The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/Sketch of Lieutenant Fletcher S. Bassett

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The organization and conduct of the World's Folk-Lore Congress of 1893 was so largely the work of the late Lieutenant Fletcher S. Bassett that any publication of the proceedings of that Congress would be deemed incomplete without some biographical notice of him. The following brief sketch is therefore given, with the belief that it will be read with interest by all the participants in the Congress.

Mr. Bassett was born in Adams County, in the State of Kentucky, of the United States of America, on December 21st, 1847. He entered Monmouth College, in the State of Illinois, early in the year 1863. The great American Civil War was then in progress, and in May, 1864, Mr. Bassett left college and enlisted as a volunteer in Company A of the 188th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteers. On September 21, 1865, he left the military service and entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, in the State of Maryland, as a midshipman. He graduated from this institution in June, 1869, and was promoted to the position of ensign in July, 1870. In this capacity he served on the staff of Admiral John Rodgers, on the Asiatic Station, and commanded a section of howitzers in the attacks on the forts of the Kaughra Islands below Seoul, the capital of Corea. In 1871 Mr. Bassett served in the American squadron in the North Atlantic Ocean, and later during the same year in the South Pacific Ocean squadron, and was promoted to the office of Lieutenant in June, 1875. He was placed on the Naval Retired List in 1882.

Lieut. Bassett began his literary work while in college, and was constantly employed on it, in some form, to the date of his death. He did a great deal of newspaper correspondence and wrote numerous magazine articles, both of a technical and literary character, and did a considerable amount of professional writing for naval and military journals. He also assisted in the preparation of Hammersly's Naval Encyclopedia. His first book was published in 1885, and was entitled "Legends and Superstitions of the Sea." It was simultaneously issued in London and Chicago. This work opened a new and fascinating field of research and was highly appreciated in the literary and scholastic world. It directed many other minds to the same lines of investigation, and has been acknowledged as an original and authentic treatise of the subject to which it relates. It has already passed through two editions.

In 1892, Lieut. Bassett published "The Folk-Lore Manual;" or Questionnaire of the Folk-Lore Society. Lieut. Bassett, through an incessant correspondence and the publications to which reference has already been made, did probably as much as any other student in this department of research to arouse the popular interest in Folk-Lore studies, and stimulate the formation of Folk-Lore societies. He was secretary of the International Folk-Lore Association and an honorary member of the French Society of Popular Traditions. His wide knowledge, his practical familiarity with modern languages, and his official experience in the American Navy led to his appointment as Chief Interpreter and Translator of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

As chairman of the Folk-Lore Congress, he conducted an extensive correspondence with the leaders of Folk-Lore in all parts of the world; solicited their co-operation and participation in the work; and made engagements for the papers and addresses more especially desired. Without entering into the details of this important work, suffice it in this connection to say, that his efforts resulted in the completion and successful execution of a well-ordered plan for the largest and most representative Folk-Lore Congress ever convened.

The exhausting responsibility and toil involved in this great work, as well as in his labors as general interpreter and translator of the World's Columbian Exposition, proved to be burdens greater than his health and strength could bear, and resulted in his death on October 19, 1893, a few days before the close of the Exposition. The ability, fidelity and zeal with which Lieutenant Bassett discharged the duties which came to him in the course of his career well deserve a more extended account and higher tributes of praise than the present occasion will permit, but this much is due to his memory in connection with the publication of the proceedings of the World's Folk-Lore Congress of 1893.

Charles C. Bonney,
General President of the World's Congresses
of the World's Columbian Exposition.