‘A great success’: University opens doors for 150th Birthday Party

Although he wasn’t wearing a double-breasted suit and tending to the day-to-day operations of a major research university, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton looked right at home in the auditorium of the Arts & Sciences Laboratory Science Building.

Make that “Magic Mark” looked right at home. Perhaps that’s because Wrighton has spent many years in a chemistry lab.

On Sept. 14, Wrighton put on a display of chemistry magic for people young and old attending Washington University’s 150th Birthday Party.

Wrighton — in a white lab coat with “Magic Mark” stitched on the back — immediately put the overflow crowd at ease by saying, “I hope some of you in the front row will help me today. I won’t make you disappear — for too long!”

A huge crowd enjoys the antics of the White Rabbit (Tarah Demant, a graduate student in English in Arts & Sciences) during The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the 150th Birthday Party Sept. 14.
A huge crowd enjoys the antics of the White Rabbit (Tarah Demant, a graduate student in English in Arts & Sciences) during The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the 150th Birthday Party Sept. 14. An estimated 15,000-20,000 people attended more than 200 activities – all free and open to the public – on the Hilltop and Medical campuses

He then spent about 30 minutes giving demonstrations of basic chemical reactions, using vinegar and baking soda, and those more complex, using dry ice and liquid nitrogen.

At one point, Wrighton mentioned he was thirsty, needed a break and filled a Styrofoam cup with liquid nitrogen. After raising it to his lips and pretending to drink, he blew out some “smoke” a few times, until a youngster in the front row blurted out, “Blow it out your nose!”

After the laughter subsided, Wrighton went on with his demonstrations, including fabricating nails out of a rubber hose solidified in liquid nitrogen; using dry ice to make colored solutions bubble, fizz and transform colors; and concluding the demonstration by creating a makeshift volcano in a darkened room.

Wrighton’s wizardry was one of many highlights of the day.

Popular morning activities included “Physics With A Bang,” given by Thomas Bernatowicz, Ph.D., professor of physics in Arts & Sciences; readings by short-fiction writer Marshall Klimasewiski and University graduate students; ice cream made with liquid nitrogen; and a basketball clinic.

About 15,000-20,000 people visited the University for the day’s activities, which included free food and a special flavor of Ted Drewes concrete concocted specifically for the Sesquicentennial. Called “Ses-quete,” the ingredients were cherries — in honor of the University’s namesake, George Washington — and chocolate chips.

Drewes, a 1951 Arts & Sciences alumnus, donated 10,000 concretes for the party.

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra — a relative youngster at 124 years — capped the day with a free concert in Brookings Quadrangle.

“The birthday party was a great success and a fitting way to kick off our Sesquicentennial year,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “When we began planning two years ago, we knew we wanted to be able to draw the community into our celebrations, and the birthday party and symphony performance were wonderful ways of doing that.

“We have made an effort to reaffirm our partnership with the community and hope that the open house is a beginning to additional participation in University programs and events. All of the credit for the day goes to the many, many individuals who volunteered their time and talent to create and execute so many different opportunities, and special recognition goes to Dean Robert Wiltenburg for his great management and leadership skills.”

Goldilocks went on trial, and despite the best efforts of attorney Porridge “Porry” Mason, she was found guilty of breaking Babe E. Bear’s chair, much to the pleasure of prosecuting attorney F. Lee Bearly. The point of the Goldilocks trial was twofold. First, it was to entertain. And second, it was to teach youngsters a bit about the judicial system.

But high drama and chemical reactions proved to be just the tip of the iceberg. Attendees were treated to performances by The Visions Gospel Choir, The Pikers, Mosaic Whispers, Taiko Drummers, Ashoka (the Indian student organization) and Chinese folk dancers.

For those interested in something a little more low-key, discussions and interactive displays included images of Chaucer, Dutch art through the years and Jane Austen. Poetry was read in, and translated from, 10 different languages.

View more images from the birthday party:
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Contemporary issues included a talk about Securities and Exchange Commission reform and the Enron scandal, by School of Law Dean Joel Seligman, J.D.; new approaches to business strategy by Glenn MacDonald, Ph.D., the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics & Strategy in the Olin School of Business; and a talk about the groundbreaking research done at the University’s Genome Sequencing Center, given by Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., center director and associate professor of genetics and of molecular microbiology.

In short, there was something for everyone.

“I think the birthday celebration was a tremendous success,” said Robert L. Virgil, Ph.D., Sesquicentennial Commission chair, University trustee, former Olin School of Business dean and former executive vice chancellor for University relations. “It was a great outpouring from the community and a real family event. My impression was that we had a lot of people who hadn’t been on the campus before, and they enjoyed themselves and had a great time. It was a great success for Washington University in terms of strengthening our ties with the community.

“My thanks go out to the countless people who put a lot of time and effort into making this a success. It was a real team effort from those on the Medical, Hilltop and West campuses who poured themselves into the party to make it a success. This just underscores the great people here and their dedication to Washington University.”

For the symphony performance, a capacity crowd of students, families and assorted well-wishers, with well-stocked picnic baskets, relaxed on blankets or on folding chairs. The late summer sky offered a stunning natural light show of golds, pinks, reds and purples.

Conductor David Amado wittily connected each work on the program to the day’s festivities. Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 in C Major, nicknamed “The Bear,” was “written for Washington University before there was a Washington University,” while Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown was dedicated to Arthur Holly Compton, the chancellor who was known to occasionally pick up a banjo or mandolin.

A pair of recent music alumni — soprano Karen Hetzler and tenor Klaus Georg — joined the symphony for the final two pieces. Hetzler sang America the Beautiful, and Georg offered a stirring rendition of the Alma Mater, as arranged by Hugh Macdonald, Ph.D., the Avis Blewett Professor of Music.