All Hail John Muir!
Judge Milton Griswold 1863, MA1866 raises his hand in salute to the bust of his old friend and protégé, John Muir x1863, at the dedication of Muir Knoll in 1918. Muir was one of the first great alumni never to graduate from the UW. After dropping out, he became a famous naturalist and is known as the father of the U.S. National Park System. But his first lesson in botany came on this hill, by a locust tree and under Griswold’s instruction. In his autobiography, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, Muir describes the scene in which Griswold opened Muir’s eyes to the great variety and surprising connections found in nature. Though Muir died in 1914, the UW chose to honor him by renaming that same tree the Muir Locust, and the hill on which it stood became Muir Knoll. (A knoll is a hill with a rounded crown; it shouldn’t be confused with a gnoll, which is a monster in Dungeons and Dragons.) Previously, it was called Story-Tellers Hill and was the site of an outdoor theater. As far as the editors of On Wisconsin can tell, this is the only knoll (not gnoll) in the world dedicated to John Muir, and it’s seen considerable change in the last ninety-one years. The bust of Muir was removed and now resides in Birge Hall, and the Muir Locust was cut down in 1953 — in part because it was beginning to decay, and in part to make room for a realignment of Observatory Drive. Between 1919 and 1957, the hill hosted the university’s ski slide and jump. Today, things are coming full circle, so to speak, as the knoll regains a role in public oratory. UW-Madison plans to replace concrete benches on the brow of the hill with what’s being called the Robert E. Gard Storyteller’s Circle.
Published in the Fall 2009 issue