Ego du jour, John Thain edition

By Felix Salmon
November 8, 2011
David Dunlap took a visit to the Bronx, and came back with a 13-page slideshow of John Thain's self-aggrandizement:

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David Dunlap took a visit to the Bronx, and came back with a 13-page slideshow of John Thain’s self-aggrandizement:

The generosity of John A. Thain and his wife, Carmen, in helping rehabilitate the forest has been rewarded with its renaming as the Thain Family Forest. The new name has also been worked into the text of almost every sign…

One expects donors’ names at entrance ways and on directional signs and maps. It’s more unusual to find donors’ names woven into the interpretive narration. At the garden, however, the words “Thain Family Forest” are slipped into signs about black oaks, hemlocks and hillside blueberries (“a favorite of birds and small mammals in the Thain Family Forest”); about vernal pools and great horned owls; about mound formations and forest layering; and even about snags, as standing dead trees are called, which help “reveal the Thain Family Forest’s great age.”

They turn up on prohibitory signs, too. “Please Stay on the Path: The Thain Family Forest is a fragile ecosystem.”

Indeed, by the time you reach the sign beginning, “When a tree falls in the Thain Family Forest —,” you may be tempted to finish the thought yourself, “— does it make a Thain Family Sound?”

A spokeswoman for the New York Botanical Garden tried to say, with a straight face, that the Thain family did not request that the forest be named at all; that the Garden “named it as a thank you for their gift”; and that the ubiquity of the Thain name was simply a function of a “scrupulous interpretive specialist”.

You’re welcome to believe her, if you want. But I’m quite sure that John and Carmen Thain could have declined the Garden’s generous offer to ensure their name was used on first mention every time the forest is mentioned. Or even to use their name at all.

After all, the whole point of this forest is that it dates back to the 17th Century. It’s being carefully managed with Thain funds, which I’m sure have been put to good use. But there’s something vulgarly presumptuous about a Wall Street plutocrat playing happily along with the idea that he and his family should get enormous amounts of public credit, in perpetuity, for what is essentially the same forest where Lenape Indians hunted.

But of course we’re talking about John Thain here. He of the $35,000 commode on legs, and the $87,000 office rug. You’d think he’d have learned his lesson about his displays of wealth having quite the opposite effect to that originally intended. But obviously not.

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