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January 16, 2017

The Mysterious World of Sid Colton


Ruben Abbou / The Chicago Maroon

No one from the University of Chicago is more active on Facebook than alumnus Sid Colton (A.B. '89). 

He posts his photographs of ducklings floating in Botany Pond. He keeps the campus updated on the University's DIII athletic teams. He shares almost every news article that even peripherally involves the University—often adding a timestamp and some criticism of the administration. 

A University alumnus and campus employee for nearly 47 years, Colton knows campus like the back of his hand. I spoke with Colton in October and again last week about his involvement with the University.  

Colton is somewhat of a Facebook “celebrity.” A member of over 150 groups on Facebook, he is a frequent poster on Overheard at UChicago and the “Class of” groups for the graduating classes of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.  

Overheard at UChicago is a platform for students, faculty and staff to post content that may be of interest to the campus community. The “overheard” aspect is interpreted loosely—a typical post might feature quotes actually overheard on campus, but other posts are mentions of the University of Chicago in the news, takes on campus controversies, and the occasional promotion of an event. There are over 10,000 members in the group. 

Colton’s posts are sometimes unconventional. On December 11, Colton advertised his own private Facebook, writing that he was broadcasting a Facebook Live of the “snow falling.” Colton’s posts typically get between five and 20 likes on Overheard.  

Last year, Colton created his own group, called “Overseen at UChicago by Sid and All.” Though there are 48 members, all the posts are his own.  

Colton’s posts on Facebook are distinctive—they usually include a photograph and a timestamp at the bottom of the post, which he includes for accuracy. Sometimes, his posts are shares of his own statuses.   

“In 'olden' days, you could tell when a story was published because you were holding a newspaper in your hand that had the day and date on top of every page! You don't have that physical information anymore in an online Facebook story or citation,” Colton said in an email to The Maroon. However, Facebook posts do contain a timestamp under the poster’s name.  

“I'll write to my friend Mark Zuckerberg about him doing this automatically so I don't have to!  :)   (He's not really my friend, yet)”

In the October interview, Colton told The Maroon that he considered himself in the top 30 most connected alumni after his 47 years at the University. When he first entered the college in September of 1969, he lived in Tufts House in Pierce Tower.  

“While I was in Tufts House, I was the athletic director. Houses were just becoming co-ed my second year. Third year Tufts House did, and the University asked us to write a constitution, so I wrote the Tufts House constitution. That’s the fondest memory I have,” Colton recalled, smiling.  

Colton withdrew from the College in 1972 for mental health reasons and after not graduating, Colton did not return to the University until 1975 when he got a job at Regenstein Library. He worked at the Regenstein for several years, and in 1987 he started taking courses again, majoring in Behavioral Sciences. Colton ultimately got his degree but continued working in the library until 1991, when he became the production and building manager at the Social Service Administration (SSA) Building. 

Colton retired in February of 2016 from his position at SSA. When The Maroon interviewed Colton in October, he joked about having too much time on his hands due to his retirement, opting to spend much of his time speaking to students both in person and on Facebook. Since October, Colton has adopted a dog named Ethel, who he affectionately refers to as “Ethel the Dog.”  

“Now I am fully occupied taking care of Ethel! Luckily dogs are lively only 10 hours per day (they sleep 14 hours per day), so I still have at least 6 hours a day to myself for a continuation of some of my 'retirement' activities, while Ethel is resting or sleeping,” he said. 

Colton often takes his Canon T6i camera with him on walks with Ethel, and plans to post some video content from his walks with her. Since he now lives 30 feet away from the SSA building, he can easily make it to campus with Ethel to shoot photo and video.  

“It is very encouraging that on my walks—which are always on campus since I live in a U of C apartment building in south campus—many students who were not smiling, start smiling when they see Ethel! And many students ask if they can pet Ethel, and do so,” he said. “In fact, there is a new trend just starting, where students come up to Ethel and say "Hi Ethel!" even though I have not introduced Ethel to the student—the student knows Ethel from Facebook!” 

Last spring, students got used to the light-hearted nature of Colton’s posts, with the occasional “doggo” or quad squirrel. As of late, however, his posts have been more serious. Colton has proposed numerous theories on departmental budget cuts, University lay-offs, and recent changes made to UChicago Marketplace. Many of his posts are based upon rumors.  

“It bothers me enormously when awful decisions by University presidents or Trustees or administrators are made which negatively affect the University, and especially The College.   So, especially since I have the time now and have no fear of ‘employee retribution,’ I will always speak up if I see something stupid or less-than-good or not-optimal,” Colton said. “These days I have not had a shortage of things to speak up about!” 

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