The Lampoon As Social History

Not to give our neighbors in the castle too much credit, but there is some interesting history to be learned from period pages of the Harvard Lampoon, especially when it comes to determining the mores of FDR’s Harvard. Take the image below, for example,  one that is particularly relevant for today as it mirrors a problem soon to be faced by the new Smith Center that the University is building in Holyoke Center. The Harvard Union was the first attempt to establish a place where alumni and students could co-mingle, and it was a hugely expensive flop, for the very reason depicted below: it, like all of Cambridge, was dry. The only liquor available was at private clubs, which is one of the main reasons that final clubs were (and are) popular today: they served booze.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.39.54 AM

Click on this and any of the other images to enlarge.

The next image took me a while to figure out. The key is that the proctor from the floor below is the same character entering the door of the piano-playing student in the first panel. He’s playing, piano dolce, “Babbie Waltzes.” (Hear the tune HERE on a wax-cylinder recording.)  Also note the time. Apparently 10PM was the cut-off for loud noise in individual suites, so to take revenge on the proctor for reprimanding him him the night before, the next day “Sporter” arranges for a little concert with his friends. The music starts with “Honey, Don’t Get Me Wrong” a forgotten ragtime tune of the day, and ends with “Up the Street,” a march still played by the University Band. What caught my eye was the gas lamp on the proctor’s desk. These lamps were attached by rubber “extension tubes” to either a wall or ceiling gas outlet. Frankly, it’s amazing that the whole place didn’t burn down — or explode — many times over. While electricity was available in certain deluxe suites like FDR’s, electrical outlets wouldn’t be invented for several more years.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.47.18 AM copyWhat’s interesting about the next panel is not the joke —it’s a play on grub (food) and grub (caterpillar) — but rather something that is almost forgotten today. Those lines above the Square aren’t meant to indicate clouds, they are telegraph, telephone and electrical lines. In 1900, competing companies ran their own wire to each client, so a single large building might have hundreds of wires running to it from all directions. This tangle persisted until the 1930s, when individual concerns were absorbed into larger entities and regulation of utilities became the norm.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.51.43 AM copyHere’s a photographic view, looking the other way, that better reveals this crazy-maze of wires. That’s John the Orangeman on the cart, btw, heading for a Harvard rally. (If you don’t know about John, by all means click the previous link as he is critical to the FDR Suite story.)

parade

The panel below explains the grub joke: it shows the interior of Memorial Hall, where most of the undergraduates ate. Notice the gawking guests in the balcony, which was open to the public and used as a viewing gallery by the locals — a perfect spot  for a chaperoned young lady to get an overview of prospective suitors to invite to her next “at home” day.

memhallThis last is one of my favorites, not just because of the great drawing style of S. A. Weldon, a classmate of FDR’s, but rather as it shows just how luxurious life in the Gold Coast actually was. No smelly gas lamps here. There is an electric desk lamp (which had to be plugged into the overhead fixture each time it was turned on, which meant gas or kerosene was still the norm) as well an assortment of comfortable furniture, walls and shelves chock-a-block with personal mementos, even velvet portieres on the door. And of course our boy under the desk has just come up from a dip in Claverly’s “tank,” the first of what would be a succession of ever larger private swimming baths on the Gold Coast. Considering how little we knew about this period in Harvard’s history when we started, it’s always reassuring when pictures like this come along that show many of the very same objects in the FDR Suite today — a gratifying indication that our representation of Gilded Age life at Harvard is reasonably on track.

Claverly Pool copy

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Sending the Elevator Back Down

The other day while randomly flicking through channels, I caught a glimpse of an interview with Kevin Spacey. He’d been asked a question about why he spends so much free time working with young actors. His answer was remarkable. Quoting mentor Jack Lemmon ’47, Spacey said: “I believe that if you have been successful in the business you wanted to be successful in, and if you have achieved a lot of the dreams you’ve dreamed… it’s your obligation… to send the elevator back down.”

Sending the elevator back down.

For years, I’ve been looking for a simple way to describe the work we do at the Foundation. It’s various and variable, covering fields as diverse as historic preservation (through the Suite Museum and Collections); educational programming & scholarships (through our Global Citizenship programs); or real-world research (through the FDR Center for Global Engagement) to find practical solutions to the daunting challenges we face as a nation and a globe to successfully transit the 21st century. But I couldn’t have found a better phrase than this: Sending the elevator back down.

