A Missing Place…Revisited

Wow! Of all the topics we’ve covered recently, my previous post certainly caught everyone’s attention, and rightly so. Thanks to so many of you who commented below or wrote me directly. It’s always wonderful to have that level of response.

So, a few updates: Several of you eagle-eyed folks tracked down two more African American faces in the crowd, and Renny Little pointed out quite a number of missing places if you look closely enough – however, only our lone black man sits by himself. At the request of several of you, I did a little poking around the Archives last week, and I believe I can now tell you who our man is. May I introduce James Graham Wolff, ’04:

Born Cambridge MA 1881; prepared Boston Latin school; AB 1904 LLB (Boston YMCA Law School 1911)

From the 25th Class report: Wolf graduated from the Boston Normal School [a teacher’s college, Ed.] in 1907, and received a certificate to teach in the Boston public schools. The following September he accepted the position of clerk in the office of District Attorney John B Moran, at the same time studying for his LLB.     He writes: “For sixteen years I was attached to the District Attorney’s office, Boston, and since resigning I have engaged in independent practice with a special attention to conveyancing. During the war I was recommend for the Training School for Infantry at Camp Pike, Arkansas, but the Armistice was declared before I was called. Meanwhile, I served on the Boston Committee for Public Safety, including the subcommittee on recruiting. I have always been interested in public affairs, and have been active in many political campaigns  sometimes openly, sometime behind the scenes. Otherwise I have lived very conservatively all my life within five miles of the University, and for many years but one mile from Harvard Square.”

From 50th Class Report: “Last January I retired after four years as Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and on retirement was one of the five assistants who were presented with gold cuff links for outstanding service to the District Attorney’s office. My father, who came down from Dartmouth to the Harvard Law School and was a practicing attorney at Boston for many years, was an outstanding officer of the Grand Army of the Republic, rising to be Department Commander of Massachusetts and Judge Advocate General of the national body. My library, which has accumulated for three generations, has now been greatly depleted by the donation of a large number of volumes to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.”

Wolff married twice, once in 1915 (widowed) and again in 1948. No children are recorded.

All in all, quite a testament to courage in that day and age.

And on one final note, while I was poking around, I found Lathrop Brown!

FDR, however, is still at large!

A Missing Place

One of the most delightful aspects of my “job” with the FDR Suite Foundation has been the interaction I’ve had with our students over the last four years. They are an incredible group of young adults at that wonderful point in life where nothing seems impossible and all roads remain open – their energy and enthusiasm are palpable, and provide a tonic for older, wearier bones. Our students are also incredibly, incredibly diverse, in a way that many of you who still remember the tie-and-jacket-clad all male Harvard of old might find almost unfathomable. Even I, who lived in Adams during the fast and free – and now almost legendary – 1980s am impressed. Looking out over the dining hall, the sea of faces is almost kaleidoscopic: Asian, African, Caucasian, Indo-European, European, Native American, of every kind and creed imaginable. There is no one of anything. And the interesting point is, our students take this state of affairs entirely for granted, as if Harvard had always been that way. Of course, if asked, they’ll certainly acknowledge that history must have been far different. But I don’t think they comprehend how different, and sometimes that bothers me; for to measure the worth of such intangibles, don’t you need some personal understanding of the opposite? Can you truly appreciate heat without knowing cold? Sweet without sour? Light without dark? Life without death?

No, I don’t believe so. Not fully. Nor do I think you are fully able to appreciate the expansive man Franklin Delano Roosevelt became as President unless you understand the much more narrow ‘Frank’ Roosevelt at Harvard, along with his highly restricted and closed off college world.

So… long story short, when I give tours of the Suite, I’m always looking for poignant illustrations of how rarefied life in Westmorly Court was, and how different the Harvard College of 1904 is from today’s Harvard University – The Gold Coast with its maid service, private clubs, breakfast in bed, bootblacks and doormen;  the $50 Harvard tuition; the $500 Westmorly rent (the equivalent of some 35K); the gaslit rooms with flickering hearths; the neighing four-in-hand at each street corner; the 10 days it took to reach Europe by steamer,  or the 6 days to the West Coast by steam engine (if you were lucky)….  Remarkable changes all, but still only charming facts and figures to the young.

