Well, anyway, some time after I graduated, I was living in an apartment in Hyde Park with some other former Shimerians and friends and working as a mailroom clerk at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago. I was still in touch with friends who remained on the Mount Carroll campus and would frequently go out to visit on weekends. We knew right away when the first closing was announced. We knew right away when the announcement was rejected and wondered what we could do to help.
I thought maybe I could find something in the archived papers of William Rainey Harper relating to the Frances Shimer Academy that might be useful, so I looked. What was most useful was actually a volume from the main stacks at the Regenstein which was evidently issued in connection with the memorial service at the time of Frances Shimer's death. How I used it (or should I say: "How it used me"?) was to write a song about the struggles of Frances Ann Wood and her partner Cinderella Gregory to establish and maintain the Mount Carroll Seminary from the point of view of one of the locals. The song has never really been finished- I got about as far as the Civil War and then the words stopped flowing.
I played as much as I got, though, out in Mount Carroll at Frances Shimer's final resting place, at alumni gatherings, at Orange Horses at the old campus, in Waukegan, and now in the Cinderella lounge in the new IIT digs. I'm told that David Shiner has kept the song alive even in my absence, which I guess makes it a genuine folk song or something. I can't wait to hear what Lance Dyke does with it on the ukulele. After my performance at the Orange Horse on the new campus I was told by some stranger who had evidently participated in the recent move from Waukegan that I had no idea how much that song has meant to the community during this last transition.
Maybe, but the song and the chord it seems to strike in the hearts of many Shimer people point to my first point: THE CORE OF THE SHIMER EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE GREAT BOOKS, NOT THE DIALOGIC PEDAGOGY NOR THE COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM; THE CORE IS A COMMUNAL LOVE OF LEARNING. I emphasize the "a". There are many other communal loves of learning but Shimer's is that shared by individuals gathered into a specific community streatching back to Frances Ann Wood and Cinderella Gregory.
There is more to be elaborated on this point but it has gotten late and I am still a working stiff, so later. Right now I want to make sure I get my second point out, which is: I have often been told that I should record that song (and other fine tunes inspired by my studies at Shimer.) OK, well I'm willing and if we find someone who can record them for commercial distribution I'm quite willing to sign my cut over to the College. If the songs are as successful as they might be, perhaps some more of our fair share of prospective students would hear about us. Trouble is I'm never going to make the arrangements, myself, so somebody else would have to push the project through to completion. I'll try at least to get the songs online somehow so anybody out there who cares and knows how can make their own judgment about the merits of the proposal.
Some other quick points without support or argument.
Start an online Shimer Historical Society to archive and share documentation of the history
of Shimer and its curriculum. Include reminiscences from alums (and old journal entries)
Buy an island 0n Second Life, scale model all three campuses and conduct virtual classes.
Get some sleep.
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