50 Years Later, the Gang's All Here
Merry Memories Of Fair Harvard
One of the first things I did upon arriving in Cambridge in 1926 was to go swimming in the nude in Boston Harbor. For a country boy (there were 24 in Ridgefield, Conn. high school graduating class), this was a novel experience. It was a big public beach, the name of which I do not remember, and it was crowded with males of all ages and descriptions. The more modest ones wore a tiny jock strap which they got with their tickets, but most were not modest.
Back at Gore Hall I began unpacking my trunk--yes, trunk--and becoming acquainted with my three roommates. Being a waiter in the Gore Dining Hall, I was soon to know everyone in the building. Not until the middle of my senior year would I be able financially to give up waiting on tables.
A young fellow came to my newspaper office the other day looking for a job. He had just graduated from Duke and told me that while there he had gotten religion and was going to become a minister. "You're the exception rather than the rule," I told him. "Often the Sunday School boy goes off to college and becomes an atheist."
Something of the same happened to me. I went to Harvard thinking I wanted to become a Congregational minister, mostly because I was certain that I could preach a better sermon than those that I had been brought up with. Professor James Hardy Ropes, a father of a classmate of ours, was my faculty adviser. I didn't see him much, and I think he gave up on me. I went voluntarily to Appleton Chapel a few times and listened to President Lowell read the scriptures. My father, who was of the Class of 1901, had had to go to chapel every morning. President Eliot read the Bible lessons in those days. By the time of the November hour exams I was so busy studying (and worrying that I wouldn't make it) that I forgot about becoming a clergyman. President Lowell didn't miss me, I know, because I used to meet him and his small dog walking through the Yard and he never even raised his stooped head to speak to me.
I decided early on that I would major, oops, concentrate, in Government, and I took the well-known courses--Government A, English A, Math A, History A and so on. Historian Frisky Merriam was walking across the stage of New Lecture Hall in 1926 and putting his feet up on the lectern, distracting his students. He was a character. Later on I had Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. in another history course. He told the story of some C-minus student who had to be told what femmes de guerre were. "Oh, I thought they were hors de combat," the fellow said. That's what Schlesinger said he said.
Professor Arthur N. Holcombe took over from Professor Ropes, becoming my faculty adviser in government. He was a fine man, a down-to-earth sort that everybody liked. Why I later took Professor Kirsopp Lake's half-year course in the New Testament escapes me. But it was a good course given by a reverent man. One day a classmate of ours came to the lecture straight from a fraternity hazing. He sat in the front row, and his garb and painted face so outraged Professor Lake that he dismissed the class without even starting his lecture.
I don't know what happens nowadays, but back in the '20s the College Doctor circulated through the Freshman dormitories giving talks on sex to small groups of boys. You could go if you wanted to: some did and some didn't. I found the sessions instructive and they may have delayed the beginning of my active sex life.
When the John W. Weeks Memorial Footbridge was dedicated right outside our Gore Hall windows, I went out to see and listen to General John J. Pershing, the World War I hero, among others. How many know today that John W. Weeks was Secretary of War in Warren Harding's cabinet?
The University theater opened in the Square sometime in 1926 and it put on two movies nightly--one silent and one talking--and the place was well patronized. One hot night a few mischievous students gathered outside of the theater and started annoying a couple of Cambridge cops for whom they had little respect. More cops appeared and more students. The taunts continued. One officer used his stick on one fellow and the riot began. It lasted well into the night and a lot of boys wound up in jail, some of them hurt quite badly. It was a big story for the Herald next morning and for the Transcript and the Traveler in the afternoon.
Freshmen in my day had to engage in something athletic. I didn't like that much, being a non-athlete, so I settled for handball in the winter and rowing a wherry on the Charles in the spring. By the time Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in May, 1927, I was facing final exams with a feeling of assurance that I would make it and someday graduate. I was so relaxed that I even consented to go with a bunch of boys to the old Howard that night. That old burlesque house no longer stands in Scollay Square, and I don't much regret it. I went only once and sat directly under the edge of the first balcony. The men up there were not very gentlemanly. Some were chewing tobacco and used the area below for a spittoon. Most of my gang left before the girls onstage finished taking off their clothes.
In my second and third years, I lived in a Business School dormitory alongside the stadium and worked in one of the dining halls. By then I was a section head usher and saw all of the football games. The most exciting one was the Harvard-Dartmouth 20-20 tie in 1927. I think that was the year.
The proctor of our dormitory was Joshua Whatmough, associate professor of Analytical Philology. He was an Englishman, small of stature and short on humor. We boys made life miserable for the poor man. But he liked me pretty well because I felt sorry for him and thought some of the boys went too far in teasing him. But we were all surprised (and pleased) when he got married a year or two later. We had him pegged as a lifetime bachelor. Among other things, he had a thermometer calibrated to tell him which underwear to put on at which temperature.
My roommate Chesley and I started collecting license plates in 1928 and before we got through we had all the states. We struck up quite an acquaintance with a girl in the Motor Vehicle Department in Miles, Mont., to whom we had written for a sample plate. Most states were quite generous. We told them we were making a study of the style and type of license plate for a college course. Tennessee sent us a pair of perfectly good plates. Some guy snitched them and used them when he went home for the summer.
We also answered all the ads in a magazine called Ten Storybooks. We had the replies come to Miss Chesley N. Dunlap because my name was clearly masculine. One producer of a breast pump was most persistent in trying to sell his gadget to Miss Dunlap. At length he sent along a picture of a bearded minister who had accidentally got hold of the pump and you should see what it did to him.
I wasn't old enough to vote in the 1928 Presidential election, but I got steamed up about it. At home I had won a prize for an essay supporting Hoover and at College on election night we all went to the Union where Albert Bushnell Hart gave the returns and told us what they meant. It was a sad day for Al Smith. A year later, the Great Depression was on. On the day of the Stock Market Crash there were no Transcripts or Travelers left in the Business School dining hall. Those businessmen, including President Hoover's youngest son, Alan, snatched them up e'er the ink was dry.
To become a senior and to have the privilege of living in the Yard was a thrilling event. I have never been able to understand why lowly freshmen are now housed in those ancient buildings. Those kids probably don't even yell for Reinhart on those nights when they're all keyed up for exams. They certainly don't wear caps and gowns around the Yard in the weeks before Commencement. Perhaps nobody does nowadays.
But everybody did for Commencement 1930, everybody including Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Governor of New York State, who received an honorary degree that day. He stood there supported by his oldest son, James, of the Class of 1930.
I had worked in the catalogue department of Widener Library during part of my college years and had access to its deepest recesses. It was this experience that got me my first post-graduation job of cataloguing the library of the Fly Club. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt had both belonged to it during their college days.
My Harvard years prepared me well for my newspaper career, better than any school of journalism could do. A good academic education is the best training for everything