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A Grinnellian's Story

James Holbrook ’66 leaning over drawings with ruler in hand

Holbrook calculated the trajectory of artillery shells on plywood like this.
Courtesy of Jim Holbrook ’66

Twenty-five years ago I helped kill dozens of other human beings.

At that time I was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Grinnell College with two degrees in philosophy. I also was an expert in directing 100-pound high explosive projectiles to scream from the sky and burst among the living.

I have experienced the cusp of modern American history. From the backyard barbecues and fall football games of the 1950s, to the selfishness and cynicism of the 1980s and 1990s. And in between were the protests, marches, craziness, and killing.

Grinnell took a gamble by accepting me and giving me a scholarship following an unpromising first semester at MIT. I felt at home at Grinnell in its small town atmosphere and rural environs. I met many others who were both very serious and oddly zany. I felt stretched and expanded as I shed an old skin.

Grinnell taught me that life is full of inherent ambiguity and real complexity. I learned that not everything is worth wanting, having, or doing. I found an intensity and tapped an unsuspected reservoir of energy and creativity. Grinnell was the prism that refracted my little beam of light and truth into a rainbow of potentiality. I left Grinnell planning to become a college philosophy professor.

Three years later I was an artillery fire direction specialist in the United States Army in the Mekong Delta region of South Viet. I had enlisted in the Army despite a graduate deferment to go to Yale. I elected to be sent to Vietnam — the only promise the Army every kept. I left behind a wife, a life, and a career track in academia that I never recovered.

Why did I do this? Was I so unhappy in an unhappy first marriage? Was I ashamed of my father who had avoided military service in World War II by working as a railroad fireman until the fighting was over? Was I a patriotic child of America bound by duty to serve God and country? Was I curious as many others before me to “see the elephant” and observe my reaction? I really don’t know. It could be some of this, or all of it, or something completely different.

Somewhere I once read that the root cause of delayed stress reaction among Vietnam veterans is guilt. It has taken 25 years for me to sense the enormity of killing all those people and helping to destroy their universe. I still dare not look this fact square in the face. What would I say to the grandparents, parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, nephew and nieces of all the ghosts? How would I start? And where?

Having turned 50 this year has brought the past closer. I feel my own mortality and the presence of the ghosts heavy by my side. The weight is actually comforting. I will not collapse under its burden. It gives me some real measure of substance, stability, and purpose.

Earlier this year I pulled from a closet shelf the cigar box full of Vietnam memorabilia that I have carried with me all these years. I had the medals and insignia framed. The frame hangs in my office. On my desk is a brass Buddha from Vietnam cast from spent artillery shell casings. Close by is a replica of the “Thousand-yard-Stare” statue at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Grinnell seems further away than ever in my life. I don’t know whether I will make it back there again, or why. Instead, I need to visit the Wall, which I have avoided like a nightmare. I also need to return to Vietnam. I especially need to pay homage to ghosts at the “Wagon Wheel.” There, one afternoon, in the intersection of three canals near the Plain of Reeds, eight people departed this earth. Six thousand meters and 30 seconds away, I had plotted their demise. I am their witness and they must not be forgotten.

I wonder if we do have souls. And if those souls survive our bodies. And if those souls can communicate, and embrace, and apologize, and cry, and forgive.

Reprinted with permission from The Grinnell College Blue Book, 1996, as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

Challah-Making Workshop

On Saturday, Nov. 21, Chalutzim hosted a challah-baking workshop. Participants learned how to make challah, a braided egg bread served on the Jewish Sabbath. The challah baked at the workshop was given to the local foods Thanksgiving meal held the next day.

