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COVER STORY

The Prisoner and the Professor

This is a story of human redemption, spanning a six-year period in the lives of two remarkable men. One was a mild-mannered Stanford mathematics professor of national prominence. The other was a hardened, self-educated convict serving out his time at the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Their relationship began with a flurry of letters in the late autumn of 1950.

Courtesy of Rosamond Bacon

THE PROFESSOR: Bacon lived quietly with his wife, Rosamond and young son Charles, in his stately Victorian home near the center of campus.

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Compiled by Charles Jellison


November 6, 1950

To: Professor Harold M. Bacon

Department of Mathematics,
Stanford University

For some time I have been carrying on a correspondence with a man in Alcatraz who is studying calculus. I cannot be sure what the man's qualifications are, and it would be highly desirable for somebody to see him and straighten out his situation. I wrote to the warden and received a reply stating this would be permitted.

I am writing this letter in the hope that you would be willing to go there and see the prisoner.

Yours cordially, Lester R. Ford

Dept. of Mathematics, Illinois Institute of Technology

November 9, 1950

Dear Professor Ford:

I have your letter of November 6th concerning the student of calculus who is now in Alcatraz Prison. I should like to be of service to you in this matter, and I shall be glad to go to the prison if it can be arranged.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon

December 4, 1950

Dear Professor Bacon:

This is to advise you we would be very happy, indeed, to make arrangements for you to visit Alcatraz and interview Rudolph Brandt, Reg. No. 369-AZ, regarding his mathematical studies. We have a boat leaving Dock No. 4, end of Van Ness Avenue at 12:55 p.m., however it will be necessary for you to make a definite appointment as to the exact day.

Sincerely, E. B. Swope, Warden

United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, California

December 6, 1950

Dear Mr. Swope:

I shall plan to visit Alcatraz on Friday, December 15, in order to confer with Rudolph Brandt, Reg. No. 369-AZ, about his mathematical studies. I shall present myself at Dock No. 4, end of Van Ness Avenue, in time to board the launch that leaves at 12:55 on that day.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


And on that blustery, overcast afternoon in mid-December, Professor Harold Bacon found himself on a prison launch being tossed about on the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay as he traveled out to the notorious "Rock." Alcatraz opened as a U.S. penitentiary in 1934 to house America's most violent criminals. By the time it closed in 1963, more than 1,500 inmates had been imprisoned within its walls, including such notorious felons as Al Capone and "Machine Gun" Kelly. It was a most unlikely destination for a genteel Stanford mathematics professor.

 

Bacon, age 43, was a gentleman of the old school. He was devout but unobtrusively religious and deeply committed to the ideals of scholarship and teaching. He had led a sheltered life at Stanford, first as an undergraduate and graduate student, then as a professor in the mathematics department, where he was a favorite with students and colleagues.

He lived quietly and comfortably with his wife, Rosamond, and young son, Charles, in his stately Victorian home on Mayfield Avenue near the center of the campus. (Rosamond Bacon still resides there.) He delighted in caring for the multicolored profusion of roses that bordered his circular driveway, and in playing "the old songs" on his antique pump organ in the front hall. Come bedtime, he and his wife would read aloud to one another from Dickens or Thackeray. He seldom left the house in anything less than a three-piece suit and necktie, and even on the hottest days was never seen in his shirt sleeves.

In short, his was a well-ordered universe in which it was a given that people would play by the rules. He was well aware that there were those in the world who did not, but he had never known any of them personally.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. on that damp, wintry day he stepped off the prison launch and passed through the visitors' gate into the steel and concrete bowels of Alcatraz--America's Devil's Island.


December 16, 1950

Dear Professor Ford:

I made the trip to Alcatraz yesterday and interviewed Rudolph Brandt. On my way over, I fell into conversation with two of the prison's chaplains who were acquainted with Brandt and told me something of his background. I also was told a little about him by the Warden and, after I had visited with him for over an hour and a half, by one of the guards. Here is what I pieced together about him.

