More to Explore

I was delighted to see your cover story on Elisha Kent Kane [“Explorer in a Hurry,” Mar|Apr]. He is one of the explorers in an exhibition titled UNDAUNTED: Five American Explorers 1760-2007 currently featured at the American Philosophical Society Museum, of which I am director and curator.

The 21 months that Kane and his crew were stuck in the Arctic ice made him a hero—one of the first media-created heroes of exploration. Indeed, as the “poster boy” for the exhibition, he is depicted swathed in fur, with jagged icy peaks in the background, and a sled dog at his feet—the very model of the intrepid explorer.

Like many Penn alumni, Kane was a member of the American Philosophical Society, and his election in 1851 recognized his achievements, among them finding and naming the Humboldt Glacier—the largest in the world—and helping to confirm the new and radical theory of an Ice Age. The exhibition draws from the society’s Kane Family Collection (his father had been a member, too), including correspondence and notes, logbooks, diaries, and sketches. Materials documenting his two expeditions to the Arctic and the memorabilia created in his honor help create a composite portrait of this intelligent, articulate, romantic adventurer. There’s even a model of the brig Advance and the skull of a polar bear he shot and brought back.

From its founding by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 as America’s first learned society, the APS has always promoted scientific investigation and exploration. UNDAUNTED, which also features APS members David Rittenhouse [professor of astronomy, vice provost, and trustee of the University in the 1780s-90s], John James Audubon, Titian Ramsay Peale, and Ruth Patrick [adjunct professor of biology], will be on view through December (www.APSMuseum.org).

Sue Ann Prince G’97 Philadelphia

 

Further Reading

Elisha Kent Kane and Maggie Fox have another close association with the University of Pennsylvania. I wrote about their exciting lives and scandalous relationship in Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004). The first full-length book about the Fox sisters to be published in more than three decades, it was named one of the best biographies of the year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and recommended the following year in paperback by The New York Times Book Review as “an engaging study of the celebrated 19th century psychics, whose theatrical séances comforted grieving mourners and inspired a movement.”

The fact that Maggie’s alleged powers were put to the test by the Seybert Commission, established at the University to investigate Spiritualism and headed by the renowned scholar Horace Howard Furness [“Feet and Faith,” Mar|Apr 2006], makes her of further interest to alumni.

Barbara Weisberg CW’68 New York

 

Go Back for Seconds

For shame! In your otherwise quite tasty story about Penn restaurateurs [“Bistro Days,” Mar|Apr], you did not include my dear and darling friend Greg Salisbury C’89. Not only is Greg the proprietor of Rx restaurant at 45th and Spruce streets, but, because of his forward-thinkingness in opening Rx in 2002—before University City became the Upper West Side—he is a spokesperson and advocate for the neighborhood. Check him out on the University City video at www.ucityphila.org. Get thee to Rx!

Melissa Jacobs C’92 CGS’03 Cherry Hill, NJ

 

Blame Bill

Two of the book reviews dealing with the “perilous landscape” of adolescent fornication [“All Things Ornamental,” Mar|Apr] failed to properly identify the source of the sentiment attributed to middle- and high-school students that “Oral sex isn’t sex.” No doubt some will recall the expression when it was first proclaimed by Bill Clinton in the course of his impeachment trial. There is every reason to believe that the consequences of this comment will remain the most prominent landmark of his presidency.

Unfortunately, the nature of the two books in question left the reviewer, billed as “book critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air,” with no alternative other than to expose her readers to the rancid aroma inherent in her subject matter.

Will Penn assume the responsibility to forearm its students with the knowledge that morality based on the Ten Commandments is the only way America can hope to remain a free people in the face of cultures of death, rampant not only here at home but worldwide as well?

Cyrus J. Sharer W’44 St. Davids, PA

 

Deadly and Unpredictable Disease

Concerning the story, “Meningitis Lawsuit,” in the Mar|Apr issue [“Gazetteer”]: In October 1947, the day I was to start my senior year at Penn Dental School, I felt awful and hadn’t slept all night. My father, a pediatrician (Penn Medicine Class of 1913) took one look at me, tried to bend my neck forward and immediately called “my” doctor.