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

One woman watches while another shows her the bowl with yeast in it.
Liz Reischmann and Brendy Peralta (both ’12) mix up the yeast. By Aaron Barker ’11
Bowl with spoon and foamy liquid in it, egg carton on the side.
Waiting for the yeast to bubble. By Aaron Barker ’11
Man stirs contents of a bowl while woman adds something from a measuring cup. Third person watches.
Melanie Rockoff, Aude Bouagnon, and Max Calenberg (all ’12) measuring and mixing. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three people working over two bowls of dough.
Andrew Marcum, Rebecca Hughes, and Meryl Spencer (all ’12) make the dough. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman manipulates dough over a bowl.
Carla Eckland ’13 works with the challah dough. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman cutting a ball of dough with kitchen shears. Man stands ready beside her.
Sophie Klein ’10 and Peter Macfarlane ’12 separate the dough before braiding. By Aaron Barker ’11
People surrounding a table with several strips of dough and a few balls ready for rolling.
Preparing to braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three people ham for the camera in aprons next to a flour-covered table.
Peter Macfarlane ’12, Eric Miner ’11, and Allie Greenberg ’10 have fun as they get ready to braid the challah. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Women line up rolls of dough to braid.
Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12 and Sophie Klein ’10 braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three loaves being braided, each with four rolls of dough.
Braiding the dough — students experiment with four braids. By Aaron Barker ’11
Two people braid dough while a third pats a completed loaf into shape.
Debbie Stein (Rabbi Stein’s wife) (far left) helps Peter Macfarlane ’12 and Katie Queen ’11 braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman bastes a raw loaf as another looks on.
Katie Hawley ’11 (left) and Lilith Ben-Or ’12 prepare the challah for baking. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman holding a sheet pan with two cooked loaves of bread.
Emily Ullberg ’12 shows off the final product. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Three women stand next to a sheet of cooked bread.
Emily Ullberg ’12, Rebecca Heller ’11, Allie Greenberg ’10 proudly display the finished challah. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Several golden-brown loaves of Challah.
Beautiful (and delicious)! By Aaron Barker ’11

Images of Vietnam

Jim Holbrook ’66 graduated from Grinnell with a passion for philosophy. He was on the brink of entering the Ph.D. program at Yale when his plans fell apart.

It was 1968. Martin Luther King was killed, and then Bobby Kennedy.

“The world seemed a little crazy,” Holbrook says. “I found myself feeling like what I really needed to do was join the army.”

His next stop — Vietnam.

Dong Tam was the headquarters base camp of the Ninth Infantry Division in Vietnam. Holbrook served at the Fire Support Base Moore west of Dong Tam.
Holbrook crouched in front of a crude tent
Holbrook in front of the Fire Direction Center bunker at Fire Support Base Moore.
Men manning an artillery gun
Holbrook was an artillery fire direction specialist in the U.S. Army in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam.
Men plugging their ears as an artillery gun goes off
Artillery experts often suffered hearing damage from firing the big guns.
One of the six 155-mm howitzers in B Battery. It could shoot a 95-pound projectile about 10 miles and drop it within an area less than the size of a football field.
Holbrook leaning over charts with ruler in hand
Holbrook calculated the trajectory of artillery shells on plywood like this.
men bathing in canvas-walled open air showers
Showering under the blue sky of Vietnam.
Man shaving in the open with gear on ammo boxes and clothes and towels drying behind him
Shaving required a steady hand and a helmet full of cold water.
Holbrook holding a couple of weapons
Like all soldiers, Holbrook became familiar with the care and use of weapons like this one.
Holbrook sitting on howitzer
One of the batteries in Holbrook's artillery battalion had 155-mm self-propelled howitzers.
Man in gas mask talking into a mouthpiece
Occasionally the gunners in Holbrook's Battery would 'frag' the FDC tent with a tear gas grenade.
Holbrook in sandals sitting on wooden boxes, crosses in background
Holbrook on Easter Sunday in Vietnam (note the crosses in the background).
mix of shells
A collection of shrapnel and mortar and rocket shells fired at Fire Support Base Moore.

