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College of Curiosity Hosts Three-Day Conference (With a Wedding in Between)

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | May 8, 2013 9:48am | Updated on May 8, 2013 12:47pm
 The Memorial Day weekend events include a presentation on lying, a face-off between a sideshow performer and a magician, and a wedding.
Conference of Curiosity
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SOUTH LOOP — This Memorial Day weekend, more than a hundred curious people and fans of oddities, puzzles and quirks will gather at the Glessner House Museum for the second annual College of Curiosity Conference.

The conference will include a sideshow performer and magician debating how their arts are similar and different, experiments with lying in which participants are encouraged to deceive other guests, and a Q&A with "the man who had his finger on the button of the Minuteman Missile in the '80s," said the college's founder, Jeff Wagg. 

"So this guy went to work every day knowing that he might have to blow up the world. Can you imagine what that would be like?" Wagg said.

In the middle of the three-day conference, Wagg, the head of the College of Curiosity, will wed the president of the Chicago Skeptics society, Jennifer Newport.

Wagg, who makes mobile apps by day, and pediatrician Newport will be married at the Glessner House May 25 in a "theatrical carnival" of a ceremony that features Redmoon Theatre performers, a bouncy house, "and hopefully, a monkey. I'm pretty sure a monkey," Newport said.

Wagg and Newport could have met much sooner than three years ago, since both have been actively involved in what Wagg calls "Chicago's skeptic community," referring to both the loose collective of scientifically minded people who love to debate and question, and the official Chicago Skeptics organization, which has regular meet-ups and scheduled events.

An offshoot of skepticism, the College of Curiosity is "comparable, but they look in different directions," Wagg said.

"Skepticism tends to focus on the negative, which isn't a bad thing," he said. "Curiosity, as I see it, is focusing more on the positive. But they have the same goal, and that is to determine as much of the truth as possible."

He called his group a college "in the sense that we're a group of like-minded people, not in the sense that we're an educational institution," he said, though the pursuit of education guides most of their activities, which include lectures with scientists and sideshow performers and "field trips" to exotic locales like the Bermuda Triangle.

It was on that trip that Wagg met Newport, then taking her first foray into the college's curiosity programming.

The two clicked, much like the four-piece puzzle rings they bought a few weeks ago for their wedding.

"It breaks into four rings, and you have to put it back together," Newport said. "It wasn't until later that I thought, 'He proposed to me with a riddle, and our wedding rings are puzzles, and it's all kind of perfect.'"

While combining the two events was Wagg's idea, Newport said she warmed up to it immediately.

"The fact that we're having this crazy wedding is indicative of our personalities," Newport said. "We're a fairly curious duo, so I would say yes, it's pretty darn fitting."

She loved that it was in her neighborhood, calling herself and Wagg longtime residents and "South Loop fans."

The venue also connects the wedding to the college event by way of a curiosity: On Saturday, Newport will lecture at the conference about Frances Lee Glessner, the daughter raised in the Glessner House, who followed an unlikely career path in her adult life.

"She would recreate miniature crime scenes and use them to train detectives on how to investigate crimes," Wagg said. "She had dozens of these tiny little places where there'd be a body in there. If you were a detective, you could look through the dollhouse and see what happened."

"She was just a little girl who grew up in this house on the prairie and grew up to do this weird, great thing," he said. "My fiancé is very interested in that."

The wedding is private, but tickets are still available for the College of Curiosity conference, which includes a gathering May 24, programming all day May 25 and a tour of weird Chicago landmarks (like the rocks in Tribune Tower) on May 26. Registration is $60 for adults and $35 for children under 15 on the college's website.