And then one day a few weeks back, I came across this, or more precisely, I came across this once again, for I personally hung the full size version of this picture in the Suite last fall. (Click on the image to expand the photo.)

Now, I’ve looked at this picture a hundred times at least, in a fruitless search to find FDR and Lathrop in the sea of faces. (FDR, almost assuredly, is there somewhere. The man never missed a photo-op in his life.) But what struck me as I passed the other day was how uniform those faces were. Surely, there must be someone of color somewhere? Seemingly not… But then, wait, up there on the very last row, far to the left…

Sure enough. One proud black face, and next to him… a missing place. And then I noticed something else I had never seen before. A man standing – the only man standing – in the top row, behind the seated figures.

While we can’t be sure, does this seem a likely coincidence to you, that the only face of color in a sea of white is the only one with no one sitting next to him, and that the sole standing man has somehow missed the one remaining seat a few spots down to his right?


I must admit that this discovery – perceived though it may be – has removed some of the pleasure this picture once held for me. Rather than playfully searching for Frank and Lapes as before, my gaze now inevitably wanders to that sole black face, sitting all alone, and I think to myself: what a courageous and remarkable person you must have been to attend a College where people chose not to sit next to you merely because of the color of your skin!

Still, as with most things, there’s a silver lining, I suppose. That perfect example I sought of how much life at Harvard has changed? It’s now just a mouse click away.

Restoring FDR’s Harvard, One Pixel at a Time

A number of our readers have been curious as to how we’ve found all the framed art that hangs on our walls. Well, let me tell you –  it’s been quite a process. First of all, we’ve been extremely lucky: discovering Lathrop’s descendants and their generous sharing of the Brown family archives; acquiring rare finds from the internet such as the Hertzog scrapbook I wrote about last week; benefiting from wonderful scholarship and support from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. But even with all this, sometimes it’s not enough to fulfill our mission. You see, unlike a house museum where the present is held in stasis, our goal is to create a living environment that actually transports you to 1904. If all the materials look old and faded, the illusion is compromised. Think about it: In 1904, everything would be new, or newish; colors bright, fabrics fresh, pages crisp. Which is why, for instance, we had craftsman Lary Shaffer create two “new-old” Morris chairs, and why we’ve sent “FDR’s desk” out for a complete renovation. Unlike the folks on the Antiques Roadshow, we don’t want too much patina of age.

This is especially true of paper goods. Take for instance this fascinating piece which came as part of the EBay find last week:

Now while it doesn’t look like much in its current state, this is really something special. It’s a 13″ x 19″ map of Harvard, drawn by the Harvard School of Engineering, centered on University Hall, and showing the extent of the College in 1901-1902, FDR’s sophomore year. Not only does the key list principle buildings of the University along with dates of construction, but it also shows the addresses of most of the principal professors at the College. (Can you imagine that in this day and age!) Unfortunately for us, the condition is pretty bleak: besides having a huge bite out of the right hand margin, the map had been folded and left in a very acidic scrapbook for almost a century – you can see the acid marks clearly. Now as an antique, this piece could conceivably be mounted and hung in the Suite, and we could call it a day. But its very condition reminds us all too readily that 110 years have passed. It’s 2010, not 1904, looking at this map. How much better would be a fresh copy, say, like this…