All photos courtesy of Holbrook. This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

150 Years — A Historic Postcard Slideshow of Campus

Chicago Hall, Blair Hall, and Alumni Hall in 1913
This postcard, postmarked 1913, depicts three of Grinnell’s most famous “ghost buildings.” From left: Chicago Hall, Blair Hall, and Alumni Hall. The rear of Goodnow is visible in the background, just to the right of Chicago Hall. Blair Hall is often considered one of Grinnell’s most beautiful structures.
Grinnell House
Grinnell House, a stately Georgian structure at the corner of Park Street and Fifth Avenue, served as the home of Grinnell College’s presidents from 1917 to 1961. John H.T. Main was the first president to live in Grinnell House. Today it is a guesthouse for the College.
Old Student Union
This rebuilt barracks building was moved to Grinnell from the Sioux City Air Base and served as Grinnell’s student union from 1947 through 1963, when the Forum opened.
Rand Gymnasium
Rand Gymnasium was built in 1897 and given to the women of the College by Carrie Rand, instructor in social and physical culture at Grinnell. In his history of the College, Joseph Wall ’41 wrote about the restrictions placed on women students’ physical activity: “Properly attired in heavy, many-layered, and restrictive garments, women could find physical exercise only in the decorous, ladylike strolls, like nuns always in pairs. … That the females survived this restrictive regimen designed to protect their innate weakness is, ironically, testimony to the strength of their constitutions.” Rand Gymnasium burned down in 1940.
Reunion Picnic, 1912
This reunion picnic in 1912 brought together alumni from the class of 1907. The picnic fare probably featured box lunches — see the many boxes scattered about. The Men’s Gym is visible in the background.
Men's Gym
The cornerstone of the Men’s Gym was laid during Commencement in 1899. It would be known as the Women’s Gym after Darby Gym was completed in the mid-1940s.
Quad Dining Hall Under Construction
Construction of the South Campus dormitories and Quad Dining Hall, circa 1915. President John Main dreamed of a residence hall system at Grinnell that would resemble the Oxford system, offering men and women a campus where they could live in small “homes” that would foster the community he deemed essential to the education of young people.
South Campus Residence Halls
This postcard image of the brand-new South Campus dormitories reveals a tennis court in the foreground. Tennis was considered “the ideal sport” by Grinnellians around the turn of the 20th century, according to Grinnell College in the 19th Century by Joseph Wall ’41. An 1890 report to the trustees asserted that tennis is a “peculiarly healthful amusement — adapted to both sexes — free from muscular injury and over-exertion incident to baseball and football.”
Main Hall
Main Hall, circa 1915, still under construction. The new women’s Quadrangle was dedicated later that year with the ceremonial “lighting of the fires.” President Main handed a lighted torch to physics faculty member and Dean of Women Fanny Gates. From the torch, six tapers were lit and handed to six women students, one for each cottage, to kindle the fires in the new hearths.
North Campus Residence Halls
Railroad tracks brought bricks and other materials to the construction site for the North Campus dormitories, which welcomed their first (male-only) residents in 1917. Ernest Jaqua 1907, assistant to President John Main, wrote, “We are planning Grinnell’s growth not for the next few years, but for 10, 50, and a hundred years.”

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009. Images of postcards courtesy of Mickey Munley ’87.

Inside the "Death Panels"

Craig HendersonDr. Craig Henderson ’63 recently brought his perspective on health care reform to the Grinnell campus in his talk, “A View from Inside the Death Panels,” sponsored by the Wilson Program. Dr. Henderson presented a contrast to the controversy that has surrounded “death panels” in recent months by providing detailed and valuable insights into how a real-life panel operates.

Dr. Henderson, one of the nation’s top cancer experts and a Grinnell trustee, served on the Harvard faculty for 18 years and was CEO and chair of SEQUUS Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company. Today, he is a member of the Medical Advisory Panel of Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), a confederation of 39 independent health insurance companies that collectively insure approximately 100 million Americans, or one-third of the population. The group is an advisory panel that reviews various treatments and tests to determine whether they meet preset criteria of safety and effectiveness.

