When George Beadle became president of the University in 1961, he was horrified by the state of the landscaping. “The weedy lawns, scarred with brown spots or patches of raw dirt,” his wife, Muriel McClure Beadle, wrote in a memoir, “had the weathered look of a city tomcat who is still alive only because he has become tough enough to beat the odds.”
Beadle, a Nobel Prize–winning geneticist and enthusiastic gardener, set a modest goal: to grow grass on the center circle of the Main Quadrangles. When the standard “Keep off the grass” signs were ignored, the Beadles and a group of coconspirators resorted to academic in-jokes: “Don’t tread on me,” “That’s turf,” “Ou sont les tapis d’autrefois?,” “Shame may restrain what the law does not prohibit.”
Passersby were entertained enough to walk around the circle—there were no sidewalks crossing it then—and the grass grew.