A Passion for Orchids
Today is the birthday of the orchidologist Albert Cameron Burrage who was born on this day in 1859.
Burrage had a passion for orchids, exceptionally rare orchids.
In 1922, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society rewarded him with the George R White medal for his outstanding collection of exotic orchid. Three years later, he received the Lindley Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society in England.
And, Burrage was the founding president of the American Orchid Society, where he served for eight years until his health no longer allowed him to work.
Now, growing exotic orchids can be a costly hobby. But, luckily, Burrage was a self-made man, and his story is jaw-dropping.
After getting a law degree from Harvard University, Burrage went to work for the Brookline gaslight company in the early 1890s. In a stroke of genius and probably luck, he discovered a little legal loophole that allowed the company to extend gas lines into the city of Boston. It earned Burrage a windfall - almost $1 million -, and he went on to have a series of successful positions with gaslight companies. His success was life-changing.
Burrage enjoyed his wealth. He lived in a gothic French chateau-style home. The exterior contained nearly fifty gargoyles and over three hundred bibliophiles, dragons, demons, cherubs, chimeras, and snakes in the carved exquisitely into the stonework.
And get this: when you walked into the house, the foyer opened into a large room with mahogany-carved paneled walls, a gold-gilded ceiling, stained glass windows, imposing fireplace, and a huge crystal chandelier.
And, here's the part gardeners will love. Burrage had an Orchid Room. His extraordinary collection lived in a glass-plated conservatory complete with a wall lined entirely with coral. It was an opulent home for his many exotic blooms. By 1922, Burrage had put together the most extensive private collection of tropical orchids in the world—over 1200 plants.
When he died in 1931, Burrage had been president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for ten years.
The longstanding secretary of the Society and garden writer, Edward Irving Farrington, paid tribute to Burrage, saying:
"Probably no other man has done so much to popularize the orchid in America. The present prosperity of the American Orchid Society is due largely to his efforts."