Prof. Underwood Commits Suicide

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Famous Botanist and Columbia Lecturer Tries to Kill Wife and Daughter.

Losses in Wall Street in the Recent Flurry Had Worried Him for Weeks.
Special to the New York Times.

  REDDING, Conn., Nov. 16.—Because of worry over large losses in Wall Street recently, Prof. Lucien M. Underwood committed suicide at his country home here this evening, after severely cutting his wife's throat and attempting to kill their daugheter. Mr. Underwood was professor of Botany at Columbia University, and was Chairman of the Board of Scientific Directors of the New York Botanical Garden.

  Until recently Prof. Underwood had been a man of quiet disposition, who was devoted to his home and his wife and daughter. When the recent financial flurry began, however, he became intensely nervous, and had suffered from insomnia for weeks. Mrs. Underwood was unable to shake him out of an intense depression he showed.

  Mr. Underwood was particularly nervous at the dinner table this evening, and whis wife was alarmed. He sudenly picked up a small sharp knife, jumped to his wife's side, and slashed at her, making a gash from the middle of her neck to the right ear. He hen turned on their daughter, who was recently graduated from Cornell, and tried to cut her. Mrs. Underwood, despite her wound, rushed between them and knocked up the knife. It almost severed one of her fingers as she did so.

  The wife and daughter fled to the home of Frank E. Ewing, a New York business man, and asked for help. A boy employed by the Underwoods and the Ewing coachman rushed to the Underwood house and found the Professor on his bed. He had cut his throat with the same knife. When he saw them he jumped up, fought them off, and locked himself in the bathroom. Here he found a razor and slashed his throat again.

  Physicians from Danbury and Bethel were summoned by telephone, but Prof. Underwood was dead long before they arrived. They found that Mrs. Underwood was badly wounded, but said she probably would recover.

  Mrs. Underwood said that she knew of no reason for her husband's attack of insanity except worry over financial losses. She knew that her husband had suffered in Wall Street, but was not aware how heavy the losses were.

  Prof. Underwood, who was 54 years old, came to Redding three years ago and bought a farm and country home in the vicinity of the New York colony, and near the new Italian villa of Mark Twain. His family has lived in Redding the year around, and he went back and forth, usually returning to the country Thursday afternoon and remaining over Sunday.


Prof. Bitton Tells of Prof. Underwood's Services to Science.

Prof. Nathaniel L. Britton, Director of the New York Botanical Gardens in Bronx Park, had known Prof. Lucien M. Unerwood for years, and had been intimately associated with him in scientific work. Mr. Underwood succeeded Mr. Britton as Torrey Professor of Botany at Columbia University, and a few years ago became his chief assistant in the botanical gardens.

  "At noon yesterday," said Prof. Britton last night, "I received a call from Prof. Underwood. We were not together long. He came to the Museum Building in the Botanical Gardens. I had occasion to inquire as to his health and he told me he was feeling very well indeed.

  "Prof. Underwood had told me that in the last few weeks he had been unable to do justice to the work he had in hand, due to a certain extent to insomnia, but it never occurred to me that there was anything serious the matter with him. He was not of a particularly nervous temperament. I would describe him as a calm judicious man.

  "He was one of my oldest and closest professional friends, although socially we were not what you might term intimate. He leaves a wife and one daughter, Miss Helen Underwood, who recently was graduated from Sage College, Cornell University.

  "They had a country home at Redding Conn., but while Prof. Underwood did some of his work there, it did not figure to any extent in his experimental and research work. He had been in Columbia University as Torrey Professor of Botany for about ten years, succeeding me as head of the department.

  "In his work, Prof. Underwood stood at the very head of his profession in the United States, and was one of the best-known men in his line in the entire world. For several years he had been working on a classification of ferns, the arctic regions of North America and the Isthmus of Panama.

  "Recently he returned from a trip to Cuba, Porto Rico, and Jamaica, where he went to study the ferns of those islands. He had also visited a large part of the United States with the same object in view. It was his life-work besides being a work of love. The work he planned was so exhaustive that it can be said he left it only fairly begun.

  "Prof. Underwood always impressed me as a man of the happiest disposition, as jolly a fellow as you would care to meet, a delightful companion, and a man who was popular with every one that knew him. So far as I know, his married life was ideal. I cannot figure out how how such a man could have committed the act that he did. Years ago he suffered from a nervous prostration, but that affliction was long ago overcome."


  Prof. Charles S. Gager of 2,578 Marion Avenue, Director of the Laboratory of the Botanical Gardens at Bronx Park, said:

  "When I last saw Prof. Underwood, Friday evening, he was apparently in a cheerful frame of mind. I met him early in front of of my home and requested him to take dinner with me. He accepted the invitation, and we had an enjoyable evening together."

  Prof. Gager said that when Prof. Underwood dined with them Friday night he complained of lack of sleep and had said that the noise in the neighborhood of the house where he lived on Lexington Avenue was so great each night that he could get llttle rest. He intended taking rooms in Bedford Park.

  "Ever since he returned to work," said Prof. Gager, "Prof. Underwood had expressed his intention of putting his full strength into his teaching but I do not I think that his physical, condition was equal to the task of late."

  He described Prof. Underwood as a person who would keep persistently at a task until it was' completed, without thought of sparing himself.

  Prof. Underwood was born at New Woodstock, Madison County, N. Y., Oct. 26, 1853. He was educated at Cazenovia Seminary, and was graduated from Syracuse University, where he later took a post-graduate course. He was appointed Professor of Botany and Geology in the Illinois Wesleyan University in 1880.

  He resigned In 1883 to become Professor of Biology at his Alma Mater, and from 1891 to 1895 was Professor of Botany at De Pauw University. The following year he was at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, and from there was appointed Professor of Botany at Columbia, where he has remained.

  Prof. Underwood contributed to many botanIcal and other scientific periodicals. Ferns and mushrooms were special hobbies in the line of his more general work. He published "Our Native Ferns and Their Allies," and "Moulds, Mildews, and Mushrooms."

  He was a delegate to the International Botanical Congress in Genoa in 1892; editor of the Bulletin and Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club since 1898. He was a Fellow of the, American Association for the Advancement of Science, corresponding member of the Philadelphia Academy of Science, member of the Botanical Society of America, of which he was President in 1900, and a Councillor of the New York Academy of Sciences. For some time he, was President of the New York Mycologlcal Club, an organization not now in existence.

  Mrs. Underwood, to whom he was married in West Goshen, Conn., Aug. 10, 1881. was Marie Antoinette, daughter of Norman Spurr. They had only, one daughter.