These People Had Hives!
Bees seem to fascinate almost everyone. Here are some famous people who have actually kept bees for fun or profit.
Greek philosopher ARISTOTLE was famed for his observations of nature, including bees from his own hives. Though not always perfectly accurate, Aristotle’s observations were for many years the basis of western knowledge about the animal kingdom. In his text A History of Animals Aristotle describes drones and ruler bees (though he calls them kings rather than queens), the order of a hive, and the making of honey.
SIR EDMUND HILLARY‘s father Percival was a journalist who gave up the newspaper business to become a professional beekeeper. His sons joined Percival in the family business, but a passion for mountaineering claimed ever more of Edmund’s time. After becoming the first man to conquer Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary gave up beekeeping entirely in favor of further explorations and advocacy for the Sherpas, the people of his Everest climbing partner Tensing Norgay.
Actor HENRY FONDA was an amateur beekeeper who reportedly gave friends jars labelled “Henry’s Honey.” The beekeeping connection was reinforced when Fonda’s son Peter won an Academy Award nomination for playing a beekeeper in the 1997 movie Ulee’s Gold. In an interview that year with the Toronto Sun, Peter Fonda reported “My dad kept a few hives… He had been a boy scout and an eagle scout and a scout master — as an eagle scout he had all the badges, one of them was for beekeeping… He had the veil, the whole beekeeper outfit.”
Lifestyle expert and media mogul MARTHA STEWART says she’s been keeping bees since the 1970s. Not only do they enhance the flowers and fruit trees in her garden, they make honey, and that’s a good thing. Stewart advises her readers to put the hives in the back of the yard, “away from young children and domestic animals,” to “avoid wearing perfume” and, if it’s your first time working with bees, to “get an expert’s help.”
According to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fictional detectiveSHERLOCK HOLMES retired to Sussex, England and amused himself by keeping bees. In His Last Bow (1917), Holmes’s friend Dr. Watson tells him “We heard of you as living the life of a hermit among your bees and your books in a small farm upon the South Downs.” In reply Holmes shows off a book he has authored, Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen, saying, “Behold the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days when I watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London.”
Honorable Mention: Aristotle’s pupil ALEXANDER THE GREAT didn’t keep bees, but he ended up having a close relationship with honey. After his death in Babylon during a military campaign, Alexander’s body was placed in a gold coffin filled with honey for return to Macedon. The body was intercepted by Alexander’s old friend Ptolemy, who took it to Alexandria, Egypt, where it was eventually entombed.