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Caitlin Wells' Top 10 Titular Head Films

Caitlin Wells ’08It was so hard to narrow down my favorite Titular Head films to a list of 10, and even harder to rank them. (As my friend Allison put it, "It's like having to chose your favorite child!")

I've chosen these films based on multiple, wholly subjective criteria. I tried to include as many videos as I could that are available online, but several are not for one reason or another. Also, almost all of these films contain some measure of violence, strong language, and/or references to drug and alcohol use (they were made by college students, after all). If you are easily offended, you should probably just turn away now.

  1. Racquetball Tunak Tunak Tun — Widely considered the greatest Titular Head film ever made (although Star Wars Grinnell has given it a run for its money). From breathtaking stunts to inappropriate nostalgia inspired by someone getting hit in the face with a cup of Forum coffee, Racquetball has it all.
  2. Star Wars Grinnell - This film, which won the 2009 competition, sets a new bar for special effects. Definitely the most technically accomplished film ever made.
  3. Burling (I Do It All the Time) - I tend to write papers at the last minute, and could often be found squirreled away in a corner of Burling the night before a big paper was due, surrounded by piles of books. So yeah, this film speaks to me.
  4. The Day I Put On That Cape Is the Day I Got a Girlfriend - I love the style of this movie. It is a timeless story about love, loss, fights in the Burling stairwell, and running around campus like a dinosaur.
  5. The Resounding Death of Playtime — RKO gives Brian Fritsch '06 a reality check. The look on Brian's face when the music kicks in makes me giggle every time.
  6. A Fresh Movie - This was one of the first Titular Head movies I watched. Sadly, the audio has been disabled by YouTube, but just sing the Mentos song in your head and you'll be fine.
  7. Weapon of Choice — Winner of 2008 Titular Head. Watch the music video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" starring Christopher Walken to understand why this video is so genius.
  8. Steven Hawking's Fantastic Universe — This was shown my first year, and I came very close to falling out of my seat laughing.
  9. Space Cup Goes to Mars — Cute story about a dining hall cup that takes a fantastic journey.
  10. Drop — I still have no idea how Ian Young '08 managed to make this video. It boggles my mind. Someday I'll be less lazy and try watching it backwards, but until then I'll just marvel at it.

These aren't all Titular Head has to offer. You can find more videos online (Google Video seems to have the widest selection; search for "titular head"), and DVDs of past entries are archived in the Listening Room in Burling Library.

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

Two Tributes to Bonnie Tinker ’69

group of women smiling at camera
Bonnie organized a reunion of Red Emma, made up of five Grinnellians who moved to Portland in 1971. This photo, taken 11 days before Bonnie's death, includes four of us. From left: Bonnie Tinker '69, Kristan Knapp, Beverly Schnabel '72, Kathleen Clarke, Ann Mussey '72, and Mollie Clarke '71. Courtesy of Beverly Schnabel.

Bonnie Tinker, a lifelong equal rights and peace activist, was killed recently in a bike accident in Blacksburg, Va. A Portland, Ore., resident, Bonnie was attending a national Quaker meeting where she had been presenting her "Opening Hearts and Minds" workshop devoted to nonviolent change.

Bonnie moved to Portland in 1971 with several other women from Grinnell and started a feminist collective, Red Emma. After looking around the community for ways to support women, they started a halfway house for women and a Women's Health Clinic that was a presence in Portland for more than 20 years. In the mid-1970s, Bonnie and others founded the first shelter for battered women in Portland. Bonnie was the founding director of Bradley-Angle House and the first chair of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Bradley-Angle House continues to serve women in Oregon.

At Bonnie's memorial service, her nieces and nephews read from the 1978 Portland Police Intelligence Report as part of the memorial. Bonnie was considered a danger because her sister had been to Cuba and because Bonnie had harbored battered women in safe houses and sought protection for them. Another friend who spoke agreed that Bonnie was a danger, but for a very different reason. Once Bonnie started talking with you, she patiently pursued you to lobby a bill, serve on a board, or do whatever it was she felt you could do, until you agreed.

In 1992, Bonnie put together a documentary, Love Makes a Family, about lesbian and gay marriage in the Religious Society of Friends. She created a nonprofit organization by the same name that works to meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered, and queer families. Public education has always been a need, and Bonnie gave interviews and speeches, even debating the leaders of an Oregon group that initiated a series of vitriolic anti-gay ballot measures in the early 1990s.

Bonnie took a stand for justice and social equality her entire life — on many issues. In recent years she protested the Iraq Surge with Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies at military recruitment centers and got arrested in the process. This was a group that would not yield because as grannies, they had nothing to lose. When Bonnie's attorney spoke to her of entering a plea and going to arraignment, her response was, "I'm a Tinker. Remember that black arm band case on free speech." They went to trial and the judge dismissed all charges on the first day.

There was an incredible sense of energy at the memorial service and moments when those of us from Grinnell felt like we were back on campus in 1968. There was enough history shared that we were reminded once again that we needed to take on the status quo to produce a more just and fair society. Bonnie, of course, took on more than most of us have and did so her entire lifetime.

Bonnie is survived by Sara Graham, her partner of 32 years, three children, three grandchildren, and a menagerie of pets. In 2004, Bonnie and Sara were married when Multnomah County issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples for a period of time.

The diversity at Bonnie's memorial service was high by any measure — age, race, sexual orientation, and shirt and tie/no shirt. Those who spoke, sang, played musical instruments, and performed demonstrated how many different communities and individual lives Bonnie touched. A young man who grew up next door to Bonnie and Sara performed an original rap song that described how Bonnie lived, how she impacted his life, and how he will live now because of her example. Many spoke of her empathy, and through their stories of Bonnie demonstrated how much she helped to expand and foster the common good.

