THE YERKES OBSERVATORY GAME IS AFOOT
What’s going on over at the Yerkes, and why is the University of Chicago acting like it’s got loads of stuff hidden up in its moth-eaten attic that it doesn’t want the public to see or hear about? Why did the letter Charles Yerkes wrote in 1892, upon gifting the university a million dollars to build an observatory, and then stipulating that the facility was to be left to his heirs if it no longer was to be used as an observatory, not show up until now? That’s long after the university made this huge tour around Geneva Lake, putting on presentations about how it was trying to find some way to keep the place open, or at least make lake communities happy with the facility being closed and sold off to developers? Where was the university’s integrity there?
And now comes the interesting missing line of cursive text written by Charles Yerkes, but absent from the letter. Does not everyone with any kind of vital interest, including the communities around the lake, have the right to see and examine the original document? Seeing the original is of a special issue because of a very real concern that the copy of the “conditions of the gifting of the Yerkes Observatory” letter, that the heirs received, has a half line of empty space after a comma following the word “Wisconsin,” and the next letter on the following line starts with a capital letter, as though it was intended to be a new sentence. The document was obviously intended to consist of only one single paragraph, and that would certainly allow any rational person examining the letter to assume that someone blanked out that line before the letter was copied and sent out. Well, the Geneva Shore Report decided to commission an expert in such examinations. That expert has concluded that there were indeed very likely words (estimated to be six to eight) that were written onto the original stationery.
Where are those words? Why has the university very likely not provided those words? Is the famed and distinguished University of Chicago acting in bad faith?
Has the famed and distinguished University of Chicago attempted to hoodwink the local communities to assure that none of them react badly, as Williams Bay did when the university tried to sell the same facility and property to a developer named Mirabel Hummel ten years ago? Is this the same vaunted organization of highly ranked integrity and honor attempting to make a private deal with Charles Yerkes heirs so that the institution can continue to do what it apparently and allegedly tried to do ten years ago…and sell the largest chunk of waterfront view property left along the shores of Geneva Lake?
The university is not talking. The three articles the Geneva Shore Report submitted as press releases to the Chicago Tribune and to the two university campus newspapers fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. The follow-up report, upon the discovery and publishing of the “smoking gun” letter written by Charles Yerkes himself, was also ignored. It is fully expected that this front-page article will be ignored, as well.
The University of Chicago is a financial giant. The institution has assets of 15.7 billion dollars and an endowment of 7.2 billion dollars. The entire budget of Walworth County is only 208 million, give or take a few bucks. How does a tiny county in Southern Wisconsin fight back against a financial behemoth like a major university, particularly if that university decides to act unprincipled, uncaring, and then appears to provide material misrepresentations of its intentions and of history itself? To say that the property values of the grounds under and surrounding the Yerkes Observatory are valuable when considering the worth of the university is ridiculous. The university accepted a ten million dollar offer ten years ago before the deal fell apart. Ten million compared to 15.7 billion? There’s something very wrong with this whole affair.