Letter slot

(Photography by Samantha Chapnick [CC BY-ND 2.0])

Readers sound off

Alumni write in about furry friends; latke-hamantash memories; Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60; and more.

Star astronomer

This morning, sorting through the pile of reading materials on the table next to my favorite chair, I decided to browse once again through the University of Chicago Magazine’s Spring/22 issue.

In a letter submitted by my fraternity brother Peter Clauss, AB’55 (“Core Connections”), I noticed he said he had been a science fiction fan, and that he “suspected” our contemporary Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, his fellow member in the Ryerson Astronomical Society, had been one too.

Though Peter and I never had occasion to discuss the matter, it happens that I can confirm his suspicion, because of the odd way in which Carl and I met. Someone in my first-year Vincent House dorm in Burton-Judson, upon seeing me reading a science fiction magazine, said, “You should meet Carl Sagan in Dodd House. You two guys would really get along, and he’s another science fiction fan.” Then this mutual friend, whoever he was, actually arranged one day that I should go down to Carl’s room and meet him.

I was 16 or 17 and at a bit of a loss, having never before had such a thing happen, but Carl was friendly and welcoming. He put me at ease, and we had a pleasant conversation, chatting about the sci-fi writers with whose work we were both familiar. The one specific thing I remember about the visit was that Carl amazed me with a model of the four-dimensional analog of a cube, a tesseract, that he had made out of toothpicks and glue.

In another coincidence, it wasn’t until decades later that I discovered Ryerson Hall and the astronomical society were named for my grandmother’s cousin Marten A. Ryerson. (Now I see that the reference books spell his name Martin, rather than using the older Dutch spelling.)

There was one final connection that began with that adolescent discussion of science fiction. When my daughter, Janet, was in high school, I heard that Carl, by then world-famous, was to head the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Francisco, where I was practicing medicine. I called him up and asked if I could bring Janet to the event to meet him, to which he graciously acceded. What eventually happened was that we joined his entourage for the week and had several lunches and a dinner with him, and she attended the scientific and medical sessions with me.

Janet later had a long and illustrious academic career at four universities and has now returned to San Diego State as its only faculty member who has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Denis Franklin, AB’54
Santa Barbara, California

In concert

The Summer/22 issue of the Magazine asks alumni about memorable musical performances they witnessed while students (“Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Believe the Hype,” Alumni News Snapshots). During my undergraduate years (1971–74), I hooked up with the Chicago Front for Jazz, a small group of students who arranged and presented concerts by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM—Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future). We presented such forward-looking musicians as Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Amina Claudine Myers, Fred Anderson, and Henry Threadgill’s Air trio. But the most memorable AACM concert I attended at the University was on a frigid January night in 1972, when the immortal Art Ensemble of Chicago, to celebrate their return from a long sojourn in France, presented their Return from Exile concert at Mandel Hall. It was a mind-boggling experience, documented in Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live at Mandel Hall.

Mark G. Eckel, AB’74 (Class of 1975), AM’80
Crystal Lake, Illinois

In 1967 and 1968, the Folklore Society put on the Folk Festival and concerts of folk music performers like the New Lost City Ramblers, Joseph Spence, and Howlin’ Wolf. It was great to see so many of them, and no doubt played a formative role in my helping found Rounder Records in 1970. Bruce Kaplan, AB’66, AM’68, whom I knew there, later joined us for a while and then went out on his own with Flying Fish Records.

Bill Nowlin, AM’69
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Teed off

I offer the following as what we used to call a wild short during my newspaper days:

I was working out at my local gym the other day. I was wearing a T-shirt that I bought from U of C students several years ago in front of Cobb Hall.

The front says: That’s All Very Well In Practice.

The back says: But How Does It Work In Theory?

Also on the front is the time-honored University of Chicago logo.

There I was, struggling with weights, when a man walked past. He was wearing a T-shirt that said HARVARD across the chest in large block letters.

He noticed my shirt. He stopped. He glared. He shook his head, piteously, three times. And off he went.

I would never disdain his shirt if the roles were reversed. Would I? Would I?

Bob Levey, AB’66
Chevy Chase, Maryland

A place to call home

I read with great interest the description of Botany Pond, installed by John Merle Coulter, first chair of the botany department (“Water Lilies,” Alumni News Snapshots, Summer/22). When I was in medical school, I lived in the Burton-Judson dormitory with seven other classmates. The dormitory held about 500 students and my house, Coulter House, was for graduate students. The Gothic architecture was impressive, including the arch that led to my house in the courts. I passed there daily. Those days stay in my heart, particularly for being a foreigner at a beautiful school and having classmates who were all wonderful to me. Across the whole campus, the dorm was my favorite place.

