Readers sound off

Readers celebrate the legacy of Philip Gossett; advocate wetland restoration; correct a grotesque error; don’t want nobody nobody sent; and more.

Binding books

I was only on campus for one year, and often feel more like a visitor than an alumna when reading about iconic UChicago people and places in the Magazine. “Book Smart” (Summer/17) changed that. Those labyrinthine plywood stacks at the Co-op, the books I discovered there that have traveled with me ever since, these are my UChicago icons. I applaud Jeff Deutsch’s vision and look forward to supporting the Co-op’s mission for years to come.

Mary Branick Ujda, AM’94

Back to the (eco)garden

The article and pictures celebrating the 20th year of the University’s status as a botanic garden (“Evergreen,” Summer/17) are a beautiful description of how a 1961 landscaping project morphed into a 217-acre designated botanic garden (hereafter “garden”). There is an even more interesting backstory when one looks further back, reexamines the landscaping choices, and considers more immediate environmental concerns.

In 1891 the grounds of the University of Chicago varied from low areas with standing water to flat, dry areas covered with several species of oaks, some 50 years old. The native oaks were adapted to the sandy soil and local climate, but the trees interrupted the overall landscaping plan. A conservation-minded trustee, Judge Daniel Shorey, prevented the destruction of the black oaks, and some survive to this day. Praise for Shorey came from professor Henry C. Cowles, PhD 1898, a nature lover often called the father of American ecology.

Cowles was supportive of the first University landscaper, O. C. Simonds, whose innovative use of native plants and winding paths got him fired. Cowles’s groundbreaking studies of Indiana’s marshes and dunes had provided the University’s botany department with immense prestige. But, despite calling them “distinctive,” the University disdained its own marshes and dunes. University websites describe the original lakefront marsh ecosystem as “large tracts of swampland,” “characterized by infertile soil,” and as a “somewhat troublesome marshland.” These negative views explain the casual destruction of what today is recognized as an ecologically significant and biologically productive lakefront marsh ecosystem.

Reversing some of that destruction is possible. The Rice Native Gardens of Chicago’s Field Museum are sustainable landscapes that replace the turf grass, annuals, perennials, and other nonnatives. By highlighting plants native to Illinois, the same species that grow wild in the state’s prairies and woodlands, the museum campus is a living exhibit and scientific laboratory on conservation, ecology, and climate change, and a refuge for migratory birds and animals. The University of Washington Botanic Gardens’s 80 acres of restored marsh and swamp wetland have become critical habitat for hundreds of species of birds in Seattle. Restoration required destruction of UW’s married student housing, and closing and emptying out the highway construction debris that filled the city’s largest garbage dump.

I suggest that the University remember Simonds and replace its nonnative landscaping with plants native to Illinois, and consider restoring portions of the lawn’s “often saturated and sterile soils” to the original swamp white oak and marsh wetland. These changes will enable wonderful things to happen. Students and faculty, including researchers in the ecology and evolution department—alarmed about the existential threat posed by global climate change—will applaud, and perhaps help with, restoration of wetland that stores up to or in some cases even more than 40 percent soil carbon. A natural carbon sink will enhance the campus, and restored wetland provides reproduction opportunities to many of Illinois’s 100 butterfly species, and stopover sites for migrating birds to rest, eat, and breed. Vulnerable butterflies that specialize in, or heavily use, wetlands will find places to lay eggs.

Their caterpillars will benefit the caterpillar-eating offspring of millions of local and migrating birds whose spring and fall routes from and to Central and South America pass directly though Chicago. Hundreds of wetland plant species provide benefits to dwindling Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) populations. These include swamp milkweed, host to the at-risk monarch butterfly, whose migration route to Mexico passes directly though Chicago, and marsh violet, a host for many fritillary butterfly species, including the Illinois endangered regal fritillary. Restored wetland benefits at-risk plants, like the threatened queen of the prairie, whose colorful flowers reward bees and other at-risk pollinators with abundant pollen.   The 20th anniversary is the right time for the University and its botanic garden to undertake living up to their 21st-century environmental potential.

Charlotte Adelman, AB’59, JD’62
Wilmette, Illinois

Grotesquely mistaken

How distressing to have the green man on Stuart Hall called a “grotesque” (cover, Summer/17). It is, indeed, a classical copy of a Green Man, a very significant pagan character carved on many English and European churches. (Does anyone at UChicago know where the Stuart Hall design was found originally?)

Congratulations to the artist, Jeff Nishinaka, for the excellently empathetic paper rendering of the design.

