Whatever Became of Julius Rosenwald and William Schuman?

Have you ever opened the old photo album of a parent or grandparent and wondered, “Who are these people?” So many smiling faces lost to the passage of time.

We spend lots of effort at the job of being remembered. No one wants to be forgotten, unless, like the old-time actress Greta Garbo, you “want to be alone.”

Indeed, one of the chief reasons people skip high school reunions is the fear of not being recalled.

Look around you at the buildings. Once gone, the person whose name appears on the edifice loses control. Buildings get torn down, names get changed.

Take Dyche Stadium, Northwestern University’s football field in Evanston, Illinois. The edifice opened in 1926, named after William Dyche, an NU grad in the Class of 1882, who later became the Mayor of Evanston and oversaw the venue’s creation. To the dismay of the Dyche family, NU sold the rights to the name in 1997 to Pat Ryan, then the Chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. For eight-million dollars, Dyche Stadium became Ryan Field.

256px-Ryan_Field

Percy Bysshe Shelley would have understood. His poem Ozymandias tells a similar story about the collapse and destruction of an ancient monument to a once formidable and arrogant ruler. An inscribed pedestal is the only thing left:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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If the exception proves the rule, then we should talk about Julius Rosenwald. You probably don’t know his name and Rosenwald wouldn’t have cared.

Julius Rosenwald (pictured at the top) was President of Sears, Roebuck, and Company from 1908 to 1924, and the Chairman of its Board until his death in 1932. In 1917 he established the Rosenwald Fund, a charitable enterprise designed to have no endowment, i.e. an untouchable bankroll to be invested for the purpose of the charity’s survival. Rather, Rosenwald intended the Fund to disperse grants “for the well-being of mankind” until there was nothing left. The money was gone by 1948; and with it, any chance we might hear about it in our time. Only a 2015 documentary on the philanthropist’s life has (for the moment) reintroduced his name to the public.

During its existence Rosenwald’s fund distributed about $70 million, with much money going to the establishment of over 5000 schools in the South, aimed at educating black youth. Rosenwald was also a principal founder of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, seeding it with five-million dollars and serving as its president from 1927 to 1932. At the time, people in Chicago were as likely to refer to the structure as the “Rosenwald Museum” as they were the Museum of Science and Industry.

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William Schuman’s name, on the other hand, was never a household word. But in his day (1910-1992), only Aaron Copland was a more prominent living American composer in the classical world. Moreover, as president of the Juilliard School and then of the emerging Lincoln Center, no one had a greater influence on serious music in the middle portion of the last century. Schuman also wrote 10 symphonies among other works, and won the first Pulitzer Prize ever given for musical composition. His Symphony #3 is arguably the greatest such piece written by an American.

William Schuman: Symphony No. 3

Yet, the centenary of his birth in 2010 was hardly noticed by performing groups and the major US orchestras pay him little attention. I asked an orchestral executive why, with few exceptions, deceased 20th century Americans like Schuman are not performed. His wry answer: once dead “it is easier to say ‘no’ to them.” All the friends in high places who programmed Schuman’s music are now gone, along with his music, except for occasional performances and recordings. The musicians and executives of our own time don’t know his work and don’t care, or so it seems.

Schuman would have agreed, I suspect, with the notion that a composer’s life is like trying to create art on a block of ice on a hot day in July, to paraphrase Arthur Miller. In other words, you hope those notes will last and be played, but the odds are against you.

Shakespeare treated the fleeting memory of our existence more gently in the words he gave to Prospero, the sorcerer, in The Tempest. Prospero’s comment comes as he ends a brief staged performance — a play within a play. What he says refers not only to the matter of creating illusions in the theater, but also to the insubstantial and temporary nature of life itself, not just our names:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air…

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The irony implicit in Shelley’s and Shakespeare’s words is that while they talk of the transience of things, their names and works live on. Though it’s not called Dyche Stadium any more, the place Dyche built still stands along with the “Rosenwald Museum.”

Got to run. A recording of Schuman’s Symphony #3 is coming on the radio. Perhaps his music, like that of Gustav Mahler, will be revived 50-years after his death.

The future is full of surprises.

Who knows. Somebody at the reunion might remember you after all.

The top video is the trailer for the 2015 documentary, Rosenwald. The 1970 photo of Ryan Field (formerly Dyche Stadium) comes from Greenstrat. Steve F-E-Cameron is the author of the Temple of Ramses II, Luxor, Egypt. The photo of the Museum of Science and Industry is courtesy of Knarfol. All of these are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The final image is the Columbia LP (long playing record) cover of William Schuman’s Symphony #3 with the smiling Schuman facing the photographer.

