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The Explorer's Club & The Sugar Egg

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(Photo Credit: Vincent Liota)

We start at The Explorer’s Club — a Manhattan mansion filled with objects from the greatest adventures of the 20th century. Will Roseman gives us a tour that brings out a 40-year argument between Robert and his wife Tamar about the power of physical things to transport us into the past. Then we get in the studio with producer Vin Liota, who weaves together, right in front of us, the tender tale of a man, an egg, a box, and a tree. In the end, our own desire to share the objects in this show leads to a surprising ending, and a new beginning.

The scan of Rick's sugar egg at the moment everything changed:


Vincent Liota, Rick Rawlins and Will Roseman

Comments [46]

ElleIt from oregon

At the point of the egg story where he carried it the whole way to the new home, I burst into tears. I got it. I burst into tears at that point of the story. It was proof of something someone who moves a lot usually lacks- friendship. I was a corporate mover- my family moved every 2-3 years. To grow up with no long-term relationships outside of ones family- and only see relatives occassionally because everyone is so far-flung- is highly destructive for the kids. The tree, box and egg story was cool. Kind of wish i'd shut it off after that. Not sure what the point was of scanning it in the first place. Would have been interesting to hear if the kid who gave him the egg remembered giving it to him and what his reaction would be to finding out how much it meant.

Mar. 19 2017 06:05 AM
Jay from San Diego

Wow such a beautiful story. I am very sad about the sugar egg. He should've never let those meddling radioLabbers touch it! Its made of sugar guys, come on! Are ya kidding me? Thats a priceless memory you shattered. To be fair thou must each let the owner shatter your most prized possessions. Eye for an eye! Just kidding. Keep up the good stories guys (and stop breaking stuff!) Kudos.

Mar. 14 2017 10:30 PM
Alex Kosterman

Hi, I was wondering if anyone knew the name of the documentary this guy was making? I'd be really interested to find out more.

Aug. 01 2016 07:17 AM
S Turner from California

To Kim from Cheyenne:

-The idea of 3D printing the egg was so that other people could interact with the object.

-Jad was not cavalier about the egg's breakage. He called the its owner and said "We are so, so, so, so, so sorry" about what happened.


Jan. 31 2016 07:26 PM
Kim Parfitt from Cheyenne, Wyoming

The story of the egg was so amazing. But I am stunned, first that someone thought using a 3D printer to make more "things" would be appropriate, so antithetical to the whole concept of the experience shaping a life. Like technology can simply replicate that remarkable moment on the porch for a lonely boy finding connection.
Second, that the staff of RadioLab acted so cavalier about the egg's destruction. "We broke an egg..." So disappointed with RadioLab.

Thank you for the owner of the egg for showing such grace and innovation in sharing the story and then, inviting your 8 year old neighbor to participate in the continuation of your story.

Jan. 31 2016 02:40 PM

What this story is really about is the power of memory, and the human need to remember and to reinforce connections with others. Having sympathy and empathy are critical to forming a civil society, and apologizing for breaking the subjects personal property is not only appropriate, it's respectful.

I can't understand some commenters extreme reaction to a story, or why theyvlistened so long if they didn't get something from it, and ultimately why it made them so angry they had to write about it.

There is more disaster-porn media than any human could consume in a lifetime in the media every day. And listening to stories of human suffering doesn't alleviate the subject's suffering. In fact, after a point seems very self indulgent, as if listening to them and being outraged at them alleviates the guilt of the truth that nothing will change the fact that you are still living a comfortable life far away from them.

I volunteer, and i donate to philanthropic causes, and i follow international political and social news. And i can also enjoy a well-crafted story that doesn't center on someone who is a suffering or abused citizen of a foreign country.

There are so many amazing, beautiful, insightful, challenging stories in the world, i am appreciative for public radio bringing the full spectrum to us every week - the good the bad AND the ugly.

Jan. 31 2016 01:22 PM
Sher Lewis

Robert should give up on trying to change his wife. So, she has different interests. Just keep his sentimental items away from her grasp.

