BIG SCREECHER – Pretty woman in a gingham dress

By Carmine Santa Maria

The information highway keeps bringing some interesting mail to my computer and I’d like to share this with you. This story of the Gingham Dress by Malcolm Forbes was sent to me, saved and now sent to you. However sometimes the Information Highway gives out misinformation and here’s a case in point…you decide its veracity. “A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President's outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard & probably didn't even deserve to be in Cambridge. “We'd like to see the president,” the man said softly. “He'll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We'll wait,” the lady replied. For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn't, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted. “Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they'll leave,” she said to him. He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn't have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady told him, “we had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.” The president wasn't touched. He was shocked. “Madam,” he said, gruffly, “we can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.” “Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don't want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.” The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, and then exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard.” For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a university? Why don't we just start our own? “Her husband nodded. The president's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.” This charming story which has somewhat become a legend brings to mind the shopping scenes in the film “Pretty Woman,” where the salesgirls in one of the ultra exclusive shops on Rodeo Drive wouldn’t bother with Julia Roberts who played a cheap hooker. Enamored by Billionaire Richard Gere, he gives her his credit card to go shopping. Smartly dressed, made up and with her arms full of packages from the finest stores on Rodeo Drive she returns to the nasty salesgirls she first encountered and flaunts all the sales and the commissions they lost. Now, the reason I said charming story is because like I told you, there is some doubt as to its authenticity. Not, that Stanford wasn’t founded by Leland Stanford, that’s true! Leland and his wife did lose a son, who had gone to Harvard for a year. As a matter of fact they approached several universities looking to establish a memorial for him, and the reason they chose Palo Alto in California was because they owned lots of land there. Not only land, but here’s the scoop on their choice for Palo Alto. In 1876, former California Governor Leland Stanford purchased 650 acres of Rancho San Francisquito for a country home and began the development of his famous Palo Alto Stock Farm for trotting horses. He later bought adjoining properties to bring his farm to more than 8,000 acres, land that eventually became the Stanford campus. The little town that started to grow across El Camino Real (the old Spanish “King's Road”) from the university also took the name Palo Alto. Remember the Information Highway is not monitored and does indeed have much misinformation…but I’d be lost without it. Screech at you next week!

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