A World Without Heaven

What would a world be like without the “idea” of heaven? How would people behave? What would they live for?

Of course, it is not as if the world that we live in, where the notion of an afterlife or some form of continuing existence is prevalent, is perfect. No, there are lots of wars and disagreements in contemporary life. But perhaps we are able to escape a sense of desperation in the belief that modern medicine, prudent behavior, and the possibility of an afterlife will allow us to continue our existence for a while at least, and perhaps permanently.

The ancient, pre-literate Greeks of Homer’s day could not so easily apply the balm of eternal life to their troubled psyches. They had no notion of a heaven of the type that Christians believe in, no sense of reincarnation such as the Hindus expect, no Muslim vision of paradise, no anticipation of a reunion with relatives and friends who had predeceased them. Instead, death led to a trip to Hades, the underworld, where existence was a pale and not very attractive shadow of earthly life, not something to be eagerly awaited. So if we want to know how men live when the notion of heaven doesn’t exist, we might well look to these people.

Remember too, that the life of the pre-literate Greeks (the Greek alphabet is thought to have come into existence somewhere around 800 B.C.) was painfully short. Even at the turn of the last century, around 1900, the average American lived only about 50 years. The brevity of life was certainly known to the ancient Greeks.

Greek literature and philosophy point to two driving concepts that motivated men. (And I speak of men, because women were extraordinarily disadvantaged in that period, seen as having almost no function or status other than for sex, companionship, rearing children, and domestic handicrafts). Honor and glory were what men sought. Honor tended to come in the form of goods, precious metal, slaves, concubines, and the like; in other words, mostly material things or things that could be counted or displayed or used. Sort of like today, perhaps you are saying to yourself. In our world, honor is conferred by status and very similar material things–the size of your house, the amount of money in your bank account, a trophy spouse, the car or cars you drive, a gorgeous vacation home, etc.

Glory (the Greek word kleos) is another matter. What might glory have consisted of in a world without heaven? It took the form of a reputation or fame that continued beyond death. And, since there was no written word, you and your accomplishments had to be sufficiently great to generate discussion, song, and story once you were gone. This was usually achieved by being a great hero or warrior. In war, then, one could hope to grasp both of these things: the honor that came with sacking cities and accumulating wealth, slaves, and sexual partners; and the glory of having the fearlessness, strength, and tenacity to carry out that accumulation via battle; sufficiently so that people would (sometimes literally) sing your praises after you were dead.

As I mentioned, today’s world doesn’t strike me as much different from yesterday’s on the point of achieving honor, although we are a little more discreet about our sexual conquests and have largely risen above keeping slaves. On the subject of glory, however, we seem to do everything we can to avoid death, which in the ancient Greek world was the only path to glory; a path that required both risking one’s own death on the battle field and inflicting it on others in the same place. So, whether you believe in heaven or not, it would seem that the “idea” of heaven has had some civilizing effect. There are, after all, more ways of getting to heaven in our cosmology than killing people, despite what some terrorist/martyrs might tell us.

To me what is important here, apart from the question of a civilizing effect of a particular religious concept, is the human need to conquer death as revealed in the heritage that the pre-literate Greeks have bequeathed us and, of course, in our own religious behavior. Both the ancient Greeks and most of us seem to hope that when we breathe our last, we are not finished forever. It is not a new idea, even if our solutions to the dilemma of mortality are (in part) different from those of our ancestors.

Unless, of course, you are such a brave soul that you have dispensed with the idea that you will live on in any form much beyond the time of your earthly demise: not in words or writings, not in great buildings that bear your name, not in photos or videos, not in businesses or charities or foundations that survive you, not in the students you have taught, not in your artistic creations or inventions, not in visits to your grave site, not in making the world a better place for those who succeed you; not in the biological output of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who continue your genetic line.

Clearly, it is pretty hard to give up the idea of glory, some sort of posterity–the hope for an afterlife–isn’t it?

(Footnote: this essay was prompted by rereading The Iliad and The Odyssey for the first time in many years, and by listening to the lecture series The Iliad of Homer by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver of the University of Maryland. This course and many others are offered by The Teaching Company. Professor Vandiver is a wonderful instructor and I have relied heavily on her discussion of honor and glory in the pre-literate Greek world in this essay. I can strongly recommend courses sold by The Teaching Company. I should say, however, that I am in no way affiliated with that organization or benefit from any purchases from them that you might make; I’m simply a satisfied customer).