Which leads to the sugar egg. Thank you so much for a story that honors the
soft spots that many of us have. And the desire for connection, especially when we
move to new towns or countries where it can be hard to make new friends.

Jan. 30 2016 10:41 PM

After hearing you story on the sugar egg, I was drawn to an old cola tray I too have collected small widgets and momentos not left behind or disposed of. Old model parts, screws left behind, chains and rings, what stimulated my search was a sliver of old tree wood from a pepper tree some landscaper had given to my mother in the early 70's, as a effort to impress her I planted it a corner of my vegatable garden I tended as a youth. The tree was sickly for years and tended to make gardening underneath nearly impossible but always well trimmed .
In 1990 my brother informed me of the removal of the tree, he planed removal under the same reasoning. I showed up and whittled off a section of tree no bigger then a drink swizzle, ( used it as such a few times, cut with a pocket buck knife 727 my mother had In fact given me as a gift. )
Reintroduction to the wooden swizzle, was a wonderful throw back in what that small piece of now bend up old pepper tree represents. It's not catologed or preserved and irrelevant to most all, but loving replaced among the gadgets I've collected. Probably disposed of when I'm gone. Best kept to myself. Thanks for the story radiolab.

Jan. 30 2016 06:57 PM

Oh my goodness! That is such a sad, but touching story. I can relate to that childhood loneliness.

Jan. 30 2016 01:22 PM
EMG from Cleveland

Rick, I get it about your egg. I REALLY I get it about your egg. I have three sugar eggs made by my mother who passed away about a year an a half ago at age 78. These eggs were exquisitely made and preserved. They were made in the 1950's or 1960's when she was taking cake decorating classes. They are about 7 x 5 x 5 inches and have a 2 x 2 inch opening in one end. She made each half of the egg out of sugar and then made a scene out of icing in each bottom half of the egg. There are different kinds of flowers, rabbits eating carrots, ducks in a pond, a church, a windmill and a garden complete with lettuce and carrots growing out of the soil. The detail is amazing. Then the top of the sugar egg was placed over the bottom and the seam was disguised with decorative icing. Then the egg was adorned with icing flowers that cascade over the top. While the icing on the outside has faded, the scenes inside have not and one can look in and they are as perfect as the day she made them. As you can imagine, when we look in these "things," we see so much more than the scenes made out of icing.

Jan. 27 2016 09:01 PM
Julie from Denver

I almost cried several times during this story; for sympathy with Rick's childhood loneliness and the preciousness of his egg, with sadness when the egg was broken, and with utter dismay when I heard Jad say the word epoxy... that "repair" will cause permanent and irreparable damage to what could otherwise have been safely restored.

Please, please, please, if you have a fragile or broken artifact take it to a professional art conservator. The American Institute for Conservation has listings of art conservators around the US (and the world) who specialize in the treatment of specific materials and artifacts.

Apr. 18 2015 01:03 AM
Paul B. from Illinois, USA

I also have a limited number of small things from my childhood which I cannot throw away. I'm in my retired years now and have a sense of my end coming some day. Since I'm alone, I know that my saved childhood or early life things are going to be thrown away by someone some day. But I feel that there is an opportunity here for someone to come up with a place where such items may be held for the owner forever. I'm not referring to their casket or niche (but two possibilities), but a place where these items can be examined, recorded, saved under the deceased name, but retrievable for viewing by family or friends long into the future. What does anyone else think about such a place? Or is this just a terribly unique and unworkable idea? What say you?

Sep. 28 2014 10:59 PM
suki from Atlanta

I loved this story. We all carry these fragile memories around with us.

Sep. 28 2014 08:22 PM

For the posters who hate the sugar egg story because it wasn't tied to (For example) "children dying crossing deserts to reunite with parents" - have you ever listened to Radiolab before? It is a light program, geberally a humorous one. I'm aware that there is a lot of strife and tragedy in the news, but must every program devote every moment to such things? I thought we had enough of the narrow minded term "Relevance" in 20th C. academia.

Sep. 28 2014 05:50 PM

Entertaining story! Thanks!

Sep. 28 2014 01:24 PM

I enjoyed the story about the sugar egg and the box and the tree.

