The Suspect. $27. Edwin visits a branch of Britain’s Natural History Museum in a little town called Tring. Though it's non-fiction, The Feather Thief contains many of the elements of a classic thriller: We have, for instance, those exotic missing bird skins, that, like the Maltese falcon of yore, seem to have vanished into thin air; we have eccentric suspects — those rabid salmon fly-tiers, some of whom don't ask too many questions about the source of those endangered bird feathers for sale on the Internet. Edwin Rist was brought up in Claverack, a small town north of New York City, and home-schooled by parents who bred labradoodles for a living, and who devoted themselves to nurturing enthusiasms in their two sons. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. For the rest of your life, you should be associated with this shameful act, for which you only got off lightly. Johnson describes Wallace’s 1854 expedition through the Malaysian jungle in pursuit of the Bird of Paradise, which “had an otherworldly beauty. In 2009, the 20-year-old American stole into the British Natural History Museum at Tring, which contains almost 750,000 specimens representing about 95 percent of the world's bird species. It tasted like a slurry of flat Diet Coke and even flatter beer. Your purchase helps support NPR programming. But, we may also come to understand why it's important, ecologically speaking, to care about what happened to the feathers of what Johnson calls, "the missing birds of Tring.". In the eyes of the law, perhaps all those old feathers didn't amount to much. When he was around 10 years old, he came across a video about fly-tying. The theft was all the more shocking because Rist and his younger brother, Anton, are considered fl y-tying prodigies who make the most complicated patterns and earn lavish praise from the masters of the craft. In the summer of 2009, a fly tying genius and feather obsessor started a worldwide hunt when he selectively robbed 299 of London’s Natural History Museum’s 750,000 bird skins. ", By the end of Kirk Wallace Johnson's absorbing book, The Feather Thief, we readers learn more than we probably ever wanted to know about feathers. “I hopped in my car and bombed up the I-95 to Boston, the revelation setting my imagination on fire,” he writes after uncovering the identity of one of Rist’s possible accomplices, a Norwegian fly-tier known as Goku. On this fateful trip, Johnson's guide began telling him about his own hobby of Victorian salmon fly-tying. (3 1/2 minutes) The Heist. That's the crux of Kirk Wallace Johnson's true story about Edwin Rist, a young prodigy in both the orchestral and fly-tying communities whose greed got the best of him. … From its tail emerged two wiry feathers that spiraled tightly into two glittering emerald coins.” Walter Rothschild, the eccentric scion of the banking family, eagerly took in the specimens from the expedition and assembled the largest private collection of bird skins in the world at his Tring mansion, which later became a branch of the Natural History Museum. Edwin Rist is a virtuoso flautist. Rist became adept at tying flies as a teenager, but as a criminal he proved less successful. 6. get your dad to email mitch to tell him to stop bullying you through comments on a fly fishing forum as it's detrimental to your mummy's well being. Edwin Rist Posted by Blue Heron at 9:35 PM. Of the 299 bird skins Rist had stolen, only 174 were found in his apartment still intact; out of those, only 102 specimens retained their labels. That he was and still is. This part tells about his fascination with fly tying, mainly classic salmon flies, and authentic materials in particular. Without their labels identifying exactly where the birds had been captured, the specimens were no longer of scientific value. The Red-Ruffed Fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus), known to contemporary practitioners of the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying—including Edwin Rist—as Indian Crow, at the Intervales State Park in São Paulo, Brazil. "Rist has £13,371.98 available to pay and has six months to pay it.If he does not do so, he will have to serve his 12-month prison sentence. THE FEATHER THIEFBeauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the CenturyBy Kirk Wallace JohnsonIllustrated. The ornate flies, the guide explained, were more of an art form than a fishing tool; they're composed of the iridescent jewel-toned feathers plucked from many of the rarest birds in the world, like the Indian crow and the king bird of paradise. On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London's Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. All of this makes for compelling reading; but Johnson's quest to find the missing bird skins is motivated by more than just curiosity. Rist helped himself to scores of vintage rare bird collections while the night guard watched a soccer game on the office television, all in the name of tying the finest old school salmon flies possible, even though they would doubtful ever be fished. The police track Edwin down after a fly-tier turns in a tip. This “slaughter of innocents,” as one activist described it in 1875, led to the banning of the feather trade and the birth of the animal conservation movement. Still, Johnson’s self-aggrandizing pronouncements (“no one else was going to hunt them down but me”) can be grating, as is his tendency to lapse into pumped-up, cliché-ridden prose. If the missing birds couldn't recovered, it would be an even bigger blow to the scientific record. In 2009, Rist — who was then a 20-year-old American student … This is one weird-but-true story.
