Wallace Martin Cady

(1912 - 1991)

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photo of Wallace Cady

Wallace M. Cady, circa 1934.
Photo from the Cady family collection.

Wallace (Wally) Cady worked as a geologist in Alaska only briefly. Yet in a five year period, from 1941 to 1946, Cady deciphered the geology of a tract of Alaska larger than Vermont - the Central Kuskokwim region. Concurrently, as an economic geologist, he worked closely with Alaska's small miners to increase the flow of the rare metal mercury that was vitally needed for the war effort. He assembled and trained a crew of young scientists in both economic and general geology. Under field conditions that now would be deemed primitive and impossible for productive work, Wally Cady made work fun. His geological work in Alaska was succinctly described by USGS colleague Bruce Bryant:

"With the help of Robert E. Wallace, J. M. Hoare, and E. J. Webber, he made the pioneering study of 10,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Vermont, which had a population of only 300 at the time. This was before the days of helicopter support, and travel was by boat and by foot. USGS Professional Paper 268 summarizes the results of this work."
This work amply justifies his induction into The Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.

Wally Cady was born on January 29, 1912 in Middlebury, Vermont to Frank William and Marian nee Kingsbury Cady. Both parents were descendents of early settlers of the region. Frank was a professor of English at Middlebury College, and Wally and his siblings Howard and Frances grew up in the shadow of the campus. It was a lively family, with Wally, the elder son, leading the pack, and Frances trying to keep up with her brothers. An outdoor life appealed to Wally from his earliest years. As a Boy Scout he rose to the rank of Eagle Scout, and had the opportunity to camp in the Olympic Mountains of Washington and Cache Le Poudre in Colorado. With a crew of select Eagle Scouts, Cady built trails in Glacier National Park, Montana. Later in Alaska, Cady assumed the look of a sourdough with flannel shirt and trademark head gear, a crushed felt red logger's hat. His ability with an ax indicated that the right to wear such a hat was earned.

Wally graduated from Middlebury College in 1934. Out of respect for a favored professor, he majored in biology, but he knew that he would be a geologist like his relative, noted geologist Gilbert Cady. His interest in geology had been especially influenced by Professor Bruno Schmidt, who earlier had been his scoutmaster. After graduation from Middlebury, he immediately enrolled in the graduate school at Northwestern University where he earned a Master's degree in geology in 1936. His thesis, Aerial and structural geology of the north end of the Taconic Syncline, was the first of his many papers dealing with the geology of Vermont. Wally then commenced work on his Ph.D. under Marshall Kay at Columbia. Because of pressing work commitments and a World War, Wally did not complete that degree until 1944.

Before the War, Wally spent two seasons in the Olympic Mountains studying manganese deposits under Charles Park (C.F. Park, Jr.) for the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1941, Cady began to work for the USGS full time. Under what now seems like extraordinary prescience, Alaska had begun to tool up for war in the late 1930s, and by 1939 military construction projects began to remake the territory. Wally was sent north to lead a project nominally aimed at mercury, a metal that would be needed as the fulminate to detonate high explosives, for anti-fouling paint, and for common medicinals.

Cady left Seattle for Alaska on the S.S. Yukon of Alaska Steam on June 4, 1941. Robert V. (Bob) Cushman, who would assist Wally, was on the same voyage, but was not yet officially employed by the Survey. Cady had been told to hire his assistant when he reached Alaska. Wally, who had known Cushman from Middlebury days, told Bob that he would be hired if he could reach Alaska on his own. Cushman took advantage of steerage rates to arrive with Wally in Seward where he was immediately hired.

Also on the ship were two school teachers from Oregon, one of whom was a vivacious brunette of Finnish descent named Helen Raitanen. Before he had formally met her, Wally told Cushman,

"See that girl there? I'm going to marry her."
By the time the four day trip between Seattle and Seward was over, the two were seriously in love. Cushman commented that they were "lost", and were preparing for a mid-winter marriage. The marriage lasted until Helen's death in 1986.

After assembling their gear in Anchorage, Cady and Cushman headed for Sleetmute, the center of mercury activity on the Kuskokwim. Bush pilot Don Glass took off from Lake Spenard with a heavily laden float plane carrying four passengers: Cady, Cushman, cook-camphand Herschel (Buck) Landreau, and Buck's wife. At Sleetmute, Wally and Bob soon met old timers Nick Mellick Sr. and Oswald Willis. Willis had discovered the first substantial mercury deposit in the Kuskokwim almost thirty-five years before. He furnished the men with a cabin and produce from his garden, as noted by Cady ". . . without thought of remuneration". That first summer, Cady and Cushman mapped the Red Devil, the Alice and Bessie, the Barometer, and various other Willis prospects, and began a geologic reconnaissance of the region. Before he left Washington D.C. for Seattle, Wally had requested an alidade, then a standard mapping instrument. He was assured that he would not need one - that he could do quite well with only his Brunton compass. But for accurate mapping of the mercury mines, Cady found that an alidade was desirable. Cushman was impressed by Cady's ingenuity when Wally fashioned a plane table by nailing three legs on an inverted (and empty) powder box, then placing a second and movable box on top which, with the Brunton used as an open-sight alidade, made a functional plane table and alidade set up for underground mapping.