Sep. 27 2014 06:24 PM

I had many reactions listening to the sugar egg segment. First off, I was a "military brat" (never understood that term. . .) whose family moved and moved, before settling down in Colorado (not a good experience for me, since I was spiritually in love with the ocean). Secondly, I am older, disabled now (but back near an ocean). I live in an apartment nearly ready to be featured on 'Hoarders', it is so brimmed with 'things'.

But, as I listened my first feeling was the memory of my time working in a museum. In fact, as they were speaking of objects and feeling their history, I could feel my pulse quickening!

I spent several years working on projects, including a physical inventory of the tens of thousands of objects stored in an off-site warehouse of this large museum. What an awesome experience!

Our museum possessed one of the largest collections of west coast Native American basketry. There were intricately woven baskets smaller than a thimble, to ones that were large enough to hold two people! We had an old west jailhouse from the gold rush era; Admiral Peary's sled from his North Pole expedition; a bi-centennial time capsule (a coffin painted with an American flag); art, toys, architectural pieces, natural science objects, and on and on. Holding these things allowed me to sense, feel, experience something that I can't even put into words (although "putting into words" was a major part of our project that I thoroughly enjoyed).

I guess it is because over the years, as another poster here mentioned, even those items that were dear to me as a child, teen and young adult, ended up being 'lost' in various moves. Additionally, everyone in my immediate family has passed on and I probably have fewer than a dozen photos altogether of my family or youth. I have no children, spouse, or extended family, except one aunt who is 87 and lives halfway across the country. In essence, I have 'things', each one that I can pick up and recall experiences, people, lessons, love and more. It's not often that I do, but at least these things are *mine*. None of them are "valuable" in a monetary sense; most are paper (notes, letters, stories, drawings, etc.), art (by friends), books, textiles, baskets, boxes, etc., but they're the few things that tangibly allow me to remember the multifaceted terrain of my life.

I thought it was horrible that people treated the egg so carelessly, and even that they wanted to scan it in the first place. Once the damage was done, every effort should have been undertaken to restore it. One thing I've come to know is that unfortunately, others rarely treat borrowed items with care and respect. I did love the story behind the egg and I actually got teary-eyed. I so knew that feeling as a child, of always moving and if you did make a friend, it was then time to move on. The fact that he was able to maintain that sugar egg for 40 years was beautiful.

Sep. 27 2014 06:18 PM
James Herring from Miami, Florida

I work at a science museum and would be interested to know if you ever put together the exhibition? I would be interested in helping and maybe getting it shown. Please contact me if you are interested.

Sep. 27 2014 04:35 PM

Who's making the documentary about this s
Topic? They ,entombed his name but I missed it.

Sep. 25 2014 10:02 PM
Ray from PA

Am I the only one who is driven crazy by the fact that we didn't find out what, if anything was inside the egg? It was inferred at the beginning that these eggs were sealed up after having some kind of jellybeans or treat or something in the egg. Was it in fact empty? Since it wasn't mentioned I want to assume it was empty but it's gnawing just a little at me...

Aug. 11 2014 11:09 AM

Interesting that R Daneel Olivaw feels no empathy with a story clearly used to illustrate how tokens can have meaning and resonate throughout our lives, while he uses the pseudonym of a humaniform robot incapable of feeling empathy. A strong sense of irony, or none at all?

Jul. 14 2014 10:19 PM
Ronda Combes from Idaho Springs CO

I completely understand the importance of the sugar egg. As an adult, I have found peace and closure in revisiting the numerous places my family lived (state side and overseas). We moved so much that my childhood became more of a dream than a reality. Visiting the places we lived solidified my childhood, allowed me to say, "I was here, this was real." Listening to your podcast made me cry because I found a kindred spirit in your story. Thank you.

Jul. 10 2014 05:40 PM
Ellis from Illinois

Yes, we become emotionally attached to things that represent a memory or memories and sentiments.
I totally understand it.
However, in my own little world,I was so anticipating that Robert would have attempted to locate his old friend David after the egg was destroyed.