Bonnie Tinker

Four women arm-in-arm at an airport

Taken at the airport following the recent Grinnell reunion (left to right): Susan Shimp '70, Jennifer Riley '70, Barb Duhl '70, and Bonnie Tinker '69.
Photo by Angela Crowley-Koch '00 used courtesy of Jennifer Riley.

I am sad to note the passing of an inspiring Grinnellian, Bonnie Tinker '69. Bonnie made it her life's work to stand up for justice and to do the right thing, no matter how difficult or unpopular.

I met Bonnie in Portland, Ore., when we both ran nonprofits working to end the Iraq War. Working with Bonnie challenged me in many ways, and we did not always see eye to eye. Despite the fact that we disagreed — sometimes vocally — I always had great respect and admiration for Bonnie. Her ability to inspire the same people whose buttons she had pushed the day before is a testament to Bonnie's life and spirit.

In her work for justice, she did what we all felt in our heart was right to do, but didn't have the courage to carry out. Bonnie and her partner Sara stood in front of a tank during Portland's Rose Parade to protest the war. Bonnie was arrested then and other times with members of the group, the Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies.

She fought for civil rights through her nonprofit, Love Makes a Family. In the course of her work for civil rights, Bonnie came face to face with Fred Phelps and his religious hate when defending an Oregon school district's right to display a "Family Diversity" photo exhibit, but she helped the school district stand by its decision to keep the show.

Her participation in causes, actions, and protests are too numerous to list here, but her life was full of noble causes, as evidenced by the Quaker conference she was riding her bicycle to when she was hit by a truck in July. To the end, she lived a dedicated and honorable life. I hope to follow in her footsteps, both now and when I'm a seriously pissed-off granny.

Originally published as an online extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2009.

Joanna Harris Haines 1865

Joanna Harris HainesJoanna Harris arrived in Grinnell in 1855 at the age of 11, and did not venture much farther until her death at the age of 87 in 1931. She graduated in 1865 as the first female graduate of Grinnell College and one of the first women to graduate from a college west of the Mississippi.

Her family traveled by covered wagon from Mercer County, Pa., where she was born, to Farmington, Iowa. The family didn't stay in Farmington long, because their neighbors there were mostly pro-slavery. The Harris family "believed in freedom for both black and white," according to the funeral address given by Rev. E.M. Vittum, the family's pastor at the Congregational Church of Grinnell. The Harrises moved to Grinnell from Farmington because they liked the "New England colony" atmosphere of Grinnell.

After growing up in Grinnell, Joanna became a member of the first female class to attend Grinnell College. In the mid-1860s, most male students were off fighting the Civil War, and the school needed to increase enrollment. The women were allowed to study in a "ladies' course," in which they received diplomas, but not bachelor of arts degrees, at graduation.

Vittum remarked at Joanna's funeral that members of the first female class--graduating in 1865--was denied their degrees because the college officials "felt a little delicacy in declaring that the young ladies were bachelors of arts.

"Afterwards," Vittum continued, "they atoned for their neglect and gave the degrees the ladies had earned."

At Grinnell, Joanna met Robert M. Haines, who graduated with Joanna in 1865. They were married two years later in 1867, and Joanna, then 22, became Joanna Harris Haines.

Her obituary in the Grinnell Herald Register referred to Joanna a "natural teacher." At the time of her marriage to Robert, Joanna held a teaching position at the College, where Robert also worked. Before that, she spent two years teaching at a school in Troy, Iowa.

Her income from teaching helped support her family while Robert pursued a law degree at the University of Iowa. After receiving his degree, they moved back to Grinnell; they remained there for the rest of their lives, living in a house on High Street, a few blocks from campus. Robert would eventually become a trustee of the College, and Joanna would teach at Grinnell High School.

While living in Grinnell, Joanna and Robert raised six children. Following in their parents' footsteps, all of them attended the College and three of them married other Grinnellians. The Haines family ended up sending four generations of students to Grinnell -- more than 20 family members in total.


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

Bob Dole

Bob Dole posing with Sarah Purcell '92 and Art Heimann.

Former Republican Senator Bob Dole at Grinnell's veterans' memorial, posing with Sarah Purcell '92, Director of the Rosenfield Program and associate professor of history (left); and Art Heimann, Mayflower resident and World War II veteran.

On Senator Chuck Grassley:
"You're getting your money's worth with him."

On bipartisanship:
"I'm an R and you're a D, but can't we work on this together?"

On his popularity in Iowa:
"I'm the president of Iowa."

On the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
"This memorial was not built by the government -- that's why it's still standing." Also, "It's paid for."

On the 10,000 American servicemen who lost their lives on D-Day:
"Ten thousand never drew another breath ... never had a chance to go to college ... to be fathers. ... There is no way to repay them."

On all the men and women who have died in the service of their country:
"They gave their lives for us ... You can't measure their sacrifices."

On our servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan:
"They're the greatest generation now, and I think we're happy to pass the baton."

On Iraq:
"It's not over yet."

On the U.S. role in fighting world hunger:
"Whenever we had to -- whenever there was a crisis -- we were there."

On the American people:
"What a country! ... We're good solid compassionate peace-loving people."

More on the American people:
"We're doing all right in this country ... we like to complain -- that's an American tradition."

On the help he got during his recovery from war wounds:
"People are so good, wherever you live."

On President-Elect Barack Obama and his campaign:
"Obama was a good candidate -- he gave good speeches. ... Now he gets a chance."

On the 2008 Republican losses:
"I think the American people were a little upset with the Republican Party. ... We kind of lost our way on spending. ... We've got a big hole to dig ourselves out of."

