Thursday, April 3, 2008

Double Breasted

In case you needed further evidence that neither presumably smart people nor assuredly observant secretaries are perfect, I present the following anecdote.

In May 1919, The Oriental Institute was established by the University of Chicago Board of Trustees as a constituent unit of the University (a status it retains today). Its guiding force, James Henry Breasted, assiduously cultivated all the right people, not the least of whom was one John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. After a tour of the Middle East with the Junior Rockefeller family, Breasted received a handsome grant, part of which was used to construct the original Oriental Institute building that Chuck Jones has documented so well.

Given all of Breasted's accomplishments, the Board of Trustees felt it only appropriate to name the beautiful auditorium in the new building in his honor, which they did in (I believe) 1934 or 1935. To this day, the auditorium is referred to by OI insiders as "Breasted Hall," while the building as a whole generally answers to the terms "OI" and "Institute."

However, it turns out that in early 1936, shortly after Breasted's death, those same Trustees named the entire building after Breasted. Neither they nor those who were taking notes observed the possible conflict, which only came to light when the University, in the course of a development campaign, had to set a donation level that would entitle the generous person or persons to have the building named in their honour. The issue was never resolved, but if you have $10,000,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you don't want to give it to me, you could see how this little problem might be solved!

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