Part 47: From Lincoln Hall to Washington, D.C.

Part 47: From Lincoln Hall to Washington, D.C.

With the UI celebrating birthday No. 150 this year, we caught up with hundreds of graduates who have gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 47: From Lincoln Hall to D.C.

Before he went on to become registrar of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, JOSHUA GORMAN (BA '99) roughed it on collections manager CHRISTA DEACY-QUINN's student crew at Lincoln Hall's old World Heritage Museum.

It was Gorman's job to clean, document, pack and ship items from the "deepest, darkest corners" of Lincoln to their future home — the then-new Spurlock Museum on South Gregory.

He never knew what would turn up in the "dimly lit galleries and storerooms stocked with all manner of treasures from around the world and across time."

"In one of my first jobs, I was with a small team in the basement — covered from head to toe in safety gear to protect us from the old insecticides — disassembling century-old exhibit cases filled with taxidermied animal specimens from the western U.S. and east Africa.

"It was one of those miserably hot September days, and there wasn't a window in the space when the power went out. We couldn't see a thing — just sat there in the dark, trying not to let our imaginations get the best of us as we sat among these old, terrible beasts from around the world.

"Another time, I was spending the afternoon wrapping in foam and packing a never-ending stack of leather folios. I got on with the drudgery of it, but after a while wondered just what I was working on. So, I opened up this funny blue folio I had in front of me, only to find I was holding the Nobel Prize awarded to JOHN BARDEEN for his work with (LEON) COOPER and (JOHN) SCHRIEFFER theorizing the mechanisms for superconductivity.

"I'd had the great pleasure of studying under Bardeen scholar LILLIAN HODDESON in the history department, and now I was holding the man's second Nobel Prize. Right then, I knew this was the job for me."

* * * * *

Speaking of back-in-the-day Lincoln Hall, pre-renovations ...

The third floor is where RICH STRASSER ('86) — then a UI sophomore, now the senior attorney for the Library of Congress — took his first real creative-writing course.

"Rhetoric 205, I think," he says.

"There was no elevator, so you had to clomp up the rickety wooden stairs to get to the top floor. When you got there, it was like entering your grandparents' attic. The classrooms were musty and dusty, and the splintered wooden floors showed the imprints of the thousands of students and teachers that had walked there before you.

"Had Lincoln's ghost wandered through the hallway, it wouldn't have looked out of place.

"After all of the students arrived, you could hear footsteps slowly climbing the creaky steps, and then Professor GEORGE SCOUFFAS appeared. He must have been in his late 60s then and wore a rumpled tan sportscoat that went out of style in the Watergate Era. His hair was thin and white, and he had thick, bushy eyebrows that made him look a bit like an owl.

"He introduced himself to the class and opened up a crinkled, yellow copy of HEMINGWAY's 'Nick Adams Stories.' George read 'Ten Indians' from the collection with such affection and reverence that you couldn't help but be inspired to race back to the Daily Grind coffee shop to try to write something nearly as great."