And in fact, we now have just that, ready for framing. This minor miracle is achieved using a program called Photoshop, which allows an operator to manipulate digital images. The process goes like this: the original document is first scanned into the computer, and then, in a series of steps, the effects of aging are removed one by one. This is possible because the computer sees the image not as a picture, but as millions of tiny dots called pixels, each with an assigned range of characteristics. I can ask the computer to group and isolate these pixels in a variety of ways – taking say, all the pixels of a certain color tone (such as faded tan) and changing them to white. I can have the computer sharpen lines by telling it to group all pixels within a certain color range more tightly and eliminate outliers. I can also remove or reinforce any element, eliminating a tear here, or darkening a capital there. (In actual period photographs, the process is much more dynamic and difficult, but the result is the same. We can often return a damaged century-old photo to brand-new condition.) The correction process is very much trial and error, and relies entirely on the skill level of the operator. Fortunately, after ten years in the media biz, I’ve gotten to be an old hand at such digital manipulation. (Need to lose 10 pounds and those wrinkles on your published photo, give me a buzz! lol) Still, it takes a tremendous amount of time. The map above required a good three hours to fix, but I think you’ll agree the result is fairly spectacular. Below’s a larger version. Just click on it to maximize your view. (It’s a very large file, so depending on your download speed, it may take a bit of time. Then, once you see the map appear, you may enlarge the image further through your browser and poke around the Cambridge of 1901.)

Just for fun, I’ve added three red numerals to this version of map, to point out to you how valuable pieces like this are to understanding FDR’s Harvard. At 1, you’ll see Soldiers’ Field as FDR first knew it, with wooden football bleachers and no Harvard Stadium. No Biz school either; that’s another 25 years off.

In FDR’s time, athletics were still grouped north of the yard, near numeral 2, which explains the odd location of the College’s Hemenway Gymnasium. (It’s also where the first football game was played, from my previous post.) This area was rapidly becoming built up though, and soon (1903) the Stadium would rise and athletics would move permanently across the River.

And finally, take a look at 3, the area south of Mt. Auburn:

Notice how the Charles still has watery fingers pushing towards the Square (remnants of now long-contained streams running from the north) and how the area along the still-tidal banks is almost industrial. (You can clearly see the College coal wharf.) No Memorial Drive for another few years, and no Harvard Houses either. Where Eliot sits there is a coal-tar plant, Leverett and Winthrop are swamps, and Mather’s site is occupied by a long-vanished boat house. And see the grouping of buildings along Mt. Auburn, including  our beloved Westmorly (or half of it, with A-Entry yet to be built), and how there’s almost nothing to the south worth mentioning? At last, the term “Gold Coast” begins to have some meaning… Oh, and how about that! Something I never noticed before: a Catholic church on Mt. Auburn, too, just west of Claverly where Holyoke Center now stands. Perhaps the predecessor to the later St. Paul’s we now know so well?

All in all a very different Harvard, this, and one we’re able to restore – one pixel at a time – thanks to support from people like you.

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create a  living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and rely on your help to continue our efforts!

EBay, FDR and the Fall River Line

I have another circular tale for your consideration:

During our recent open house over the Harvard-Yale weekend, many of you wanted to know how we found period items for the Suite.

Well, basically it works like this: Three years ago, during our early research, we created a list of objects – furniture, textiles, art, memorabilia, etc. – that were documented from FDR’s letters & other historical records as having been in the Suite, or were presumed from similar rooms pictured in the Harvard Archives.  After that, the process essentially became one large treasure hunt, played across three continents. Whenever my day job permits a bit of down time, I don my Restoration cap, and go out hunting. Sometimes the trips are physical – days spent at antique fairs, or journeys to out-of-the-way dealers – but more often than not, I close the door to my office, and disappear into the Internet. I’ve become a modern day FDR sleuth in my spare time, tracking down bits of early 20th century Harvard from all over the globe. This is especially true when it comes to all the ephemera that once filled the FDR Suite, and which one day, Deo volente, will again. Unfortunately, acquiring this material is not at all straightforward. What was a matter of simple retention for Lathrop and Franklin – a saved theater program here, a football ticket there – becomes hugely involved a hundred years later. Most of the time, when these kinds of items appear, they are offered singly, from single sources, and at great cost.

But not always…

An example: I was delighted to receive a notification last week that a collection of Harvard memorabilia from the estate of Walter S. Hertzog ’05 was going to be sold on Ebay. (For those of you wondering how I learned this, you can program the EBay site to notify you when objects within a certain parameter appear for auction.) While the years weren’t quite what we normally look for, (FDR and Lathrop were ’04), the match was close enough to interest me if the price were right.

