From a Boy Named Alexander to a Nameless Gate

This project is an attempt to understand a chance meeting. In 2014 I was doing research for a performance called How to Become One with a Monument. In the performance I will tie an elastic band around my head “attaching” it to various monuments around the city. While walking on Lake Shore Drive towards 860 N. - where the Mies van der Rohe residential plaza is built. I knew in advance that I wanted to attach myself to it. On the way there I have found a large metal gate that is not connected to anything. The gate is on 700 N. Lakeshore Drive. The building next to it, later I will find out it is Abbott Hall, ends not with a regular 900 corner, but with a diagonal. It leaves room for the gate so one can circle around it. It is important to note that the gate is not attached to the building in anyway.

Once seeing that gate, I took a photograph and tried to figure out what it is. I circled around the gate looking for a sign. The only information given in the area is the gold lettering on the gate stating Northwestern University. The lettering seemed both telling and out of place. At least they helped place the gate within an institution, yet they clearly were from a different time. The gate is entirely black and with floral and braided patterns. The lettering, however, is painted gold and quite harsh in its font choice. This still has not told me why is the gate there.

A quick search into the gate within the NU archives, told me that it was named after Alexander McKinlock. He had died in 1918 in France. And from there I started researching as to why it is unnamed (or at least unplaqued), who was Alexander, and how it became so forgotten.

During the research I realized that Alexander is the catalyst for the making of the gate, but he is less important in my relationship to the gate. The gate stands as a symbol to an almost mythical time in the history of Chicago. The city was still being built, great mansions along the lake shore. Ghosts roaming the city. Chicago social life during the Roaring Twenties was under the rule of Edith Rockefeller McCormick. She was a spiritualist which created a plethora of ghosts in the city. One of which was Alexander and he got close to the source of the fascination.

George Alexander McKinlock Jr., known as Alexander enlisted to the army in World War I. He died at the Battle of Berzey le Sec in Northern France, in July, 1918. His body was not found until 1921, by his mother, Marion McKinlock.  In 1921, His parents Marion and George Sr. donated a large sum of money to Northwestern University. The money financed the purchase of the Northwestern’s Chicago campus. In the time between 1921 and 1936 the campus was named The McKinlock Memorial Campus. The McKinlock’s lost their fortune during the 1929 depression. They had defaulted on their philanthropic pledge to the university. In 1936, just before the death of George Sr., a debt agreement was reached and the name of the campus was changed to the Chicago Campus. The only remaining mention of the original name was on the gate at the entrance to the campus.

The other side of the afterlife if Alexander is the love affair between Muriel McCormick and Alexander. Muriel “met” Alexander in a seance she attended with her mother. Their romance started at 1924 and lasted till 1930. It was a constant headline in the tabloids of the time. During the time of the relationship Muriel grew close to Marion and George Sr., till it seemed that she had “adopted” them as parents. After the romance ended Muriel married Elisha Dyer Hubbard. He died three years after the marriage. After his death, Muriel adopted two kids in 1936, joined the army for World War II. She lost custody of the kids in 1947 for being an abusive alcoholic. In 1958 she lied to an adoption agency and adopted three more kids and baby. She died in 1959, less than half a year after the adoption. Since she was one of  Rockefeller descendants, there was a trial that went on for three years to see whether the Muriel’s children count as heirs to the estate. It was found out that Muriel lied in order to get the adoption approved. The Lincoln Foundation in New York got Muriel’s part of the Rockefeller Estate.      

The structure of the work is a Libretto like structure in which the intermissions between the acts are four essays. The libretto form was chosen for its both antiquated feel and its highly constructed value. The form of the opera was chosen in part because of a quote from Stravinsky: “It is a medium not dead but turned to stone.” The quote seemed to encapsulate a relationship I have with the gate. The gate is in some ways dead - it is no longer useful, it is no longer a gate. But in many other ways it is now a statue of a gate - a gate turned to stone. The other reasoning is that a libretto now a days is very different from the classical form, this again relates to the materiality of the gate. The gate was made from wrought iron, a low carbon alloy of almost pure iron. This type of metal is no longer commercially produced, instead it is the name of hand worked mild steel.

The four essays - An ode to Forgetting, The Ghosts of Love, The Small Monument, and The Death of Cemeteries are all on differing yet related subjects. The hope is to create a relationship in which the whole is made of parts and each can stand on its own. This relates to the gate, or how I view the gate. The gate is there and is now a whole that stands alone. Yet the gate was planned to be part of a campus. The gate in itself had numerous parts of it replaced, and yet it is still a whole. The angels were removed and changed to a name - that seems a rather obvious and harsh shift, yet the gate managed to remain present and imposing.  The hope is that the form of the essays as a whole will create a parallel between the project and the history of the gate.

Paged libretto:

From a Boy Named Alexander.pdf