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Sewell Tyng

“He was really a wonderful character, a remarkable person, and I'd say he was the ablest fellow we ever dealt with during our Quetico-Superior struggles. He was on the edge of genius. . .”

–Ober

A New York lawyer from Harvard. A member of the “Deer Island Gang,” married to Ruth Hapgood, the daughter of the editor of Collier's Magazine. His mother was a member of the Biltmore family, her second husband a Vanderbilt. In World War I, he served with the Red Cross ambulance group in France. At the Paris Peace Conference, he was Herbert Hoover's private secretary.

There were many talented and dedicated people who worked closely with Ober in his decades-long effort to preserve wilderness. By all accounts, Sewell Tyng, a well-connected New York lawyer, was one of the more intelligent and energetic. In Keeper of the Wild, Joe Paddock offers the following description:

“Sometimes innocent, sometimes devious, Tyng was a large, nerdish-appearing man with thick glasses who experienced wide fluctuations in weight. His energy was immense and his genius considerable. He was an eastern blueblood, his mother a member of the Biltmore family, her second husband a Vanderbilt. In World War I, Tyng served with the Red Cross ambulance group in France, then as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. At the Paris Peace conference, he was Herbert Hoover's private secretary. According to Ober, Tyng was as comfortable with woodsmen and Indians as with the financial and cultural elite . . .”

“With exceptional energy, intelligence, legal acuity, and an array of important contacts, Tyng would become a central support figure for Ober through the first two decades of the soon-to-emerge struggle to preserve a wilderness.”

An early example of Tyng's usefulness to the movement was his role in coaching Ober when he attended the 1925 meeting of the International Joint Commission. The purpose of the meeting was to consider Edward Wellington Backus's plan to use the Rainy Lake watershed as storage basins for industrial waterpower. Based on information Ober collected for him at that meeting, Tyng then drafted a legal brief opposing the Backus plan. After Ober had approved the arguments and had done some final editing, the brief was submitted to the Joint Commission, whose mood seemed to shift from giving the Backus plan routine approval to paying serious attention to the opposition.

In 1933, Tyng spent much of the year with Ober on Mallard Island following a romantic scandal and the breakup of his marriage to Ruth, who became mentally unstable and was committed to an institution. During his stay on the island, Tyng spent time writing a history of a World War I battle, later published to critical acclaim under the title Campaign of the Marne 1914. In the copy he gave to Ober he included a handwritten note: “To Ernest C. Oberholtzer, whose friendship in difficult days made this book possible.”


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