A great deal of innovation was also needed for efficient regional mapping. No base maps were available, but by 1941, the Air Force had trimetrogon aerial photographs of the region. Cady, with a great deal of help from Robert (Bob) Wallace, contributed greatly to development of aerial mapping - first tried on a large scale in Alaska in the Central Kuskokwim region. An account of this work was published by Wally in 1945 in the Journal of the New York Academy of Science.

The Kuskokwim mercury project, that had begun before World War II with a staff of two, greatly accelerated in 1942 after the declaration of war. That first trip had been leisurely and touristy. On the second trip, the deck of the S.S. Alaska was overflowing with automobiles, airplane parts and other military supplies. The trip, although pleasant, had a definite war-time feel. Cady's field party was also enlarged. One addition was a man of extraordinary intelligence and ability, Robert Wallace, who became a party chief under Cady. Wallace later recalled the pleasant trip up the Inside Passage but also the frustration of finding their gear after it had been jumbled by internal transfers, then reloading on the Alaska Railroad for the trip between Seward and Anchorage. Eventually Cady and his crew had to unload the box cars to find their equipment and supplies before it could be loaded on float planes of Woodley Air Service for transfer to the Kuskokwim. Bob Wallace thought some of their work along the Kuskokwim had a Huck Finn-like aspect, as the men rode the stern-wheeler Wallace Langley up and down the Kuskokwim. The crew shared their life on the 'Mississippi' with laden barges and unobtrusive sand bars, but they also had some non-Huck Finn experience with the more current shear pins and the kickers that propelled the small boats that they used for project work.

Over the next few years, Cady and Wallace were assisted by several geologists, including Jacques Robertson, who started out as a cook, S. F. Johnson, George Gryc, Robert Chapman, and Joseph Hoare. In 1943, a brilliant figure, E. J. Webber, was added to the crew to assist Cady and Wallace, and to direct some of the project activities. A Bureau of Mines team was added to complement the USGS effort by trenching and sampling known mercury deposits and performing more detailed near the mines. Basically, under war time informality, the USGS and Bureau acted as unpaid consultants to the hard rock miners, and there was a great deal of mutual respect between government men and miners. Cady especially appreciated the innate curiosity and intelligence of Russell Schaefer and the impressive abilities of the more formally trained Robert Lyman.

In 1943, the emphasis of the project swung toward regional mapping studies. Under Cady's direction, Webber, Wallace and Hoare mapped immense regions of unknown Alaska using foot traverses and river boats, with an occasional lift from pilots such as Robert Vanderpool. Mercury was not neglected, with Cady, Wallace and Webber working on the deposits within their mapping areas. Cady, assisted by C.A. Hickox, mapped and described the deposits of the Cinnabar Creek area, which had only been discovered by Schaefer in 1941.

The field work for the Kuskokwim project was essentially wrapped up by 1945. Cady and Hoare had completed most of the regional work. The men then brought detailed studies at the DeCourcy mine and the Red Devil mine up-to-date. Hoare continued field work in the area for the next few years. The report from the project was not completed until 1953, but the essential results had been the passage of knowledge to the miners and an increased flow of mercury from the Kuskokwim Region. Beginning in 1946, Cady returned to work in his beloved Vermont.

Cady's work in Alaska furnished the foundation for our understanding of the stratigraphy, structure, and economic geology of the Central Kuskokwim region. It shows a greater appreciation of geomorphology than is often given now. Cady recognized that the shallow mercury deposits could have been completely eroded in uplifted regions, and preserved in areas with little regional uplift. He identified and photographed regional erosional surfaces in work that has still not been duplicated.

Cady continued productive work in geology for the next forty or so years, mainly in three geographic areas, Vermont, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and Montana, all under auspices of the USGS. Although preoccupied with the Kuskokwim project, Cady had completed his doctoral thesis in 1944. Its title Stratigraphy and Structure of West-Central Vermont barely reflects the extent of the work that went into the study. Geologist James B. Thompson, Jr., then at Harvard, remarked:

"Few doctoral theses have involved as much work . . . [it] covered at 1:62,500, an area equivalent to about four and one half fifteen minute quadrangles. Not shown was a considerable amount of detailed reconnaissance in surrounding area . . . Wally's map and his interpretation of it marked a major advance in our understanding of the geology of western Vermont, and still stands, in its essentials, as the basis for most of the recent reconstructions."

