The Crimson Garter

While 110 years isn’t that long ago in relative terms, in many ways FDR’s Harvard existed in an entirely different world than the one most of us knew. As an amusing example, here’s a clipping I found preserved in one of the student scrapbooks now in the Harvard University Archives:

crimson garter

Courtesy Harvard University Archives

Cambridge Damsel Causes Riot at Harvard by Removing Circlet and Hurling it From Gallery Into Dining Hall

Throws Crimson Garter in the Arena, Outdoing Sir Francis’ Storied Lady

A crimson garter, thrown from the gallery of Memorial Hall by a pretty Cambridge damsel last night at the dinner hour, caused a perfect uproar amongst the thousand or more undergraduates and came very near putting the dining hall out of business.

Only recently the gallery was reopened to visitors, after several months of “closed during meal hours” The members of the hall were put on their good behavior, and visitors in the gallery of late have been treated with the greatest respect by the Harvard boys. Last nights escapade in the gallery was more than the average undergraduate could stand, however.

About 6 o’clock, the busiest part of the dining hour, a young woman, stunningly dressed, and unattended, appeared in the gallery. She marched boldly to the railing on which she place her foot, and, removing her crimson garter from its accustomed resting place, threw it into the midst of a crowded table below here.

All eyes had been watching her, but such an unprecedented proceeding for the moment stunned even the Harvard boys. It was only for a moment however, and then it looked for awhile as though there was going to be a wrecked dining hall to tell of the visitation.

There was cheering and yelling and clattering of dishes, and finally several hundred of the students made a rush for the door through which it was necessary to pass in order to gain the street from the gallery. They were too late however, and all that the first one to reach the outer door was able to see was the young woman dashing into a carriage, which was in waiting outside of Memorial Hall, and which clattered down Quincy Street so rapidly as to afford no encouragement of pursuit.

University officials were not so easily amused by the incident. The following notice (also preserved in the scrapbook) was sent to each and every member of the Harvard Dining Association:

Last night’s disorder resulted in damaging  numerous tables, chairs and place settings in the hall, not to mention three valuable oil paintings. Several members, and waiters, were painfully hit in the tumult. So large a number forgot their obligations to fellow members and guests that the Executive Committee will be obliged to close the gallery, if further disorder on account of visitors occurs. Furthermore, the Committee wishes to remind all members that ungentlemanly conduct in the Hall is cause for immediate expulsion.

H.L. Blackwell

J. Reynolds, for the Committee.

Original Suite Plans Discovered, Plus A Progress Update

b-22fixture

Due to some persistent sleuthing on the part of Carl Jay, Chief Preservationist for Shawmut construction, the original plans for FDR suite were discovered this past May at the offices of Harvard Real Estate. The drawings, shown below, had been misplaced for years due to a cataloging error, but turned up just in time: Adams, along with four other Houses, has been receiving major systems and safety upgrades this summer, and these plans were critical to preserving the historic fabric during the renovations. The plans also provided a critical piece of missing historical information: the red globes with a hatchmark through the center indicate the positions of the lost lost wall sconces, which probably looked like the one at the right, photographed just down the hall in the Vanderbilt Suite in 1899. Note that the fixture is dual gas and electric, with bulb below, and gas flame above. Westmorly was one of the first dormitory buildings electrified at Harvard, at a time when electricity was not at all a sure thing. Within a few years, electricity had proven itself vastly superior to gas, and such fixtures quickly disappeared. In the case of the FDR suite, no evidence currently exists to mark the sconce locations (though presumably capped gas pipes may still exist behind the walls) so the discovery of the plans greatly assists our efforts.

In terms of the physical restoration of the Suite, some minor repairs and fixes were accomplished this summer during the course of the systems upgrades, but the major restoration work to the wood, walls and bathroom remain incomplete, due primarily to lack of funds, but also due to a potential need to complete an architectural survey before any further changes are made. Jack Waite, the well-known preservationist architect who restored FDR’s Top Cottage for the National Park Service, and who visited the Suite this summer, has strongly advocated the need for such a survey. The problem? Again, the cost, estimated at 30-40K. We at the Project are currently reviewing options with the University, potential funders, and our historical board, to determine how best to proceed. In the meantime, we’ve decided to begin collecting the materials required to decorate the rooms, so that once funds become available, we can furnish and open the Suite fairly quickly. That quest will be the subject of future posts.

The original plans of Westmorly Hall, commission for Harvard Graduate Warren Wetmore, a local developer. Wetmore went on to found, with partner Charles Warren, the famous firm Warren and Wemore, which designed Grand Central Station in New York City.

The original plans of Westmorly Hall, commissioned for Harvard Graduate Warren Wetmore, a local developer. Wetmore went on to found, with partner Charles Warren, the famous firm Warren and Wetmore, which designed Grand Central Station in New York City.

A Donation, and Musical Discovery

cindy

Thanks to the folks at parlorsongs.com, we’ve received 20 presentation copies of sheet music from 1900-1903, selected especially for the Suite, and through the good offices of our former, and much lamented music tutor, David Trippett, we were able to record some of these pieces last May. Check out our website page, The Songs FDR Knew, to listen to all ten recordings. (Or, you can click on the cover to the left so hear one of my favorites.) Either way, it’s really amazing to hear these forgotten melodies echo out of the past again after 100 years of silence.

Welcome to the FDR Suite Restoration Project Blog

rah rah

Hello Everyone! For months now, I’ve been promising that we would provide regular updates on our progress renovating FDR’s student digs at Harvard, as well as announcements of news, events, donations and recent scholarship. Ultimately I decided that the best way to do this was to start a blog, rather than sending out some type of newsletter. Those of you who are already subscribed will receive email notifications automatically whenever a new posting is made. You may also subscribe to the feed via RSS, which will automatically update recent posts in your browser.

Either way, welcome!

Michael Weishan, President, FDR Suite Foundation, Inc.