Damned Yankee in Columbia

Winterton CurtisWinterton Curtis, the Scopes expert who pulled dollars from my ear and provided my first solid roof, recalled a much more southern Columbia, Missouri than mine, in these notes published in the Columbia Missourian in 1957. (I matriculated in 1975, he arrived in 1901.)

This reprint, one of the treasures from Dad’s memory chest, is full of small surprises and delights. WCC’s old New England mother drew the line well north of Mason-Dixon. “No. I cannot give my consent to Winnie’s going to such a place as Missouri.” It was, evidently, the most parochial of places then. It is slightly less so now, though midwestern parochialism is no walk in the park either. The difference is mainly one of surface veneer. Some midwesterners try harder to seem more sophisticated, but seemin’ ain’t bein’. My Missouri relatives might not put the question as bluntly as one of my Tennessee kin yesterday, “Did he believe we come from monkeys?” But they very well might be thinking it, all the same.

But college towns have a way of growing more cosmopolitan over time, in spite of themselves, as waves of outworlders wash in and stay and raise new natives.  And then as now, even the brightest young academics must consider themselves fortunate to find an offer of gainful employment anyplace at all.

So Winnie came anyway, lured by the prospect of an annual salary of $1,000. He quickly met coy, southern President Jesse (the President Jesse, whose domed “Hall” dominates the center of campus), built one of the first homes on what has become the loveliest tree-street in town, Westmount Ave., became a world-class evolutionist who went to Dayton in 1925, and eventually got a Hall of his own. curtis hall

Before meeting President Jesse on that first trip into town in 1901 he “was thrilled to meet Professor Frank Thilly,” translator of History of Philosophy, which I had devoured at Williams College and read again and again.”

Wow. I soaked that book up as an undergrad too, I can still picture its antique spine on my college shelf. Maybe he did pull dollars from my ear – and replace them with speculative ideas.

The house at 210 Westmount was my first “brick and mortal” abode. I coulda done a lot worse. These notes conclude: 210 Westmount

It is a thing to make life worthwhile to have lived so long in a home that one planned and built in part with his own hands on a street freshly cut from a cornfield, to have planted the trees and watched their growth until they arch the street, and above all to have lived in a university community.

I think the best life in America is to be had in university and college towns such as Columbia.

There’s my contribution to the annual fund, Alumni Association. Hail to thee, alma mater.

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