Dr. Henderson explained that about two-thirds of the panel’s members practice medicine and see patients on a regular basis. He described the panel’s function as “evaluating the results of comparative effective research.” Of the roughly 20 voting members, the majority are not BCBS employees, and the group includes medical organization representatives, statisticians, and an ethicist.

The panel evaluates new surgical procedures, drugs, laboratory and radiological evaluations using a list of five specific criteria, including the amount of scientific evidence available and the quality of the studies involved. Popular perceptions about the efficacy of health care, though, are often not consistent with the panel’s conclusions, Dr. Henderson said.

Public pressure can compete with effectiveness data to influence coverage decisions, Dr. Henderson said. He cited the case of a procedure to relieve the pain of fractures caused by osteoporosis. Early studies and anecdotal evidence gave it the status of a miracle cure, and the use of the procedure doubled from 2003 to 2009. Several insurance companies covered the procedure. The panel, however, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about its efficacy. Later, two randomized, double-blind studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the procedure had no beneficial effects.

According to Dr. Henderson, panels such as this fulfill an important role in exploring these vital questions as the nation tries to come to an agreement about health care reform.

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

Jewish at Grinnell: Tushnet

Naida C. Tushnet ’61My Experience: Naida C. Tushnet ’61

My story is that I came to Grinnell in 1958 as an early entrant (didn’t graduate high school) from an East Coast suburb.

Not only was I Jewish, but also I came from a secular Jewish, left-wing family. I think my Grinnell experience solidified my Jewish identification because I was seen as “odd” in a number of ways.

One small story: I was very blonde and have a fair complexion. During my first week at school, a classmate from a small Midwestern town and I were sharing information. When I said I was Jewish, she was astounded. She had never met a Jew and thought they all had dark complexions. When I said that I was, in fact, Jewish, and that all my family was fair, she thought a minute. And then she said, “Oh yes, I guess you really are Jewish. You wear half slips.”

I was too young and too taken aback by that particular stereotype to ask what she thought wearing half slips meant, but when I tell this story now, everyone thinks it was an image of Jewish girls as a little bit slutty.

My secular, left-wing background was also a subject of some issue to the other Jews at Grinnell. But in the next two years, two people I knew from before Grinnell with similar backgrounds became Grinnell students, so I didn’t feel so isolated … although isolated enough that I did summer schools and heavy course loads so I could graduate in three years.

Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

Reviewing Tosca

students and Prof. Maynard

Assistant Professor of History Kelly Maynard (center) with students (clockwise from lower left) Paul Dampier ’12, Kim Knudsen ’10, Erik Jarvis ’12, and Briel Waxman ’12. Knudsen authored the review titled “Italian Opera Insults Catholics.” Photographer: Jim Heemstra

Each student in the course Tyrants and Tunesmiths: Music and the State in Modern Europe wrote a review based upon the experience of the performance, but adopting the perspective of a particular cultural or political figure from the original premiere in 1900 in Rome.

According to Assistant Professor of History Kelly Maynard, the exercise provides a good way for students to apply the historical training they have been receiving in this unique course to their evening at the opera.

Two students share their reviews:

Kim Knudsen ’10 — Role: Offended Catholic

Kim Knudsen ’10

Kim Knudsen ’10 wrote this review of Tosca from the point of view of an offended Catholic.

Italian Opera Insults Catholics

by Kim Knudsen

The weather in Rome is quite miserable this time of year, but the activities of the Holy Year have done much to keep my mind off the cold and the rain. After being thoroughly exhilarated by my religious activities, I decided to enjoy some of the sites of Rome and was fortunate enough to be able to see the new opera by Puccini called Tosca. Although my recounting of these events may sound positive, Rome is the location of many small anticlerical factions, which although annoying to those traveling for the Holy Year, did very little to bother us. The one place I was not expecting to see these hostilities was at the Teatro Costanzi, where Tosca premiered. Although I was delighted in being able to participate in the events of the Holy Year, my voyage was troubled by the anarchists who caused strife around the city as well as the events of Tosca, which darkened my mood.

