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Jackson Reminiscences

Remarks made by Stan Jackson on May 9, 1978, at the retirement dinner for him and for Karl Stellmacher

If Jack Goldhaber actually was able to keep a straight face while giving a reasonable facsimile of the script he gave me, I am much reminded of the comment attributed to Mark Twain when he was informed of the report of his death. With a typically low key reply, Mark answered that the report had been "greatly exaggerated." So with Jack's statement I am deeply grateful, but I fear the report is "greatly exaggerated."

You will be pleased, I am sure, to hear that I do not anticipate giving an extended address. Probably you are familiar with the description of a professor as a person who, if you let him start talking, will continue to do so until he stops with a click after fifty minutes. But I have to be careful. Apparently in my case the click is out of adjustment. At least on the teacher evaluation forms which I just submitted for Bill Adams nearly half of my students noted I have a tendency to run overtime, and once during the semester Peter Wolfe had to evict me in order to teach his own class. Since I would hate to ask him to act as bouncer tonight, I will try to exercise discretion. In any case Karl and I promised each other to limit our remarks, fearing that otherwise we would find it difficult to waken you when it was time to go home.

The first thing on my mind is a wish to thank the Department for the concern you showed me while I was sick and since, and for the extraordinary way you took over my work when I was in the hospital and unable to carry it on myself. I certainly owe the Department an unpayable debt, and I shall be eternally grateful.

As I approach retirment, I am greatly impressed with what a curious and unpredictable thing memory is. Looking back over my years here at Maryland, I find I do not remember the things I would expect to remember. I do not even remember the things I would like to remember. Instead it is like looking at a series of miscellaneous snapshots. I thought tonight I would just show you briefly some of the early snapshots from my memory album many of which will go further back than many of you here will be prepared to share.

The first snapshot is certainly further back than when most of you had your first exposure to Maryland. It concerns my first visit to College Park, which took place in the early summmer of 1941. I had been at the University of Wisconsin but under their "up or out" policy I was due to leave. I came here by train for an interview. The ticket agent in Madison, Wisconsin was unable to locate College Park but sold me a ticket to Baltimore, telling me it was the same price. So I came on a night train from Chicago--on the B & O as I recall it--and arrived in Washington at the Union Station (which was then a genuine station) at some unearthly hour like 6:00 A.M. Prowling around the Union Station, I was gratified to discover that within an hour there would be a commuter train having a stop at College Park. I took this train and arrived at College Park some time shortly after 7:00 A. M. Judging that for someone applying for a job to call his prospective department head at that hour in the morning would be an action somewhere between bad taste and stupidity, I waited around the station till a more reasonable hour and called Professor Tobias Dantzig, who was then Head of the Department here, around 9:00 A. M. to report that I had arrived. He promtly asked me where I was to which I replied that I was at the station. His next question surprised me. He asked, "What station?" When I replied the station in College Park there was dead silence over the phone for a minute. Then Toby responded, "Hell, I didn't know there was one!" But he sent someone to pick me up. And that was my introduction to College Park. The following interview eventuated in my association with Maryland.

For the benefit of those who have known the University only in recent years I should explain that there are very substantial changes. I am told the biggest pre-war enrollment at College Park was about 3500 whereas today it is close to 35,000. Many of the now familiar buildings did not exist. On the side of the road which now contains Math, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, the Undergraduate Library and the Student Union there was nothing, according to my memory, except the barns belonging to the College of Agriculture. McKeldin Library did not exist and there was an unbroken sweep from the Adminstration Building to Arundel Hall at the top of the hill and even this area was not all turfed over. It was then the "new" part of the campus. At that time the Math Department, which consisted of approximately six regular members and about the same number of Graduate Assistants, was housed in a suite of three or four connecting offices on the second floor of what is now known as H. J. Patterson Hall, where the Botany Department is now located though the name Patterson is a comparatively recent addition. The long wing parallel to the road did not exist at this time, just the rectangular block with the cupola on top. To fill in the picture a little, I should explain that the Physics Department was in the basement and the entire Engineering College on the first floor. For obvious reasons this building was known as the Engineering Building. It is of some interest however to note that the metal plates by each doorknob were all stamped "AS" from which I deduce that in some previous incarnation this had been the Arts and Sciences Building. But when I arrived it was the Engineering Building. As you are aware, the University uses letters to designate certain of its buildings. Thus our present Math Building is Y while the Physics Building is Z. In this nomenclature, if you look up H. J. Patterson Hall you will find it is labelled E. The E originally stood for Engineering. In the same vein, the building which Chemistry occupied for many years was lettered K, a letter which I always supposed was bestowed by someone using a phonetic spelling of Chemistry. I do not seem to find it in use now.

