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.

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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.)

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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.

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FDR Foundation Launches The Creative Citizenship Project

Today, with grim predictions for climate change appearing almost daily, the word “resilient” occurs again and again: utility infrastructure must upgraded to be storm “resilient;” sea barriers need to be raised to make them more “resilient” to flooding; new more “resilient” plant cultivars must be created to survive rising temperatures. While all these are laudable endeavors, they are at best reactive in nature, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. The sad truth is that we can only go so far in strengthening the defenses of our physical world. In the end, the forces of nature will inevitably prevail, and humanity will have to adapt to whatever new reality is presented to us — or perish. We are not the masters of nature. We are, however, masters of ourselves, and it is here that true possibilities lie.

Seventy years ago, on the eve of WWII, FDR addressed the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania. It was an equally foreboding time, with war and despotism advancing across the world. Yet despite the coming darkness, FDR saw a way forward. “It is the function of education,” he reminded them, “the function of all of the great institutions of learning in the United States, to provide continuity for our national life —  to transmit to youth the best of our culture that has been tested in the fire of history. It is equally the obligation of education to train the minds and the talents of our youth; to improve, through creative citizenship, our American institutions in accord with the requirements of the future.” He then concluded with perhaps one of the most powerful lines of his long presidency: ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

The FDR Foundation wishes to reawaken this call for “creative citizenship.” We want to renew the importance of transmitting to our youth “the best of our culture.” We hope to re-inspire the necessity of building the next generation for the future. And our help they will need, as the very skill sets required to confront the challenges ahead — creativity, innovation and imagination — are exactly those which we’ve allowed to lapse across wide swathes of our educational system.

In many places across the world, we train our device-deadened youth in much the same way as we did a half century ago, forcing them to learn a rote skill set to fill jobs in employment sectors that are rapidly disappearing under the combined threat of automation and climate change. We must do better, and we can, as we hold in our arsenal exactly tools we require: the arts and humanities. Study after study has proven that knowledge of history, fine arts, literature, music, and storytelling fosters a different way of looking at the world, a mode of vision that sees not only what is, but what could be.

And “what could be” is what we’ll need if we are to survive as a species. We’ll need visionary scientists who can imagine whole new sectors into existence; we’ll need inspiring politicians who can utilize arts and culture to unite diverse peoples; we’ll need creative business leaders who can harness new technologies in unforeseen ways. But most of all, we’ll need an educated, creative citizenry that can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

This is true “resiliency.”

MDA Photo 2014In furtherance of these goals, we are dee-lighted to announce that Marcela Aviles Davison ’80 has come on board as our Director of Humanities Programming to help us launch the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Creative Citizenship Project. A first generation Mexican-American, Marcela Davison Avilés is an author and founder of The Chapultepec Group, an independent consulting and production company serving the arts and entertainment, non-profit, and selected consumer industry sectors. TCG clients include The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Silicon Valley Ballet, FulmerWare LLP, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the Mariachi Heritage Society and Aggrigator, a Silicon Valley start-up. She is also the co-founder of Camino Arts, an international Latino arts initiative. In addition to her work with Disney, her current portfolio includes a cross-border production of a new original opera on the life of Frida Kahlo. Marcela has worked with such well-known artists and organizations as Linda Ronstadt, Juan Gabriel, MarcoAntonio Solis, Aida Cuevas, Eugenia Leon, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, Lila Downs, Joan Baez, Paquita la del Barrio, Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, the San Francisco Symphony, the Smithsonian Institution and many others.

Marcela holds her B.A. in Fine Arts, cum laude, from Harvard College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Sixth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture, Saturday April 5th 2014: Historian & Author Geoffrey Ward

Looking around snow covered, frigid Boston you would never know it was March 5th, but it’s true! The Six Annual FDR Memorial Lecture is upon us!

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Geoffrey Ward

This year we are dee-lighted to welcome historian and television writer Geoffrey Ward to Adams. Geoffrey C. Ward, former editor of American Heritage magazine, is the author of seventeen books, including three focused on FDR: Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905; A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of FDR (which won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize); and Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley. He has also won seven Emmys and written twenty-seven historical documentaries for PBS, either on his own or in collaboration with others, including Ken Burns’ “The Civil War,” “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “Unforgivable Blackness,” “Prohibition” and “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” a seven-part, fourteen-hour series on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt” that will run on PBS this September.

His topic will be “The Roosevelts at Harvard”

We are equally delighted to welcome back Dr. Cynthia Koch, Former Director of the FDR Presidential Library and now Professor of Public History at Bard College (and our 4th Memorial Lecture speaker) who will introduce Geoffrey.