The city itself was crowded and so was the opera theatre. The streets were overrun with individuals unable to find a hotel room who had to resort to living outside. Luckily, I was able to find a hotel due to my early arrival in Rome. The Teatro Costanzi was also filled to capacity with Italian dignitaries and I heard that Queen Margherita also attended, but I was not fortunate enough to see her with my own eyes. Being quite excited when the opera was scheduled to begin, I was concerned when it was brought to a halt and there were rumors of a bomb threat being murmured around me in several different languages. Besides their nervous mumblings, the audience was altogether polite, even though there were attendees that held very negative views of Puccini, including several of his critics. The building itself was rather luxurious, and although it was able to hold a large number of people, was very crowded, and the seat that I occupied was quite far away from the stage, so distant in fact, that I wished that I had brought some opera glasses. The sound carried well, even to my far away seat, even though I was unimpressed by what I was hearing as a whole, but if a more favorable opera was performed there, I can imagine my opinion to be far more positive than it is.

Tosca is done in by its very poor taste, as it is very violent and the characters seem to be lacking in any unique characteristics, but aspects of the opera besides the plot were performed beautifully. The technical characteristics of the opera were well done, including the lighting as well as the costumes, especially Tosca’s when she was in a crimson gown. The color was rather stunning and reflected the violence that would occur later in the opera, a foreshadowing, if you will, through her garment. The lighting was beautiful, as well as the props, which added to the setting. The major problems I had occurred in the second act of the opera. The setting was very minimal compared to the rest of the opera and although the lighting was stunning and added a frightening element of the shadows of Tosca and Scarpia climbing up the wall, much of the effect was lost due to my seat. I was unable to see whether Scarpia remained on stage though Tosca’s aria and this desire to know lost some of the suspenseful effects that were occurring in other parts of the opera.

This opera was rather disturbing due to its portrayal of the Catholic Church. The opera contains two murders, a suicide, a torture scene, and an attempted rape; all of these elements disturbed me greatly. Yet, the portrayal of Scarpia, a police commander who seems devout but is willing to mislead characters and use his power to influence others’ actions, is probably the most disturbing character to me. The man is a representation of the Catholic Church and to have him be so deplorable in nature astounds me, and to add insult to injury, the fact that this premiered during the Holy Year is very offensive. Aside from the plot, the singers performed exquisitely and their acting helped to add some life to the characters that were not very developed. The music was also rather disappointing, as some of the music does not relate to the stage action at all. For instance at the beginning of the third act, a beautiful sweet song begins with a lovely flute and French horn melody, but the scene opens on Cavaradossi who believes he is going to be executed. The scene, I thought, should have darker music to go with the mood. The lead soprano was excellent in supplying the necessary emotions with her voice, and her arias gave me chills several times during the performance. Both the singers and the performers did the best they could to add the necessary sensations into the pieces they were performing, because the libretto was short, blunt, and right to the point of action and had little room for the feelings of the audience to come to fruition, instead going from major event to major event without a period of calm.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about my trip to Rome. Although I immensely enjoyed the events of the Holy Year, seeing the opera Tosca has upset me and made my experience in Rome one that I would not care to repeat. Although the technical aspects of the opera were rather enjoyable, the plot and the characteristics of Scarpia have left a sour impression in my mind of how the Catholic Church is portrayed in its home country. If the opera had been different, I would have enjoyed my experience in Rome a lot more. In fact, I could not understand why the performers received several curtain calls, perhaps only for their skill and not Puccini’s; regardless, I clapped along in order to be polite, but as a whole I was not impressed by this opera. If I were to do this again, I believe that I would enjoy the events of the Holy Year very much and hope that the city itself is in less discord, but I would not attend an opera for it might give me a false impression of how the church is operating in Italy. Until then, I am very content to be back in my Spanish homeland and will continue to celebrate the Holy Year in a safer, more enjoyable place.