Here’s what the collection looked like when I first saw it online. (This is but one view of the original eight.)


“Good lord!” you may be thinking to yourself. “What IS all that stuff? Looks like old scrap paper!” Well, to some extent it is, and before I started researching the FDR project, I might have expressed the same, but now, having seen an odd dozen of these Victorian student collections in the Harvard Archives, certain elements jump right out. For example, that little piece with the string?  It’s is a dance card, worn about the wrist; one lovely lady per dance, still signed up a century later. The postcards with stamps? Those are grade or class notifications: the penny post was the email of the day, and a letter mailed from the College in the morning had a very good chance of arriving that afternoon, in one of the three daily-mail services. You see these cards all over the period photos, if you look closely, tucked into pictures here, there and everywhere. For example, this is the desk I showed you in the last posting:


Now if you look very, very carefully, in the hunting scene above the desk, you’ll see the postcards tucked into the frame. This appears again and again in the period room views we possess, and now, at last, we’ll have some of these exact cards for the Suite:


Then too, on closer inspection, in the cubbyholes of the desk you can make out class exams, grade sheets, tuition bills, all the flotsom and jetsom of student life in 1900 Harvard. This is exactly mirrored in the EBay collection. While some of this material, especially the programs for the 1905 Class Exercises won’t be of use to us, much will, added to the Suite to fill out the picture of everyday living in 1904.  But amongst all this, here are two items I found particularly interesting:


Now the Fall River Line may not ring any bells to you, having disappeared in 1937, but if you were a wealthy New Yorker in Boston at the turn of the century, you would most certainly recognize the name, as the Line, which ran a train service from Boston to Fall River, and then a steamship service to New York, was one of the easiest and most luxurious ways to travel to and from New England in 1900.


You see, before the days of direct express service, you generally needed to transfer trains multiple  times from Boston to New York, and depending on what Road you used, you might even need to disembark in New Jersey and take a ferry into Manhattan at the end of your journey. (No tunnels at that time!) So instead of this tiresome rail trek, many people in-the-know took the luxurious steamers of the Fall River Line, like the Commonwealth, to New York. commonwealth-hallNow this was no run-of-the-mill boat: first class passengers had their own cabins for the eight hour voyage, and the public spaces, as you can see from the picture to the left, were highly luxurious, featuring a library, smoking room, and a dining room that served a full dinner service, hence the menus we found on EBay.

So what you may ask, has this to do with our hero, FDR?

Here’s a bit from his letter to Sara dated October 8, 1902

Today Alice Sohier left for Europe, and I saw her off on the “Commonwealth.”

Alice Sohier, for those of you wondering, was a strikingly beautiful Boston debutante who had infatuated FDR. As the story goes, he proposed,  she declined, and went off to Europe, departing, as the first stage of her trip, on the Commonwealth to New York. So, do you suppose the couple had one last meal together from this exact menu before the steamer departed, and did FDR once more plead his case? And, had Alice accepted, would young Frank ever become the FDR we now know? We’ll never be sure.

A year later, Franklin proposed to Eleanor, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For our purposes, however, the EBay find presents a wonderful chance to expand and amply the Suite’s narrative, so we’re going to add these menus to the period wire hanger above FDR’s desk, along with an elaborately framed photo of Alice destined for the desk top, as an almost forgotten memento of a farewell lunch that might – given a different response – have changed American history.

All well and good you say. All well and good. But did you finally acquire the items, and at what cost? It must be stupendous!

Nope. A total of $137.50, all brought about by supporters like you.

Oh, and a final postscript: In an ever so appropriate twist, Dr. Walter S. Hertzog ’05 would later become, of all things,  the Director of American Historical Research for the Los Angeles City School Department. The items he so carefully preserved will finally return to Harvard next week, after a century of almost unimaginable journeys.  Those pieces not used in the Suite will be donated to the Harvard Archives.

You see, as I promised: a circular tale, indeed.

