Thursday, May 16, 2002

From The New York Times...

Hugh Hicks, Prodigious Collector of Light Bulbs, Dies at 79

r. Hugh Francis Hicks, a dentist whose fascination with light bulbs is said to have begun when his mother tossed one into his crib and culminated in his owning 60,000 bulbs, died on May 7 in Baltimore. He was 79.

He had a heart attack, his daughter Frances Hicks Apollony, said.

Dr. Hicks showed off his collection in a museum in the basement under his periodontics office. He named it the Mount Vernon Museum of Incandescent Lighting, charged no admission and gave visitors, about 6,000 a year, cookies.

Not infrequently, patients had to wait as he welcomed people interested in seeing what he identified as the biggest and smallest light bulbs in the world — to say nothing of the floodlights used in an Elvis Presley movie or the headlamps from Hitler's Mercedes-Benz.

"Sometimes he left a patient sitting in the chair with the peroxide bubbling up in his mouth," his daughter said.

Harold D. Wallace, a specialist in the electricity collections of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, said Dr. Hicks had one of the three most important light bulb collections in the United States. The others are at the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

Dr. Hicks's specimens include an Edison bulb from the demolished Vanderbilt mansion in Manhattan; a dashboard light from the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; and a 15-watt fluorescent bulb that illuminated the table on which the Japanese signed the surrender agreement that ended World War II.

There are bulbs shaped like Dick Tracy, Betty Boop and Disney characters; a sailing ship inside a bulb; and men's ties with bulbs embedded in them. There are also a 50,000-watt bulb from the La Guardia Airport control tower and a light used in wiring spacecraft that can be seen only through a microscope.

There is a complete history of Christmas lighting, and there are 15 or 20 bulbs that Thomas A. Edison probably held in his hands 122 years ago.

Mr. Wallace said Dr. Hicks's impossible goal was to have one of every kind of bulb. "He was the kind of guy who never met a light bulb he didn't like," he said.

Hugh Francis Hicks was born on April 26, 1923, in Baltimore. His mother told Mrs. Apollony that he was bored with the toys in his crib, so she gave him an old bulb. Family legend has it that he was entranced, even if endangered.

As a boy, he liked school projects that involved electricity, and he began collecting bulbs.

He graduated from Columbia University and the University of Maryland Dental School, where he, like his father, specialized in periodontics, dealing with diseases of the bone and tissue supporting the teeth.

His passion intensified. He received donations from the University of Maryland physics department and cultivated other bulb enthusiasts with whom he could trade. On a vacation in the Bahamas, he saw some old Nassau street lights being removed and asked for one.

He was not above what might be termed stealing, and he proudly displayed stolen bulbs in a group he called 10 Hot Types. In the Paris Metro in 1964, he noticed a series of 1920's-era tungsten bulbs along the wall. He did not know that the bulbs were wired so that if one was removed, all would go out.

He surreptitiously removed a bulb, and the tunnel was suddenly pitch dark. With people screaming, he scrambled to replace the bulb.

"But I couldn't get it back," Dr. Hicks said in an interview in The Baltimore Sun. "So, you know me, I grabbed two more and took off."

In addition to his daughter Frances, who lives in Baltimore, surviving are another daughter, Louise Hicks Smith of Winchester, Va.; a sister, Lois Hicks Burkley of Baltimore; and four grandchildren. Mrs. Apollony said the family hoped to keep the collection intact and in Baltimore.

Dr. Hicks liked to tell the story of psychiatric researchers from the Johns Hopkins University who visited him in the mid-1980's as part of a study on why collectors collect. He told them that the greatest bulb collector of all time was William J. Hammer, who worked as an engineer for Edison and collected 130,000 electric bulbs before 1900. Each was different.

"Mr. Hammer died the month that I was born," Dr. Hicks told the psychiatrists. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

The interview ended immediately.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

From The Daily Southdown...

Strange cargo found in forest

Stumped officials try to find out who dropped off 55 gallons of goat semen in Cook County preserve

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

By Jennifer Martikean
Staff writer

It wasn't nearly as much fun as a barrel full of monkeys, but the barrel firefighters found was just as weird.
It was full of goat semen.

Or maybe it was pig semen.

"We're still in disbelief," said a firefighter who did not want to be identified. "I have never heard of anything like this ever happening. We have no idea who did this."

The mysterious barrel was discovered Monday night by a passerby at the Arie Crown Woods near Countryside, Cook County Forest Preserve Lt. Michael Albrecht said.

When the police came out to take a look, they found a white, 55-gallon container with a black plug on top and hazardous materials markings on the outside.

They called in the hazardous materials team from Pleasantview Fire Protection District.

"The firefighters came, they saw the barrel, and the cleared out the area," Albrecht said.

Firefighters spent some time trying to figure out what kind of substance they were dealing with. All they knew was the barrel had some liquid in it.

After a careful inspection, firefighters found a phone number on one of the stickers. They radioed the number to dispatchers, who traced it to an Iowa company called Swine Genetics.

The company ships pig and boar semen in canisters, which in turn are placed in large drums filled with liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen keeps the semen at the optimal temperature so it can be shipped long distances and used for artificial insemination.

No one has any idea how the semen ended up at the forest preserve.

"We get calls about illegal dumping all the time, but never anything like this," Albrecht said.

The police department "properly disposed" of the semen, but declined to say how.

There was some conflicting information about what kind of semen was in the canister. Albrecht said police believe it was goat semen, but Swine Genetics only deals in pig semen. A worker at the company said the barrels are expensive, costing as much as $1,100, and they are often reused by farmers to ship other types of semen.

Pleasantview firefighters were a little embarrassed about the big fuss. They were still laughing about it Tuesday and could hardly comment.

"It is just so bizarre that that would be out there," a firefighter said. "We've had all kinds of guesses at the station all day. But I'm not going to tell you what they were."

A worker at Swine Genetics said the company hasn't had any reports of missing semen, and police said no one has reported anything like it missing.

The company ships internationally out of O'Hare International Airport, so it is possible one of the barrels could have come from the airport, he said.

Saturday, May 04, 2002