Amherst Magazine

Letters

People have ventured up to the tower (now heavily alarmed) to sign their names and mark various dates, including Oct. 13, 1948, which, incidentally, was not a Sunday, and, as far as we can tell, was not the date of any major world event.

A mystery in the bell tower

I read, with interest, the cover story on Johnson Chapel (Summer 2010), particularly because I snuck into the building during the week that Bruce Becker ’80 and his cohorts at the college humor organization, the Rubber Chicken Society (of which I was then past co-president, with Lester Schwalb ’77), slipped into the chapel after dark and placed a Mickey Mouse face and Mickey Mouse hands on the clock tower.

Playing CSI: Amherst, I must point out, however, that the photograph on page 21 shows another act of vandalism (or, really, defacement) committed years earlier. The graffiti scrawled on the wall—“Peace Terms Accepted”—was actually written on Oct. 13, 1918. Not only was that day a Sunday, as is stated in the photo, but that was the period when Woodrow Wilson began Armistice talks for World War I; the treaty was signed the following month.

Moreover, it is clear that the bold handwriting suggests that the original scrawl said “1918” and a newcomer placed a “4” over the “1.” He doubtlessly did the same to the other signatories, changing “1920” to “1928,” etc., etc. I would guess that if we were to look up the names Savoy, Lallair (changed to Caclair), Snieder and the fourth name (which has also been altered), we would find that they attended Amherst in the 1920s. Perhaps Laurence Snape ’57 (who signed his name) or someone impersonating (and thereby incriminating) Snape knows more about this and may be the culprit... or an innocent bystander-bellringer.

David Friend ’77
New Rochelle, N.Y.

The caption describing the mysterious graffiti in Johnson Chapel poses the question of accuracy: “... Oct. 13, 1948, which, incidentally, was not a Sunday, and, as far as we can tell, was not the date of any major event.” Looking carefully, one will see that the digit “4” in 1948 is a clumsy amendment, and that the actual date first written was Oct. 13, 1918, which most assuredly was a Sunday. Next comes the mystery, written just above the date: “Peace Terms Accepted.” Nothing much happened politically on that day, but on Oct. 5, President Wilson received a telegram stating: “In order to avoid further bloodshed the German Government requests to bring about the immediate conclusion of an armistice on land, on water, and in the air. —Max, Prince of Baden, Imperial Chancellor.”

During the following five weeks, military operations continued in a halfhearted way, and diplomatic communications became more and more confused, with Wilson dancing around the demand of surrender and abdication by the Kaiser and the Germans not sure whether to keep fighting.

It is possible that an Amherst man wrote a “truth” in the belltower that has eluded historians: a provisional acceptance of Wilson’s demands by the Germans. Alternatively, it could refer to the conclusion of internal negotiations amongst America’s leadership of what terms would be accepted from the Germans. The entry directly below the date, which appears to say “6 A.M.,” argues strongly for the former: perhaps a student with government connections may have heard a report that later proved premature. The chapel bell may have been erroneously rung on Oct 13, 1918, as an end-of-war announcement. Could the list of bellringers’ names and dates (one inexplicably altered from 1922 to 1982)  refer to a now-defunct custom of ringing the bell on Armistice Day?

Timothy Holekamp, M.D. ’68
Columbia, Mo.

One summer in 1968 or 1969, a woman friend and I drove up from Hartford, where we worked at Trinity, to walk the Amherst campus. It was hot, the campus and buildings were empty. Walking in the chapel, we found unlocked doors that let us go up creaky, dark stairs and through cobwebs to the top of the tower. The panorama was a treat.
Bill Joy, the one and only campus officer so far as I knew, poked his head up from the stairs and said he was just checking. He said he recognized me—maybe, but more likely not. In any case, he left.

In recognition of my love for the place and the luck that got us to the top of the chapel, my friend gave me a kiss and a squeeze of the hand. We climbed down shortly thereafter. I have treasured these few moments on the top of the Amherst world ever since.

Joseph Wilson ’64
Ithaca, N.Y.

Mozart, Puccini, Spratlan

Brava to Sarah Auerbach ’96 for “The Awakening” (Summer 2010), about the premiere in Santa Fe of Professor Lewis Spratlan’s opera Life is a Dream, with libretto by Professor James Maraniss. Ms. Auerbach captured poignantly the parallels between the plot of the opera and the remarkable story of how it finally came to light. Her description of “being blown back in [her] seat” upon hearing a recording matched my own reaction to the live performance my classmates and I attended.

