"What kind is it," Dr. Worthley seems to be asking. (Walter McCardell, Baltimore Sun file photo, Nov. 2, 1964)
In 1964, a Baltimore Junior College student walking in some Catonsville woods found a 3-pound, 20-inch long mushroom. He turned it over to his teacher, who brought it to Dr. Elmer G. Worthley, the chief of natural products at Edgewood Arsenal, and “the person to see,” when it came to “fungi, spores and other mycological growths,” according to a story about the behemoth in the Nov. 2, 1964 issue of the Baltimore Sun.
Was it a toadstool, or was it a mushroom – or was it something else?
Dr. Worthley didn’t know. In the article, he went on to say: “I’ve taken it to one or two people – experts in the field and they’ve never seen anything like it either. We just can’t figure out which genre it comes from.”
It wasn’t easy to stump Dr. Worthley, an indefatigable field scientist, whose Owings Mills cottage was filled with pieces of “pottery from the ancient Inca tribes or Peru, poison roots from the Amazon regions, and hardened mushroom caps measuring more than 6 inches in length.” Worthley Peak in Antarctica is named for him.
Another mushroom (or toadstool) with an unidentified man from long, long ago. (Baltimore Sun file photo, dated Oct. 18, 1925)
You may remember the Maryland Public Television program “On Nature’s Trail” that Dr. Worthley hosted with his wife, Jean, who herself is perhaps better remembered as the host of MPT’s long-running “Hodgepodge Lodge.”
As for the fungus in question, the 1964 Sun story ends inconclusively, with this quote from Dr. Worthley:
“I’ve been studying this thing for a week now … and if we don’t come up with some answers, we might have to list it as a new species.”
This is looking to be a good weekend for a walk in the woods. Who knows what you’ll find?
Steven Schultz, 6, with large toadstool. (Weyman Swagger, Baltimore Sun file photo, Oct. 24, 1970)