An advertisement for Cronin's, a popular campus tavern of the 1950s.
William A.V. Cecil came to Harvard from his native North Carolina after fighting for England during the tail end of the Second World War (his father was British and his mother American). He studied government at the College and, after his undergraduate years, he became an officer at a New York bank and worked both in New York and in Washington, D.C. In 1959, he resigned from the banking world and took up the role of preservationist at the Biltmore Estate in North Caorlina, his familys home. His challenge was to preserve the 250-room Biltmore House and the surrounding lands for future generations. In 1963, the Department of the Interior declared Biltmore a National Landmark.
One afternoon recently, Cecil sat down to reminisce. He typed what came to mind, and here is the resulta look at the lighter side of College life in the Class of 1952.
I do not think that we were conscious of the fact that as we walked through the Yard to Thayer Hall we were entering what would, in all likelihood, be the last class of veterans from the Second World War. In fact, I suspect that this was rather irrelevant, since all of us wanted to get on with our lives. To one degree or another these lives had been interrupted, either by the Germans or by the Japanese, and now it was time to start afresh and get an education then proceed to conquer the world.
The Yard welcomed us, but Thayer Hall was our destination, old and daunting, the steps leading to the first floor were well worn and suffered from years of waxing. The suite to which I had been assigned was large enough. There was only one bedroom and this was rather small, but adequate, providing my roommate was congenial. The living room was fine and had a nice view of the Yard. It also had a view of some of the more modern Houses and these were the envy of many in Thayer. My roommate had not yet arrived but sounded fine. He, like myself, was a Navy veteran. He served in the U.S. Navy and I in the British Navy. With that assurance and the encouragement of other freshmen, after dinner we headed for a night on the town at a place called Scully Square (once a red-light district in Boston, Scully Square is now known as Government Center).
We all settled in to the University routine. The aggressive magazine sellers loaded us up with more subscriptions than we could handle and the telephone was installed. Ice was acquired as well as a small refrigerator and gin, bourbon and scotch was procured. Glasses and shakers from the Coop soon found there way to Thayer and life took on a pleasant, but totally different, routine than heretofore. Classes were selected. Many veterans took extra classes so that they could finish sooner, but others stayed with the suggested loads. Martinis, shaken or stirred, were the drinks of choice.
Football games were enjoyed and were the activity of choice in the fall. I remember one Harvard-Yale Game when MIT decided to have some fun. A group of engineers thought that they had been ignored by the Harvard students and faculty. In revenge they decided to make their presence known at this, the holiest of holy tradition. During the night previous to the encounter, the group buried a wire under the turf and in the center of the field spelled out MIT. The letters were meant to have been burned into the field during half-time, just after the Harvard band finished their playing. They ran a cable back to the stands but, unfortunately for them, they ran out of time and thus hurried to cover up the telltale detonation wires. The Harvard security force, who only had to wait until the plotters arrived with their plunger, discovered the wires. The group spent a night in jail but the next day were forgiven by the police and suspended by MIT for a term, and life returned to normal.
As 49 faded into 50 our classes progressed. My roommate decided that bachelorhood was for the birds and married a charming and delightful lady. They were and still are amongst my best friends. Friendships and groups were made and changed until finally everyone settled down.
By the fall of 50 we all moved into the various houses. I landed at Eliot where the tutor was much loved. He was a Greek scholar and sometimes forgot that all of us lived in the twentieth century. He would, over a glass of sherry, refer to the traffic along the river as those boxes traveling from nowhere to some place else! Also resident in Eliot House was a senior editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He used to do his morning exercises in the buff and one day the biddy (a term used to describe the wonderful Irish maids who, as long as the remuneration was adequate, looked after the students) walked into his room using her latchkey and found him on the floor in his birthday suit. Oh my God! she exclaimed. No Madam, not GodArthur Darby Knock! The story may be apocryphal, but we all knew it at the time.
The years rolled on. Korea replaced the Second World War and those facing the draft besieged veterans with service related questions. Many volunteered for service; others who had missed being in the war were either called up or hastily volunteered so that they could return to Harvard after completing their military service. In some cases this was a lifesaver, since the grades they obtained in College might have forced the student to leave the class involuntarily!
I could not close this reminiscence without mentioning Cronins Bar. It was here that much education was discussed. However, the small glasses of 10-cent beer lacked distinction. One night, after much carousing, a student, at least I suppose it was a student from somewhere, shouted that the beer was undrinkable and Cronin came over to see what the matter was. He tasted the beer, spat it out and picked up the student and threw him out the door, much to the amusement of all in the beer hall!