Wally returned to Vermont in 1946 under another USGS study of strategic mineral deposits - the study of the talc and asbestos deposits of the eastern Green Mountain region. In 1946, Wally, with his wife Helen and their first child, John, were in Montpelier, Vermont where Wally was mapping the quadrangle of the same name out of the newly established USGS branch office. Thompson notes that,

"During its heyday the Montpelier office served informally as the focal point for all of the geologists then working in Vermont . . . . Wally was acknowledged as the Dean of the group . . . his standard response when deeply impressed by someone's brainchild, was to announce 'I'll be a stud buzzard'."
A culmination of the work based at the Montpelier office was a centennial geologic map of Vermont in 1961.

Wally fought for continued operation out of the Montpelier office, but lost the battle to bureaucrats who thought, with at least some justification, that more centralization would lead to cost savings and greater efficiency in the USGS. The Montpelier office closed after a productive life of about one and one-half decades.

In 1960, Wally resumed work in the Pacific Northwest, work which had begun before World War II. He and Helen moved with their son, John, and daughters, Norma and Nancy, to Denver, Colorado, home of the Survey's Rocky Mountain regional center. Partly because of recognition of plate-tectonics as an embracing structural theory, Wally's work began to change. His seminal work synthesizing New England geology had essentially been completed as he left New England for Denver. The result of about two decades of work was published in 1969, as Regional Tectonic Synthesis of Northwestern New England and adjacent Quebec as Geological Society of America Memoir 120. That synthesis was anchored in classical structure and stratigraphy, work that did not mesh with plate-tectonics. His work in the Olympics, however, strongly reflected the new concepts. In 1973, Cady wrote a summary article called The Earmarks of Subduction, published in a review volume titled Implications of Continental Drift in the Earth Sciences.

By 1975, Wally's work in large-scale structural geology had been recognized internationally. He received an appointment to lecture at Voronezh State University, USSR, on the problems of modern tectonics. Wallace and Helen Cady spent four and one-half months at the University, making many friends in the process. Later Helen, always a gracious hostess, made Soviet scientists at home in Denver as they passed through on their way to international conferences.

Other recognition followed. In 1983, Cady received recognition from the Department of Interior:

". . . combining special competence as a field geologist with an exceptional ability to interpret his findings in a regional setting, he has been a strong and influential guiding force within the earth science community in establishing a fundamental structural and stratigraphic framework for key portions of the North American continent."

Wally suffered a severe blow in 1986, when Helen died. Friends began to notice that Wally's health was failing. As his productivity fell, Wally was frustrated because he had unfulfilled objectives.

Wallace Cady died in Denver on April 4, 1991. As noted by Bruce Bryant, Wally retained his heritage as a Vermont Yankee to the end; he had,

". . . a generally quiet manner, underlain by friendliness and a dry but bawdy sense of humor. He pursued . . . geology with total commitment."
Cady was survived by his three children, John, Norma, and Nancy, each with noted professional careers, and by his sister the Rev. Frances Grauman.

Compiled by Charles C. Hawley, October 2007


In 1992, the Vermont Geological Society sponsored a symposium in honor of Wally Cady, on the 'Bedrock Geology of Vermont'. The symposium was held on February 29, 1992 at Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont. Papers were published in 'The Green Mountain Geologist', no. 4, volume 18. Specific papers on Cady are listed below:

Paul Washington, 'Stratigraphy of the Camro-Ordovician Shelf in Western Vermont: The legacy of Keith, Bain, and Cady p. 13-15.

James B. Thompson, Jr., 'Wallace Martin Cady: Vermont Geologist', p. 16-18: also compiled works by W. M. Cady on Vermont, p. 19-21

Robert Cushman, 'A Tribute to Wally Cady,' p. 22-23

Bruce Wilson, 'W.M. Cady, 1912-1991', p. 24-25

Bruce Bryant, 'Memorial to Wallace M. Cady,' Bulletin Geological Society of America.

Florence Cady Grauman (sister), Obituary. In the magazine of Middlebury College, fall of 1991

Robert E. Wallace, letter to John Cady, April 4, 1991

Annotated 8 mm motion pictures (converted to DVD) taken by Wallace Cady in Alaska 1941-45, mainly narrated by Robert Wallace and Robert Cushman with preface by John Cady

Personal remembrances

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