Anne Weeks ’10 — Role: Eager-to-Please Reviewer

Anne Weeks ’10Anne Weeks ’10 wrote this review of Tosca from the point of view of an eager-to-please reviewer.

October 3

Giulio Ricordi

Casa Ricordi
2 Via Berchet
20121 Milano

Signor Ricordi,

Please find enclosed a copy of my review of the October 3 premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Chicago Lyric Opera, to be published in tomorrow’s paper. I hope that you will find it sufficiently complimentary for the promotion of Puccini’s work, and that I have preemptively addressed some of the points likely to be criticized by Signor Torrefranca.

The opera was a pleasure to watch, and I sincerely hope it does not suffer the box office disaster you anticipated.


Anne Weeks, freelance music critic


October 4

Tosca: Puccini’s Latest Triumph

by Anne Weeks

Years of waiting have finally been rewarded! Last night’s premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Chicago Lyric Opera was an event worthy of the international reputation of Verdi’s heir. After such a performance, it may now be said that even on a crisp, overcast Chicago night, a ray of Tuscan sun may shine.

Although far from the composer’s home, the Chicago Lyric Opera has proven itself a worthy vessel for Puccini’s masterpiece. The elegant décor of the opera house, reminiscent of its prestigious European counterparts complete with golden flower motifs and richly colored wall panels, befits the début of such a highly anticipated work. Modern advances, however, also have their place: the orchestra is hidden in a pit below the stage, after the German fashion, and there is not a single obstructed view in the house. This last improvement was, to be sure, much appreciated by the multitudes of spectators who filled the theatre, anxious to be among the first to witness the newest Italian triumph. Come from far and wide, these people filled the theatre with countless languages, no doubt expressing their great anticipation, as we awaited the beginning of the piece, but all was silent as the curtain rose and the music began.

From the first, the remarkable acoustics of the venue, seemingly tailored to the needs of Puccini’s music, were noticed. Not a note of the beautifully exposed woodwind passages, nor a word sung onstage, was lost to the eager ear of the spectator, even in the highest tier of seats where perched your humble correspondent, and the powerful harmonic passages, incorporating the entire orchestra, filled the hall. This extraordinary dynamic range, and the variation in orchestration which so expertly sets the tone, showcase the composer’s individuality: refusing to be bound by Wagnerian ideas of organicism, he rises above any such equation to create a music that is truly Italian.

The production of the opera was also fantastic. The lavish costumes were realistic, tailored to the role of each character so that the visual aspect alone could be used to supply each figure’s pedigree. My readers in Italy will appreciate my noting that the representation of a cathedral was very well done, even in America, showing a great attention to detail. Scarpia’s bureau and the castle were also well represented, with the former set in an Italian color scheme dominated by red and gold and the latter an accurate likeness of a typical Italian fortress. However, it was not the sets themselves that were most impressive, but the lighting. In the second act, especially, the use of shadow to suggest actions taking place just off stage was a brilliant innovation. Nonetheless, even this carefully crafted space would not do justice to the opera, were it not populated by singers worthy of Tosca’s premiere.

Performers can make or break an opera, no matter how brilliant the composer, and, with so much of the opera devoted to scenes with only one or two characters, Tosca is especially dependent on the quality of the singers. The Chicago Lyric Opera is, therefore, fortunate to have such talents as Deborah Voigt, in the title role; Vladmir Galouzine, as Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi; and James Morris, as the devious Baron Scarpia. The chemistry between Voigt and Galouzine is especially remarkable in the first act, with their spectacular performance of the repartee between Tosca and her lover, and, of course, during the moving duet in the last act as Cavaradossi awaits execution.

