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Odd Wisconsin Archive

John Muir's Dorm Room

"I can vividly recall the tall clock which he made," wrote Grace Lindsley in 1935, "and which was connected with his bed in such a way that when the time came for which he had set it, the mechanism was released which tipped up the bed and threw the occupant on the floor, and at the same time struck a match and lighted a candle, or perhaps it was an alcohol lamp, at the foot of the bed. He entertained us by putting us on the bed, and setting the clock so that in a minute or two we were thrown off."

In her short reminiscence, she describes John Muir in his room on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison in the early 1860s, when she was a young girl. "During our visit to John Muir's room he treated us to crackers spread with jam. On our return to our own rooms in South Dormitory, we told our mother of the crackers and jam, and she said it probably robbed him of his next meal, for he and other boys "boarded themselves," living on very simple and restricted fare, though probably supplemented from their homes."

Lindsley also remembered seeing the revolving study clock which is now on permanent exhibit in the Society headquarters first floor in Madison. "It gave him a prescribed time to study a lesson and then revolved, bringing into place the next book. My mother who had a keen sense of humor, told him the invention did not go far enough; that he ought to have so arranged it that if he hadn't properly learned the lesson, a hand would come up and box his ears."

At the beginning of her letter, she also recalls a visit he made to Madison in 1896, and his low opinion of receiving an honorary degree from an East Coast university. For more recollections of the young John Muir, see the letter by his brother David about their childhood, Muir's own explanation of why he portrayed it so harshly in his memoirs, and reminiscences by Mrs. D.H. Johnson, who knew him when he was chore boy at a hotel in Prairie du Chien between semesters in the winter of 1860-61.

A short biography, dozens of Muir's letters, and many pictures are also available.

Until April 10th, Odd Wisconsin will highlight stories from Madison's early years in order to help celebrate our capital's 150th anniversary.

:: Posted in Madison on April 8, 2006

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