Memorial Hall, today, is only a shell. It stands a gaunt monument to the dead of a forgotten war, meaning little to those who prepare for a vastly greater war. As a college building the theatre annex alone fills a useful function. Mem Hall, today, has lost its dignity and its meaning.
In October of 1870 the Reverend Phillips Brooks laid the cornerstone of this most ambitious building ever attempted by the University. It was to be an immense Victorian Gothic pile, erected as memorial to "those who fought and died to preserve the Union." "The Delta," a triangular shaped piece of land which served as training grounds for the student regiments during the war, was selected as a fitting site. Four years later, amid a festive gathering of Harvard's sons the splendid dedication service took place. Oliver Wendell Holmes was there. He had written a stirring dedication hymn for the occasion. In eloquent verses he expressed the hopes of its builders:
"Our love has reared their earthly shrine, Their glory be forever thine."
The years that followed truly brought glory to Mem Hall. Those were the times when she fed one thousand students daily under the vaulted arches of her nave. Hardly a meal passed without some outburst of excitement. Bloody fights among the colored waiters, Class wars, and demonstrations against the constant stream of sightseers who thronged the galleries to "watch the animals eat" served to hallow the bust-lined walls. Many were the wild tales that passed about of stray dogs which disappeared into her kitchens never again to see the light of day.
Mem Hall is now a relic neither loved nor hated by the students. Its fantastic Gothic architecture, combining a red and blue slate roof with a monstrous green clock tower, no longer appeals to the aesthetic taste of the twentieth century. To the unsuspecting freshman it looms up on his first day as an artistic nightmare. Since the commons was discontinued in 1924, the tremendous nave is used only for registration, examinations, and Commencement. At these times the few remaining busts may be seen unreverently adorned with hats of modern style. Many debate the feasibility of junking the collossal structure. Awaiting this last humiliation Mem Hall still towers above the surrounding landscape, triumphant in its magnificent ugliness.