The Filson's "Shantyboat Life on the Ohio" exhibit will be open at 5:00 before the lecture, which begins at 6:00. In 1868, fishermen re-discovered fine pearls in Ohio’s Little Miami River, a tributary to the Ohio River. “Pearl mania” swept the nation. By the 1880s, the pearl fever grasped the Ohio River Valley with the “same spirit of the gold seeker of 1849.” Thousands of visitors, many with no familiarity or attachment to the Ohio River environment that housed mussel beds and thus limited understanding of the ecological effect of their harvesting, flocked to creeks and rivers in pursuit of pearls. The fever waned in some areas as mussel beds became exhausted and localities were “cleaned out,” but the mania would simply pick up again in new sections of the river. By the 1900s, interest grew from just the mussels’ pearls to the mussels’ shells as well, substantially expanding the musseling industry.
For the Ohio River and its tributaries, the result of this excessive harvesting and ongoing urban pollution was a decrease in riparian health and biodiversity, encouraging the federal government’s attempts to save the industry. In “Utilizing the 'Worthless' Animal: The musseling industry of the Ohio River,” Kristen Fleming will discuss this environmental history of the mussel in this region. Kristen Fleming is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati writing on the ecological transformation of the Ohio River in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has also written and presented on topics such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ projects and the creation of the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission.