A collection of mysterious and delightful tales of prized possessions lost and found
by Suzanne Walters Gray MFA '04 | Illustrations by Janice Wu
Name: Joan Rudd, SLC administrative assistant
Item: A clarinetist's briefcase
Location: Marshall Field closet
Lost: Circa 1975
In 1975 David Krakauer '78 was a sophomore music student who spent a lot of time in Marshall Field practicing the clarinet.
More than 35 years later, Joan Rudd, the new administrative assistant for the music program, and Music Director Chester Biscardi were taking inventory of the closets in an old dressing room on the second floor. In one closet, next to a pair of ancient rain boots, they found what Rudd described as an old, dusty, crusty briefcase." A briefcase that had belonged to David Krakauer in 1975.
It contained, among other things, Krakauer's wallet, including his student ID and draft card; an undershirt; spare reeds; and a lunch bag, complete with sandwich.
Rudd handed the briefcase to College Archivist Abby Lester (minus the lunch), who contacted Krakauer. He's now a virtuoso clarinetist and well-known Klezmer composer who's credited with bringing this Jewish folk music to a worldwide audience.
Krakauer has no memory of the briefcase (or of the draft card!), perhaps because he was so focused on mastering his instrument. The College returned the briefcase to him last summer.
How did Krakauer's briefcase get into the closet—and why did it remain there for almost four decades? Rudd's explanation: "Since that side of Marshall Field is known to have a ghost lurking about, no one pokes around much, for fear of disturbing the spirits."
The moral of this story: Clean the closet, even if it's haunted, or you might end up with a very old sandwich on your hands.
Name: Joan McCann, SLC's senior director of communications and marketing
Item: Engagement-ring diamond
Location: Greenwich, Connecticut
"I had a killer engagement ring. A large, round diamond set in white gold. It was presented to me while I was checking the oil in my car, and I had never seen anything more beautiful.
The ring stayed on my finger for many years until one winter when a nasty storm blew in about a foot of snow and I was outside shoveling for hours. When I got back inside, I noticed that the diamond was not in my ring. On hands and knees I dug through the snow until I realized, after a long time, that I was on a fool's errand. It felt like I had lost a part of myself.
Every day for about two weeks as I came and went, I would search every inch of snow, hoping that I'd find that diamond. And, wouldn't you know, I did find it—a glimmer in the snow caught from the corner of my eye.I was beyond thrilled to get the ring back on my finger and took the stone and setting to the jeweler to have it repaired. A few days later the jeweler called me to apologize. He had lost the stone.
I realized it wasn't meant to be. Neither was my marriage; we split up a year later. But I ended up finding something so much better: a new ring, a new husband—and a snow blower!"
Search & Rescue
Name: Marek Fuchs, writing faculty member
Item: Large wrench
Lost: November 7, 2012
Found: November 8, 2012
Marek Fuchs has crawled through the adult equivalent of a McDonalds PlaySpace, while wearing blacked-out goggles, in order to find a fake body. He's a volunteer firefighter, a job that requires a fair amount of skill in finding things—say, an unconscious person—when you can't see. To practice, the firefighters navigate elaborate mazes (complete with narrow tubes and ball pits) or houses filled with artificial smoke, feeling along the walls and orienting themselves, in part, by the heat of the flames.
"It's totally fun" to do these exercises, Fuchs says, but then he's "a bit of an adrenaline junkie." He has been a volunteer firefighter in Hastings, New York, for nine years, and he's written a book, Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters, that profiles volunteer firefighters across the country. (Parade magazine called it "riveting.") Fuchs has never had to deploy his body-finding skills in real life, but he did have occasion to do some search and rescue of a different kind last November.
A nor'easter was raging, and the firefighters got a call: a snowplow had exploded and was burning at the top of a hill. (The driver, luckily, had escaped without harm.) Fuchs works on a pumper, a.k.a. the truck with the hoses, and when they arrived the scene was chaotic. Oil was pouring from the truck—"you would never imagine there was so much oil in one vehicle," Fuchs says. The water from the hose was freezing, and the entire hill was slippery and coated with oil.
Fuchs and his partner found the fire hydrant on the dark and snowy street and used a two-foot-long wrench to attach the hose. Then they went to help their colleagues put out the fire. When they returned to the station, they realized they had lost the wrench. In firefighting your equipment is terribly important, since even something as mundane as a wrench could save your life. Things like that are not to be mistakenly left on the side of the road in the snow.
So Fuchs and his partner returned to the scene in the middle of the night, crawled up the oily, icy hill on hands and knees, and dug through the snow around the hydrant. No wrench. They expanded their search. Finally they saw that someone had kicked the wrench into the middle of the street, where it was plainly visible. At that point, the only sensible way to get back to the car was to slide down the icy, oily slope on their butts.
They don't teach you that in firefighter school.
Between the Pipes
Name: Maureen Gallagher, SLC's senior director of facilities
Item: Moldy yearbook
Location: Bathroom ceiling
Lost: Circa 1990
You never know what you're going to find when you investigate a plumbing crisis, as Maureen Gallagher well knows. She's the one who dispatches the maintenance workers when there's a problem with a building at SLC.
In November, there was a leak in the bathroom of MacCracken's Caldwell Dance Studio. It was coming from above, so Gallagher sent the maintenance workers to pull off the ceiling tiles and see what was going on. There in the ceiling, wedged among the wires and pipes, was a book. A high school yearbook, in fact, dated 1986 and belonging to Guinevere Turner '90.
Their curiosity aroused, the workers brought the yearbook to Gallagher and asked her to investigate. Turner wasn't hard to find: she's an actor and screenwriter, known for writing American Psycho and for playing Gabby Deveaux on The L Word.
As one might guess, she was very surprised when Gallagher contacted her and told her about the yearbook. Turner lived in MacCracken her senior year, she confirmed, but she has no idea how the book got into the ceiling. Did a prankster friend hide it away? she wondered. Did she hide it herself, in hopes of creating her own little time capsule, and then forget about it?
She leans toward the prankster option. She was proud of being voted "most sophisticated" by the senior class, she remembers, and says, "I really do picture myself torturing people with my high school yearbook." She imagines "someone finally just having enough and putting it where the sun don't shine, so to speak." Regardless, she was happy to get her yearbook back, even though it was besmirched with mold. Now we're left wondering what other treasures are squirreled away in the walls of campus buildings, waiting to be discovered.
Name: Persephone Schmidt '13
Item: A Yoko Ono mural
Lost: Circa 1963
For years, a rumor has circulated that conceptual artist Yoko Ono '57 painted a mural somewhere on the Sarah Lawrence campus. Last summer, a member of the student painting crew found it.
Persephone Schmidt '13 was taking a break from repainting the rooms in Lynd House when she noticed something strange. In the hallway, underneath a switch plate that had been removed, was a tiny signature.
It turns out that as part of a conference project in 1958, Ono painstakingly repainted the plain white wall with a calligraphy brush, replicating the original dingy white color and mimicking every flaw and fissure. She exchanged the broken sconce on the wall with another sconce, equally broken.
A search of the registrar's archives revealed that this piece of conceptual art, titled "Wall Piece," earned Ono an A grade from visual arts faculty Kris Phillips, who called the work "mischievous and whimsical." But the piece was so authentic in its mimicry of an actual wall that awareness of it had faded by the time Ono became a well-known member of the Fluxus movement.
The College administration was initially hopeful that the rediscovered mural would provide a much-needed boost to the endowment. But as it happens, the mural has been inadvertently painted over dozens of times in the intervening years—which presumably is exactly what Ono intended to happen. "It makes a beautiful statement about authenticity and manual labor," says Dean of the College Jerri Dodds, "but it doesn't do the College much good."
Name: Eliza Myers '14, Brookline, Massachusetts
Item: Abandoned egg
Location: Alfred, Maine
"I was on a Quaker retreat with my family when I was 10 years old, and I found a goose egg on a path in the woods, all by itself—no nest, no Mother Goose. After proudly displaying the find to Mom and Dad, who pointedly ordered me to put it back, I smuggled it home in the snuggly pocket of my sweatshirt.
For a month and three days, I attempted to bring the baby goose into the world. I made it a nest of doll hair, pencil shavings, and cotton balls. I even managed to fashion an incubator of sorts, keeping the egg tucked away in a warm spot behind my dad's computer monitor.
On the morning of day 34, I was sitting at our kitchen table eating Cheerios from the box, when my mother casually asked me, ‘Did you know that goose eggs usually take only 25 or 28 days to hatch?'
Despite feeling guilty and somewhat responsible for the death of the poor little goose egg, I think a part of me knew that it wouldn't have survived under the care of humans and the artificial warmth from our household electronics."
Art Under Art
Name: Virgilia Pancoast Klein '75, art forgery expert
Item: Hidden painting
Location: New York City
Lost: Circa 1760
How do you know if that Picasso you're thinking of buying is really a Picasso? The easiest way is to ask the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in New York, where Virgilia Pancoast Klein '75 was in charge of the authentication service for 15 years and now serves on the board.
The nonprofit examines art whose authorship is in question—everything from flea-market finds to stolen items to caches of "rediscovered" works by famous artists. Klein estimates that of the 450 works she examined during her career, 85 to 90 percent turned out to be fakes or misrepresentations.
One of Klein's more interesting cases was in 1984, when two men bought a country inn in France, complete with walls full of old paintings. An expert had looked at their newly acquired portrait of Saint Paul and suggested that it may have been created by the noted French 17th-century artist Philippe de Champaigne. The excited owners came to IFAR for confirmation.
Klein asked an expert on Champaigne to examine the painting. He studied the composition, the brushstrokes, and even the fabric of the canvas, and declared that they were generally inconsistent with works by the artist. ("The facial characteristics are too rugged," he reported. "The eyes do not conform to Philippe's general type.")
But it was a high-quality painting, and Klein was still curious about its origins, so she took the Saint Paul to a conservator, who X-rayed it. To her surprise, hidden underneath the supposed 17th-century painting was another composition, complete and detailed: an elegant man sitting at a desk looking at a manservant, both dressed in ruffled shirts and waistcoats. Klein showed the X-rays to a costume historian, who confirmed that the clothing and wigs were from 18th-century France, and the painting had probably been made between 1740 and 1760.
Clearly the Saint Paul could not have been by Philippe de Champaigne, who died in 1674. Klein points out that it was not unusual for artists of yesteryear to paint over an existing work, as canvas was expensive. The thrifty Saint Paul artist could never have realized that he was simultaneously creating a mystery and providing the clue to its solution. The names of both painters remain unknown, lost to history.
Name: Anthony Fleming '07, SLC's junior technical coordinator
Item: Obscure lyrics
Location: Sarah Lawrence campus
"I was working on campus during the summer of 2006, and I found a Post-It note on one of the light poles near Andrews Annex. On the note were lyrics from one of my favorite bands, Thee Silver Mt. Zion.
The fall term started and several more notes popped up, all with lyrics from the same band. I was fascinated. There were not a lot of people on campus who would have known who this band was.
I started collecting the Post-Its I saw. As I started taking them, they began to appear everywhere. I told several of my friends about it and they began spotting them and collecting them on my behalf.
Finally, I purchased my own set of Post-It notes. And every time I saw a note, I wrote the next verse and posted it in its place. To my surprise, whoever was leaving the notes would then replace mine with the subsequent lyrics.
On the back of the last note I found, it asked who I was. I have few regrets in life, but I regret not knowing who was responsible for these notes."
Name: Joshua Muldavin, geography faculty member
Location: Northeastern China
"When I went to work at a commune in China, I left my wallet (including passport, ID, and all the money I had) on the seat of an old steam train when I got off in Daqing. I was picked up by commune officials in green Jeeps, and we drove four hours across the sea of grasslands to the county where I would live and work for two years. My wallet continued on in the train heading for Qiqihar, a big railway terminus on the border with inner Mongolia.
Many days later a peasant showed up on horseback. He was brought in to see me—something he insisted upon personally— and then he took out my wallet and handed it to me. He had tracked me down across hundreds of miles to return the wallet, riding his horse the whole way. He asked me to look in the wallet and make sure nothing was missing. I was shocked and so thankful.
He was extremely happy to have found me but insisted that he receive no thanks or reward. After a short conversation and verbal thanks, he turned around, got on his horse, and rode away into the sunset.
The experience always struck me as emblematic of China at that time—the immense honesty and scrupulous sense of care over small details. Nothing of the kind would happen today. The bright red-and-black steam engines with wooden cars and coal dust flying in the open windows are gone. Being the only foreigner for hundreds of miles no longer is the case in much of China. And while I still find fabulous warmth and honesty among the people I live and work with in rural China, I also have watched the slow destruction of social cohesion, trust, and ethical responsibility as these areas are further integrated not only into China's market economy, but into the global market economy, with immense negative consequences for those at the bottom of the ladder."
Foods of Yore
Name: Celia Sack '91, bookstore owner
Item: Rare cookbook
Location: San Francisco
A hundred and fifty years ago, people ate some weird stuff, as Celia Sack well knows. She's an expert on rare cookbooks and the owner of Omnivore Books, a cookbook store in San Francisco. So she has a recipe for Squirrel Ragout (first ingredient: one pair young squirrels," naturally). She can tell you how to cook both woodcock and mock woodcock. And she has multiple sets of instructions for how to cook prairie chicken, which used to be a common foodstuff in the Midwest but is now a protected species.
Sack's prized possession is a very rare cookbook, the first ever written by an African American woman. What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. was printed in 1881 by a women's collective in San Francisco, and offers a fascinating glimpse into our culinary past.
Little is known about Mrs. Fisher, Sack says. She was born in slavery in Alabama, and after Emancipation she and her husband moved to San Francisco, where they opened a pickle factory. Fisher didn't know how to read or write, but had been encouraged to write a book by the white women for whom she worked, who presumably had sampled her prizewinning pickles, sauces, and jellies. The book, which she dictated, features recipes for everything from terrapin stew to ice cream, and was one of the first books on Southern cooking published in the West.