He is 57 years old, although he appeared about 65 to me, is of German descent and speaks with a noticeable accent. He was a tool and die maker by trade. He seems to have been at the prison for several years, is very nervous, has an "uncontrollable temper" (this from the guards), is "touchy, sensitive, argumentative and intense of feeling" (this from the chaplains). There is no opportunity for formal schooling at the prison, but he has been taking a correspondence course in differential calculus from the University of California, and he showed me the certificate he just got, indicating he made a grade of B in the course.

He was in solitary confinement for some time (I could not make out for how long, but for a period of one to three years, I believe). While he was in solitary confinement, he was under close psychiatric observation. I got the impression from him that he suffered from severe nervous depression and that his thinking about algebra, trigonometry, etc., finally enabled him to overcome this.

While in what he called "the dungeon" he worked out the solution of four simultaneous linear equations. He had absolutely nothing to write with, but he tore pieces of tissue paper into forms of letters and numbers and laid out his equations with these. I understood him to say that he had almost no formal schooling. He seems to have been almost entirely self-taught.

He spent over an hour telling me about some computational methods he had worked out and he is eternally grateful to you for what you have done for him. It means everything that you have addressed him like a man rather than a convict. He spoke feelingly (and there was a world of genuine pathos in this poor fellow) of his struggles to conquer the mathematical questions he had tackled. He now feels that he is winning his fight to learn. In this he sees his chance to get clear of the Underworld (his own words). Of course realistically I can see only the hope of his satisfying his craving for learning in this way. I have the impression he is in for a long sentence.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


On the day following his visit, Bacon sent the prisoner a lengthy letter in which he explained in detail several of the problems left unresolved during their meeting. He also included a book of mathematical tables to help the prisoner in his studies. "You should be pleased that you are making such good progress. I want to compliment you on your industry and progress to date."


December 26, 1950

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I received your letter and its solution of the wineglass problem. I am familiar with the formula for the volume of a spherical segment of one base but I'm not sure that I could have derived step by step the formula from it, as you did, for solving this problem. As you know, in order to derive the equation of a hard-to-understand problem as this, one must know both "how" and "why." When I hit upon the method of multiplication (using the square of half the sum of the two numbers minus the square of half their difference) in 1948, I thought that I had a practical new method for multiplying numbers and believed I would be able to design a calculating machine on the principle of the abacus. I still think that I may be able to design this machine, provided that I am allowed to use this method. I am a tool and die maker by trade and have considerable knowledge of tool and die designing.

My New Year wish for you is that your book which you are writing will be a success and that you enjoy good health.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt, No. 369

Alcatraz, California


Over the next12 months, Bacon visited Brandt on four occasions and exchanged frequent letters with him. The main business at hand was always to help the prisoner further his mathematical studies, but Bacon seldom failed to include in his visits and correspondence a note of praise and, perhaps most important of all, words of understanding and sympathy during the prisoner's "down period," when he was given to despair over what he called "my wasted life."


March 16, 1951

Dear Professor Ford:

I made my second visit to Rudolph Brandt yesterday. He had expected my visit, so he had three problems written out for me to help him with, but he started talking about other subjects, so I brought the problems away with me and have mailed him the solutions. He told me a lot about his history and views on life. He was convicted of participation in a bank robbery and his sentence seems to have been from 15 to 30 years. One of the prison officials told me that prisoners are usually transferred to Alcatraz because they are regarded as past rehabilitation; most of them are men who have been in disciplinary trouble at other prisons.

I shall try to go over again. Brandt seems to appreciate very much the opportunity of talking with someone from the outside. He has no other visitors.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon



THE PRISONER: Rudolph "Dutch" Brandt was serving 25 years for the robbery of $65,000 from a branch of the Detroit Bank in 1936.