That’s what we do. Plain and simple. We — in this case, I, a dedicated group of alumni, our House Masters, our affiliated faculty, you, our supporters — we all attempt to take some of the incredible good fortune we’ve experienced and pass that forward.

But to continue, we need your help. Over the last year, we have nearly doubled our historic preservation efforts, educational programming, and scholarships due to exceptional demand. Requests to tour the Suite now come almost weekly; our student seminars have expanded in number from one to twelve; our Global Fellowship summer study grants from one to three. We’ve launched an entirely new endeavor, a non-partisan think-tank, the FDR Center for Global Engagement. Yet individual contributions supporting these efforts have fallen off. A common perception is that we receive substantial funds from the University or from major corporate sponsors. We don’t. We do all this solely through the contributions of dedicated volunteers and the generosity of people like you.

Now, I’d like to ask you to consider helping our efforts. (Or, if you already have in the past, to do so again.) There are many easy ways to do this, from sustaining monthly gifts via credit card, to direct donation of money, of airline frequent flyer miles, of stocks, bonds, or securities. We’re a registered 501(c)3, which means for US residents, your contributions are tax deductible. You may donate in someone’s name, from a private foundation, or anonymously. Simply email me a michael.weishan at fdrfoundation dot org and we’ll walk you through the process.

I know you receive appeals from many quarters. But we like to think that this very special place, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, nestled in the best of all the houses, Adams, in the bosom of the world’s top university, Harvard, is in a unique position to utilize the legacy of one of our greatest presidents to better all our futures. We here have done our best to send that elevator back down. Please help us ensure that the next car up is packed to capacity.

With warmest wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Michael

 





Here’s a Health to King Charles

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 12.00.14 PMThroughout  the course of the the Restoration, I’ve been continually surprised and delighted to find little gateways back in time. Here’s another one. Last year, my dear friend Abbot Peterson ’58 died. Recently, his widow – another dear friend – Barbara, was cleaning out some files and came across an old 78. Labelled “Alvin V Laird sings to the class of 1904”, it had been mailed in 1950 to Abbot’s father, Abbot Peterson II, a member of FDR’s class. (As was Mr. Laird.)

The 78 contained two songs: “A Health to King Charles”  and “Dolores.” I haven’t been able to gather much information on “Dolores,” but “King Charles” was a very widely sung drinking ditty which would have been immediately recognized by FDR and Lathrop. The song is based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) and perfectly embodies the Victorian romantic longing for causes lost:

BRING the bowl which you boast
Fill it up to the brim;
’Tis to him we love most,
And to all who love him.
Brave gallants, stand up,
And avaunt ye, base carles!

Were there death in the cup,
Here’s a health to King Charles.

Though he wanders through dangers,
Unaided, unknown,
Dependent on strangers,
Estranged from his own;
Though ’tis under our breath,
Amidst forfeits and perils,
Here’s to honor and faith,
And a health to King Charles!

Let such honors abound
As the time can afford,
The knee on the ground,
And the hand on the sword;
But the time shall come round
When, ’mid Lords, Dukes, and Earls,
The loud trumpet shall sound,
Here’s a health to King Charles!

So here, after tracking down someone who still had the means to play and digitize a 78 (!!!), for the first time in over a century, may I present to you: “Here’s a Health to King Charles”

Click HERE TO LISTEN

This song, by the way, is part of an ongoing process to make a CD of “The Music of FDR’s Harvard” that will contain many of these wonderful old melodies well overdue for a come back. As always, your help in making this and our other work possible is greatly appreciated




We’re featured in Harvard Magazine!

1900 glee club 18 x 18 copy

Taken in the fall of 1900, a young FDR (front row second from left) and Lathrop Brown (front row, far right) gaze serenely into their Harvard future.

To mark the debut of the Ken Burns PBS series on the Roosevelts this Sunday,  Harvard Magazine has reprinted Geoffrey Ward’s remarks at the Sixth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture this past May. For those of you who were unable to attend, here’s your chance. Take a look HERE.