On Republican nominee John McCain:
"He joins the loser's club."

On the bailout of the financial system:
"I don't know where we're getting all the money. Where does it stop?"

More on the financial bailout:
"What do they call it when the government owns your business? Isn't that an S-word?"

On his involvement in major farm bills as a senator:
"I was up to my ears in ethanol!"

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2008.

Building Excitement

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

Photos by Jim Heemstra

The beauty of a late summer Iowa day provides a backdrop for the continuing construction on Phase II of Grinnell's Athletic and Fitness Center, north of 10th Avenue.

View of Construction Site
The trail around the soccer fields provides an excellent vantage point to view the construction.
yellow flowers with construction crane visible in the distance
Prairie flowers bloom with wild abandon along the railroad tracks on the east side of the construction project.
Interior of natatorium with concrete, beams, construction workers
Grinnell’s natatorium will reflect the latest technology and design, as well as the highest standards of environmental responsibility and efficiency.
sparks and welders
Sparks fly as welders do their work.
Welder leaning over a beam and sparks falling below
The finished facility will offer the College and the community a place to compete, train, and pursue recreational athletic activities.
fieldhouse beams creating the outline of future roof
A blue Iowa sky offers a dramatic backdrop to the beams of the fieldhouse.
construction crane
A construction crane towers over campus.
Welder on cherry-picker
A welder is intent on his work.
crew hangs suspended from beams
Beams form a geometric design against a brilliant blue backdrop.
arching beams
Beams foreshadow Grinnell’s new state-of-the-art fieldhouse, which will feature a six-lane 200-meter track with an eight-lane straightaway.

More Alumni Pinning Stories

Pinned, then Dunked!

If you saw a group of women looking down from an open window of a South Campus dorm, as the sounds of "Honey, honey bless your heart" drifted up from the lawn below, you would be witnessing the result of a pinning at Grinnell College. Some lucky coed had snagged a man or visa versa.

It's the '50s and attaining a Younkers, Cowles, or any men's dorm pin was akin to wearing your high school beau's class ring on a chain circling your neck, although a North Campus pin was taken more seriously. Pinning often led to an engagement ring.

After the serenade, the lucky coed might be carried to a shower and "dunked," clothes and all, to celebrate her new status. That's exactly what has happened in this photo of Marta Martens Kurth '61, who looks happy (though wet) after getting pinned to Jerry Kurth '58.

The "dunking" is just a sample of the many rituals that seemed to abound in the 1950s at Grinnell College. Was I ever pinned at Grinnell College? No, but I was "ringed" with a diamond by a Grinnell grad after college: my lifelong partner, George Drake '56.

- Sue Drake '58
Grinnell, Iowa

… And a Word from the Girl in the Shower!

Marta Martens Kurth '61Sad to learn the "pinning tradition" has been dropped. It was a special event, and the song "Honey" was beautiful in the deep male voices.

That Honor G pinning in Sue's photo led to a Golden 50-year anniversary to be celebrated on May 30, 2009 (formerly Memorial Day until they changed the observation day on us). We thought we would always have a day off on our anniversary!

No one thought I would finish college when I gave up my Grinnell scholarship and left to marry Jerry. But, after attending universities all over the country, I finished with a B.A. in French with Distinction, this time on the Jerry Kurth Scholarship!

We've had an interesting life - 20 years in the Marine Corps living in Morocco and all over the United States. Jerry is now senior vice president-investment officer with Wells Fargo Advisors (formerly Wachovia Securities) and still working. We split our time between Kansas City and Scottsdale, Ariz., where we have been lucky to watch our two grandsons grow up. We have traveled most of the world on vacations and company trips, but are still ready to go at every opportunity.

- Marta Martens Kurth '61
Lees Summit, Mo.

On the Right Track

Kent Halsey '54Portia McNally and I met on a train out of New York City on our way to Grinnell in 1950. We started dating when we arrived at Grinnell, and eventually we went through the "pinning" thing where I gave her my Langan Hall pin and guard to wear. We became engaged when we graduated in 1954 and were married in 1955. We still are married.

- Kent Halsey '54
The Villages, Fla.  

A Happy Ending

James Kissane '52When I fell off the proverbial potato truck and landed in Grinnell as a first-year, many of the peculiarities of a college culture were new to me. One particularly bewildering item was the term "pinning" and the custom to which it referred. Oh, I knew it could not have anything to do with the Middle Western craze for competitive wrestling, but that was all I did know.

When in time I became somewhat more wised up, I concluded - drawing upon some pretty sketchy high school experience - that being pinned was rather like "going steady." But such an assumption was inexact; pinning involved a more substantial commitment. If it did not quite rise to the solemnity of announcements in a local newspaper's "society" column, the bestowal of one's hall pin upon a chosen co-ed did constitute an impecunious undergraduate's equivalent of an engagement ring.

So, at least, it appeared to me in my second year at Grinnell, as Nancy Duke '52 and I were beginning to realize that we were embarked on the big adventure of our lifetimes. We had proceeded from the then-all-but-obligatory "coffee date" to many hall parties and all-college dances. We were spending a lot of time together, studying in the library, but also - since her family lived right across the street from Smith Hall - in the Duke's living room, untroubled by the dour and dreaded sanction known in those benighted days as "women's hours"!

Sometimes Nan's folks drove us up to Marshalltown for Sunday dinner at "Stones" (how's that for encouragement?) and when the weather allowed, we went out into the country on long walks where we glimpsed the possible future. Blissfully ignorant of cell phones, we even wrote little notes to each other. It was the beginning of the dim and docile '50s, and it was all lovely.

