Professors and Prairie Dogs
A few words about
B. Elizabeth (Betty) Horner, Marshall Schalk and about PD James
the Prairie Dog. Given by artist Dorcas Eason MacClintock
’54, creator of the Prairie Dog sculpture, at the
dedication of the sculpture on May 6.
It was 1950 when I came
to Smith College at the urging of a class of ’49
graduate with whom I worked at the AMNH, I
had not really thought about college…or if
I had, considered being at the AMNH more interesting. But
Smith women are persistent and I agreed to visit the college
with my friend, if only to see what her enthusiasm was all
That Saturday was to influence
the rest of my life. There,
on the south steps of Burton Hall, stood a tall, thin, lab-coated
assistant professor of zoology who was clearly delighted
to see her former student. Thus I was introduced to Miss
[Elizabeth] Horner, the very person we honor this afternoon.
That fall, as a freshman, I
joined Miss Horner on field study of small mammals at Arcadia
Sanctuary, a project I soon found more interesting and fun
than History II and other required courses. My freshman grade
average plummeted. But this project sparked my interest in
writing, as it led to publication of a
series of short articles illustrated with line drawings that
appeared in Mass Audubon’s magazine.
That same year I was to
gain a notoriety that spread beyond the Smith campus—as the freshman who locked a professor
in a room. The mice, chipmunks, and shrews we live trapped
at Arcadia were brought back to Burton basement to be marked
by ear notching before being returned for release. For this
procedure we used a very small “animal behavior” room,
a sound-proof inner sanctum entered through two larger storage
rooms where chemicals and Bacteriology’s glassware
were stored—each with a locked door. As we wrestled
one morning with traps, Betty kept exhorting, “ hurry,
you will be late to your class…” I set off for
Seelye at a run, keys in my pocket, both doors locking behind
I never found out what
went through Miss Horner’s
mind that morning she missed her lecture. But her predicament
was discovered in time by a colleague in search of a petri
Sophomore year was Miss
Horner’s Zoology 22 Comparative
Anatomy, a legendary full-year course with lectures and three-hour
labs devoted to dissecting vertebrates from shark to fetal
There were field trips
in her blue Plymouth—to Whately
Glen for salamanders, to Dummerston Corners, Vt., for a grange
supper of bear, raccoon, and venison, and nightly coffee
sessions at the diner in Florence.
Such was the influence
of Miss Horner’s teaching that
she and I have remained in close touch all these years, although
I am well aware of being just one of many students
to claim her as mentor. The roster includes advisees who
majored in English, history, and art, and students she came
to know as faculty resident at 11 Henshaw, among them a head
of student government.
Above Miss Horner’s
desk in Burton Hall hung a small painted tile, a treasure
acquired during a summer abroad, It read:
la musica e la stasa
Not really so, Professors do come and go but the
music does not in fact stay the same. And
one who knew this well was Marshall Schalk, for whom this
room is named. I took enough courses in geology that I was “used” by
that department as a runner. Geologists then spurned continental
drift, the theory to them was anathema. But down slope at
Burton Hall, where Miss Bache-Wiig in Botany (the department
on the north side of Burton Hall’s big staircase) gave
a course in Plant Geography, and Mr. Driver taught his course
in Zoological Concepts, faculty found abundant evidence to
support Wegener’s concept.
Geology II was a year
course—Physical Geology (Mr.
Collins, first semester) dovetailed with Historical Geology
(Mr. Schalk, second semester). Knowing that after class or
lab I was usually headed back to Burton Hall, Bob Collins
or Marshall Schalk would call after me, “tell those
people in biology there’s no such thing as continental
drift!” So much for plate tectonics, now widely accepted
Marshall Schalk, gentle
soul that he was, bore an intense disliking for the college
Registrar. In the Green Room of Seelye basement he perpetrated
Lydia Gluck—an imaginary
student for whom he created course schedule, provided records,
and sent in grades, which one or another of his students
carried over to College Hall. Lydia Gluck got by the Registrar
for an entire year, much to Marshall Schalk’s delight.
After his year at Point Barrow, Marshall came to visit us
in Berkeley Calif., complete with that immense beard he had
grown and was so reluctant to shed after returning to Northampton.
PD James, the model for the bronze Prairie Dog,
came into my life after being captured by an animal control
officer who had no idea what he had. My interest in squirrels
encompasses their family, so I was easily induced to take
this small rodent in, at least temporarily. Within a few
days he captured our hearts. Although a male, he was named
for the writer PD James (who is of course a woman).
PD had the run of our
house, interacting with two cats, a collie and a Newfoundland.
His “burrow” was
in my upstairs workroom—there he had his snug den,
his hay, and other food. His coterie, which in nature would
include a prairie dog’s kin, was the entire upstairs,
which he would aggressively defend from intruders—anyone
other than his immediate family, us—in true prairie
dog manner. Downstairs PD challenged any who visited. Standing
tall, forepaws raised and head thrown back and yip-barking.
That sounded the alert. If the intruder approached his warning
chuckles were ominous.
PD was a much loved part of our menagerie for eight of his
at least 10 years, and he is missed to this day.