Chasing ghosts

Remembering extraordinary UChicagoans.

I keep a sticky note on my desk with a quote from the poet Ada Limón: “We write with all the good ghosts in our corners.” I can’t think of a better motto for writing, especially writing for an alumni magazine, where we work to keep a place and an experience in the memories of our readers.

I’ve had ghosts on the brain (though only metaphorically, I hope) while putting together this issue of the Magazine—maybe because of how often I look at that sticky note, and maybe because our deadline falls just before Halloween and the Day of the Dead, holidays that celebrate life, death, and remembrance.

Fittingly, in this issue we look back on the lives of three UChicagoans who are not widely remembered yet left complicated and important legacies. We also pay tribute to the late John Paul Stevens, LAB’37, AB’41—thankfully, he is unlikely ever to be forgotten.

Bette Howland, 12GC’53, AB’55, was at the height of her literary career, with fans including her friend Saul Bellow, EX’39, and strong reviews for her first three titles, when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. But after receiving that landmark honor, Howland, who died in 2017, never finished another book. Her work fell out of print, and her literary contributions were at risk of being lost altogether—until a chance encounter in a bookstore brought Howland’s writing back into view.

Harold Goettler, AS 1914, SB 1914, was just 28 when he was killed in action during World War I. His heroism in trying to aid the so-called Lost Battalion earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor. In “A Soldier’s Final Mission,” David Chrisinger, AM’10, recreates Goettler’s harrowing final hours.

Maurice Hilleman, PhD’44, is arguably the best known of this group—but still less of a household name than you might expect, given his prolific career as a vaccinologist. Hilleman produced 40 vaccines, including those for measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, pneumonia, and influenza. Yet some of his methods were, to put it mildly, unorthodox, as Maureen Searcy describes. Did the ends justify his means?

I’ve been grateful for the company of Howland, Goettler, and Hilleman these past few months. Their stories, Howland’s in particular, have prompted me to think more deeply about who gets remembered and why. They are ghosts I am glad to have had in my corner. Whether they are good or not is, of course, for you to decide.

Be my guest

I was excited but daunted when Laura Demanski, AM’94, asked if I’d like to try guest editing this issue of the Magazine. Months later, my desk has never been messier, but my appreciation for Laura and the rest of our stalwart, hilarious team has never been greater. For what it’s worth, the second part of that Ada Limón quote is “I, for one, have never made anything alone.”