"DUTCH" BRANDT, as he was known in the Detroit newspapers, had been sentenced to 25 years for his participation in the robbery of $65,000 from a branch of the Detroit Bank in 1936. But that had not been Brandt's first brush with the law. In 1924, he had murdered a gambler during the highjacking of a poker game and was sentenced to serve 15 to 30 years at the state prison in Jackson, Mich. Brandt was released in August 1935 and soon afterward became a member of the gang that carried out the Detroit Bank robbery. According to the Detroit News of May 26, 1936, the gang also intended to carry out other robberies and had "planned to enlist new members from among veteran bank robbers and burglars now serving sentences in penitentiaries, following the recruiting methods of the old Dillinger and Karpis and Pretty Boy Floyd mobs." After his conviction, Brandt served only five months in Leavenworth, Kan., before he was transferred to Alcatraz, presumably for disciplinary problems. In the Alcatraz "Warden's Notebook," Brandt is quoted as saying that "he would not walk across the floor to be a model convict but would rather tell any man to his face exactly what he thinks." But if Brandt did not care about being a model prisoner, he seemed determined to become a model student.


April 18, 1951

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I got your letter of April 5th and the solution to the problems. I shall study them just as soon as I am able to. Next May 30 it will be five years since I started to study mathematics and I want to learn as much integral calculus as I can for my fifth anniversary. If your time allows, would you please give me the solution of problem 18, page 235?

Yours sincerely, Rudolph Brandt, No. 369

July 9, 1951

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I received your welcome letter of June 24, and the solution of the problems (June 20). The way you solved those problems was easy for me to understand. I knew at all times why you did every step. You stated in your letter that you were hoping to find an opportunity to come again to see me. Well, Mr. Bacon, I shall be glad if you can find an opportunity to come over again. I know that you are a busy man and I have no right to impose upon your valuable time.

I am sorry that I must ask you again for your help. I have a hard time with my integral calculus. If your time allows it, would you please give me the solutions of the following three problems?

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt, No. 369

P.S. Please excuse my English. I do not know grammar.

July 12, 1951

Dear Mr. Brandt:

Your letter of July 9th has arrived, and I am enclosing the solutions for the problems you asked about. I am glad that you could understand the solutions of the problems I sent you on June 24th.

I am hoping to arrange to come see you next week on Wednesday (July 18th). I am always glad to come see you, for it is pleasant to work on mathematics with someone whose interest is as genuine as yours. Do not feel that coming to see you is in any way a waste of my time regardless of what use the mathematics may be to you when you get out of the penitentiary. The greatest value to be found in your study of mathematics is, it seems to me, the satisfaction you get from the subject itself with the accompanying sense of achievement and of winning a victory against heavy odds.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


Bacon made his third visit to Brandt on July 18, 1951, and his fourth a few months later, just before Christmas. In between, the two men kept up a steady correspondence. "Brandt has been making considerable progress in his study of calculus," Bacon reported to his colleague, Ford, in Illinois. "I have taken a liking to the man and he seems absolutely sincere to me. I can certainly attest to the fact that he has worked up a very respectable knowledge of some elementary mathematics."

During his December visit, Bacon presented Brandt with a handbook on methods for solving mathematical problems. "The little book is written by our Professor Polya," Bacon wrote later. "He is a world-famous mathematician and an unusually fine teacher. I think you will be interested in his method of approaching problems. Professor Polya autographed the copy for you. Please accept it as a Christmas present from me."

Brandt was deeply touched. "I still do not understand why I rated this," he wrote back.

A few months later, in mid-March, Bacon again wrote to the prison for permission to visit, but Warden Swope informed him that Brandt had been transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Milan, Mich.

Milan was a far cry from Alcatraz. During his year there, Brandt was able to work in the prison shop as a tool and die maker and to attend night classes. "Categorically speaking, this institution is probably as good as they could make it under the circumstances," Brandt wrote in his continuing correspondence with Bacon. "I am working every day and studying evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. I still have the Christmas card that you sent me in 1950, with the view of the Stanford Memorial Church and your office nearby."