But finding a copy wasn't easy. Not only were few printed, but most were lost in the 1906 earthquake. "I had known about the book for a really long time," Sack says, "but I had never seen a copy." One day a few years ago it popped up on eBay (can you imagine the thrill when the search results appeared?), and $4,000 later the book was hers.
Sack hasn't cooked any of Mrs. Fisher's recipes, but she's fascinated by the book and all it represents. After all, old methods of preparing food—like canning, pickling, and butchery—are currently experiencing a resurgence. Sack says that they're an antidote to the speed and disconnection of modern technology. "What these books have to teach us is that things have always been done that way," she says. So a cookbook like Mrs. Fisher's is not just a window into the lost foodstuffs of our past, but also, potentially, a handbook for modern eating … even if you never make the terrapin stew.
Item: Saw Mill River
Location: Yonkers, New York
There's a river hiding under downtown Yonkers.
Or rather, there used to be. The Saw Mill River is a 20-mile waterway that flows from Chappaqua, in Westchester County, to the Hudson. In 1922, back when rivers were more like sewers than parks, engineers channeled the downtown Yonkers part of the river into a culvert and stuck a parking lot on top of it (possibly inspiring Joni Mitchell to write "Big Yellow Taxi").
The hidden river and its creepy tunnels became a part of city lore—supposedly bootleggers used them to smuggle hooch during Prohibition—but also a symbol of urbanism gone wrong.
In 2012, after a decade of advocacy, the Saw Mill Coalition dug up this buried treasure. The old Larkin Plaza was transformed into an environmentally sensitive public park with 13,775 square feet of aquatic habitat. Now when SLC students want to learn about native fishes or just enjoy a riparian stroll, all they have to do is hop on the bus.
One Cold Hat
Name: Heather McDonnell, associate dean of financial aid and admission
Item: Scottish hat
Location: Buffalo, New York
"I am Scottish American. One of my prized possessions was a balmoral, or traditional head wear, that was given to me by my grandparents when I was about 5 years old. When I was 7, that precious balmoral was swept off my head in a snowstorm. My family was attending a Scottish event at the auditorium in downtown Buffalo, so we were fully dressed in our kilts and gear. It was gone forever—or so we thought. I was devastated.
Fast forward about 15 months. We were on our way to a hockey game held at the same auditorium, and I spotted my balmoral on the other side of a construction fence! It was muddy and barely recognizable but I knew at once it was mine. I climbed over the fence and retrieved it, with the encouragement of my family.
I still have the hat and wear it with pride and amazement whenever the occasion calls for my kilt and balmoral. I was married in it and I hope to see it on the heads of my grandchildren."
Name: David Peritz, politics faculty member
Item: Unwritten political philosophy
Location: Bronxville, New York
Who can guess what insights a famous philosopher would have had if he hadn't died? Political science faculty member David Peritz, that's who. Or at least so he hopes, because that's the basis of his current research.
Peritz's subject is John Rawls, the influential 20th-century political philosopher. Rawls was so shaken by the atrocities of World War II that he spent the rest of his life trying to explain whether and how a society could be truly just. A Theory of Justice, published in 1971, articulated an idealistic, egalitarian view of justice as a consensus among free and equal people, where everyone has a shared idea of what is fair.
The theory became a favorite among liberal political thinkers, and it catapulted Rawls to philosophical fame. But by the 1980s, it was clear that Rawls' theory didn't match up with the messiness of real life. American society is diverse, and people fundamentally disagree on what is moral and good. If we can't agree on that, how can we possibly agree on justice?
Rawls began to explore this question in Political Liberalism, published in 1993. But it took him a long time to come to grips with the idea of diversity, Peritz says, and the new book didn't offer a complete answer to this problem. A few years later, Rawls wrote a letter to his editor saying that he wanted to undertake a major revision of Political Liberalism—one that would fully articulate an approach to reconciling diversity and justice.
But then he had a stroke and died, and his work remained unrevised. Hence Peritz's project. He's trying to reconstruct Rawls' lost theory and write the book that Rawls would have written if he'd lived.
He's beginning with detective work, interviewing Rawls' widow and colleagues in search of drafts and revisions he may have shared with them. But while it's possible that there's a half-finished manuscript hiding somewhere, Peritz doesn't really think he'll find one. Much of the research will be, well, philosophical, tracking Rawls' thoughts over the years and imagining their trajectory. (Peritz worked with John Rawls in graduate school and assisted him with writing Political Liberalism, so he's got a leg up in that regard.)
The new theory is more democratic, Peritz says. "Rawls decided that you don't have to come to the political arena having already agreed on what is just—you can come to the political arena in order to figure it out." If you think about it, that's quite different from the way politics is practiced now, where politicians are strategic actors, trying only to get as much as they can for their constituents.
Peritz suggests that Rawls' final vision was a politics in which people with different opinions use public debate and discussion to forge a respectful consensus and, in that way, create a just society. Here's hoping that his vision comes true.