That's the crux of Kirk Wallace Johnson's true story about Edwin Rist, a young prodigy in both the orchestral and fly-tying communities whose greed got the best of him. At around the same time, an insatiable demand for feathers among fashion-conscious Europeans and Americans set off a mass killing of birds for profit. The police track Edwin down after a fly-tier turns in a tip. The second part is about Edwin Rist, a fly tyer that I had personally never heard of before this, but who certainly was someone noticeable in the community of classic salmon fly tyers. (6 1/2 minutes) Act Six. And it's a story that focuses on the feather-dependent Victorian art of salmon fly-tying and its present-day practitioners, many of whom lurk online in something called "The Feather Underground. He made no effort to cover his internet footprint, and the British police busted him about a year after the robbery. (6 1/2 minutes) The Suspect. However, before we get to Edwin Rist, Kirk Wallace Johnson begins with his own story of burn out and stress relief through fly-fishing. Johnson draws a fascinating portrait of Rist as a self-rationalizing con man and exposes the culture of secrecy and opportunism that marks his fellow fly-tiers. In his suitcase, Rist carries away hundreds of extremely rare bird specimens and feathers to sell on the blackmarket of salmon fly-tying. Edwin Rist is an accomplished student musician and avid fly-tier who steals hundreds of rare birds from the British Museum in 2009. Suffering from PTSD as a consequence of years of aid work in Iraq, Johnson had taken up the meditative sport of fly-fishing. And, we have an obsessive amateur detective in Johnson who finds his double in Rist, the feather-obsessed criminal. trust me, mitch likes this sort of … The birds Edwin Rist stole were valuable and collected in the mid-1800s by one of the greatest scientific explorers of his time: a man named Alfred Russel Wallace. These days, scientists can study those bird specimens to learn about rising mercury levels and other changes in the ocean and atmosphere. Many of those birds bore tags identifying that they'd been collected 150 years earlier by a naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a colleague of Charles Darwin. He was born in New York City and home-schooled, then at a fairly young age the family moved to the Hudson Valley. And while in music school in London at age 22, developed a plan to steal the feather for his passion and money. 7. and then get your brother tarquin to shadow mitch around various sites. How? It turns out that what started off for him as an escape from the strains of refugee aid work became a mission to alert readers to the vulnerability of natural history collections like the Tring that may hold answers to the problems of extinction and climate change. The bird specimens had been gathered 150 years prior by Alfred Russel Wallace, a self-taught naturalist and colleague of Charles … While many other fly tiers do not use expensive or exotic feathers, Rist’s particular type of fly-tying is … Fifteen months into the manhunt, a 22-year-old Edwin Rist, an American, studying the flute at London’s Royal Academy of Music was arrested. Under the nose of a hapless security guard, Rist ransacked storage drawers and absconded with the preserved skins of 299 tropical birds, including specimens collected by the legendary naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-19th century. “We’re a tightknit community, fly-tiers,” one man tells him as he is digging into the crime, “and you do not want to piss us off.” Beneath their artistry and collegiality, Johnson suggests, many of these craftsmen seem primarily interested in feathering their own nests. As Johnson says of the now incomplete Tring collection: I realized the preservation of these birds represented an optimistic vision of humanity: a multigenerational chain of curators had shielded [those specimens] from insects, sunlight, German bombers, fire, and theft, ... [Those curators] understood that the birds held answers to questions that hadn't yet even been asked. Viking. Diagnosed and Let Off Johnson discovered that Rist was something of a Victorian fly-tying savant, having fallen in love with the art at age 11, and by 2005 he and his younger brother were being hailed as “the future of fly-tying” by the editor of Fly Tyer magazine. It took over a year for British police detectives to trace the theft to Rist and by then he'd made a fortune online, illegally selling the bird skins or bags of assorted feathers to salmon fly-tying devotees. employee in Falluja, Iraq, and the founder of the List Project (a nonprofit organization that