"I'm glad that you have enjoyed the card with the picture of the Memorial Church," Bacon wrote back. "Perhaps I can show you the building some time."


January 11, 1953

Dear Mr. Bacon:

Thank you for your letter and the Christmas card of December 23, and I hope that the new year of 1953 will bring you "Happiness" as it has to me. On January 8, 1953, I got a letter from the State Supervisors of Paroles of the State of Michigan telling me that I have been reinstated on my Michigan parole for a three year period, effective the date of my release from Milan, Michigan. I will be released from Milan on or about February 10, 1953.

Well, Dear Professor, the State of Michigan gave me the necessary opportunity so that I may start a new life and prove to them that there was something in me that was worth saving--therefore I shall prove to them, and you, and Professor Ford, and all the other people who thought that, if I would be given another chance, that I would make good.

I still have a deportation warrant against me but I do not know all the facts so I shall cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt, No. 3144 Milan, Michigan


Bacon was delighted with the news and wrote to Brandt from his sick bed where he was recovering from a bout of flu.


January 31, 1953

Dear Mr. Brandt:

How genuinely pleased I am to learn that you are to be released.

You are soon to have your chance for which you have so earnestly prepared. I hope that an opportunity will be found for the application of the mathematics which you have been studying with such admirable zeal. In any case, whatever work you may be doing, you have been laying a scientific foundation for an ever-widening circle of knowledge. Always hold fast to your determination to honor mathematics; it is the handmaiden and the queen of the sciences!

I shall hope to hear of your plans when you know what your work is to be. With every good wish.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon

February 16, 1953

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I was released from Milan, Michigan February 10, 1953 and I am now in the Wayne County Jail, Detroit, Michigan. I do not know how long the immigration people will hold me here. Dear Professor, I do not like to do this, but if it is not asking too much, would you write a letter to Mr. J.W. Butterworth, director of Immigration and Naturalization Service, 3770 East Jefferson, Detroit, Michigan and ask him if he could give me a hearing. I have a good job as a tool and die maker waiting for me when I am released. The supervisor of paroles at Milan, Michigan, told me that the job is a good paying job and that I do not need to buy any tools--they will let me have tools.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt, Wayne County Jail


Bacon did as Brandt requested and wrote to Butterworth, the director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Detroit.


February 21, 1953

Dear Mr. Butterworth:

I have just received a letter from a prisoner in the Wayne County Jail, Rudolph Brandt, and I am writing in response to his request that I write to you in the interest of his being granted a hearing.

My only knowledge of Brandt is derived from four visits to him at Alcatraz to discuss mathematics, and from occasional correspondence with him. I must say, however, that I was favorably impressed by his intelligence, his earnestness, his immense will to achieve a knowledge of mathematics so that he might improve his chances of getting honorable employment, and with what he said about trying to make good. I got this impression mainly from spontaneous comments. There was a ring of genuine truth in these--no hypocritical protestation of reform, but straightforward, manly statements of views.

I am completely inexperienced in dealing with problems of rehabilitation, but in my opinion this man has the will and drive to succeed in an honorable occupation. I am sure that anything that can be done to expedite arrangements for a hearing for him will be well worthwhile.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon

February 28, 1953

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I was released by the immigration authorities on February 25, 1953 on the day that they received your letter.

They let me read your letter. I read only about 75 percent of it, for it touched me very deeply when you wrote that my conduct was not hypocritical--thank God for this, I have no words in my vocabulary that would express my gratitude to you for having that kind of faith in me.

So I just want to thank you for the present, I cannot say more right now, for emotionally it is very hard for me to control when people give me that kind interpretation.

I have a job as a tool and die maker, I get $2.54 an hour working from 6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. I think that I am going to work five nights a week. I will start to work next Monday, March 2, 1953.

Yours sincerely, Rudolph Brandt


Brandt's first several months as a free man went well for him. In late March, he wrote to Bacon that "as far as I can judge, I won my fight, I will have only the common everyday troubles that everybody else around me has in life.