Jul. 08 2014 03:17 PM
Nickolay from Moscow

It is somehow strange coincidence, but PLA plastic used in 3D printing is basically sugar. Technically any egg from this scan, produced in PLA is also a shugar egg.

Jul. 04 2014 04:22 PM
R Daneel Olivaw

"... I feel that an egg breaking from a childhood memory to a privileged man is revolting." I had much the same reaction. There must be ten thousand podcasts full of human-interest stories. I assume; I don't know. When I want a human-interest story, I'll talk to an actual human, in person. There are seven billion people on this planet. Probably most of them have stories like this, about some obsessive emotional attachment. What's special about this one?

I listen to podcasts to learn about the world, about how things work. ("Things" in a broad sense, including politics, economics, and psychology, among others.) If this story had connected to anything broader, such as maybe the psychology and neurology of attachment, or the philosophy that teaches that attachment causes suffering, that might have been interesting. But that didn't happen.

Jun. 25 2014 01:02 PM
R from Colorado

I had to stop listening after Radiolab crew apologized profusely for the egg breaking. At this moment there are children dying crossing deserts to reunite with parents, so many more hard realities innocent children are experiencing that unfortunately I feel that an egg breaking from a childhood memory to a privileged man is revolting. Radiolab how about you get out of your comfort-zone and ask a more diverse group of people from diverse backgrounds for story ideas. Please, speak about making media in a bubble. Bleh.

Jun. 23 2014 11:56 PM
Andrew from Woodside

Did the scan produce a valid file? I have 2 3d printers at home and a fleet in my highschool, and by printing the cracked egg I feel like I could be a part of the story.

Jun. 13 2014 10:51 AM
dale janus from ohio

Every day at lunch I walk the nearby bike trail for 40 minutes. Usually I listen to music, but every so often I listen to radiolab. I just got a new phone, so I had to go looking around to find radiolab, but I find it and start listening to this story on things. The sugar egg story was pretty good and then their was the seed vase story. So I'm walking back up the bike trail to the office, listening to them trying to find it 11 years later, and the next thing I know, I'm at the next cross street. I had walked a half mile past the office listening to the story!
keep up the good work.

Jun. 12 2014 03:27 PM
John from Edmonton, Alberta

I honestly thought this was playing out such that you gave him a broken 3D printed copy of the egg to see how he'd react and then give him back his real egg. Would have been kinda terrible, but at least it would have had a happy ending!

Thanks for the show - just found it and I'm loving it already.


Jun. 11 2014 11:17 AM

I thought this was a beautiful and sad story. I cannot understand how some commenters cannot remember the fragile state of their own 8 year old heart and how even as an adult, the fragile egg could hold such profound feelings from childhood.

Jun. 10 2014 03:33 AM
H K from Vegas

I loved this story. It made me cry- but out of relief that I am understood; I'm not the only one made sentimental about something physical that symbolizes something much more profound. We are "America's Gypsies" also known as military families. I have moved so many times. Once, I actually moved to Idaho from Washington where I had planted some beloved maples, just like David in the story. I feel tired and bone weary of the newness of every experience. After hearing this story, I am reminded of why I so want OUT of this lifestyle. I would like to try living with roots instead of wings. I want to be planted, myself! Wings take you a lot of places, but roots allow you to pull sustenance from your surroundings.

Jun. 07 2014 07:40 PM
Mommalibrarian from midwest USA

Sugar eggs are edible to the same degree that sugar cubes are edible. Eating them is not the point. The ones I remember had little scenes inside them, built with sugary icing. Later the scenes were made with cardboard. They were often given at Easter. They only things that would destroy them were pressure and moisture. They would last forever in a desert tomb.

Jun. 07 2014 05:45 PM
Mike C. from Grand Canyon, AZ

I was very happy to learn that you found someone who can fix Rick's broken egg. Before today I thought that food repair was a joke from a 30-year-old John Candy sketch.

"Hello, Roy's Food Repair ... Uh-huh ... Yeah, eggs? Yeah, we fix 'em."