This year is a reception year, as opposed to a banquet year, and comes with all the trimmings: The famous Roosevelt raw bar will return, to accompany cocktails and a book-signing after the reception. (The question before us is which of Geoff’s 17 books we’ll offer!)

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the man behind three of the most important FDR bios ever written, not the mention, thanks to his work on PBS, one of the most influential and far-reaching American historians of the last century.

Tickets may be purchased easily on line by clicking the button below. Seats are limited to 50, so they will go fast! If you are unable to attend, please consider donating a place to an Adams student or tutor using the ticket options window below.

 Sixth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture
Saturday April 5th at 4 PM
Adams House Lower Common Room
26 Plympton Street, Cambridge Massachusetts


Ticket Options



The Ghost of Lathrop Brown?

As the Cambridge air has turned cool, we’ve begun to notice that strange things are afoot in the Suite. Haunting melodies of ragtime are floating in the air, and occasionally our 1899 upright starts playing by itself, spirit fingers at the keyboard!!!  Could it be the ghost of Lathrop Brown? You be the judge:

 

Whoever it is, it’s certainly not FDR, as he never had a ragtime hand like that! (Or four, actually.)

Kidding aside: it’s clear that our former “unspirited” and underused piano now plays magically by itself, thanks to a technological mini-miracle that allows old uprights like ours to be sent out and returned as part of the 21st century. I’m not sure what portion of this transformation amazes me more: the fact that the piano is controlled from a smart phone; that  no physical alterations to the historic case or mechanism were required; that it plays 5000 songs; or, even better, it records actual performances! We’ve already engaged a phenomenal pianist at Quincy House, Chase Morrin, to come and preserve for us songs from our extensive period sheet music collection. Think of it! Soon the Suite will echo once again to the 1904 tunes of “Cindy, Your My Dream” or “Hello Central? Get Me Heaven” – songs that haven’t been heard within these walls for over a century. (What many people forget is that this music was originally recorded live, embedded on paper player rolls, which have now been transcribed. These are the actual performances of 100 year ago, by major talents of the day.) Most importantly, this transformation allows us to share for the first time this wonderful period of music with our students and guests.

Ghosts, it seems, have an infinite repertoire, unencumbered by availability.

Needless to say, this modernization wasn’t cheap – $6500 – but we’ve had a pledge from an anonymous donor for half the amount, and we’re hoping that there are one or more of you who’d like to give the gift of music of the last century to an entirely new generation of listeners.




FDR: A Life in Pictures

The Foundation is DEE-lighted, to borrow a turn from TR, to announce the publication of its new Roosevelt biography, FDR: A Life in Pictures.

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From the back cover:

“Lightweight yet Machiavellian. Frivolous but intense. Socialist and fascist. Devious yet charming. Communist while Caesar. Both traitor and savior combined. Rarely have such contradictory descriptions been attached to a single man. But at one time or another, each was tagged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, perhaps the most influential political figure of the 20th century. Here for the very first time in one volume: a visual road map through the extraordinarily rich timeline of FDR’s life, charting step-by-illustrated-step his amazing progression from pampered youth to 32nd President of the United States. Meticulously compiled from more than 70 large-format, digitally restored period photos — some never before published, and most with extended captions — FDR: A Life in Pictures documents as no other book can the remarkable living legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

This 154-page volume features several newly discovered photos found in our archives, as well as a half-dozen full color spreads of the Suite. Three of these were recently shot for us by noted photographer Ralph Lieberman, who’s in the middle of a two year campaign to document the architecture of Harvard in conjunction with the Fine Arts Library and the Graduate School of Design. This is one of his great wide angle views, which finally shows the extent of the study.

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This book has been a real labor of love, arising out of the hallway timeline exhibit I put together over the winter with my friend Dr. Cynthia Koch, the former director of the FDR Presidential Library and now public historian in residence at Bard College. The short story is that having spent a huge amount of time tracking down and digitally restoring so many fine images – and then researching and writing the extended captions –  I discovered due to limits of space we’d need to exclude dozens of important photos. So rather than limit the work, I expanded it, and decided to put the full range together in a book, and there you have it. This volume is particularly helpful for the Foundation, as not only does it expand awareness of the Suite and its activities, but it also goes a long way to placing FDR’s Harvard experience in the wider context of his life and presidency.

For now, copies are only available through Amazon or through us (Click here to order.). Proceeds, of course, go entirely to benefit the Foundation. So start thinking about that perfect gift for FDR fans on your list!