My roommates - incredulous at first ("You asked the dean's daughter for a date!") and then amused but always encouraging, if not always tactful - became a personal rooting section of two. They didn't doubt my ardor, but they decided my progress was exasperatingly slow. Of course we were sure this was for real; and Nan would have accepted a ring, though it was no secret to her that I couldn't afford one.

That's why I have good reason to be grateful for the quaint collegiate custom of those days known as pinning. I must shamelessly confess that even a brand new Smith Hall pin was beyond my financial reach; but one of my roommates offered to sell me his, which wasn't at the time doing him much good, at a price I considered steep enough to make the whole undertaking entirely creditable.

Naturally, I'd have paid infinitely more, had that been necessary and even remotely possible. Nan was pleased to wear my pin and never did mind not having a ring, so she has always claimed. This simple story has no "O'Henry-type" ending. No ironic turns, no excruciating pathos; just a happy outcome with no surprises for the reader, but satisfactory in every way to the author and his characters. We were married in Herrick Chapel on Commencement Day.

- James Kissane '52
Athens, Ga.

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

An American in China...Teaching Russian?

Students and professor in front of plaques listing departments

I traveled to Nanjing, China, during spring break 2008 — for the first time as a member of the Russian department. The previous three times had been in my former capacity as director of the Center for International Studies, where one of my charges was to coordinate and institutionalize one of the most multifaceted international exchange programs in U.S. higher education.

Founded by the history department's Andrew Hsieh more than 20 years ago, our exchange program with Nanjing University has seen generations of Chinese and American students, faculty, and administrators visit each other's institution to study, teach, and do research - forging countless friendships and traditions over the years. As an administrator, I've enjoyed meeting my counterparts, negotiating our exchange agreement, and creating new possibilities, including an expansion of our teaching fellowship program, in which Grinnell faculty members teach each year at Nanjing University. Previously, instruction had been exclusively in English; last year, we decided to experiment with the foreign languages, and so March 2008 found me wandering the halls of the sixth floor of the Foreign Languages Building at Nanjing University.

Another thing made this trip different than those before: I was taking my two sons, Alex (16) and Patrick (11). It is hard to express what it felt like to watch them experience Asia for the first time, to walk in my footsteps, to discover a part of the world so very different from their home in rural Iowa. From Patrick gazing transfixed at Victoria Harbor from the window of our hotel in Hong Kong as we first entered China, to Alex's awe at the massiveness of Pudong and the Pearl of the Orient as we stood on the Bund in Shanghai on the eve of our departure, to all we experienced in Nanjing - the entire trip was, like every journey to Asia, eye-opening and life-changing. And apart from the usual tourist sites and obvious youth highlights of buying swords and cheap DVDs (can I feign the same ignorance here about bringing the latter back, as I did when we went through customs?), the boys enjoyed some of those everyday activities that make connection with a foreign culture so much more meaningful. Patrick attended some classes at the Nanjing middle school with the Grinnell Corps Nanjing Fellows (Logan Lewis and Maggie Connor, both '07); Alex played basketball on a team with Austin Dean '06 (a Grinnell Corps alumnus teaching history there) against Nanjing University students. We also enjoyed being hosted (at endless, sumptuous banquets) by our many Nanjing friends who had been in our home in Grinnell.

A personal highlight for me, though, was my experience in the classroom. And not because it was unusual, or "exotic" (a relative term that, together with "weird" and "strange," I encouraged my sons to avoid in describing this very different culture), but rather because it was familiar and recognizable. I was nervous before the first class (as most teachers are before the first meeting, I think), and had prepared far more material than necessary, just in case. But once things got started and we got through our introductions, I realized I was going to enjoy working with Alyosha, Lilya, Liza, Katya, Gulya, Panya, Ignat, Nadya, and Lyuda (yes, like here, students take Russian names).

Working through the content of the course (the dynamic Russian poetic movements leading to the 1917 revolution), we also talked a lot about how Russian is taught and learned in America and China. It became clear in our discussions that there were far more similarities than differences. I'd like to give one example, which I'll dedicate to the students in my Russian 221 class in the fall of 2007 - one of my favorite groups in my many years of teaching at the College. As I quizzed my Chinese students about their knowledge of Russian, I asked whether they knew any proverbs (my Russian students here will smile knowingly at this point, recalling my obsession with this aspect of the language); indeed they did. As we went around the room to see how many we could come up with, I experienced one of those epiphanic moments that everyone ought to have in their professional life: when we realize we're in the right place, and we can't imagine doing anything else. It's a feeling I experienced more than once teaching second- year Russian the previous semester; that I experienced it again halfway around the world told me something about the importance of educational exchange and the bridging of cultural borders. It also brought home to me how glad I was to be returning fulltime to the classroom here at Grinnell.

An American in China teaching Russian? From my perspective, I can't imagine anything more ordinary.

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


Senator Dole keynote at WWII celebration

In the same strong voice that made him a Washington leader, Senator Bob Dole told local veterans and college community members today about his experiences as a World War II soldier and champion for all who served, young and old.

"Not everyone who served wore a uniform--teachers, nurses, others had to do their job so we could do ours," Dole said.

He also recognized several veterans in the audience whose stories he'd read during his plane trip to Grinnell.

Professor Emeritus of History George Drake '56 has compiled oral histories of several Poweshiek County veterans.

"The stories tell about the sacrifices men in this city made," Dole said. "So many Americans made sacrifices," he said, and with emotion related, "On D-Day, 10,000 never drew another breath ... never had a chance to go to college ... to be fathers .... There is no way to repay them."

At several times throughout his hour-long talk, Dole also referred to his best-selling book, One Soldier's Story.