Jun. 06 2014 11:17 AM
Rob from Cincinnati

Beautiful stories, just one question. What is the music that starts playing at about the 13 minute mark and cuts out at about 14:10?

Jun. 06 2014 10:00 AM
Brianna Murphy

My father has a half eaten lasagna he has kept in our cupboard for nearly 30 years. It now looks much like tar coated baking pan. When I asked my mother why she never threw it out she replied with a sort of resigned contempt, "Because it would be grounds for a divorce."
Needless to say this episode hit close to home.

Jun. 06 2014 02:40 AM
M O'Connor from San Francisco

Does anyone know the music used in this story?

Jun. 04 2014 09:12 PM
klc10 from NH

I wasn't a fan of the sugar egg story either. I've never gotten attached to objects. Having said that, though, I did feel horrible when they broke the egg. Although I wasn't invested in the object, I did feel myself having empathy for the guy who WAS invested.

Jun. 04 2014 12:14 PM
Raymond Tapia from Chicago, IL

I can relate with Rick, the owner of the egg. While I was a kid, my family relocated from country to country, because my father was in the military. I have fond and unpleasant memories for which I assigned those memories to many items. Unfortunately because of moving most, if not all items, were lost. I still continue to move around as an adult, and I generally don't like to keep things. But listening to this story I couldn't help think that of all the things I would most want to keep it would be at least one item that held great significance to my brother. He passed away 10 years ago. His death was sudden and such a shock that my family gave little thought to knowing what to really keep. I have at least photos, but I would love to have what he found to be most special to him in his life. So even if someone thinks of an item having insignificance it sure has significance to another. The sugar egg has much meaning to Rick and that's all that matters. I would tend to think of it as part of your history and culture that played a role in who you are today. Thanks for sharing the story Rick and Radiolab.

Jun. 03 2014 12:40 PM

I find it interesting that we assume that an anecdotal story loses all importance and meaning just because it is not meta enough, or because it doesn't have any bearing on culture, science, history, etc. The reality is that we need these personal stories to understand the world around us. If we merely look to analytical information and never see how it is lived out we miss out on the most important information that would help us think about the way that we live our lives. This is a great example of how Radiolab takes a lofty idea such as object permanence, or object physiology and apply it to our lives. Great work everyone. Loved the episode.

Jun. 03 2014 09:57 AM
Davel from Driving through South Carolina

I can't believe so many people commented that they don't empathize with this mans affection for this egg. The egg symbolizes something profoundly deep for him that radiolab did a great job of communicating. I definitely have objects like that and if hurts to lose it!

Jun. 02 2014 04:26 PM
Nicole from Miami

Such a touching and sweet story. I think most of us have objects that hold meaning for us which would make strangers go "ooookay". Doesn't mean he's creepy or weird.

Jun. 01 2014 09:28 PM

Should be titled creepy nostalgia. Breaking the o so special egg saved it for me though....

Jun. 01 2014 07:48 PM
Sondre Kraglund

The egg story was very boring, I did not care for the egg, story or the man. Just because some dude really likes this thing does not make it any interesting to me, just like Robert's wife does not share his enthusiasm of things. No matter how big the words he uses are or how profound his feelings for the things are, she simply do not share it. Why would listeners feel any different about the egg story, especially when the object is some pointless thing that has no impact on history, culture or society other than some guy's feelings, which is quite the opposite of the aforementioned objects? I get the point of it, but the story does not make up for how boring its content is.

Jun. 01 2014 07:01 PM
Benjamin Polygon

You guys fucked up a man's sugar egg... that's the kind of thing that can't be forgiven.

Jun. 01 2014 06:37 PM
Zachary Noel

Jun. 01 2014 05:35 PM
C Daniels from Massachusetts

Frankly, I find the idea of any food item being kept for 40 years weird and even kind of creepy. Sharing the STORY of the egg, however, is priceless, especially to a member of the next generation! I think it is also likely to much longer than 40 years.
This is, in fact, the reason I love and value these shows! Neither memories nor even electronic bytes may be forever, but seem that much more valuable to me than the objects they inspire.

Jun. 01 2014 01:32 PM

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