Ok, who’s up for some research?
On Twitter, someone questioned the story of Eugene Schieffelin, who in 1890 released several dozen (I’ve seen reports of 40-80) starlings into Central Park in New York City. Why did he do this? Legend has it that he wanted to bring all the birds of Shakespeare’s work to the United States.
The problem is that there appears to be no evidence to back up this story. Plenty of people tell it, but none of us can find any corroborating evidence. I’ve done what research I can on Google Books from that era, and there are plenty of 1890 publications citing Mr. S’s starling release (and apparently some sparrows as well), but at the time there are no references linking Schieffelin and Shakespeare. At all.
The closest I found was this book, Tinkering With Eden, which makes multiple references to Eugene’s obsession with “birds of the poets.” However, this is a 2002 book and it’s unclear to me where she gets all this information.
Has anybody got better supporting evidence? The ideal would be some reference to Schieffelin’s Shakespeare quest that is either authored by him or at the very least dated back during his lifetime. Worth mentioning – I’ve emailed the author of that book. Why not? I’ll report back if I get any good answers.
UPDATE: April 12, 2022 Duke University Press covers everything you’d ever want to know about this story, from “Yes, it’s fiction” to where the confusion stems from in the first place. I only wish that I’d gotten a reference, I’ve literally been trying to get people to fix this story for over a decade!