Oberlin Blogs

Keeper of the Chronicles

February 16, 2011

My youngest sister, Sara, noticed that I was missing a quote in a previous post. So, for her, I include the following quote:

"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning." - Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World

I chose this quote for two reasons. First, I'm trying to convince Sara to read the Wheel of Time books. Second, the title of this post is taken directly from the Wheel of Time series. These books are awesome. Go read them now. Well, not now. Perhaps after you finish reading this blog post.

I have been working for the admissions office for nearly three years - I celebrate my three-year anniversary with them around spring break - and have acquired endless facts and stories about Oberlin. The wonderful thing about being a tour guide for Oberlin is that, though we have specific things we're supposed to cover, we don't have a script and can pick and choose additional things to talk about. Every tour guide gives a slightly different tour peppered with their favorite Oberlin stories and experiences. I thought that I'd take this opportunity to share some of my favorite Oberlin stories.

Surprise! Most of them are historical (if you read my blog/know anything about me, this probably isn't really a surprise). Oberlin has a fascinating history (in fact, Carol Lasser, professor and historian extraordinaire teaches a class entitled "Oberlin History as American History") and I love to share what I've learned about Oberlin's history with other people!

Katharine Wright Haskell and the Wilbur and Orville Wright Laboratory of Physics

Katharine Wright, the younger sister of the Wright brothers, graduated from Oberlin in 1898 and became Oberlin's second female trustee. She is often credited with doing a lot of "behind the scenes" work for her brothers, allowing them to have both the money and the time to achieve their goals. Orville Wright, recognizing Oberlin's significance in the life of his sister, gave Oberlin a gift of more than $300,000 in 1948. Because of this gift, we changed the name of the physics building to the Wilbur and Orville Wright Laboratory of Physics, a name it retains to this very day.

Charles Martin Hall, a statue, and the 19th-century equivalent of a typo

Let's continue with our science theme, shall we? Charles Martin Hall (class of 1885) is credited with the discovery of an inexpensive method for producing aluminum. After becoming insanely rich and co-founding ALCOA, he donated considerable amounts of the money to the college, and is responsible for many of the buildings on campus. Sophronia H. Brooks Hall Auditorium (usually referred to as "Hall Auditorium") is named after his mother. An aluminum statue of CMH used to travel around campus (because of the fact that aluminum is extraordinarily light), but it has since been attached to a block of marble. Never fear, however, for the administrative assistants for the chemistry department have taken it upon themselves to decorate our beloved statue, resulting in some hilarious costumes. Below is CMH dressed for St. Patrick's Day. Check out the facebook group for more pictures!

My favorite part of the CMH story is that he is unintentionally responsible for why Americans refer to aluminum as aluminum and why everyone else in the world calls it aluminium. How did this happen? Well, he misspelled aluminium on a handbill advertising his discovery. This led to the widespread adoption of the use of "aluminum." Basically it was the nineteenth-century equivalent of a typo that led to this. Always proofread, kids. Or, not? It's hard to tell what the lesson is in this situation...

Also, fun fact: This year Oberlin is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the discovery of aluminum!

Charles Martin Hall wants you to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland!

Cassie Chadwick and the Carnegie Library

Once upon a time, Oberlin needed money in order to build a library. They sent a request to Andrew Carnegie, who opted not to give the necessary money for Oberlin to build its library. Disappointed, Oberlin began to explore alternative sources for funding. But, as luck would have it, a woman came to town, claimed to be Andrew Carnegie's illegitimate daughter, and promised that she would get her father to donate the money for Oberlin's library if Oberlin's bank would give her a loan.

Thinking this was an awesome deal, Oberlin's bank loaned Ms. Chadwick a considerable amount of money. They never heard from her again. They contacted Carnegie, who revealed that Ms. Chadwick was not, in fact, his illegitimate daughter. Whoopsie? Cassie Chadwick never did repay her loan, and was eventually thrown in jail. She became fairly notorious in the Cleveland area for her schemes. You can read about her here...or here.

Carnegie felt bad about the whole situation, so he struck a deal with Oberlin: he would give Oberlin the money for its library, provided that it served as not only a library for the college, but as a public library as well. And that's how we got the Carnegie Building! Carnegie Library is no longer our main library building, it has been replaced by Mudd and the Oberlin Public Library. Now it houses a whole bunch of administrative offices (including admissions!), the geology department, and storage for books removed from normal library circulation (but still accessible by request!). Requesting books from storage is the ultimate exercise of nerdy tendencies. I am proud to say that I've requested many books from storage. My favorite (and probably the most beneficial) was a book entitled "Popular Songs of Ireland," which contained 19th-century popular songs from - you guessed it - Ireland. I actually used one of the songs ("I'll Never Get Drunk Anymore") as part of the title for my paper on nineteenth-century Irish temperance movements: "'I'll Never Get Drunk Anymore': Temperance, Religion, Politics, and Race in Nineteenth-Century Ireland."

Toni Morrison thinks we're pretty awesome? Why? Because we're The Town that Started the Civil War!