Those like me who played Spratlan’s Two Pieces for Orchestra with the Mount Holyoke-Amherst Chamber Orchestra in 1970-71, his first year at Amherst, have always known what a major talent we had in our midst as a composer, not only as a conductor and coach. During rehearsals, we looked at each other in astonishment, whispering, “He’s a genius!” Also, from Spratlan’s subsequent music that I’ve heard, I would not have missed this premiere for anything.  

Now, nearly 40 years later, the whole world knows. Upon entering the opera house, we were greeted by the awesome sight of a wall with full-size posters of all five composers of the Santa Fe Opera’s season, each one larger than the previous, in the following order:  Mozart, Puccini, Britten, Spratlan, Offenbach! The work I heard that night proved that Spratlan belongs in such august company.

When and wherever Life is a Dream is performed next, I hope Amherst will announce it well in advance, so that more alumni might be able to attend.

Robert Yamins ’72
Great Neck, N.Y.

Because of teaching an opera class in Santa Fe for more than a decade and having lived there in the ’90s for five years, I was asked to moderate the panel that occurred on the morning before the premiere of the opera. This was a lively discussion at the Museo Cultural with Lew Spratlan and the wonderful young director Kevin Newbury, with some historic and literary input by two Calderón scholars who were there as well.

I remembered seeing pages of the manuscript when I was at Amherst studying with Lew, so I felt incredibly honored to have been asked to participate in even a small way with the birth of the work on stage.

The production was inventive and beautiful, the singing and acting committed and assured, the orchestra well-led
and up to the challenge of such a difficult score. All of the reviews (a veritable who’s-who of music critics from across the country) pointed out the incredible strength and power of the music and the story line.

Though none of us composers want to wait 35 years to hear our work done, at least in this case the final result was masterful. Kudos to Lew, and here’s to future performances!

Larry Axelrod ’81
Chicago

So laid-back

In his appreciation of his brother Jim (“The Sensations of Jim,” Summer 2010), David Maraniss quotes a colleague of Jim’s:  “He’s so laid-back, he’s prone.” But this appears historically improbable and linguistically impossible.

Since the demise of frats at Amherst, the incidence of proneness on campus has greatly decreased. And the limit of being laid back (or laid-back) isn’t being prone; it’s being supine. 

Patrick Judd Murray ’65
Washington, D.C.

More on home birth

Saraswathi Vedam ’78 (“The Midwife,” Spring 2010) boldly leads us away from the world of augmentation of labor, epidural anesthesia and cesarean section (a common cascade) to an old place that she is making new: home birth. Things are becoming so insalubrious in hospital labor and delivery departments that couples who, from lack of information (or from reading lurid novels), wouldn’t have considered home birth in the past will now do so.

Thanks for telling this peerless midwife’s tale so thoroughly and so well.

Mary Williams P’08, P’11
Chicago
The writer is a certified nurse-midwife.

Is Greece any better?

Dr. Joseph Stiglitz writes a very interesting article, though so biased he can hardly be taken seriously (“A Loss of Faith,” Spring 2010). He cannot get by the first sentence without contrasting the “fanatics of the Right” with “the Left.” Why is the word fanatic attached to the right while no adjective is used to describe the left?

Secondly, he refers to “American triumphalism,” a term that is no doubt used in his intellectual circles. I, on the other hand, never heard the term before, nor did any of the people (ranging in age from 18 to 80) whom I asked about it.

Thirdly, he seems to see any introduction of capitalism into any other nation as “exploitation.” I prefer to see it as opportunity for those who wish to strive for the economic benefits of capitalism. 

The more serious point he brings up is world disillusion with capitalism. Capitalism in the United States is far from perfect, but is the European model—as exemplified by Greece—any better? Recent economic developments in
Europe seem to cast some doubts on the viability of the European welfare state.

C.W. Schellenger ’53
Naples, Fla.

Is Amherst’s environment self-sustaining?

During the worst part of the current recession, nearly one quarter of Amherst’s endowment evaporated. A $100 million loan, an anonymous gift of $100 million and a stunning 5 percent increase in room, board and tuition are helping to sustain the college through this tumult.

Out of this one can see that two hallmarks of our capitalist economy have enabled Amherst to navigate a stormy period: the availability of credit, and philanthropy born of an accumulated personal wealth. Still more of the latter was evident at this year’s Alumni Weekend, when another Reunion fundraising record was celebrated. 

