Thursday, November 27, 2014


C. H. Thordarson - an early
portrait (perhaps in his thirties).

Washington Island, Wisconsin -


This blog may be the first of three (we'll see how the time goes) regarding acquaintances of C. H. Thordarson.  I've given several presentations in the past year about Thordarson, and a part of my pitch is that despite the men of greater familiarity, and we might even say, notoriety, who associated with Thordarson, there were also many figures of the day who were equally important, and perhaps more significant in their lifetime achievements than, say, Chicago's Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, or Sport Herrmann who at one period or another were acquaintances of Thordarson.

Of course, life is not a contest to see who is greatest, or who's name carries the most impressive legacy today.  Each man must be judged on his own merits.

But as an example, if the politician and glad-hander Thompson could have even suggested burning library books that were British in origin, as he professed in 1927 - even though it may have been only a statement to obtain publicity - how could such behavior we might consider almost barbaric and boorish have sat with bibliophile Thordarson?  How could Thordarson have been attracted to Thompson in the first place to such a degree that he offered to build a cabin for him on his otherwise very private Rock Island, a promise that came apparently after just one weekend's visit  - at no cost to Thompson, his to use for life, for Big Bill and his friends to enjoy as they wished?   Could that have been the same Thordarson, the private, thoughtful man who guarded his estate carefully from trespassers, and who when in company of others still kept a notebook handy to record his stream of private, creative thoughts?

The basis for Thordarson's friendships seemed to stem from the ideas and information others could supply him.  Social companionship, friends just for fun, didn't seem all that important to a man engaged in too many other activities to divide his time.   For that reason, perhaps, a genuine admiration for Thordarson's accomplishments, including his scientific prowess with electricity and his widely admired collection of books, and appreciation for his unique Rock Island estate, a subtle massaging of his ego,  may have succeeded in such friendships.

Well, there were many other figures besides Thompson, Herrmann and McDonald - that tight group of Chicago friends - who also drew near to Thordarson through socializing or by correspondence.  These men were often people representing academia, professors or experts in their fields who could relate to Thordarson and his natural and earned gifts on several levels.

I'd like to outline three such men.  During the time I researched and wrote about Thordarson, the names of these individuals didn't stand out.  In fact, I was quite unaware of their range of accomplishments until I did a bit more digging.  But I came away thinking that these men would have been a closer fit as friends and acquaintances of Thordarson's.   But that's bias on my part, thinking this is how it should have been, and it is not supported one way or another by the record of Thordarson letters and documents.

*    *   *   *

John Paul Goode

J. Paul Goode was born in Stewartville, Minnesota, in 1862.  (CHT was born in 1867 in Iceland.)  He was well educated, teaching for a time in Minnesota after his initial degree before receiving his doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1903.  He later moved to Chicago where he joined the University of Chicago faculty.  He was a geographer and cartographer, but he combined those interests with his expertise in economics to, among other things, make the pages of an atlas come alive with facts and information.

Many readers may recall using the Goode Atlas in school, first published by Rand McNally in 1923 as Goode's School Atlas, and still published today as Goode's World Atlas, now in its 22nd edition.  Pages and maps are jammed with useful information about demographics: population, production, weather, crops, religion, etc.

Goode disliked the Mercator projection so much that he was encouraged to devise a combination of the holographic and sinusoidal projections, calling it "Homolosine."  (Do you recall using those "orange peel" Mercator maps in grade school, where Greenland was twice as large in scale as North America?)

You will see Goode's Homolosine maps used on many - but not all - pages of the Goode World Atlas.  I learned there are actually several versions of the Goode Atlas now available:  the Goode World Atlas; the Goode Atlas of Physical Geography; and the Goode Atlas of Human Geography.

We find Goode's name on the report to the Chicago Harbor Commission, published in 1909.  A number of noteworthy suggestions were made by this committee that cited, above all, the need for and the elements required for a good harbor.  Chicago's prime location as a commercial, industrial center with both rail and water connections was noted, along with the need for good bridges and piers.  One of the Harbor Commission's recommendations: "The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is intended to form a link in the Lakes-to-Gulf Waterway.  When that waterway is completed the question of a satisfactory outlet to Lake Michigan will become important."