"The book isn't about me, it's really about us," Dole said. "Not only what you go through on the battlefield, but what happens to you later, who takes care of you when you return."

Dole is part of a commission working to improve veterans' benefits.

"They called us the greatest generation, but the greatest generation are those protecting us now," Dole said, referring to servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They are taking the risks now."

In addition to his serious "Veteran's Perspective on World War II," Dole also engaged the audience with light-hearted stories of his time in Washington as senator from Kansas and later as the 1996 Republican presidential candidate.

"I left politics--wasn't voluntarily, come to think of it. I thought the Senate would close down for at least a day or two. But they didn't. They were doing the same thing--not much--as they were doing when I was there," Dole joked.

He gave high praise to his fellow senator, George McGovern, with whom he shared the World Food Prize this year for their work on world hunger. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who was also in the Herrick Chapel audience, received Dole's praise as "the hardest working guy in Congress. You are getting your money's worth," he said, referring to Grassley's work on behalf of Iowans.

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2008.

Grinnell's Unofficial Mascot: The Fox Squirrel

Love 'em or loathe 'em, you just can't ignore the plentiful and beautiful fox squirrels that thrive on the Grinnell College campus. We asked several of our photographers to catch the many moods of Grinnell's squirrel population.

Squirrel knibbling on a nut at the edge of a mossy rock wall
The fox squirrel is named for the fox-like color on its magnificent tail. by Sarah DeLong
Squirrel anchored by a back foot climbs out towards a nut
Streeeetch! Fox squirrels love nuts, insects, seeds, buds, and pilfered fast food.
by Sarah DeLong
Squirrel anchored by a back foot gets close to a nut at the end of a branch
So close! by Sarah DeLong
Squirrel reaches a nut at the end of a branch
At last -- success! by Sarah DeLong
A squirrel peeks out over a leafy branch
The fox squirrel is found throughout Iowa and most of the Midwest. by Sarah DeLong
Belligerent squirrel faces off with the camera
Whaddaya want?" Grinnell squirrels are assertive to say the least, and exhibit personality to spare. by Sarah DeLong
very plump squirrel lazing around in the trees
Grinnell's squirrel contingent seems to be thriving, as demonstrated by this solid citizen. Fox squirrels are Iowa's largest squirrels. Experts say they range from about 10-15 inches in length, and can weigh up to three pounds (anecdotally, Grinnell squirrels can weigh a lot more). by Sarah DeLong
Inquisitive looking squirrel gazed down from a tree branch
It's a tightrope act, but no sweat for this guy. by Grant Dissette ’12
Squirrel pauses to glance over its shoulder to the photographer
"Really? You don't say!" Students frequently become fond of the squirrels, who often boldly take food directly from human hands. by Grant Dissette ’12
Squirrel uses hind foot to scratch its side
"Scratch where it itches." by Grant Dissette ’12
Squirrel perches, up to its shoulders in a hole in a branch
"I know I left it in here somewhere!" Squirrels make their nests in holes in trees, or build the big round leafy balls visible among the branches. by Grant Dissette ’12
Close photo of a squirrel looking directly at the camera
Up close and personal. by Grant Dissette ’12
Squirrel on hind legs in a lawn
"I'm a handsome devil, aren't I?" February is mating season for the squirrels, which accounts for all the wild activity in mid-winter, including high-speed chases and daring leaps from branch to branch and tree to tree. Courtesy of Ben Gordon ’11
squirrel clings to the trunk of a tree with head down and tail up
"Bet you couldn't hang upside down like this!" Courtesy of Ben Gordon ’11
Squirrel with nut in mouth near the base of a shrub
Many gardeners and bird-feeding enthusiasts can attest to the cleverness of these rodents. A Grinnell faculty member of the early 20th century left us this story of the squirrels of his day: "Last year some hazelnuts brought home one day were spread out on a level area of roof to dry in sun and air. The village squirrels discovered them in surprisingly short time and made spirited and frequent predatory excursions to the store. The antics of the squirrels were worth far more than the nuts." (Selden Lincoln Whitcomb describing Grinnell, Iowa in 1902) by Stephanie Puls
Squirrel, visible behind green branches, holds a nut in it's mouth
At home in the trees. by Stephanie Puls
Squirrel with snow on it's face wanders in the snow next to a sidewalk
Squirrels don't hibernate, but they do spend more time in the nest when the weather gets cold. by Stephanie Puls
Squirrel perches on a stump, fluffed-up tail curled in a question-mark shape
"Got anything to eat?" by Stephanie Puls
Squirrel with hands at mouth, looking beseechingly at the camera
The fox squirrel's beautiful tail provides a useful counterweight for acrobatic leaps from branch to branch.
hunched squirrel creeping down limb looks up at the camera
Secret Agent Squirrel! by Jim Heemstra
squirrel against a small branch, facing the camera
Grinnell College isn't the only campus in Iowa where squirrels seem to have the upper hand. On the website Campus Squirrel Listings, Joseph Bauer reports: "The University of Iowa was the first state-supported institution of higher education to admit squirrels on an equal basis with humans. They now constitute about 8 percent of the student body ... Here in Iowa City we know that the squirrels here have a the highest graduation rate in the Big Ten and finish consistently higher in most of the squirrel polls." by Jim Heemstra
squirrel appearing to bitie the bark of a branch
"Grinnell squirrels stick religiously to the 100-mile diet." by Jim Heemstra
Squirrel on branch, facing camera, with three paws down, and one held against chest, tail bushy and upright
"Looking good!" by Jim Heemstra
Squirrel standing fully erect, with tail held upright as well
Ins & Outs, a Grinnell admission publication, once reported that Grinnell College was home to 476,704,685,230 squirrels. Several readers responded, concerned that the campus was some 20 feet deep in squirrels. by Jim Heemstra
Squirrel in tree crotch chewing on the core of a red apple.
"I'm ready for my close-up!" by Jim Heemstra

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2008.