Among the Department members when I arrived was a man named George Aldrich (I am uncertain how the name was spelled), with whom I shared an office at least for a time. If I should say that he was born an old maid I would be guilty of using sexist language, so I won't say it, but you get the idea. He was very precise and meticulous. The first incident I shall report about George I did not actually witness, but it was told me as a fact and it is certainly in character. Apparently George went into a classroom in E where he was scheduled to teach, and found the chairs neatly arranged in rows but the front row had one more chair that all the others. This affronted George's sense of symmetry to the extent that he took the offending extra chair out into the hall and threw it down the stairs, much to the astonishment of the students, some of whom were just coming up. The second incident I did observe since it took place in our office. George came in after a class looking a little upset. I never did learn what had happened to bother him, but he slammed his books down on the desk and stated emphatically, "The University would be a wonderful place to work if it weren't for the &%#@ students."

As the war drew to a close, the University was badly squeezed for space and apparently arranged to obtain some buildings which had been in use in some of the military bases during the war. These were given the double letter designations AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, GG, HH, and a few others. They were erected not far from the Preinkert Fieldhouse and it is my understanding that the students of that era promptly dubbed the area Stuttering Gulch. Some of these buildings at least are still in use, and it is interesting that in the last schedule of classes we are still having the nerve to refer to them as "Temporaries." At all events Mathematics was moved into FF. I do not recall exactly what year this was but the move took place just shortly before the fall registration and we moved in without heat, light, phone, or running water. I recall that Monroe Martin, who was then our Department Head, once told me that that was the most peaceful registration he ever had. With no phone anyone who wanted to confer with him had to come in person and most didn't bother. For the rest of us however, it was a definite annoyance to have to go to to another building to use the toilet, expecially since the nearest building was GG and that had no running water either. A rather high proportion of my memory snapshots seem to center around our days in FF.

The building FF was a one-story H-shaped building and whoever designed the heating system had not been let into the secret that hot air rises. At all events, the heating was by a forced-draft system in which the hot air was blown down from overhead. Maybe the designer got carried away with the appropriateness of using hot air for a building to be used as a classroom building. In any case it was a real experience to teach there on a cold day. With the blast of hot air coming down from above one would usually be sweating about down to the waist while the feet were icy cold.

At that time FF was on the edge of wide open fields, so were were not without appropriate fauna. One day as I was working peacefully at my desk I became aware of a rustling which I finally identified as coming from the waste basket. I peered down in it and was somewhat surprised to see a mouse which had apprarently fallen into the basket and been unable to get out. Under the assumption that he would welcome a little help in obtaining release, I picked him up by the tail. But he succeeded in turning around and giving my finger a rather painful bit so that in suprise I dropped him and never saw him again. Thus, being bitten by a mouse was an occupational hazard of teaching mathematics in FF.

The mouse episode makes me think of another animal event. I don't know if Zoology was making use of them for lab purposes, but there appeared to be a number of cats around. One of them seemed attracted to FF and was welcomed with open arms by the Graduate Assistants who provided it a box in their office. Seeking some classical allusion they decided on the name Archimedes. This seemed appropriate enough until the day that Archimedes had kittens! But the GAs were equal to the occasion. Archimedes became Archimedia. Moreover the kittens were designated (or should I say littered?) as "Alpha," "Beta," "Gamma," "Delta," ... Actually Archimedia produced several litters of kittens and the nomenclature for the kittens was continued. It had been my memory that the names never reached as far as "Mu" ("Mew") which would seem the most appropriate of all but I have been assured by Jean Porter (then Jean Boyer) who was a GA at the time that they did indeed get beyond "Mu" and that the last kitten received that name of "Rho."

