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The Joy of the Hunt

I have officially become a Grumpy Old Man.(1)Try to read this piece in Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man voice. It’s too easy for people to find things online. Back in my day, things were different. People should work hard to discover things. Kids today can just Google things online and pull it up right away. There’s no adventure anymore. There’s no joy in the hunt.

Back in my day, I remember finding Malcolm Gladwell’s first TED talk online. It was about extra chunky tomato sauce. It was when Malcolm first realized that giving a talk is different than writing a story. I needed to find the talk online and download it to my iPod mini as an MP3. At the time I was going the International Design Conference at Aspen, the precursor to TED. Kids today just go online and choose among the (it feels like) millions of TED talks posted online.

Back in my day, we sought adventure. I remember the treasure hunts that I went on with my friends Lutz and Christine at Yale. Once we tried to find out about the “castle” on top of Sterling Memorial Library. If you look at the top of Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, you can see something that looks like a castle (zoom in on the roof). After much searching through the library and looking at blueprints, we discovered that a castle was built to hide machinery on the roof. Kids today can just go to Facebook and see pictures the university posted. We went on another hunt for the most interesting book we could find at the library. We settled on an early printing of Hamlet that had an inscription in Shakespeare’s hand.(2)This was an adventure itself as the library doesn’t have this book but the Elizabethan Club, a private club nearby Yale holds the University’s rare Shakespeare collection in its vault and loans them to the library.

Our final adventure was to find the most interesting room in Sterling Memorial Library. There are lots of rooms in the library housing special collections. We would go around with a map—poking our heads into various rooms—most of the time just finding a room full of books. Then we found the Benjamin Franklin Room. We went up to the second floor of the library and instead of a room of books, we found the world’s greatest collection of Benjamin Franklin memorabilia and papers. It was like climbing up a tree and finding enchanted gnomes fiddling away in their workshop.(3)Yale’s Benjamin Frankin Collection is the most extensive collection of materials by and about Franklin and his times. It was assembled during the first decades of the twentieth century by William Smith Mason of the Yale class of 1888. Yale University acquired the entire collection in 1935. In 1954 a project began to catalog all of Franklin’s papers which is still ongoing. When I visited the collection recently I looked at the earliest published papers in the first volume and found Franklin’s early newspaper column of Silence Dogood, a prank on his brother James.

But that was back in college. I always enjoyed these adventures and missed these experiences. Then, a few years ago, I was back at Yale. I was sitting around the Rose Alumni House with my friend Eric. It was the end of the day and no one else was in the building. Much like the Hardy Boys or the Jack and Annie from The Magic Treehouse, we found a very large antique book on the ground.

“Eric, what do you think this is?,” I asked. “It looks old. Maybe it has some information on Yale’s Secret Societies.”

I opened it up and started reading. It took a while and Eric got bored and went home, but not before taking a picture of me with the book.

Finding the Book

“What a large, strange, and heavy book,” I thought. It looked to be from the mid-1800s. As I rifled through it, it appeared to be an alumni record for a group called C.T.I. It also had a lot of references to the Sheffield Scientific School, the engineering school which later became part of Yale University. I soon realized that this was the first volume of that alumni record, starting with the founders of C.T.I. It even included the first professors of “Sheff,” as it was called, Benjamin Silliman and John Pitkin Horton, as honorary members.

The Alumni record of William Silliman Hillyer, a founding member of C.T.I.

But what was C.T.I.? Did it still exist? I found an interesting clue. Somewhere near the beginning of the book, I saw the name Berzelius, the name of one of Yale’s still extant secret societies. I sent an email to Yale Manuscripts and Archives asking about the C.T.I. and Berzelius connection and got the following reply:

The connection of the society to the Berzelius society is shown in the society entry on page 130 of  the 1889 volume of the Yale Banner, online.

C.T.I. may have been its incorporated name.  Berzelius was a society of the undergraduate Yale Sheffield Scientific School.  Founded in 1848 as an academic society, it later became a social club.  When it built a dormitory in the late 19th century, it was named the Colony Club, and the club itself was also known as the Colony Club.  With the gradual merging of Sheff into Yale College in the 1920s and 1930s, Berzelius became a senior society.  When Sheff ceased to be an undergraduate school in 1945, the seniors were all Yale College students.  I have not found any indexed or online information on the meaning of C.T.I. If  I find any relevant information, I will send it to you.

Response from Judith Ann Schiff, Yale’s Chief Research Activist
The Yale Banner from 1889 Links the Name C.T.I. to the Seal of the Secret Society Berzelius

So this was the founding alumni record of a Secret Society! As it turns out, Secret Societies weren’t very secret back then. In the 1889 Banner, there is a section for Secret Societies including the entire roster of Skull and Bones.

The Secret Societies Section of the 1889 Yale Banner
The Skull and Bones Member List of the 1889 Yale Banner

I found one more strange clue about why this book might have randomly been lying on the floor. Apparently it wasn’t used much. I found the following note to have it rebound—from September 1986, 30 years earlier!

The Note from 1986 Gives Some Clues

Of course, this Grumpy Old Man is looking through rose-colored glasses. Even today, Google is overrated. Try looking for good information on the coronavirus—it’s quite a challenge.(4)I finally landed on the very good Corona Daily for high quality information.

My adventures were fun because they were difficult. With new technology, things get easier to discover, which makes finding adventures continually challenging. Finding an original sample of Shakespeare’s handwriting used to require a request to an obscure Yale club, now you can Google it, so it’s not an adventure anymore. What used to be hard-to-find isolated villages are findable on Instagram which ruins them. Using technology to shortcut the work of the adventure is something different than the adventure itself. Maybe we should call it “adventure theater.”

But there are still lots of adventures to take. If you’re reading this, there are many cool and amazing things to find in Yale’s library, but to really take an adventure you need to find your own favorite book, not use mine. And of course, you won’t find Berzelius’s alumni records lying on the floor. Well, you probably won’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to look. As for me, there’s still quite a bit of fun and exciting adventures to take, and that’s what I like to put on my blog.

Footnotes

1. Try to read this piece in Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man voice.
2. This was an adventure itself as the library doesn’t have this book but the Elizabethan Club, a private club nearby Yale holds the University’s rare Shakespeare collection in its vault and loans them to the library.
3. Yale’s Benjamin Frankin Collection is the most extensive collection of materials by and about Franklin and his times. It was assembled during the first decades of the twentieth century by William Smith Mason of the Yale class of 1888. Yale University acquired the entire collection in 1935. In 1954 a project began to catalog all of Franklin’s papers which is still ongoing. When I visited the collection recently I looked at the earliest published papers in the first volume and found Franklin’s early newspaper column of Silence Dogood, a prank on his brother James.
4. I finally landed on the very good Corona Daily for high quality information.