Campus Mystery

darly lit loggia with bikesGrinnell Magazine Wins National CASE Award

For the first time in its 40-year history, The Grinnell Magazine has been honored by the CASE Circle of Excellence Award program. The magazine won a silver award in the "Best Articles of the Year" category for "Campus Mystery: My Search for the Duclod Man," by freelance writer Sarah Aswell '04. Like a number of Grinnell students and alumni over the last 15 years, she received a disturbing anonymous letter from the "duclod man." Read the fascinating story of Aswell's search for the letter-writer through some of the darkest, most shadowy corners of the Internet.

As early as 1992, students at Grinnell College began receiving strange, anonymous letters in the mail. The letters contained homemade greeting cards with crudely drawn pictures -- men crawling, toilets and trash cans, twin closet doors -- and jokes that didn't make sense. Q: What would a duclod like about the land of the giants? A: Standing in two closets without touching either knob.

In one mysterious letter, the sender defined the made-up word duclod as the fusion of two words, dual and closeted, a person who hides his or her sexuality from both gay and straight people. Another letter described duclod as "bisexual, homophobic, heterophobic, confused."

The letters were sent in groups, four to seven cards reported at a time. They were postmarked from different, seemingly random parts of the country, and always sent during school breaks. Mostly, the letters targeted gay and bisexual seniors.

That's all anyone knew for 14 years.

Spring 2004

I receive my duclod letter during spring break of my senior year. There's no return address, but it's postmarked Hartford, Conn. My address is scribbled in big, rough block letters. Inside the envelope is a piece of paper folded like a greeting card. Inside the greeting card are sheets of paper with photocopied text running crooked off the page. On one side, a strange message: "if you like shaving cats, try shaving crayons." On the facing side: "it takes two hands to handle a duclod."

I'm alone in my apartment. Reading the letter, my muscles tighten and my face heats up. I turn on the TV and all the lights.

I'm familiar with the duclod mystery -- it's Grinnell's rural legend. A few friends have received letters, and I tell myself they're probably nothing more than an elaborate, albeit malicious, joke.

The next morning I walk to the student affairs office. An administrator shakes her head and shows me the letters they have on file, from the crisp white letters of recent vintage to the aging, creased pages from the early '90s.

"These are just the ones reported," she tells me.

She fills me in on everything they know. Campus security has been investigating the case with no luck. The Grinnell police have been informed. She tries to take my letter for the file, but I hold on to it. It was sent to me; it's mine.

I call an old friend, Fred, who received a letter a few years ago (even though he's straight). He wrote an article about it for the school newspaper in February 2001. He tells me the letters were often sent from Boston and Worcester, Mass., and Memphis, Tenn. For years there has been duclod graffiti in the men's bathrooms on campus. "Duclods die twice," was scrawled on a wall in the library basement. Fred said everyone had pet theories. He had to be a student -- how else could he know who the bisexual students were? He had to be a Grinnell staff member -- he had been sending letters for more than a decade. "He" had to be a group of students, a sort of sick club, passing down the tradition as members graduated.

Fred also tells me I can find duclod jokes on the Internet -- someone named Chamo Howards posts them in random online forums and on message boards.
It takes me two years to find him.

"Chamo Howards" isn't his real name, of course. Neither is "Red Kuller," "Professor Xlhoip," or "D. Trapper." I track him through dozens of fake names and websites. Each new page reveals something darker about the man I am looking for. He is obsessed with bodily functions; his favorite drawing is a crude toilet seat with beans balanced on top.

I begin to recognize patterns -- the way he constructs sentences, his diction, the types of sites he visits, his calling cards. A picture of a jack-o'-lantern. Puns that don't quite work. Posts at 4 or 5 in the morning.

Fall 2005

I've entered graduate school, but I haven't forgotten the letter I received before leaving Grinnell. A big break comes the day I find Red Kuller's home page.

When I click on the link, and my mail client automatically opens and tries to send a mass e-mail from my personal account. The heading reads, "The bad machine doesn't know it's a bad machine." I close the message without sending it, and a website pops up: Welcome to Desolation.

The website is full of conspiracy theories and ramblings. But in between the creepy gibberish, I find my first real insights into the person who sent my letter. He likes the Red Sox, linking him to Massachusetts. There's also a link to Camp Arrowhead, a small summer camp in Massachusetts. It's a tiny glimpse of normalcy. Did he work there?

Each discovery of a new fake word or new fake name leads to more pages, jokes, fake words, and names. I've learned to navigate the Internet's maze, the forgotten pages in ancient HTML, the boarded-up houses of the World Wide Web. I've trolled joke sites no one has visited since 1996. I've lurked in guest books no longer connected to home pages. But none of it links to a real person.

I've formed him completely in my mind. He's male, middle-aged, awkward-looking. He's single, outwardly quiet and polite. He grew up in Massachusetts and has family in Memphis. Too many letters came from these two places for it to be otherwise. He is, I decided, bisexual. He is a duclod.

I don't have any solid evidence to back up that last point, but I feel the truth in it. He sends the letters to shame, to out, to accuse, but the issues seem personal.

Winter 2006

A duclod joke is found scrawled in a bathroom at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Fred forwards me an e-mail from a student at the University of Kansas who received a letter and had no idea what it was about. Chamo is widening his field.

