The Bird Singer and His Travel Log

Charles Kellogg and His Eccentric Efforts to Save the Redwoods

Listen: Charles Kellogg's Bird Songs (Courtesy Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association)

Before: Charles Kellogg and his raw material. Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association hide caption

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itoggle caption Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association

After: Kellogg and his Travel Log, carved from the log above. He criss-crossed the country in the mobile home to promote protection for the California redwoods. Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association hide caption

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itoggle caption Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association
Suzanne Van Meter and the Travel Log

Now: Writer Suzanne Van Meter and the Travel Log at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center. Ketzel Levine, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR News

Charles Kellogg (1868-1949) could sing like a bird. Literally. At least that's the story, and the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center is sticking to it. Kellogg would stand in front of an audience, open his mouth, and out would come an aviary of birdcalls. He claimed to have the larynx of a bird (called a syrinx). NPR's Ketzel Levine tells Kellogg's story as the first part of her series, Big Trees and the Lives They've Changed.

Kellogg maintained that physicists measured his voice with a tuning fork, and discovered it could vibrate up to 40,000 cycles per second. Compare that with the upper range of the human voice — around 500 cycles per second — and you get some idea of just how high the pitch of his voice might have been. If true, Kellogg would have been capable of producing sounds inaudible to the human ear!

Though a consummate performer — he traveled at home and abroad doing vaudeville-style tricks with his voice — Kellogg had a mission. He was a humanitarian and a naturalist who wanted, he wrote, "To awaken interest in the great redwood forests of California, and to assist in their preservation." His lasting legacy is The Travel Log, the world's first mobile home, hand-hewn from a chunk of fallen redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and mounted on the back of a 1917 Nash Quad truck.

From 1917-1921, Kellogg took his Travel Log on the road. He drove it across the country four times, coast-to-coast, bringing word of the redwoods to people who had never heard, let alone imagined, there could be such trees. He spoke of the accelerated logging taking place in the redwood forests, made impassionate pleas for the trees' preservation, and spread the word about a fledgling organization looking for members. It was called the Save The Redwoods League.

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