Posts Tagged ‘Columbia MO’

Winterton Curtis redux

July 28, 2012

I’ve had a lifelong obsession with an old zoologist at my alma mater, Winterton C. Curtis (1875-1966), who happens to have been my first real landlord: my parents rented rooms in his home soon after my birth, while my Dad was finishing his veterinary degree at Mizzou.

I remember him visiting our family in the years just prior to his death. He pulled dollars from my ear.

Later I’d learn of his historical importance, as one of the expert witnesses not allowed to testify at the infamous 1925 trial of John Scopes in Dayton TN.

Well, during our recent visit to Columbia, MO, Older Daughter and I rode by the place with my old roomie RD (still a Columbia resident).

And that’s what got me hunting for the little offprint of the memoir Dr. Curtis published in the Columbia Missourian in 1957, that belonged to my Dad. Found it yesterday. And, found it again this morning online: “A Damned-Yankee Professor in Little Dixie.” (The house is pictured on p.37.)

And check out the last page, where he talks about how the former university president “admitted publicly” that faculty positions were rotated among “the various Protestant denominations…” What a different world it was, not so long ago.

I’m just intrigued by the single degree of separation between myself and someone who was born in 1875, who began his university teaching career at my old school in 1901, who was in Tennessee literally alongside H.L. Mencken  in 1925, and who used to entertain a little boy who would one day move to Tennessee to philosophize about things like the Scopes Trial.
Somewhere in a box I have my dad’s personal correspondence with Dr. C.  I’ll look for it today.
I’ve also discovered that the Missouri State Historical Society has the Curtis archives, which I’m now eager to inspect and find a way to work into my James fiction project.
I love picking up pieces of the past and aiming them at the future. Stay tuned.

Westmount

March 14, 2010

Picked up the Spring issue of Mizzou magazine (my undergrad alma mater’s alumni publication) last night and came across this nice little item about the first house I ever lived in:
In 1906, three MU professors acted as their own contractors to build houses for themselves made of homemade concrete blocks finished with a veneer of local stone. They were Winterton Curtis, a zoologist known for his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial… (A photo of young Dr. C. here)
Dr. Curtis reflected in 1957 on that house and the lives it sheltered, at 210 Westmount in Columbia, MO:
“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.”

Damned Yankee in Columbia

June 22, 2009

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.