I begin to collect the dozens of e-mail addresses Chamo leaves in his wake. I write to them from a fake address I've created, calling myself "Maggie Pie" or "Maggpie." "What is your real name?" "Answer me." My e-mails don't bounce back, but he never responds.

My next break comes in February. It's 3 a.m. and I'm on one of Chamo's many webpages. As with the Red Kuller site, my e-mail client opens, and Chamo attempts to e-mail people from my account. I scroll through the addresses that automatically appear, as I have a hundred times before. This time I notice one address that is always, always on the list. I nervously type the address into Google, and a single page pops up. Her name is Melanie Owings, and she lives in western Massachusetts. I have the real name of a real person.

I Google her full name, and what I find scares me. Melanie is mentioned in many of Chamo's strange forum postings. He writes hidden messages about her, matching the color of the font to the color of the background -- when I highlight the pages, the messages pop out. "My name is Melanie," he writes, and I know he's lying.

I e-mail her. "I'm looking for someone who wrote me an anonymous letter," I write vaguely. "I know this is strange, but please write back."

She writes that she doesn't know anyone connected to Grinnell College. I write back, stupidly, "Are you sure?" She doesn't answer. I wish I had asked her about Memphis, about Camp Arrowhead, about any shy, awkward middle-aged men she might know.

Suddenly I realize what I've been doing -- e-mailing strangers from an anonymous, fake address and harassing them. My big break is a dead end and a wake-up call. I'm no better than Red Kuller.

Early Spring 2006

I find him on a Friday. Chamo's newest character, "Pilldown Man," leads me to the home page of "Chillee UmGum." I highlight the page and find a secret message. It's a link that says, "This is my maker." I hold my breath and click.

His name is Richard. He likes to farm, and his real-life webpage is about organic farming. The image at the top of the home page is the jack-o'-lantern I've seen so many times. I click on the "résumé" link, and his life pops up before me.

His picture: an awkward-looking, overweight, middle-aged man with glasses. He lives in Memphis. He went to college in western Massachusetts. He grew up in Lawrence, Kan. His father had taught at the University of Kansas, where the latest duclod letter had been sent. He links to Camp Arrowhead. I look at the web address and see the term "shavescats." I remember well the strange message in my own letter.

I have my guy. And he loves gardening.

I had thought finding him would satisfy me, but almost immediately I'm thinking about what to do next. I now have his name, address, phone number, and real e-mail address. I want to out him somehow.

I call Grinnell College and talk to the administrator again. She's intrigued, but points to an obvious flaw -- I can't connect Richard to Grinnell College. He doesn't mention it on his home page, and he isn't an alumnus or a former employee.

I call him. I don't plan on saying anything; I just want to hear his voice, either in person or on his answering machine. But when the machine picks up, it's just an automated female voice.

I e-mail him. I use my alias because I'm still scared and because Chamo has taught me how to act like him. More and more I want to conceal and confuse; I want to find out about him without him finding anything out about me. I write him three times: "Are you Chamo?" "Why do you do this?"

He is silent.

I e-mail him again, taking a different tack. I write him something I think he will like. I make sure it's nonsensical, make sure it's not actually funny. I wonder if this completes my transformation into Chamo.

He writes back within the hour: "Pretty funny." I write him back two more times: "How are you connected with Grinnell?" "Why do you do this to people? Are you a duclod?" He never writes back.

Grinnell's spring break ends in a week, and I imagine letters trickling in from some strange corner of the country. If even one of the recipients feels shame for who they are, did I fail?

April 2006

I take my duclod letter out of its worn envelope. I write across it, big: "This is Maggpie. Stop sending letters, Richard." I put my duclod letter in a new envelope with Richard's address on it. I mail it to him.

Fall 2007

The letters didn't stop. A senior at Grinnell received one over Christmas break, postmarked Memphis, Tenn. It had all of the telltale signs -- an odd joke and childish, disturbing illustrations. More jokes were posted in abandoned Internet guest books.

Revisiting Richard, I felt like an alcoholic who makes any excuse for another drink. I told myself I'd stop after I found his name. Then I told myself I'd stop after I sent him back the letter. Now I wanted to talk to him.

First I found the Duclod Man's father, or rather, his obituary. He was a chemistry professor at the University of Kansas, the only other school that received a significant number of letters. The obit listed his surviving relatives. Duclod Man had a sister, Janis, in Memphis, and a brother, Allen, in Albuquerque. His mother, Mary, lived in Memphis, and his stepmother, Catherine, in Bennington, Vt. The locations matched the postmarks I had scribbled down more than a year ago off the Duclod Man's envelopes.

I called his mother. I didn't know what to say. She was elderly and didn't ask why I was calling. He lived alone, she said, and I could call him at work -- a doughnut shop. I thanked her and hung up. A doughnut shop?

I called his sister-in-law, Elaine, and his sister, Janis. This time I was able to stammer out my story. They were shocked and surprised, but perhaps not as much as I expected.

Richard was autistic, they explained, or a mixture of problems, possibly indefinable. He grew up in the 1950s, before anyone knew much about such conditions. They hadn't even heard about autism until Richard was in his 20s. He was intellectually normal, Janis said, maybe even above average, but emotionally he functioned like a 10-year-old. He was much better at written communication than conversation. He liked numbers and making up words. He was, she said simply, odd.

Elaine was a little more descriptive about his mental health: Richard spent his days watching black-and-white science fiction movies, tinkering on his computer, and possibly drinking too much. He didn't quite know how to take care of himself -- you had to tell him to bathe and change his clothes. He probably shouldn't live alone, she said, but his mother had always been in denial about his mental health. We have our own families and careers, Elaine said, and we're all used to the way he is. Most of the time we leave him alone.

