In this episode of the Rally ’Round the Cannon podcast, we touch on a handful of Princeton history stories and notable alumni mentioned in the March 2 issue.
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BT: I’m Brett Tomlinson, the digital editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
GL: And I’m Gregg Lange of the Great Class of 1970, who should know better.
BT: And this is the Rally ’Round the Cannon Podcast, a history podcast about Princeton and its alumni. In our last episode, we spoke about Princeton (and U.S. National Team) water polo star Ashleigh Johnson ’17, who was named the world’s player of the year in her sport, and we asked if any alumni could think of another Princeton athlete who achieved that distinction.
We did get a response from Andrew Flood ’86, who came up Lynn Jennings ’83, who was the world cross country champion in three consecutive years – 1990, ’91 and ’92. Absolutely the world’s best cross country runner in those three years. So thank you Andrew for coming up with that answer. It’s always great to hear from our listeners.
GL: I assume Andrew is getting some blandishment from the magical prize closet?
BT: His prize is in the mail. And I don’t say that facietiously…
GL: I assume one of my 8x10 glossies is included.
BT: You know, I couldn’t find any more of those.
That question got to me a little bit because I was trying to come up with examples. And the best I could come up with was that Princeton has this great rowing history, and there have been rowers on the world’s top crew. But they don’t give an individual …
GL: That gets down to the level of Bill Bradley ’65 being the captain of the ’64 Olympic gold-medal basketball team. But does that mean that he was the best player? No. On the other hand, he was the cog, like on every other team, that made it move.
BT: Caroline Lind ’06 was on the world’s top crew on the women’s side in 2008, the U.S. eight that won gold in Beijing. I’ll always remember that because when I interviewed her for PAW, she was living in Princeton at the time, and she came into the office and brought her gold medal. So everyone in the office got to see a real gold medal – that was a real thrill for our summertime staff.
GL: Not to mention that she was on the magnificent Princeton heavyweight crew of 2006, probably the best women’s collegiate crew ever assembled.
BT: Well, if we start talking sports, we’ll easily take up the whole podcast and we won’t get to the other things we planned. So I’m just going to tick off a few things. We try to focus on things that are related to this time of year, and one thing that shows up in the oral history podcast this time is bicker, and specifically the so-called dirty bicker of 1958. We had an alumnus, Paul Rochmis ’60, who came in and spoke about his own experience in that period and how the events that transpired encouraged him to go independent and to kind of leave the whole Prospect Street scene behind. Gregg, you’ve written about bicker and specifically the bicker of that year, in past columns.
GL: Right, and I would just mention, because I think his interview is wonderful – very evocative, it’s also very kind of him to record stuff that is that personal and difficulty. His classmate, I should mention, Geoffrey Wolff, wrote a novel, The Final Club, in 1990, very much on the same set of topics.
It’s difficult to talk about. It’s social ostracism in college, and there’s not much more personally wrenching than that. We’ll put a link to my column on it from 2008, which was the 50th anniversary of dirty bicker, explaining the background a bit. I want to encourage people who are interested to come back for the conference on a century of Jewish life at Princeton, which will be held in the middle of April this year. Check on that conference if you’re at all interested – I understand it’s going to be really fabulous.
Almost 60 years later now, dirty bicker is still a big topic. That’s the kind of influence and trauma that it had on the entire University.
BT: Another piece in the magazine related to February: It’s the 70th anniversary of the Long Telegram, which George Kennan ’25, the famed diplomat, sent from his post in Moscow on Feb. 22, 1946. We have a great essay titled “What Would Kennan Do?” by history professor Stephen Kotkin. Gregg, you’ve written a bit about Kennan, I imagine you heard him speak – he was such a big presence on and near campus, at the Institute [for Advanced Study]. What sticks out in your mind when you think of George Kennan?
GL: A couple of things that you should keep in mind, mentioned in one of my earlier columns. He was a very unusual guy in the Class of 1925, right from day one, and an excellent jazz musician of all things. But in addition to that, his influence has been so broad and continues to evolve. I mean, every time Vladimir Putin steps in front of a microphone, people start arguing about George Kennan. Keep in mind our PAW issue of a few years back on the most influential Princetonians of all time: Kennan ranked sixth, in the neighborhood of Madison, Wilson, and Alan Turing. I just happened to have mentioned him in my open letter to the Wilson Legacy Committee. He is one of the two obvious choices if anyone wants to go to the trouble to rename the Wilson School. George Kennan is one obvious candidate, and Adlai Stevenson ’22 the other. [Kennan] is a wonderful writer. Go and read anything he wrote, and you’ll be amazed.
BT: Going on the historical timeline again, we’ll move ahead to March 1960. John Weeren, our That Was Then columnist, has a nice piece in the new issue about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to campus, where he spoke at the University Chapel in March of 1960.
GL: And surprise, surprise – I wrote a column on that. But the things I wanted to point out on that column are related to other people. Dean Ernest Gordon, dean of the chapel, who was the one who invited Martin Luther King to campus and stood up against a chunk of the alumni backlash against that not once but actually twice – King was initially scheduled to speak in 1958 and was actually stabbed in an incident and couldn’t make the trip. The others were Malcolm Diamond, who was a great friend of mine and one of the original heads of Stevenson Hall and just a magnificent speaker against all kinds of iniquities in the 1960s – he was in the Selma demonstrations as well. And additionally a couple alumni favorites of mine. Roland Frye ’43, who when all this hit was a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and had lived his entire life in the south. His comments were quite interesting. And a Princetonian editorial columnist of the time, Lou Warner ’61. Both of those folks are deceased at this point, and what they did in relation to King’s sermon and surrounding issues of that day and age live on very much after them. The other thing I would mention: Reading that also struck me again about the huge influence and great good that can come from very flawed people. Martin Luther King’s flaws were very different than Woodrow Wilson’s flaws. But we’re all flawed so we all ought to think about it. The fact that such great things can come from regular old human beings is always something good for all of us to think of.
BT: Since you mention Woodrow Wilson, I would just add that the responses from historians to the Wilson Legacy Committee are now posted on their website. We’ve had a brief story about that, and I definitely encourage everyone to check that out if that’s an issue that you’re following.
GL: And if you think you’re well enough versed to figure the tenor that most of the responses are going to take, I urge you to read them because there are many, many surprises.
BT: And one final history connection. A great historian of science, Alan Lightman ’70, is featured in our March 2 issue. He has a story about his love of physics. Gregg, I gather you know him, you’re in the same graduating class.
GL: Any classmate of mine is historical by definition. Alan is one of the greats. I urge you to read anything he’s written – he’s a very gifted writer, recognized for his fiction as for his nonfiction. Einstein’s Dream is his most famous book, but I love Reunion and a number of the others. But his day job is effectively teaching the history of science but in many creative ways. He’s built this into a magnificent and really thought-provoking way to look at the world, a bit of which you glimpse in his article here. I just it was interesting to mention in part because of the current sexiness of the final discovery and confirmation of gravitational waves that has rallied around the world in the last few weeks with our old friend Kip Thorne *65. These are wonderful philosophical things, and Alan’s always been right in the middle of them and writing very lucidly about them. It’s fun to see him in PAW.
BT: We’ve covered a lot in a short amount of time. I would just add that if you have ideas for future episodes or questions for us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.