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The earth under the Yerkes moves, like an earthquake, building into a tsunami.

Let’s go all the way back to when Mr. John Johnson donated the land that the Yerkes Observatory sits on. Mr. Johnson gave the property to the University of Chicago, apparently without restriction. A Mr. Lord from Evanston was also in on that gift. Along came Charles Yerkes, hugely wealthy industrialist, who then donated one million dollars to the university to build the observatory, only three days after the university was chartered. The letter accompanying that check, by the way, detailed what Mr. Yerkes wanted to have done for his million bucks, and also that, if the university ever closed the observatory, that the facility would revert back to Mr. Yerkes or to his heirs. That letter, a copy of it, is in possession of the heirs of Mr. Yerkes and is no doubt headed for the headlines, if not the counter of some large law firm and then on to the courts.

Move all this forward to the current era, to the point where, on October 1, 2018, the Yerkes was closed. What is the legal weight of this letter of intent, handwritten by Mr. Yerkes and accompanying his million-dollar check? Could a legal case be heard in Illinois, where the contribution was made, or in Wisconsin where the observatory was built? Is the sad trail of tears to the end of Yerkes going to be a one-way course through a quiet deteriorating wilderness, or is the whole project about to be dragged right out into metropolitan attention, and for many waiting, to great delight? Before the appearance of this poignant meaningful letter, there seemed to be little hope that the observatory would ever be returned to its proud, productive and peering-outward existence.

The letter, and the Yerkes survivors, coming forward after all these years gives hope to all the communities surrounding Geneva Lake, and it also lends a powerful sense of credibility and integrity to all those coming together to preserve this place of history and grand impact on the western shore of Geneva Lake. The University of Chicago has shuttered the observatory building that apparently no longer belongs to them. There may be agreements made after the letter was written, but that is unlikely, or the letter itself would have been revealed when the university worked for months to convince the Wisconsin public that it would do anything within the realm of possibility to repurpose the structure and the organization itself. The letter did not emerge and, in fact, was never mentioned by a living soul. That the university does not know about the letter is a belief, if held, that would simply be without any believable merit. The University of Chicago knows about the letter and has chosen to bury it somewhere deep inside its archives. The original of that letter is somewhere in the university’s possession, but it will be amazing indeed if the university ever coughs it up.

The vital paragraph of that letter is displayed below for all to consider and ponder about. If Mr. Yerkes intended that the observatory to be kept open or revert back to his estate and his heirs, then who is to say that his desires should not now be met? One can presume the University of Chicago did not appear to make the closure announcements over and over again through the last six months unless it intended to actually do that. It did that. It also, by doing that, met the exact criteria spelled out by Mr. Yerkes in his original bequest.

It’s time for the heirs to step in and take over. As was intended.

Charles Yerkes’ Letter

Charle Yerkes Letter


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