I looked through letters -- borrowed from a Grinnell student affairs file -- spread out in front of me. I was searching for anything from Albuquerque, where Elaine and Richard's brother, Allen, lived. There were two postmarked in late November. Did Richard ever visit for Thanksgiving? Yes, said Elaine, a number of times.

The family helped me put together other pieces of the puzzle. Richard's connection to Grinnell, which had remained a nagging mystery, stretched back almost 100 years. His grandfather had been an organic chemistry professor there and raised his family in town. Richard's mother and aunts attended Grinnell. Over the years, his mother had taken him to summer reunions to visit friends and family, which gave him the chance to write duclod graffiti on campus and perhaps snag a campus directory.

I told the family what I knew, and they told me what they knew. First of all, they said, he's not Richard. He's Rick. I had to repeat it to myself: he's Rick. For hours on the phone, I listened to their stories and watched their Rick come to life while my Richard dissolved into the background.

This is Rick: his one true love is organic gardening, and, Elaine explained, he's extremely talented. As his small house disappears under years of unopened mail, his backyard thrives. What does he do with the excess vegetables? The same thing he does with the leftover doughnuts from his job -- he takes them to a food bank.

This is Rick: he spends much of his time rocking in an old rocking chair. The slats are broken from overuse. Rick's rocking has worn through the carpet, through the floor, and polished the concrete. The image stays with me. As I read about autism, I learned that rocking is a classic comforting behavior.

It wouldn't be appropriate or helpful for me to speak with Rick, Janis insisted. As much as I felt I needed to hear his voice and ask him questions, everything I learned told me Rick wasn't in control of his actions or his words, and his slow, stumbling speech wasn't a true representation of who he was. At the same time, I saw them protecting him.

They showed me Rick, and I tried to show them Richard, the Duclod Man. I sent them links to the webpages where he wrote as Red Kuller, Chillee Ugum, and Professor Xlhoip. All three family members said the same thing: I would have never guessed he would write these things, but I can tell it's him. All three are convinced he's harmless. His health is failing. He's obese. He has heart, cholesterol, and sleep apnea problems.

Regardless, I want the letters to stop.

Janis agreed to talk to Rick and tell him to stop what he was doing. I couldn't wait to hear what he said, but when she called back she didn't have much to report. He denied sending the letters, but his body language told her otherwise. He admitted to coining the word duclod and confirmed its meaning -- bisexual, closeted, confused. She told him to take down his websites, and he agreed.

Rick did what she asked, kind of. He posted an apology, then took it down and added some disturbing links. It's as if he can't help it.

When I read the apology, I was thrown back to the starting line emotionally. In a long letter titled "I Went Postal" (a pun and a perfect calling card for Richard), he tries to explain himself. I see the man I spent years searching for, but I also see the sadness and the complexity of living with a mental illness. He talked about his deep fear of dogs. He talked about his struggle with Christianity. He talked about a cousin who killed her mother.

The letter wove in and out of reality, between Richard and Rick.

For a moment Rick peeked out. "My father told me I was born with autism, a disease for which the prognosis is never very good, but my mother told me that when I was a few months old, my father flung me across the room like a rag doll and I landed on my head," he wrote. "I have always been one to lose it easily, and I was on the psychiatrist's couch from age 5 to 12 for this. My mother told me time after time 'get well,' 'get well,' 'stop thinking sick thoughts.'" Rick seems aware of his issues.

Then Richard appeared in the letter: "Once I signed my fate in blood over to the Tabular Turtle, a turtle with a tail at both ends and no head, I knew I was not a Christian."

This is Richard: paranoid, mischievous, scared.

I called Janis, and she confirmed some of it. Their cousin Alice smothered her mother to death during a paranoid schizophrenic episode; their own mother sometimes blamed Rick's condition on a childhood accident, sometimes on a difficult two-day labor. Elaine alluded to a family history of mental illness and social difficulties, and explained that Rick's mother is a Christian Scientist. In that faith, when you're sick it's your fault, she said, so how can you reconcile the fact that your child has a disability?

Janis also told me Rick was sent to a state hospital for two weeks when he was 13. No one can quite remember why or what happened to him there. But being sent back, Allen told me, is Rick's biggest fear.

As the years passed, all three agree, it was easier for everyone to let Rick be. On the surface he lived a quiet life. Even now, Janis worries therapy would be disruptive for him. But the more I read about autism, the more I'm convinced he'll sink deeper into his disturbed world if he continues to go untreated.

For me, everything over the last three years of my search -- and everything back to Rick growing up with autism in the 1950s -- comes down to a lack of understanding.

I can imagine Rick biking down some quiet street, 40 years ago, being teased and not understanding why he was different, and his mother still not understanding there are better options for him. "I now fail to see the value of being human," Rick wrote in his apology. "Some have told me I would never become a man. I always looked for others to feel superior to and really thought I could build myself up by putting others down, but it just doesn't work that way over the long haul."

This is Rick becoming Richard -- reading conspiracy theory webpages for years until he learned to make his own, writing hateful things in strange letters he dropped in the mail genuinely not knowing why, his mental illness left untended and undefined, his self-esteem low, and his sci-fi tapes in meticulous order.

My hatred for Richard ended when his anonymity did. Talking to his family strangely makes me hopeful. If my Duclod Man had been sane and reasonable and still filled with hate, I would feel hopeless. Rick simply doesn't have the tools to understand his dark places, but perhaps now has the opportunity to find some peace.

And this is a good place for me to leave him -- not on the Internet and not with a letter, but with his newly aware family hopefully taking some new steps with him, his rocking chair, and his garden.

Editor's Note: Names and places in this story have been changed. A longer version of this story originally appeared in The Advocate.