"I am working six nights--58 hours-a week and get paid for 69 hours. I make $170.85 a week. From this they deduct $34.96 in tax, so I have left $135.89. So far I have to spend a lot for tools, tool box, eye-glasses, a trunk, shoes and so on. I could put only $125 in the bank this month."

Meanwhile, Brandt had begun a course in Productive Engineering at a local Detroit vocational school. "I sure hope that this school is all right, if it is, I will go there for some time."

A month later, Brandt reported that he was thinking of taking a second course, this one in tool designing. "When do you find time to sleep?" Bacon wrote back.

During the summer and autumn of 1953, Brandt continued to prosper and to inform Bacon regularly of his successes in the workplace and the classroom. He reported that he had been given a promotion and a raise, and in mid-July wrote, "I make $147.68 a week now, but there have been many lay-offs all over Detroit. The company that I work for laid off 50 men. Production is at a curtailed level."

Brandt lived alone and apparently without friends or social life in a Detroit boardinghouse, working nights and studying days, sometimes with frustrating results. "I get so disgusted at not having the necessary education that life sometimes means nothing to me. If I would have been born in this country or in Germany instead of Russia under the Czar, I would not be uneducated as I am today." But whatever distress he felt about his past, he was proud of what he had done since his release. "I have saved $2,450 since I came out last February 25th. I am buying Government bonds."


November 30, 1953

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I am well established now and, if you let me know how much I owe you for the four trips you made to Alcatraz and for the time you spent solving my calculus problems, I would be glad to pay you. You probably do not realize how much that helped me to get out of the penitentiary. Please accept this $50 bill as a Christmas present for your son. I could not figure out what to buy him so I sent him the money.

Work is still slack in Detroit.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt

December 1, 1953

Dear Mr. Brandt:

Your very kind letter came today with its generous gift for our five-year-old Charles. How good of you to send it! He is very anxious to have a two-unit diesel locomotive for his electric train, and the $50 will buy one for your Christmas present to him. He will be simply delighted, I know. I appreciate your offer to pay me something for time spent in solving calculus problems but I would not want to accept a fee for this work. It is far greater compensation to me to know that I could contribute my mathematical knowledge to help you achieve your very worthy goal than to have any amount of monetary reward. The fine progress you have made and are making brings joy to my heart. You have made a great fight in establishing yourself. You and I can rejoice together.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


Bacon's wife, Rosamond, sent Brandt a Stanford calendar for Christmas, 1953, and also enclosed a picture of young Charles.


January 4, 1954

Dear Mrs. Bacon:

You could not have selected a better Christmas gift for me than you did. I put the picture on my dresser under the mirror so that I can see him easy, especially when going to work and coming home.


PICTURE PERFECT: "You could not have selected a better Christmas gift for me than you did," wrote Brandt after Rosamond Bacon sent him this photo of young Charles.

You called me friend in your Christmas Card, well Mrs. Bacon, I want to thank you very dearly for this--it is an honor to be called friend by people like you. I am uneducated but be assured that I know the meaning of a friend. You shall never regret that you did this. Your son is very fortunate in having parents like you and Mr. Bacon. I am glad of this. It was very touching when I read in your Christmas Card 'Someday we may meet and you can see our Charles.'

I do not believe that I will be able to do this under the present circumstances: until I am off the government parole which is 8 & 1/2 years.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt


Brandt was laid off in late January 1954. During the following months, he still managed to put some money aside although he only worked sporadically. The letters he wrote to Bacon at this time were those of a dejected, embittered man--one now well into his 60s and still on parole, forced to compete in a crowded labor market with younger, less blemished men. "It would have been better," he wrote on one occasion as he reflected back upon his many wasted years in prison, "if they had killed me years ago." But no matter how despondent he was, he still continued his studies in mathematics and design at various local colleges and trade schools, determined that one day he would reach the level of being able to design his own tool and die machines.

