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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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




Lathrop Brown, Long After Harvard

[For this this issue we’re delighted to have Pam Canfield Grossman, Lathrop Brown’s granddaughter, as guest author. – Eds.]

lathrop family

Lathrop Brown, Helen Hooper Brown, and daughters Halla and Camilla, about 1915

Questions about my grandfather Lathrop Brown and his life after Harvard keep surfacing in these pages, most recently concerning the Tin House at Big Sur. The life stories of Lathrop and Hélène Brown could practically be told as a succession of the houses in which they lived, nearly always at the edge of the continent. First on Long Island where Lathrop raised and raced horses [now the Knox School], then near the White House in Washington while Lathrop was in Congress and, later, when he was assistant to the Secretary of Interior. Afterwards they lived in Manhattan, then Montauk Point, and Boston. 

Saddle Rock and the Cove

Saddle Rock and the Cove

In 1924 they traveled to Carmel, California in search of a secluded site at the ocean. On a horse and mule trip to the Big Sur area they found Saddle Rock Cove where a waterfall poured over the rocky bluff into the Pacific. They purchased the adjacent 1800 acre cattle ranch and began a bi-coastal life, maintaining a residence in Boston as well as Big Sur.

THE BIG SUR & PACIFIC

The Big Sur & Pacific Railroad

The old ranch house at Saddle Rock was soon replaced with a new house built using the local redwood trees.  Electrical power was supplied by a waterwheel driven by the stream. In 1939 construction began on Waterfall House. Sited halfway down the cliffs from the newly built highway above and reached by a short funicular railway, it was a beautiful contemporary building, with gardens around the house and across Saddle Rock cove.

Waterfall House from the West

Waterfall House from the West

The Tin House, which the family called the Gas Station, was built in the mid 1940s high on the hills above Saddle Rock cove. It could only be reached by a rough dirt road climbing steeply up through the ranch to a bluff overlooking the ocean.

The house was actually constructed of materials from two abandoned gas stations and, oddly, had no windows facing the spectacular view. I have no idea why my grandparents built it.

The Tin House

The Tin House

The story that it was to be some sort of vacation retreat for FDR is pure fabrication. It was a small, primitive, and nearly inaccessible place, wholly unsuited to a wheelchair bound president. It has now fallen into total disrepair.

When Lathrop died in 1959, my grandmother left Big Sur and gave the ranch and the house to the state of California as the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. She wanted the house to be used as a museum and a center for local artists, and insisted that the house be destroyed if that was not possible. When funds for that purpose could not be found the house was bulldozed into the ocean below.

Pamela Canfield Grossman, Berkeley, California.

[There was one last amazing Brown housing project: at the time of Lathrop’s death, the Browns were in the process of converting a former Mississippi paddle boat into a winter home on Sanibel Island, Florida. It was never completed. For more on Lathrop’s fascinating life, see HERE – Eds]

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.




The World: Its Cities and Peoples

I’ve commented often in this newsletter about how, occasionally, things just seem to fall into place by themselves, almost as if they were destined to be.

Well, it’s happened again, most remarkably.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my favorite used book seller was going out of business. The owner, a charming lady “d’une certaine age” had decided to retire and spend more time with her children in California. All books 70% off. Titles under $10 –  $2.

I grabbed the Foundation checkbook and headed right over.

(You’ll remember of course that FDR was an avid bibliophile, and I’ve been complaining in past articles how difficult it was to obtain the quality of books we know would have been in the Suite for anything close to a reasonable price these days.)

Let’s just say this time I hit the mother load.

I won’t bore you with a complete list – I acquired a dozen or so leather bound titles for under $250 – but I do want to share with you the most remarkable: The World: Its Cities and Peoples.

This 10 volume set was published by Cassell sometime around 1882, the year of FDR’s birth. It’s undated, but from the references in the text it’s obviously early 1880’s. It was published by subscription only – probably globebecause of its high cost – and is perhaps the most comprehensively illustrated set of Victorian volumes I have ever seen. Almost every other page is covered with the most exquisitely detailed engravings, which by their portait-like nature almost certainly were done from photographs. There are literally a thousand pictures over the 1800 odd pages, perfect snap shots of a time before mass travel had homogenized cultures across the globe. And speaking of globes, you may remember our almost miraculous acquisition of an 1882 globe a few years back…. Now you can spin our globe, drop a random finger, from Timbuktu to Toledo, and have a good chance of finding a picture in our new volumes showing you exactly what life was like at that point in time and space.

What do you suppose the chances of that are? If I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t take that wager.

At any rate, I’d like to take you on a little whirlwind tour across the world of 1882, first to Greenland (which still had some ice) to see the Eskimos: (Click on any image to enlarge.)

Greenland Eskimo

Next we’re off to Amsterdam before the hordes of tulip-seeking tourists ever dreamed of garden travels, where we witness a riotous local street scene: (Note the vegetable vendor actually wearing wooden shoes.)

Amsterdam

Then, down to sunny Spain, to the heart of Madrid where a water seller sits quietly in the shade with his dog, waiting for trade. (Note the sheepskin pants! Just having been to Madrid with HAA travels, I can guarantee you this sight is long gone.)

spainaird

Now, a quick stop in the mysterious Near East, where a Bedouin greets us with his steely gaze:

bedouin of sinai

Off now across the Pacific to our western shores, for a stop in the most amazing boom town in America, San Francisco. The building in the distance is the famous Palace Hotel, the largest in the western United States,  renowned for its innovative luxuries like electric call buttons in each room, private baths, and “rising rooms” (elevators) to whisk passengers to their intended floor.

palace hotel SF

It was here Enrico Caruso was staying when all this disappeared in the 1906 earthquake. The hotel, billed as “fireproof” survived the shaking, but was destroyed along with every other building you see here in the subsequent conflagration, which, judging by the next picture of an alley in Chinatown, was just waiting to happen:

Washington Alley SF

 

Finally, a quick stop on our return to Boston, a visit with some of the last Native Americans still in their original homeland:

Pawnee indians

There are even pictures of a small New England college named Harvard, but I think that’s enough travels for one day. Next time, prewar Vienna? Or how about “Florence on the Elbe” – Dresden – before the fire bombings? Perhaps spending some time with the natives of unexplored Papua New Guinea, or the impassable Amazon jungles?  Tour the Pyramids? A trip down the Nile?

I know, tea in Ottoman Constantinople!

Wherever you wish…

Remember, these astounding coincidences are not entirely coincidental, in that their continuing occurrence depends entirely on contributions from people like you.

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