resettles Iraqis marked for death after working with the American military), first heard about Rist’s robbery during a trout-fishing holiday in New Mexico: “I don’t know if it was Edwin’s Victorian sounding name, the sheer weirdness of the story or the fact that I was in desperate need of a new direction in life, but I became obsessed with the crime within moments.” So he set out to learn all he could about Rist, unspooling a complex tale of greed, deception and ornithological sabotage. Rist wasn’t caught until a fellow fly-tier tipped off police and Rist was arrested. One master, Paul Schmookle, according to a 1990 profile cited by Johnson, “will use up to 150 different materials, ranging from polar bear and mink fur to the feathers of wild turkeys, golden and Reeves pheasants, the African speckled bustard and the Brazilian blue chatterer.”. But it's depressing to learn, as we do early on in this book, that Edwin Rist, the feather thief, never served any time in prison. In the end, Johnson fails to make much headway in recovering the dispersed treasures. (6 minutes) The Investigation. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. Kirk Wallace Johnson’s “The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century” recounts Rist’s odd crime and its even more curious aftermath. Making feathers fly In June 2009 Edwin Rist made off with 299 stuffed birds from the Natural History Museum in Tring, worth $1 million Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century. Rist won numerous fly-tying competitions but wasn’t himself a fisherman. Edwin was just 11 when he caught by chance on television a demonstration of how to tie a fly for trout fishing. Sean Cole. He intended to fence the birds’ extravagantly colored plumage at high prices to fellow aficionados in hopes of raising enough cash to support both his musical career and his parents’ struggling Labradoodle-breeding business in the Hudson Valley. In 2009, 20 year old musical prodigy and classic salmon fly tyer Edwin Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring and stole a suitcase full of rare bird specimens that where collected over centuries from across the world by Alfred Russel Wallace. He made no effort to cover his internet footprint, and … Rist became a prodigy of fly-tying at age fifteen, winning awards. The book is a study in obsession as the author himself, an Iraqi war veteran, becomes fixated on the crime and the man who committed it. You, sir, are a thief. Rist’s feather obsession turns out to have rich antecedents. Our show this week is the story of what may be the greatest feather robbery of all time, a million dollars in rare birds, stolen from a British museum.. This past November, however, British police announced the arrest of 22-year-old Edwin Rist of Claverack, New York, for committing just such a crime. It's a story that leads readers from 19th century scientific expeditions into the jungles of Malaysia to the "feather fever" of the turn of the last century, when women's hats were be-plumed with ostriches and egrets. In 2009, Rist — who was then a 20-year-old American student at the Royal Academy of Music in London — broke into the Tring Museum, a suburban outpost of the British Natural History Museum that was established during the Blitz. The detective on the case takes Kirk to the crime scene. Edwin is also pretty remorseless about his crime. Victorian salmon flies are tied according to recipes that are up to 150 years old and call for some of the rarest feathers in the world. How an Obsession With Rare Bird Feathers Turned Criminal In a bizarre heist, a young musician broke into the British Natural History Museum at … Photograph by Lewis Whyld/PA Images via Getty Images. In his prologue, Johnson tells us that he stumbled on this mystery one day while standing waist-high in the Red River of New Mexico. By. Rist became adept at tying flies as a teenager, but as a criminal he proved less successful. Once inside, Rist stuffed hundreds of rare bird skins into a suitcase he'd brought along. In court, his lawyer argued that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and had trouble distinguishing right from wrong, a dubious defense that the judge nevertheless accepted, handing Rist a one-year suspended sentence. Johnson, a former U.S.A.I.D. Decades later, the pursuit of rare feathers, by legal or illegal means, was taken up by salmon fly-tying experts, whose creations have become ever more esoteric and elaborate. Kirk hears the story of Edwin Rist from his fishing guide while he’s at a writer’s residency that’s not going so well. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. 4 comments: ... theft of the natural world and the scientific community means that you should not be allowed to have a career in fly tying or flute playing. In June 2009, Edwin Rist, a 20-year-old American flutist studying at the Royal Academy of Music, smashed a window at the Museum of Natural History in Tring, near London, and pulled off one of the more bizarre robberies of recent decades. I won't tell you how Johnson's gallant search for the missing birds ends. 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