Fernando Ugarte, MD’65
Bradenton, Florida

Dreaming spires

On a 1964–65 sabbatical year, we lived in a 16th-century Elizabethan cottage in Dorchester-on-Thames, England, nine miles from Oxford, where I connected myself with Nuffield College of the University of Oxford. We had four children with us. Luckily, we had read These Ruins Are Inhabited (Doubleday, 1961) by Muriel Beadle (“Cat Lady,” Alumni News Snapshots, Summer/22) beforehand; her descriptions of adapting to English life helped us negotiate the year. (The children’s favorite Christmas presents were hot-water bottles, which they had never needed in cold Minnesota.) We survived with great fondness for the Brits.

In January 1965 Winston Churchill died. We watched the impressive ceremonies on the telly. Then, realizing that his funeral train would pass only a few miles from us, we drove to a nearby overpass to witness its slow passage. Then we drove on to Bladon, just north of Oxford (near Blenheim Palace), to its St. Martin’s parish churchyard, and thus, quite unintentionally, my wife and I and our four children became the first Americans to file past Churchill’s final resting place.

Harold Lieberman, AM’49
St. Cloud, Minnesota

Dog days

I was at what was then the School of Social Service Administration from 1962 to 1964 (“Cat Lady,” Alumni News Snapshots, Summer/22). It was a treat to see Charlotte Towle ride her bicycle to and from class with her little black Scottie dog in the basket!

Margaret C. Carpenter, AM’64
Norwell, Massachusetts

As a third- and fourth-year student in the College, I shared an apartment at 57th and Kenwood with three other friends. In that apartment we had three huge dogs: Anu, a Great Pyrenees; Ophelia, a Great Dane; and my dog, Nipples, a Saint Bernard. That’s 250 pounds of dog in one apartment. My dog was named Nipples on a dare, so when she wandered off, our girlfriends would have to shout “Nipples” down the street to get her to return. After I married the most beautiful girl on campus, Ellen Diamond, AB’73 (Class of 1972), we changed her name to Piggles.

Sherwin Waldman, AB’73, MD’77
Highland Park, Illinois

Feline friendship

I was pleased to see the short piece in the Summer/22 issue of the Magazine regarding Muriel McClure Beadle (“Cat Lady,” Alumni News Snapshots). I had the good fortune while a student there to work for Muriel and George personally in their campus home. My tasks were many and varied and when they could think of nothing more important ... yes, walking M’zelle on a leash! Fortunately, I have always been a “cat person” so these walks were very pleasant, though I felt self-conscious walking around campus with a Siamese cat on a leash. Among the many curious experiences graciously provided by the University of Chicago!

Phil York, AB’68
Torrance, CAlifornia

Muriel Beadle sent me a great letter about the process of writing her book The Cat: History, Biology, and Behavior (Simon and Schuster, 1977). I had written to her about how much I enjoyed it and mentioned our cat Bernie. My wife and I found him behind a restaurant on 53rd Street around 1980 and adopted him. Since I was working on the planning for the new UChicago hospital, it seemed appropriate to name him after Bernard Mitchell, who had just given $14.5 million to that effort. He was a great cat.

Richard Benedict, AB’85 (Class of 1979)
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Got latke? Nosh on hamantash?

One eternal University of Chicago question continues to plague and inspire me. “Which is the more perfect Jewish food? The circular potato latke, or the triangular hamantash cookie?” Latke vs Hamantash: The Movie seeks definitive answers. Learn more by visiting https://latkevshamantash.com.

Fellow alumni! Witnesses to history! Get involved and support this new documentary! Please send memories of the debate, related materials, photos, etc., to lorch@uchicago.edu.

I wish you all good eating.

Benjamin Lorch, AB’93, AM’04

Blast from the past: Plucked chicken

Cheryl Newman’s letter in the Summer 1977 issue about the Chicago sweater which she spotted in an Amsterdam store window reminds me of my own experience in the summer of 1976.

I was on a hiking trip through Iran’s Elburz mountains, north of Teheran, and had noticed that college sweatshirts were the rage, lagging by a year or two the fad which was beginning to die out in Europe. Even in the most remote villages, all the teenagers were wearing the shirts. By far the most popular was that for Drake University, followed by—to my great surprise and pleasure—Chicago and Princeton, a distant third place.

In one village I was having trouble getting on a bus which was overloaded with Iranians and their livestock, when a handsome young man with a Chicago sweatshirt came to my aid and got a seat for me. The fact that the phoenix on the shirt looked more like a plucked chicken didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the happy coincidence.

Peter Goodsell, AB’71
New York City

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 5235 South Harper Court, Chicago, IL 60615. Or email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.