The Remarkable Dr. Richter


This past week would have marked the 98th birthday of the 20th century’s most famous seismologist. Charles Francis Richter, who spent 70 of his 85 years in Southern California. Though Richter is well-known world-wide for his famous earthquake magnitude scale and for helping to make Caltech’s seismology lab into one of the world’s finest, still, very little has been written about him; the man.


Which, is most unfortunate, since he was a mysterious and fascinating as the very complex physics at play deep inside the earth’s shuddering crust. Richter, who held a doctorate in theoretical physics, it is reliably reported, to have known the names of every plant in the Los Angeles Arboretum. Also, he could read seven (7, that is.) Languages. He could often tell from which direction on the globe an earthquake originated simply by looking at the shape of the seismogram (something very few can even do today.)


He gave up chemistry as a youth because he had shaky hands and a number of “accidents”with chemicals. But, he was an excellent astronomer. He loved “Star Trek.” He had a violent facial twitch. His wife, a writer and a nudist, liked to spend vacations traveling by herself, on other continents. He had a sparky temper. He liked to hike alone, at night, naked, and would write poetry sitting in the woods in this unique condition. (What he wrote on or with is not reported) Just for the fun of it, we think, he sometimes walked around Caltach wearing two ties at once.


Richter is unknown as a writer, even by many of his closest friends, though write he did, publishing poetry in small newspapers under the name John Florio. In celebration of his birthday we herein publish one of his poems, “City Park in April.”

 

by: Michael R. Forrest


“City Park in April”

by: Charles Francis Richter


Always;

the tiny fears—

Will there be daffodils?

Have tulips been set out again

This spring?


Machines

Grind angrily

Beyond flimsy fence.

Too much, already, that they scare

The birds.


Gardens

Should range abroad,

Not be confined like this----

This jeweled island in a sea

Of dust.


----April 8, 1973.




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