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who, what, when


Backstage: Which campus theater is this dressing room a part of, and what or when was this precurtain flurry? Did you take part in theater productions at Skidmore?

Tell us about it at 518-580-5747, srosenbe@skidmore.edu, or Scope c/o Skidmore College. We’ll report answers, and run a new quiz, in the upcoming Scope.

From last time

Airship Skidmore? Chris Sweet ’82 wasn’t stumped. “That’s the big methane bag,” he promptly reported. “It was installed down at the horse barns, to use methane gas from horse manure as a fuel source.”

In fact, explained Jim Akin ’84, it was a manure-fed, microbe-powered generator, “the brainchild of biology professor Robert Mahoney. (It looked a bit like a whoopee cushion imagined by Christo or Oldenburg, and contained material certain ‘artists’ are known to produce, but its purpose was scientific, not aesthetic.) Soon after this picture was taken, the giant plastic sack became home to a large culture of bacteria—or, as Dr. Mahoney called them, ‘bugs.’ These particular organisms fed on manure and excreted methane, which could be collected from the inflated space above the bioactive material on the floor of the generator.”

Ann Eisler, former housekeeping supervisor, remembered the bright-yellow bag being placed in the concrete-block addition to the Van Lennep riding arena,
with the aim of supplementing the college’s fuel supply during the oil and gas crisis of the 1970s. “Biologist Bob Mahoney (at left) and English professor Tom Lewis (at right) worked with physical-plant and stables staff,” she said, but the experiment didn’t last long. “I don’t believe it ever provided much methane.” She also recalled, “It was very difficult to collect pure manure, separated from the wood shavings used as the horses’ bedding. A couple of stable forks were modified by adding tines at a ninety-degree angle, but they didn’t work very well.” In the end, the generator was “a nice idea whose time was not to be.”