhat familiar with much of it. But while I could see vague outlines, I can not set them down in such a way that you could readily grasp them. His dimensions are too great. I did not realize that dad expected me to write this biography. The rudiments of it developed naturally while I was preparing my own life history. However, in 2004 one of dad's sisters told me that shortly prior to his death, he told them that I was going to write his history. He never mentioned it to me.