Seuss started at Jack O'Lantern

by Rebecca Leffler | 11/21/00 6:00am

Editor's note -- this is the second article in a three-part series on Dr. Seuss and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Today's piece chronicles Seuss' time at the College. Tomorrow, The Dartmouth will look at the many incarnations of "The Grinch" since the original children's book.

"I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham" -- Dr. Seuss.

We all ate green eggs and ham on our DOC trips, and we've all read "The Cat in the Hat," but who is the man behind this world of strange characters and fantastical images? What many people don't know is that Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel was quite the prankster back in his Dartmouth days.

Geisel, a member of the class of 1925, spent the majority of his time at Dartmouth writing and partying. He was frequently found in Robinson Hall writing and illustrating for the college's humor magazine, the Jack O'Lantern. Geisel spent most of his four years at the Big Green "fooling around in the publication offices" with his friends.

In fact, along with his close friend and editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth, Whitney Campbell '24, Geisel would play poker into the wee hours of the morning waiting for the paper to be printed. He recognized Campbell as "the strongest personal friendship I made at Dartmouth." In addition to his contributions to both the Jacko and the liquor stores in the area, Geisel was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Casque & Gauntlet Senior Society. A typical Dartmouth student, Geisel spent much of his leisure time skiing.

Geisel's pseudonym, "Dr. Seuss," originated at Dartmouth after he was punished for an alcohol violation. Who would have thought that S & S would be responsible for bringing smiles to the faces of millions of children worldwide? After being caught with a bottle of gin in his room, Geisel was put on probation for violating the laws of Prohibition (and on Easter evening, no less). Geisel defended his position, however, claiming "We had a pint of gin for ten people, so that proves nobody was really drinking."

As a result, Geisel was banned from all extra-curricular activities, including his role as editor-in-chief of the Jack-o-Lantern. Thus, in order to continue to write for the Jacko, Geisel wrote under different pseudonyms until he finally stuck with "Seuss," his middle name. The "Doctor" was added later to sound more scientific.

A member of the faculty at the time of Geisel's evolving pseudonym submitted the following poem to The Dartmouth: You're wrong as the deuce/and you shouldn't rejoice/if you're calling him Seuss./He pronounces it Soice. In Geisel's time, articles and jokes in the Jacko were anonymous, so it is hard to trace his literary contributions, but he did sign all of his artwork. Geisel began as an arts editor for the magazine and became editor-in-chief at the end of his Junior year.

"But I like to be here./Oh, I like it a lot!/Said the Cat in the Hat/To the fish in the pot."

Geisel attributed much of his success as a writer to his Dartmouth education. He especially cited professor Ben Pressey of the English department as his biggest inspiration for writing at Dartmouth. Geisel is said to have written "Green Eggs and Ham" after attending an alumni function where the food was dyed green.

His Dartmouth origins came through for him when, after his first book, "And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street" was rejected 27 times by publishers, he ran into an old acquaintance from Dartmouth who happened to be a publisher and agreed to take the story.

That was only the beginning of 60 years of magic. Seuss wrote 49 children's books in 22 different languages and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his contribution to children's literature. Geisel's portrait now hangs in Baker Library reminding students, "You have brains in your head/You have feet in your shoes/You can steer yourself any direction you choose./You're on your own/And you know what you know/and YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go."