'Dr. Volcano'

Actor Dick Hershberger performs as Thomas A. Jaggar, founder of Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, in the Whitney Vault, a 16-by-12-foot underground laboratory that still has original seismograph equipment, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

Brian J. Cantwell, Seattle Times

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK — You might call him “Dr. Volcano.”

All of a sudden, it’s 1912, and the man wearing the Roosevelt button (Teddy) and the big felt hat with a Yosemite Sam brim is telling you all about how he came to be here studying volcanoes in a remote part of the Hawaiian Islands.

It had a lot to do with a volcanic explosion 10 years earlier on the Caribbean island of Martinique, where more than 28,000 people died. A subsequent visit there by Massachusetts Institute of Technology geologist Thomas A. Jaggar convinced him that science needed to know how to protect people from such cataclysms.

Now, thanks to a meticulously researched costumed re-enactment by actor Dick Hershberger, visitors to this park’s Kilauea Visitor Center get to hobnob with Dr. Jaggar, who founded the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which continues its research here to this day.

“My colleagues scoffed and told me my mission was to study rocks, not save people’s lives,” Jaggar/Hershberger tells visitors. “They called me a geological missionary!”

The program takes place in the Whitney Vault, a geothermally-warmed 16-by-12-foot underground lab that still has original seismograph equipment, and is located in front of the park’s Volcano House inn.

Introducing “Jaggar,” park volunteer Jane Field instructs visitors, “Ask him questions today and he will give you answers that are cutting-edge science — that is 105 years old.”

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