In March of the next year (1955), with the permission of the parole authorities, Brandt moved to Cleveland to take a job with a small plant as a tool and die maker. He was obviously delighted with his new position and wrote in glowing terms to Bacon: "My work is something that I did not expect to get. I am building two new compound dies. My boss took me off my job that I had when I started and gave me this job--I do not know why he did this because shaving dies are very expensive. I am going to have a big job."

But Brandt's high hopes and good fortune did not last.


May 11, 1955

Dear Mr. Bacon:

On April 11, 1955, I ruptured myself (double rupture) carrying the die from the bench to the machine: on April 19 I was admitted to the hospital and the next day I was operated on. So far I am doing as good as can be expected--I had a good Doctor. He examined me yesterday and I can go back to work on May 23, 1955.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt

June 30, 1955

Dear Mr. Bacon:

I went to the hospital for a second operation on May 25. The operation was cancer of the colon. I came out of the hospital on June 17. I am recuperating now. I guess that is all for now.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt

August 3, 1955

Dear Mr. Bacon:

Just a few words. I am doing considerable better than I did in the first month when I got out of the hospital. If nothing happens, then I shall go back to work on September 1. Please give my best regards to the family. I got your letter of July 3, and the pictures of Charles.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt

October 29, 1955

Dear Professor Ford:

I have heard nothing from or about Rudolph Brandt since the letter I received in early August, so I don't know whether he was able to go back to work on September 1st as he hoped. The future for him looks anything but rosy. He is now in his 60s and even if his health were good, I don't see how he can count on very steady employment. Of course, he is a remarkably skilled craftsman, but with his history, age, and poor health I can see only trouble ahead. I wish there were something we could do to be helpful. If you have any ideas on this point and if you think there is any way in which I could be helpful, do let me know. So far about all we can do, it seems to me, is to bolster his morale in as unobtrusive a way as possible. I have just written a short letter to him.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


During the ensuing months, Brandt's health continued to deteriorate. Still, he managed to keep working at a series of shop jobs, each less physically taxing than the one before. And less financially rewarding. "I am sorry that I cannot give Charles a better Christmas present this year," he wrote in December 1955. "Please accept this $10.00."


March 4, 1956

Dear Mr. Bacon:

For the last three months, I have been trying to force my intestinal functions to adapt itself to the food that I wanted to eat in order to live well. I added bread and peanut butter to my menu, which is common food. But if one cannot eat bread, it is a tough life.

Since about January 1st, I started to eat bread with my meals, but I had terrible abdominal pains, sometimes it was practically madness. But I won. I am still in the same job and saving some of my money ($1,300 in the bank now). I am going to do some studying again. I feel very bad about me forgetting so much of the mathematics that I once made Grade A in, especially the differential and integral calculus that I knew.

Please give my regards to the family.

Sincerely yours, Rudolph Brandt


At this time, Bacon completed his arrangements for a business trip East and planned to stop off in Cleveland on the way back from Boston.


March 31, 1956

Dear Mr. Brandt:

My trip east is shaping up. I should arrive at Cleveland on Sunday, May 13th, at 12:02 p.m. I should like to invite you to have Sunday afternoon dinner with me at some convenient restaurant if that would be possible for you. Or, if your diet requires going to some special place, we could go there. Or I could come out to your place for a visit--whatever works out best for you. I'll have all afternoon in Cleveland, so we'll have time for a comfortable visit. I am looking forward to seeing you.

Sincerely, Harold M. Bacon

April 20, 1956

western union telegram

h. m. bacon,

p.o. box 1044, stanford university, california

rudolph just had an emergency operation if able he will meet you may 13th if not there will be other arrangements to meet you and take you to him.


When Bacon made his scheduled stop in Cleveland on May 13, Brandt was at the station to meet him. Although not up to eating solids so soon after his operation, he did join the professor in an ice cream sundae, after which the two men strolled about town until Brandt tired. "He seemed in very frail health," Bacon noted in a letter to Professor Ford that same day, "but hoped to be able to go back to work eventually."