All of the performers not only sang magnificently, but also truly embodied their character, perfectly conveying the host of complex passions found in this opera. Puccini’s skillful portrayal of emotions reinforces the Italian nature of his art: here there are no Germanic formulas, but only spontaneous feeling that warms the work from within like the Italian sun. In this way, Tosca is an improvement, even over its predecessor, La Bohème, in that the new work represents man’s strongest passions, and not merely an ambiance, as certain critics had claimed of Puccini’s earlier work.

The quality of the performance was not lost upon the audience, which was almost completely silent during each act and seemed quite fascinated by the action on stage. Each intermission, however, saw the halls outside the theatre filled with people of all ages, from young children to those of an advanced age. It was heartwarming to see the crowds that had gathered, many in elegant attire, to view the latest work of Italy’s most talented and beloved composer. The singers were called out for numerous curtain calls, facing thunderous applause from the delighted American audience. Yet again, Giacomo Puccini has proven himself the successor to the internationally renowned Verdi, a composer whose works will continue to remind the world that Italy is now, and always shall be, the home of great opera. I congratulate Signor Puccini on his latest triumph and speak for many, I am sure, when I express my impatience for his next success.

For those who wish to view the latest Italian masterpiece for themselves, a production of Tosca is planned in Rome, where tickets will soon be available. For more information write to Ricordi Publishing House at:

Casa Ricordi
Via Berchet 2
20121 Milano

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

A Look at Historic Grinnell in Grinnell

Photos Courtesy of the Grinnell College Archives except where noted

For 150 years, the community of Grinnell and Grinnell College have grown and thrived, side by side, sharing a name as well as a beloved place. The Grinnell College Archives provided this photo slideshow, offering a look back at where we've been.

Large two-and-a-half story building with porch
Grinnell’s second hospital was located in this house on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Elm Street. It has now been restored.
snowy street with ornate stonework on one building
The view looking west on Fourth Street, with the Merchants’ National Bank on the right (designed by renowned architect Louis H. Sullivan in 1913) and the Candyland, a popular student hangout, just up the street.
Small, rather bare-boned buildings with detritus in the foreground
Central Park after the 1889 fire, which devastated a section of downtown bounded by Main and Broad Streets and Fourth Avenue and the Rock Island Railroad tracks. Visible in the photo are the temporary huts of the downtown merchants who were displaced by the fire.
View from a high angle showing brick buildings, railroad tracks, a smoke stack, and a church in the top right corner
This postcard offers a bird’s eye view of Commercial Street in Grinnell.
plots of burned land and rubble walls
The devastation of the Congregational Church after the 1889 fire ravaged Grinnell.
a drug store counter with fixed stools, with food and drink for sale, and a back wall with signs
Generations of Grinnellians found a warm welcome and sweet treats at Cunningham’s Soda Fountain, shown here in January 1956.
Men climbing through the rubble of two buildings one with partial wals, the other flattened
Just before Commencement in 1882, a cyclone killed two students and destroyed the College’s two buildings. The Rev. David O. Mears, who was in Grinnell to deliver the Commencement address, later wrote: “There was a fearful terror of blackness and the deadly roar -- and all was still as if the shrill whistling train of death were passed. There was only death and ruin left in its track.”
street lined with large houses and trees
Grinnell, circa 1899, with large homes on the west side of High Street, between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.
Large stone building
The imposing edifice of the Grinnell Junior High School seems to reflect the seriousness with which the community regards education. The building is now the Community Center downtown, across from Central Park.
storefront on a corner with a turret above
Grinnell’s largest clothier occupied a choice storefront at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street in downtown Grinnell.
store front with striped awning, and Spurgeons on awning and above.
Spurgeon’s Department Store was for many years a staple for shoppers in downtown Grinnell. The building is now the home of Grinnell Home Decorating.
large building with wide stair and tower to the left of the main entrance
Stewart Public Library on Broad Street as it looked in 1912. Funded by Joel Stewart, the library had seen just over a decade of service when this photo was taken.
Frontage of the theatre with stained glass fixed awning and large lightable sign saying Strand
The original Strand Theatre opened in Grinnell in 1916 at 921 Main Street, which is today the site of the recently restored and refurbished movie theatre of the same name.
people standing around Union Depot as train steams in
Two rail lines intersect at Grinnell’s Union Depot, the Chicago Rock Island and the Central Railroad of Iowa. The depot opened in 1893 and served as a hub for passenger rail service until the early 1980s.
long line of cars and people walking along, drugstore with cigar advertisement on left
The west side of Broad Street as it appeared prior to the construction of the Merchants National Bank. (Postcard courtesy of Mickey Munley ’87)

