While attending MU in the ’90s, a student made a name for himself on campus. Most people knew him not by Dana Huyler, the engineering major from Winnetka, Ill., but by a different name.
They called him the Seuss Man.
Huyler and a friend came up with the idea to read the works of Dr. Seuss in Speakers Circle to retaliate against street preachers who flocked to the space of free speech.
“We wanted to basically thumb our nose at all the preachers who came here and basically told everybody they were going to hell,” Huyler said.
Huyler, who is back in town this week to read more Dr. Seuss in Speakers Circle, began by reading soliloquies and scenes by Shakespeare with his friend. But he said it just fell flat.
“And so then we were thinking, ‘What else could we do?’” Huyler said. “‘Well, let’s go the complete opposite route. You’ve got Shakespeare, which is kind of highbrow. Let’s go lowbrow.’ So we thought we could do something really comedic and thought, ‘Let’s just do Dr. Seuss.’”
Huyler started reading Seuss works like “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Cat in the Hat.” His readings were a hit, and the reign of the Seuss Man began.
Huyler tried to read every Friday throughout his time as a student and continued to read after he graduated, when he was working for the College of Education. He read every Dr. Seuss children’s story, from “Daisy-Head Mayzie” to “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” to “The Sneetches and Other Stories.” His readings would regularly cause Speakers Circle to fill with students who would stop and listen on their way to class.
One rainy day during MaryEllen Chilton’s first week of college, she was walking from Middlebush Hall to the Arts and Science building when she first saw the Seuss Man. He was reading in the pouring rain with a friend holding an umbrella to keep him and the book dry.
“I went back to the dining hall for lunch and was telling my friends, ‘You won’t believe what I saw today,’” Chilton said. “And a friend of mine was like, ‘Oh yeah, I know that guy.’”
Their mutual friend introduced Huyler and Chilton at a party, and the two began dating.
“I am from a really small town in Missouri, and you just didn’t do anything to stick out or get noticed there because it was such a small town,” Chilton said. “Conformity wasn’t even an expectation; you didn’t even consider anything else. And then just to read in the pouring rain … that’s a commitment to be doing what you’re doing. And it was just kind of funny.”
After five years of dating, Chilton proposed to Huyler.
On April 9, 1999, the two were married in the place where Chilton first saw Huyler and where she proposed — Speakers Circle.
“The location was chosen not only for romanticism, but it was also free,” Chilton said.
Huyler adds, “We were cheap.”
The two are visiting Columbia for their 15th anniversary and, as Chilton said, “eating their way through nostalgia” at their old hangouts like Shakespeare’s and Sub Shop. They moved to Austin, Texas, in 1999, and this is the first time they’ve returned to Columbia since 2000.
“We’ve been talking about coming back to Columbia, and we just decided this is the perfect time,” Huyler said. “It’s nice because we were together five years before we were married, so it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s 20 and 15, let’s do it.’ It’s been a lot of fun.”
Despite moving hundreds of miles away from Speakers Circle, Huyler continues to read the works of Seuss at a monthly street festival in Austin.
Huyler said he will try to reprise his role as the Seuss Man and read in Speakers Circle on Wednesday before he and his wife leave town Thursday.
He said what he loved most about being the Seuss Man in college was the performance.
“It was fun,” Huyler said. “I would just stand there with a hat on and read, and people would walk by and a lot of people would stop and go, ‘What are you doing?’ And people would sit, and it became more and more of a thing that I did to entertain myself and other people.”