July 6, 1956

Dear Mr. Brandt:

I am hoping that you are feeling better and that you have been able to return to work, either at the old job, or in a new one. I enjoyed so much seeing you, having our ice cream together, and having a good visit.

All send very best wishes for a good summer.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon


Within weeks, Brandt's condition worsened. On July 15 he wrote apologizing for not having answered Bacon's letter sooner. "I just was up against it. On June 13th, I went to work on a new job but on the 14th, I got sick after working hours, I went to a doctor and when he took my temperature, I had 102 fever. But I kept on working until July 3rd when I had to quit because I just did not have the strength to go on."

Bacon wrote back a few days later. "I am very sorry to learn that you have not been well enough to continue your job. That is certainly a bad break. I hope you are better again now."

Bacon heard nothing for months and wrote again in November. "We have been a little anxious about your health since we have not heard from you for some time. We hope very much that you are feeling better and that you are able to work. If you are not well, is there anything I can do to be helpful?"


December 1, 1956

Dear Sir:

I am Harry Gerheim, with whom Rudolph is staying with. I am taking it upon myself to tell you of his condition. He wouldn't like it if he knew, but he has always spoken very highly of you and I do believe he would like you to know. He never has given anyone else his troubles.

After his last cancer operation, he has went downhill. My wife and I have tried to take care of him. He no longer can make the stairs more than once every two or three days. He no longer reads the papers as he so much enjoyed. This morning I got him to go over to see his doctor. His doctor told him while I was there with him that cancer is in his lungs now and bladder. He cannot get his breath very well, which keeps him down.

The doctor would like for him to go to a nursing home for a while to make sure he gets the attention he is going to need from now on. He feels my wife and I wouldn't be able to handle it very much longer. He gave him two years to live. As fast as he has gone downhill it wouldn't be near that long.

I haven't known him long but he is without doubt one of the truest friends anyone could ever hope to meet. I'm just sorry I couldn't keep doing for him.

Yours truly, Harry Gerheim

1839 Knowles Avenue, East Cleveland, Ohio

December 13, 1956

Dear Mr. Gerheim,

You were very kind to write to me about Rudolph Brandt. We are very sorry to know that he is clearly so much worse. He had told me that he had cancer, and we have been quite anxious about his health. I was glad that I had the opportunity to see him when I passed through Cleveland last spring, but I thought that he did not look at all well. You and your wife are indeed good friends to him, and we think it most fortunate that he is with you. I am sure that your understanding kindness means a great deal to him.

I shall continue to write to him from time to time, and I hope that he will not feel obliged to answer such letters, for I am sure it is difficult, if not impossible, for him to write letters in his weakened condition.

We should be grateful to you if you would let us know of anything we can do to be helpful, and also if you would let me know occasionally how Mr. Brandt is getting along. You are right, I am sure, in saying that he would probably not ask you to write. As you say, he is not one to put his troubles on others. He is a loyal friend.

Sincerely yours, Harold M. Bacon

December 13, 1956

Dear Sir:

I am sorry to inform you Rudolph Brandt passed away on the 11th and will be buried tomorrow morning December 14th.

Yours truly, Harry Gerheim


In early January 1957, Gerheim wrote to Bacon, musing on Brandt's hard life. "I've wondered what a man he would of been if he wouldn't have got into troubles. Life is one funny thing. It all depends on how the ball bounces." In Brandt's last years, the ball had bounced him into the life of a reserved Stanford professor. Bacon treated him as he treated all his students, with respect and compassion. He shared his love of mathematics, "that handmaiden and queen of the sciences," with a murderer and a bank robber and was rewarded by witnessing his transformation. It was an experience that Bacon cherished for the rest of his life.


Charles Jellison, '47, MA '48, is a retired professor of history from the University of New Hampshire. He was a close friend of Harold Bacon, who died in 1992, and compiled these letters at the request of Bacon's widow, Rosamond.

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