Wrongfully Convicted

Attorney Josh Tepfer ’97 is one of the founders of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY), part of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Ill. He shared this video about Johnnie Lee Savory, who hasn't been exonerated but is one of the center's clients seeking testing. Tepfer also shared this link to footage from an actual juvenile false confession, Michael Crowe, who confessed to killing his sister.

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Fall 2009.

J.B. Grinnell : Abolitionist, minister, land speculator

Portrait of J. B. GrinnellJ.B. Grinnell is a towering figure in the history of Grinnell, Iowa. Josiah Bushnell Grinnell -- better known as J.B. -- was born in Vermont in 1821. He grew up a farm boy, working in the fields in the spring and summer and attending school only in the winter. He learned quickly and began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse by the age of 16. After spending a few years teaching, he left Vermont to attend Oneida Institute in New York, a radical institution that opposed slavery.

It was there that Grinnell became a staunch abolitionist. He would remain vocally opposed to slavery for his whole life -- even founding the town of Grinnell based on this tenet. He once hosted abolitionist John Brown in Grinnell as Brown was bringing several freed slaves along the Underground Railroad to Canada.

After leaving Oneida, Grinnell cycled through many jobs. He studied with a physician and considered a medical career, but then decided to head into the Wisconsin Territory to discover and survey new tracts of land. He went west with the American Tract Society, a religious organization, and while working with this group, he decided to go into the ministry.

Returning east, Grinnell settled in Washington, D.C., after being ordained in New York. He started the First Congregationalist Church there and gave the first anti-slavery sermon the city had ever heard. Most people in Washington were strong supporters of slavery at the time, and Grinnell was forced to leave the city because of his opinions.

Although the story may be apocryphal, it is said that Grinnell heeded the famous advice to "Go west young man," delivered to him by politician and friend Horace Greeley. At any rate, Grinnell did set out again for uncharted territory. He enlisted the help of Homer Hamlin, a minister; Henry Hamilton, a surveyor; and Dr. Thomas Holyoke to find a location for a new settlement. They looked at different locations in the Midwest, including Minnesota and Missouri, but decided on the divide between the Iowa and Skunk rivers, where the east/west and north/south Rock Island railways were set to cross. On this site, the city of Grinnell was founded.

J.B. Grinnell and his three companions commenced building the settlement in 1854 with three temporary log cabins. They began to sell land for $1.62 an acre, and the town quickly grew. The one stipulation on all the deeds sold was that alcohol could never be sold or consumed on any of the properties, as Grinnell strongly opposed the use of alcohol. This rule was upheld for many years, until a court overruled it.

With the founding of the town, Grinnell also founded "Grinnell University," although it was a university only in name. He created a board of trustees and listed all the members of town as professors. No buildings were ever built, nor classes held, but after J.B. Grinnell persuaded Iowa College to move to Grinnell from Davenport, Iowa, all of Grinnell University was signed over to the Trustees of Iowa College.

Grinnell went on to serve in Congress, where his abolitionist stance often put his life in danger. After winning re-election twice, he lost a third bid and moved back to Grinnell. He remained there until his death in 1891 from bronchitis and asthma after a trip through Texas into Mexico.


This was originally published in The Grinnell Magazine, Fall 2009 edition