The weekend also included a panel on campus free speech and the repression thereof (available on video on the Amherst website). Among the panelists was Paul Statt ’78, formerly Amherst’s director of media relations, who offered this: “… [T]he administration and faculty and basically everything about the college tends to lean Democratic liberal left ... .  [T]here are few conservatives involved, and they have their voice ... but the basic leaning here is left.”

In light of this candor, of the current and inarguable anti-free-enterprise mood in Washington and of Amherst’s ongoing need for new capital and major alumni donations, we ask: is the college’s environment self-sustaining? To the degree that recent events have shown that Amherst’s endowment, its alumni’s generosity and a pool of wealthy parents are key to the school’s very survival, this is a non-political question. Rather it is one of utmost practicality, and we offer this as a serious, open-ended invitation for a thoughtful, introspective examination of the institution.

We assert that scrupulous, well-practiced capitalism should be among the callings that Amherst explicitly grooms its graduates to meet, and that doing so is in the college’s own best interests.

We argue that to be against encouraging free-market capitalism on campus as a core idea is to be against the future existence of Amherst.

Let the debate begin.

Dick Hubert ’60
Rye Brook, N.Y.

Rob S. Longsworth ’99
New York City

A theory about football

Re. “The Perfect Season,” Winter 2010: The footballers of my own Class of ’55 also never lost to Williams (as
they never tire of reminding us at Reunions.) Included in this string was an undefeated 1953 season, which featured
an upset win over Brown.

Overall, Coach Ostendarp had a .681 winning percentage at Amherst, including a slight edge over Williams. But Williams always seemed to be the toughest opponent on the schedule.

Several years ago, when Ostendarp spoke at a San Francisco Alumni Club luncheon, he was asked how Amherst would do against Williams the following year. “Well,” he replied, “Williams is getting ready for a capital campaign, so they’re beefing up the football team. We’ll have a hard time beating them for the next few years.” Maybe that is now working in reverse.

As consolation for any losses, I have a theory (unverified) that whichever team loses the Amherst-Williams game will take first place in the following year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Richard A. Dirks ’55
Asheville, N.C.

Livin’ on the Mountain

I appreciated reading about the honors given Jim Rooney [’60] recently (“The producer,” Spring 2010). I was surprised that the article did not mention Rooney’s sometime collaborator Bill Keith ’61. Their album, Livin’ on the Mountain, continues to be a favorite. Bill has gone on to be a very successful musician and inventor in his own right. ’Tis great what music two Amherst grads can make!

Bob Benedetti ’64
Stockton, Calif.

Water rescue

At Amherst, I found Phil Lilienthal ’62 to be an open, warm, kindred spirit. As I read about what he created in South Africa (“The Sizanani Effect,” Winter 2010), I remembered Phil even more clearly.

Once, after the school year had ended, he and several of us students volunteered to help prepare for Reunion. At the end of the second day of work, several suggested we cool off at a nearby lake. About a dozen of us took our bathing trunks, changed at the lake and dove in.

Here I was, an Asian accustomed to swimming in 80-degree water, diving into the cold lake. We started swimming to the swim float about 200 yards from the shore. I was the lagger who discovered, halfway to the float, that I would not make it. Exhausted, I yelled to the others that I needed help. In a few seconds, a strong swimmer came to me and asked me to put my hands on his shoulders and kick in the water while he breaststroked to shore. My lifesaver was Phil Lilienthal. I remember thanking him profusely, but he didn’t make a big thing, probably to save me from embarrassment.

The only downside to the Sizanani article was reading that in his Peace Corps stint, he had worked in the Philippines. I wished he had tried to find me.

Jose M. Faustino ’61
Makati City, Philippines
image

Did you figure it out?

In the Summer 2010 College Row section, we printed a pink-and-tan photo, one of 72 images from the “Abstract Amherst” photo essay by Samuel Masinter ’04. We asked you to guess where on campus it was taken and what it depicts. Now we can reveal that the photo is a detail from the statue near Fayerweather Hall and Keefe Campus Center. See the entire photo essay here.

Editor

Correction: In the article about Howard Junker ’61 (“Literary locavore,” Amherst Creates, Summer 2010), the title of his literary journal is misspelled several times. The correct spelling is ZYZZYVA.


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Photos by Samuel Masinter '04