Dad was a man of great common sense and profound medical knowledge. He always made light of his children’s illnesses. Not this time. During WWI Dad had been in charge of a meningitis ward in South Carolina. He told stories of passing other physicians in the hall and holding up fingers indicating the number of patients who had died during the night. Meningitis was, and still is, a serious, frequently deadly, and unpredictable disease.

I was immediately hospitalized, and was given a spinal tap and a neurological exam. Weakness in my right leg showed the diagnosis to be polio. If it had been meningitis I doubt that I would have been back in school three weeks later.

Since the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940s, people take for granted that if you are sick, there are cures and you will get well. Even with the correct diagnosis and best medical care, unfortunately, this is not always the case.

James L. Dannenberg D’48 Philadelphia

 

Gracias, Don Enrique!

Just a few words on the passing of Dr. Henry Wells [“Obituaries,” Mar|Apr]: I took his course in Latin American Politics in 1966. I loved it and I aced it, but my major was biology and I never dreamed I would ever use it.

In 1977 I began doing research in Latin America, a program that over 31 years has led me to Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Dr. Wells taught us that nothing in Latin American culture was ever fully separated from politics, and he was right. I entered each country with a background that made it comprehensible to me and sped my learning curve, greatly improving my effectiveness as a visiting researcher and enriching my experience as a human being.

Recalling Dr. Wells’ surprise at having a biologist in his class, I now regret never having told him how valuable it actually was to me. Gracias, Don Enrique!

Arthur M. Shapiro C’66 Davis, CA

 

Lots in a Name

My son just sent me an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education regarding the renaming of Logan Hall [see also this issue’s Gazetteer]. This building was named for a founding trustee of the University, and should not have its name changed. Those contributing large amounts of money to the school can have the option of naming new things they fund, but they should not have the ability to rename buildings as they see fit, and in the process diminish the contributions of those for whom they had been named.

I am concerned not only as an alumnus, but also as a descendant of one of the members of the first class of the University, James Latta.

Peter W. Franck W’52 Hockessin, DE

 

Humankind is, Well, Unkind

Neither Mark Basquill nor Bart Vinik have high opinions of “faith-based” efforts to show social compassion [“Letters,” Mar|Apr]. They both appear to argue—the first from example and the second from abstract principle—that people are capable of benevolence and social compassion without religion getting involved. In short, that people are, or are at least capable of being, basically good in their nature and motives.

But what if we’re not? What if man really is basically morally flawed? What if it really is our innermost nature for self-interest to prevail at the individual or collective expense of others?

The sad fact is that we can look at the evidence from the 20th century alone—or just the murder rate in Philadelphia in the 21st—and have an awful lot to explain away in order to retain this faith in man’s goodness. One must be at least as nimble in mental acrobatics to maintain a faith in Man as the advocates of reason say that we are who have faith in the existence and benevolent nature of Jesus Christ.

I’m not going to pretend to argue from a non-Christian standpoint. I could, though. One can start from the Bible or from evolution and make a convincing argument that humankind is, well, unkind. Eliminating Christianity from the equation does not eliminate the problem, it only removes the one offer of a permanent solution. Based on faith? Very much so. I have faith, they have faith. The difference is in what serves as the foundation for that faith—or in my case, Who does.

Point out if you wish the many “points of light,” some of them quite secular in their orientation, as Mr. Basquill does. Whether they espouse Christianity or not, the fact remains that our Western society’s approach to poverty, the social fabric in which we are all enmeshed, derives the concept of being benevolent to the poor and hungry from Judeo-Christian values in the Bible. Islam shares at least part of that background, so pointing to Islamic charities does not remove the point.

How appropriate, then, that I can point to Dr. Franklin’s own efforts to dissuade Thomas Paine from publishing his pamphlet, “The Age of Reason,” when he urged him in writing “not to loose this tiger upon the people,” asking him, if the world was already so bad off containing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, what he thought it would be like without them.

Kenneth A. Rumbarger C’78 Trooper, PA


Kane undaunted, Rx neglected.

May|June 08 Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue’s column

We Welcome Letters
Please email us at <gazette@ben.dev.upenn.edu>. You can also reach us by fax at 215-573-4812 or by regular mail at Editor, The Pennsylvania Gazette, 3910 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3111. Letters should refer to material published in the magazine and may be edited for clarity, civility, and length.

©2008 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 04/24/08