The Commission's report also recommended "securing to the people both a necessity and a wisdom."   Up to this point, the waterfront was controlled and used, primarily, by industry and the railroads.  Perhaps it was this committee suggestion that was responsible for turning around the Chicago lakefront as public space with parks and pavilions.

Goode had a highly esteemed and respected career as teacher, author and lecturer.

During the early 1930's, he was involved in an organization called the Gathmys Research corporation, based in Chicago, of which Thordarson was named a director.  Other directors were Chicago industry giants of the day, or fellow academics of Goode's with special areas of expertise.  According to a paper authored by Samuel L. Madorsky (published in the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry journal, January 1931), it was J. Paul Goode who, while traveling through Norway,  "conceived of the idea of utilizing the water-power resources of Norway to produce electrolytic hydrogen and then to apply this hydrogen in the reduction of Swedish ores which are not far from the water-power sources."  Upon his return to the U. S., Goode then organized the Gathmys Research Corporation, and the author, Madorsky, was employed to research the feasibility of producing " one step a good grade of iron from ordinary iron ore, using hydrogen and other gases as reducing agents."  (Several related exchanges in correspondence originating from the Gathmys Research group were reprinted in Thordarson and Rock Island.)

The sole early example of correspondence between Thordarson and Goode reflected a highly social quality to their relationship, something not often found among Thordarson's other correspondents.   It appears that at least for awhile that both of the Thordarson's, C. H. and his wife, Juliana, were close friends with the Goodes.

The earliest records of guests on Rock Island is the letter written by Goode who effusively thanked his host for a wonderful time.   Though accommodations may have been quite primitive, given the fact Thordarson may have just gotten started with his renovation of early pioneer structures along the east side of the island, Goode was clearly impressed.  He extends an invitation to Thordarson to visit him while his wife is away in Minnesota.

In a box of old Thordarson photos were B & W snapshots of the Goode cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, large sand dunes surrounding it, and the caption of one identifies Mrs. Goode sitting in what appears to be a screened porch.  We can't know who took the photo, but the photo and caption further indicate friendship between the Goodes and Thordarsons, an apparent familiarity implied with the exchange of cottage photos. We might even surmise the Thordarsons were their cottage guests.

Caption on reverse says:  "Mrs. Goode in the 'Den'
at Crowesnest - 1919"
Caption on reverse says:
"Bungalow of Mr. and Mrs.
J. P. Goode at Little Point Sable,
Mich.  1919

Following is the letter written from Goode to Thordarson (also reprinted in my book, Thordarson and Rock Island, 2013):

The University of Chicago, Dept. of Geography                 August 24, 1914
J. Paul Goode
Economic Geography, Cartography

My dear Mr. Thordarson,

I saw Dr. Caldwell Saturday and he told me you had gone again to the "Enchanted Island".  So I am addressing you there, and giving myself the pleasure of enclosing some of the photos I won in my glorious vacation there.  Some of them are not so good as they should be, and there are not nearly so many of them as I wish there were.  But was ever there a vacation without a flaw?  Hereafter I'll have a vest pocket Kodak so I can take snaps on such a rare ride as we made across the strait that Sunday eve!

I remember with the greatest pleasure every nook and corner of that glorious Island and the generous hospitality of the "Laird of O'Pottowatomie" and his fair Layde.   -  Even the riotous night of storm and stress with the ghost in the haunted house.  When we are all back from vacation I want to have a reunion of the three families.  I recall many pleasures of the Enchanted Isle.

My wife and boy have gone to Crookston, Minn - Mrs. Goode's old home - for their vacation - and I'm all alone in the house.  When you get back you must call me up.

Best regards to you all   J. P. Goode

There are only a very few pieces of correspondence between the two men existing, and so we have no idea of how close they remained through the years.  These two men, apparently well suited to one another, each became extremely busy in their own lives and careers.

Part II will feature noted Door County and nationally known historian, Hjalmar R. Holand.

 - Dick Purinton

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