Crow Swimsaway, AB’54, AM’58
New Marshfield, Ohio

We erred in calling the carving a grotesque, usually a fanciful and often a hybrid creature. We should have simply called it a figure. According to the AIA Guide to Chicago (University of Illinois Press, 2014), Stuart Hall, which originally housed the Law School, “is carved with figures of kings and magistrates (predemocratic dispensers of justice).” We regret the error.—Ed.

Nesting habits

While I loved the Summer 2017 Core cover, the photo of the juvenile hawk inside the magazine and Helen Gregg’s (AB’09) story (“Birds and Prey”) might have left your readers with an erroneous understanding. Cooper’s hawks, unlike peregrine falcons, do not routinely continue to use the same nest year after year. The fact that a nest near Harper Memorial Library was used this year by no means permits the conclusion that it will be a continuing “home on the UChicago campus.”

We were honored to have Cooper’s hawks nest in a pine tree in our yard in Philadelphia in 2016. They were a delight, especially as they taught the fledglings to fly and hunt. We saw nothing in 2017. In contrast, there is a nest in city hall across the street from my husband’s office that has been used by the same pair of peregrine falcons for over five years.

It would be interesting to hear if the Cooper’s hawks return to Harper.

Elise Singer, AB’75

Covering the coverage

The football scrimmage with its very small crowd of about 200 that you showed (Alumni News, Summer/17)was the lead story of the Maroon on October 26, 1956. As the managing editor, I received a bound volume, in which I was able to look it up. I want to call attention to a paragraph in our story, which also pictured a sparse crowd: “Tribune and Sun-Times photographers, present for the game, bunched the students together in the stands to take pictures of them. One Tribune photographer even led the students in Chicago cheers.”

I don’t remember how our liberal friends at the Sun-Times pictured us, but our enemies at the very reactionary Fibune (as we called them) showed the bunched-up students without showing any empty seats—thus implying that the radical U of C was becoming “normalized.” Little did they know.

Norman Lewak, SB’57
Berkeley, California

Themistocles, Thucydides ...

I read with interest Hanna Holborn Gray’s “Self Portrait” (the Core, Summer 2017). Although she was not president when I was a student, I did have one interesting contact with her during her term.

President Gray mentions her interview with the New York Times in which she notes that she did not know the University football coach had left until her Christmas card was returned with the notation “Moved: Left no forwarding address.” This was an apparent exemplar of her attitude toward sports in the College, an attitude that sports were play as opposed to students’ more serious work. As a graduate of the College and the father of a student in the College (AB’90) who threw the discus for the University track team, I wrote President Gray to suggest that students who were members of varsity athletic teams, like my son, did so because they felt a real pride in representing the University as athletes and truly enjoyed what they were doing. Certainly my son wore his varsity letter jacket with pride during his time on campus. But he did wonder whether participating in sports was worthwhile if the University president didn’t know when a varsity coach had left his position.

Students in the College participate in a variety of activities that give meaning and richness to their educational experience. I spent three years doing theater work in the Blackfriars, University Theater, and Court Theatre without receiving any academic credit for my activities, just as my son spent three years as a varsity athlete without receiving any academic credit for his efforts. But we both look back at our extracurricular activities with pride, because for us “fun” in the College had not died but taken a nonacademic form.

Jim Best, AB’60
Kent, Ohio

No urban legend

How to Run for Office” (the Core, Summer 2017) quotes Christian Mitchell, AB’08: “There’s a common saying in Chicago: ‘We don’t want nobody who nobody sent.’” This is followed by your footnote, “According to legend, a ward committeeman said this to a young Abner Mikva, JD’51, when he tried to sign up as a campaign volunteer.”

In a compilation of oral history interviews with Chicago politicians, political scientist Milton Rakove, AM’49, PhD’56, quotes Mikva: “The year I started law school, 1948, was the year that Paul H. Douglas and Adlai Stevenson were heading up the Democratic ticket in Illinois. I was all fired up from the Students for Douglas and Stevenson and passed this storefront, the 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. I came in and said I wanted to help. Dead silence. ‘Who sent you?’ the committeeman said. I said, ‘Nobody.’ He said, ‘We don’t want nobody nobody sent.’”

So this is not a legend, it is a direct quotation from the person involved—except that in your version the language is slightly prettified. By the way, the name of Rakove’s book of oral history interviews is We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent (Indiana University Press, 1979).

Bob Michaelson, SB’66
Evanston, Illinois

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