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create a  living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and rely on your help to continue our efforts!


The Victorians loved words with strange and exotic origins, and here’s one of my favorites:

SALMAGUNDI (slm-gnd n. pl. sal·ma·gun·dis)

1. A salad of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil.
2. Derived from the above, a mixture or assortment; a potpourri.

French salmigondis, probably from : Old French salemine, salted food (from Vulgar Latin *salamen; as in salami) + Old French condir, to season (from Latin condire; as in condiment)

Thus, our own salmagundi for your consideration:


rolltop 1

Through friend of the Restoration Joan Carter of Wiswall Antiques in New Hampshire, we found a wonderful old S-curve roll top that will become “FDR’s desk,” shown above, pre-purchase. These little beauties are very hard to find these days; roll tops fell from fashion with the advent of the typewriter, and remained that way through the age of the computer monitor, as such machinery didn’t fit into the desk when the cover closed. Thus many, especially the smaller, individual writing desks like this, were “detopped” and converted into flat desks.  As you can see, our particular desk, a single pedestal, is almost the twin of the one the next photo, pictured in the Chest of 1900 in the Harvard Archives, and will again look much like this when we are done:

26 russell 2

However, our old friend is in need of considerable surface restoration, as you can see in this photo from its original NH home:

roll top 2

Despite the nicks and bangs, the general structure is excellent, and most importantly, the interior is intact, and the roll cover, the trickiest part to restore, works like a charm, making this desk well worth preserving. The purchase price of the desk & a complete redo to return it to its 1900 appearance will run 2K. Do we have a generous donor out there that might be willing to contribute this amount? It would make a wonderful memorial or named contribution! The restoration is being undertaken by furniture expert Paul Riedl of Gallery XIV in Boston, and will be ready for an unveiling party February 3.


We’ve reached a third of our 6K goal for the room draperies! (For those of you who’d like to see the full drapery plans, click HERE.)  Here’s an in-progress shot of the drapes for the study as they come together in designer Michele Doiron’s studio.The panels are a rich gray-green velvet, and the picture shows the various trim options we’ll be selecting. My vote is for the red braid. What do you think? Again, we are attempting to complete this project in advance of a Harvard Alumni function featuring the Suite in February, so any financial aid you can give now would be MOST welcome. (Remember, last chance for those 2009 tax deductions!) Big thanks go out to Doug, Gil, Michael, Shawn and several others for contributing to our campaign already. You know who you are!


And finally, over the Harvard-Yale weekend, we had almost 300 alums visit us at Adams and tour the Suite. The response was overwhelming, literally – we had planned for about 100 in the LCR, and I had made a special Harvard punch in the Suite for what I expected would be several dozen interested guests. Try several hundred! Needless to say, only the lucky few early birds got to sample my punch, but it was a knockout! In the very real sense of the term! Holy smokes! Highly potent but equally potable it proved, and many of you asked for the recipe. So here it is: I found this in an old brew book from the 20s, but from the bit of research I’ve done, my guess is that the date of creation is closer to 1870 or so, when punches were at their height of popularity. (Hence the term “punching” – “invited to a punch” – for the final clubs.) For those interested, only Yale and Columbia seem to possess similarly eponymous punches. Yale’s dates from 1869 and is based around tea, of all things. Very lily-white if you ask me. Ours, as befits our superior University, is much more hearty, and would have pleased Harvard’s mascot John the Orangeman no end:

Harvard Punch:

  • 4 cups bourbon
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 2 750-ml. bottles champagne
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 sugar syrup to taste
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup Orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple Sec.
  • Orange and lemon slices

Mixing instructions:

Mix all ingredients, except champagne fruit slices, in a large container, cover and refrigerate several hours. When ready to serve, add a large cake of ice to an ample punch bowl and pour in champagne or club soda or ginger ale, stir gently, and garnish fresh orange and lemon slices, mixed into the punch. Makes about 24 servings.

I will add that initially I thought the combination extremely unappetizing, but I assure you, when it comes together, it is superb. Be careful though, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!