Today’s blog entry is not about, nor does it take place on, St. John, the Virgin Islands or the Caribbean. The only excuse I can make for putting it on a Caribbean Travel blog would be that I wrote it and I’m in the Caribbean, on St. John and writing this blog, or perhaps I could say it provides some insight into the life and times of Gerald Singer before St. John, or just perhaps, that it’s a damn good story, and a true one at that.
So we leave sunny St. John in the US Virgin Islands for the cold gray skies of Buffalo, New York in the United States of America for the story called:
The Thallus Of Marchantia
by Gerald Singer
In 1963 I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo, formerly known as the University of Buffalo. The university had an extremely large freshman class that was disproportionate to the number of students in the upper classes. It was assumed that more than half of the freshmen would either drop out or be kicked out their first year.
Certain courses were required for all students and these classes would ordinarily be taken in the freshman and sophomore years. Because there were thousands of freshmen in the school, the required courses were generally held in large lecture halls attended by literally hundreds of students. One of these courses was Botany 101, which was the superficial study of all the plants in the world, how they are classified, what their properties are and what they are called. It can be an interesting study, but in the large lecture hall with a boring droning professor it was more of a challenge to one’s ability to stay awake under extreme circumstances.
At the end of the semester there would be a final exam. The preparation for this exam led to the inevitable crazy cram sessions and all nighters. The students would often study together drinking coffee (or ingesting stronger stimulants) to stay awake and try to make up in one night for all the missed classes and for all the times when full attention was not paid to the lecturer.
Late in night one of the students, cramming away for the Botany final exam, began studying the section of his textbook pertaining to plants known as liverworts. He came upon the section dealing with the Marchantia, which has a stem-like structure known as a thallus and reproduces asexually by forming gemmae on the upper surface of the thallus that starts new plants. “Extremely interesting” said the student sarcastically; “the Marchantia reproduces asexually by means of a thallus. Marchantia…Thallus…” He liked the sound of the words as they rolled smoothly off his Dexedrine stimulated tongue. “Thallus… Marchantia … The Thallus of Marchantia … The Thallus of Marchantia … Hey guys … The Thallus of Marchantia… sounds like royalty doesn’t it … The Thallus of Marchantia.
The fellow students agreed. They liked the sound of the phrase. They laughed and made jokes about his Majesty the Thallus of Marchantia. Then suddenly a student came up with an absolutely marvelous idea. “Let’s call the Buffalo Evening News and tell them that Thallus of Marchantia is coming to Buffalo” “Great idea!” agreed the others. “You call… No you…Where’s the phone? Hello, Buffalo Evening News… The Thallus of Marchantia is coming to Buffalo…”
The December 15, 1964 edition of the prestigious Buffalo Evening News contained a small article announcing the event. The headline for the story was something like Dignitary to Visit Here and the story went on that an Arab potentate, the Thallus of Marchantia would be visiting Buffalo as part of his tour of the United States.
“Marchantia”, they added sagely at the end of the article, “is an island in Arabia”.
Inspired by the actual appearance of the story in Buffalo Evening News, the pranksters broadened the scope of their hoax. Word spread throughout the student body and everyone wanted to get in on the joke. It was decided that since the Thallus of Marchantia was, after all, from Arabia, he was probably anti-Semitic or at least anti-Zionist and his visit should be protested. On the other hand it was possible that the Thallus was really a good guy and was being maligned by unfound rumors and, consequently, his visit to Buffalo should not be ruined by undeserved protests.
The next day the Botany lecture halls were packed to capacity, not only by those legitimately registered for the class, but also by other students and faculty members who were attracted by what was now a genuine “happening”. Many students displayed signs and banners either for (Thallus go back to your palace!”) or against (“No malice for the Thallus!”) the visit of his majesty the Thallus of Marchantia.
A good time was had by all…and the plot thickened. A follow-up story was given to the newspaper. The Thallus would arrive in Buffalo on a flight from New York City at 1:48 p.m. It was rumored that radical students from the university were planning to protest his arrival.
A collection was taken up and a student, Arthur Schein, was sent to New York City. When he arrived at the Laguardia airport in New York, Arthur changed into a suit and tie, placed a keffiyeh, the traditional Arabian headdress, purchased a first class ticket and boarded the next plane back to Buffalo.
Meanwhile the city fathers of Buffalo were making their own preparations for the arrival of the visiting dignitary. The Thallus was to be met on the tarmac by none other then the mayor
Before noon on the day of the Thallus of Marchantia’s arrival to Buffalo, the airport began to fill with students waving signs and banners greeting or protesting the Thallus. It was estimated that between 700 and 2000 people were at the airport when the Thallus’ plane landed.
The Cheektowaga police department had a large contingent of officers on hand to prevent any embarrassing student protest demonstrations. In the performance of that duty they blocked the students from entering the airport. The crowd swelled…a bugler arrived…the bugler played “charge” and the students swarmed the airport. A large pane of glass was broken and furniture was knocked over, several students were apprehended by the police and put into custody.
The plane landed and the Thallus of Marchantia also known as Arthur Schein walked proudly down the gangway where the mayor’s official chauffeur driven limousine awaited him. Two policemen led Arthur to the limo where he sat down next to the mayor who had prepared a welcoming speech for the Arab ruler.
The crowd of protesters was approaching the field and the limo escorted by two police cars sirens wailing began to leave the airfield by a back exit. One of the students (Ken Casey) who was arrested was questioned by the police at he scene. He told all. The police radioed the mayor’s limousine informing him of the hoax. The procession halted. The policemen who were conducting the escort got out of their vehicles proceeded to the mayor’s limo and arrested the ersatz Thallus.
From the University of Buffalo’s Online Alumni Magazine:
“The next day, the hoodwinked News accused “1,000 State University of Buffalo students of wrecking furniture, jostling innocent bystanders and generally turning the Greater Buffalo International Airport into a frightening mob scene.” For all of The News’ indignation, however, none of the bystanders was reported injured and the damage was revised down to $600.
The so-called Thallus, whisked away in a Cheektowaga police car, was charged with disorderly conduct and fined $50. Richard Siggelkow, who was then dean of students, indefinitely suspended Schein, but not before posting his bail and putting him up for the night. Schein’s conviction by lower courts was later reversed, and the student body coughed up the $600.”