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Time Capsule: George Wieland, '58

A Series of Unfortunate Alarms

Courtesy George Wieland

SPIFFY FIREFIGHTER: Wieland at his student job.

A freshman in 1954, I had come from New Brunswick, N.J., to Stanford, attracted by the geology department and a chance to see the wide world. As it turned out, my blindness in one eye meant I couldn't view geology's stereoscopic maps, and my color-blindness meant I couldn't identify green minerals. There was a great psychology department, though, and that turned out well for me.

And my experience of the world got wider one autumn Sunday evening at Flicks in Mem Aud, while a full house was watching the film Titanic. Amid a large cast, stars Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck played a divorcing couple squabbling over child custody before the iceberg reprioritized their concerns. Just as the ship was being abandoned, I felt the auditorium begin to shake. I thought I must be imagining it, stirred by the emotion of the film, until I saw people around me abandoning their seats. This was my introduction to California earthquakes. (The shaking stopped soon. We resettled in our seats and watched the ship sink.)

I was a student fireman the next three years, and often we were awakened at night, not by fires, but by alarms set off by an earthquake. We had to make a run to check that the alarm simply came from the earth's shaking the fire call-box. Usually that was the case, but by the time we got back to the firehouse, hosed and cleaned the fire truck, etc., we had lost an hour's sleep. This happened many times, but earthquakes never fazed me again—at least not like the time at Flicks.

George Wieland, '58, is retired from teaching and research at University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University.

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