Hundreds of visitors have, and will continue, to stroll past the stegosaurus fossil in the Prehistoric Journey exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The question is, how many of them know who found it? Or even that it was found only a few hours’ drive from where they stand in the museum? That fossil, found in 1936 and voted the state fossil in 1982, was only of one of many contributions by someone of this community. Today is the birthday of Frederick Carl Kessler, fondly called Prof. Kessler, a beloved citizen of Cañon City.
Prof. Kessler was born in 1883 in Missouri but moved to Colorado in search of the rugged western life he had heard about. He soon realized being a cowboy might not be what he was really looking for. He enrolled at the State Teachers College in Greeley and gained his teaching degree instead. After a stint teaching English in the Philippines, Kessler returned to Colorado in 1925 and secured a position as a history teacher in Cañon City. He was a popular teacher and would lead geology tours on weekends for many of his students. It’s unsurprising this would lead to the creation of a geology club which is still active today!
Kessler led many trips to the Garden Park area and unearthed fossils. While many interesting finds were made, even including some diplodocus vertebrae, the stegosaurus would be the most well-known. Prominently displayed in Denver, this fossil was more complete than anything Kessler or his student had found before. Knowing more experience was needed to excavate than he possessed, Kessler contacted the Denver Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). Staff members traveled down in 1937 and determined the fossil was an important discovery and plans were made for excavation. Through the National Youth Administration, Kessler arranged for his students to help with the excavation and earn experience and money.
Kessler finally retired from teaching in 1949 but he wasn’t done being an educator. Kessler acted as curator for the museum from 1949 to 1963 and everyone still went to him with their geologic finds. He never stopped exploring the area! And at the age of 76 he found love, marrying his longtime friend Mrs. Martha Scott. He passed away in 1963 just before he would have celebrated his 80th birthday.
Prof. Kessler left behind a legacy because of his love and enthusiasm for the history and geology of Fremont County. As both a teacher and as a curator of the museum, he shared that love with the public and gained appreciation and respect in return. So thank you and Happy Birthday Prof. Kessler!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.