I could definitely write an entire blog post on this topic alone, but I'll try to be brief. In April of 2009, Toni Morrison dedicated a bench in Oberlin in recognition of Oberlin's involvement in abolitionism and that fact that Oberlin served as a key stop on the Underground Railroad (there's a book about Oberlin entitled The Town That Started the Civil War - definitely read it if you ever get the chance). I could say more, but instead I'm going to quote Toni Morrison's remarks from the dedication ceremony on 23 April 2009:

"And it's true, this is my home. And this is my subject for tonight's speech. And I wanted to say that this installation of a bench in this particular place is ideal. Ideal for a number of reasons. It is in my home parts... It is closely associated and entangled in the history of Oberlin. But it is a place where one can understand that there was a relationship between black and white. It wasn't only that black ex-, former, or escaped slaves made their way with the help of other slaves. It was that they arrived at a place where outraged white people - white people outraged at slavery - were there to offer them...hope and to provide the escape. So that combination of commitment on the part of Americans is what is significant about Oberlin in particular. Now there are also some other places where benches to go. I am arrogant enough to think there might even be a world of benches. There are places in London. There are places in Paris. There are places all over the world that need a little jostle; something to remind them of who we and they are. So this is one. I am grateful to you. I am grateful to all of those who worked so hard for this."

I love Toni Morrison. So much. When she came to campus, she opted to discuss the concept of "home," which hit very close to...well, for lack of a better word, home. This woman gave the most powerful, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring speech I have heard as an Oberlin student. Then, because that apparently wasn't enough, she followed it up with the most genuine, honest, and inspiring question and answer session ever. Yes, ever. No one can beat her. A teacher from the local middle school came and asked Toni Morrison for any advice that the teacher could pass along to the class. Toni Morrison's response? Three amazing words: "Don't fail me."

I could gush about Toni Morrison for an eternity. Her visit to Oberlin is, and will always be, one of the most amazing experiences I have had as an Oberlin student.

Steinway and Oberlin

If you ever visit our campus and hear a concert involving a piano, I can guarantee that that piano is a Steinway. Oberlin has the longest relationship with Steinway of any school in the country, and, as of this year, we have the third largest collection of Steinway pianos in the country (bested only by the Steinway factory and the Juilliard School, which has about 30 more Steinways than Oberlin). As someone who plays piano, this means that I get to practice on a Steinway, have lessons on a Steinway, and perform on a Steinway. I've actually been lucky enough to perform on two of the nicest Steinways in Oberlin - the Steinway grand piano in Finney Chapel and the baby grand piano in the Clonick Hall! Oberlin's Steinway collection has been yet another of my favorite experiences as an Obie. Too bad I can't take a Steinway with me when I graduate!

Esperanza Spalding and Six Degrees of Oberlin!

If you watched the Grammy Awards this year, you may have been surprised at the choice for Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding. Most people hadn't heard of her, and many Bieber fans reacted in ridiculous ways. How is the Best New Artist tied to Oberlin? Well, not only will she be here as part of the Artist Recital Series in March, but she has another connection to Oberlin as well. While chatting with one of the tour guides on Monday, he revealed that Spalding was one of his teachers in high school. I am fully convinced that Six Degrees of Oberlin exists. Can we make a game out of it?

Since I've already included two quotes in this post, I'll leave you with this video. Enjoy.

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Responses to this Entry

My favorite Oberlin story has got to be in... 1927? I guess? When Clarence Ward decided it was time the art building expanded (again), so he called in this rich bitty (blanking on the name, so I use the term "Bitty" with utmost respect) who often donated large sums of money to the Oberlin art program to tour the art museum and art history building.

When she arrived (in her Rolls, obviously), she was led through crowded hallways, where students were studying because there was no room in the art library. She was shown cramped classrooms and the fit-to-burst library, and told Clarence Ward he was in dire need of an addition.

To paraphrase, Ward responded, "Why, that's funny, I seem to have plans for just such an addition RIGHT HERE!"

Donations were made, additions were built, and the Oberlin art program continues to expand beyond the building's capacity.

Posted by: ali on February 16, 2011 10:59 PM

Yes, that does mean that Clarence Ward is A. a hustler and B. a baller.

Posted by: ali on February 16, 2011 11:02 PM

Of course, the Wheel of Time. I think I will read it this summer. Thanks for calling!

Sara
P.S. Can't wait for your next blog post! (Gandhi, remember to credit me!) :)

Posted by: Sara on February 17, 2011 3:26 PM

@Ali: That is a wonderful story. I hadn't heard that one before. *adds to mental storage of random Oberlin stories*

@Sara: I will definitely credit you! Don't worry :P

Posted by: Patrick on February 20, 2011 4:46 PM

Ugh, I love all these stories.

p.s. OH SO THAT'S WHERE YOUR TUMBLR URL COMES FROM!

Posted by: Helena on February 22, 2011 9:03 AM

@Helena: Have any other good ones? Also, yes, that IS where my tumblr url comes from.

Posted by: Patrick on February 22, 2011 6:40 PM

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