As was to be expected from its history, FF was not too solidly built. This appears in the following episode. As you entered FF the first room on the right was FF7. This was a small classroom which was also used for things like colloquia. Unfortunately FF7 developed a hole in the floor where one board started to pull away from adjacent ones creating a gap which grew worse and worse. There was some weary joking about losing a professor down through the hole. Of course this was reported but nothing seemed to happen. Probably this was par for the course since I am sure the maintenance department was buried with many things that sounded more serious. At all events, two of our Department, Dick Wick Hall and Werner Leuter, became irked at the lack of attention. They went into FF7 and jumped on the floor until they really broke it. Then it was reported as a real emergency (without reporting how the emergency arose). This time the maintenance department actually came. They looked matters over, put up a big sign saying "DANGER," and went away for three months while we got along without using FF7.

By this time building J, the present Engineering Classroom Building, had come into existence. Since some of our classes were made up almost wholly of engineers and since it is a long way from J to FF it became customary for us to schedule some of our classes in J. This made an added constraint in making out teaching schedules, since the distance made it not feasible to give anyone classes in FF and J in consecutive hours. Also since J was quite new it was not too well landscaped and it was quite a trick to get in or out after a rain without getting covered with mud. I recall that one day I was picking my way out rather carefully after a shower when I met one of our GAs, George Rawling, coming in. He said, "Stop and I'll tell you whether you're a pure or an applied mathematician." I stopped and he looked down and observed, "You don't have mud on your shoes. You're an applied mathematician." As I recall it I pointed out that if my feet were clean that ought to make me a "pure" mathematician but he didn't see it that way.

For those of you who are at all new in the Department a word of explanation is in order here. For many years the Department had a two-semester course Math 5 and 6 which was required of all the Business College students. I am sure Gertrude [Ehrlich] will remember Math 5, though probably without great enthusiasm. This was in the days when a 15-hour teaching load was normal and on one occasion, as I remember it, Gertrude had the uneviable distinction of drawing a teaching assignment which included three sections of Math 5. Actually Math 5 was simply an algebra course slightly modified to consider some applications that had at least the smell of business, such as promissory notes and simple discount. For this purpose it was frequently necessary to calculate the number of days between dates. For example if you wish to borrow money on September 4 and pay it back on December 24, it is necessary to know the number of days between these dates in order to calculate the interest. This apparently innocent type of question made for incredible difficulty for all the Math 5 teachers and leads to what I think is my favorite memory snapshot from FF days. This one concerns Shep. In the semester in question Shep was teaching at least one section of Math 5 and students were regularly coming in to see him for help when they felt it was needed. On this particular day a student came in all smiling and happy and announced that he had been studying the material hard and felt he could do the problems. The only thing that seemed to bother him was that he never could remember whether there were 30 or 31 days in Februrary! And lest you think there was something deficient in Shep's teaching let me add an experience of Dick Wick Hall's (he that was involved in the FF7 floor episode). Working on the same type of problems as Shep, he asked one of the girls in his Math 5 class point blank how many days there were in March and received the astonishing reply, "Really, Dr. Hall, I wouldn't even hazard a guess."

Let me close the account of the FF days with an episode that was a bit traumatic though not serious. There was still a serious squeeze on space and toward the close of our times in FF we were sharing it with a nursery school run, if I remember correctly, by a Miss McNaughton from the College of Education. I am extremely fond of children but I find them more enjoyable as individuals rather than as a group. At all events, I found myself teaching Analytic Geometry in a classroom while in an adjacent classroom the Nursery School was carrying on normal activities. If you have never tried to teach mathematics in a room next to which preschool children are marching around to piano music, let me congratulate you and suggest that you make very effort to keep it that way.

As for the days in Y, I will say very little since this is comparatively modern history but one early picture may be of interest. The Departmental Office was then where the Undergraduate Office is now located and in season we used to sell Girl Scout cookies. My office (I was Department Head at this time) was where Shep is now located [presently Elizabeth Stecher] though I do not know if it is the same desk. This was before the Department had started its meteoric expansion and [Chair] Brit [Kirwan] will be interested that I could hold a meeting of the professorial staff (all three ranks) in my office and only bring in two extra chairs. But even then it wasn't generally possible to get them all to agree on anything. I guess it must be the mathematical mind!

In closing let me thank the Department again for your kindness to me especially during the last three years when I have been something less than a major asset to you. I may say that the kindness has extended not only to the Department members but to the secretarial staff and the students who have been very tolerant and helpful. I certainly wish you good luck for the future.