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Selected Letters from our Readers

Editor’s Note: Our inaugural issue in February brought an outpouring of great letters. But first, a bit of official business:

In response to the salutation in our initial e-mail, “My Fellow AdamsoniansCharles Nathanson ‘09 wrote: Is not Adamsian in fact the proper appellation?

Michael Weishan answers: Yes, Charles, it is, but frankly I was hoping to set a new fashion, feeling that Adamsian, with its awkward second syllable stress, doesn’t precisely roll off the tongue. (For the record, my fellow Editors disagreed.) At any rate, this question of proper nomenclature got me thinking. So, what are the residents of those other unfortunate domiciles called? I queried the various House Administrators (or rather I got our dear, and now departed House Administrator Sophia Chaknis to query her colleagues) and here are their replies. My own admittedly Adamsian-biased editorial comments appear in parentheses. As an aside: for anyone interested to see what life looks like beyond dear Adams these days, I’ve provided links to a selection of Housing Day videos produced by the various House Committees to rally the troops the day Housing Assignments arrive. These have become ever more sophisticated productions over the years, some reaching almost professional quality, and we’ll be covering this development in a future issue.

So here, to set the record straight, are the official appellations for each House:

Cabot- “Cabotians” (Apparently, I’m told it is pronounced to rhyme with Laotians. I’m sorry, what was that you said? Lilliputians?)
Currier- “Currierites” (A harsh sounding name, rather biblical, like Hittites, or Sodomites, but sure, fine, whatever.)
Dunster- “Dunsterite –“Really only used by staff and not a majority of the time; residents are more commonly referred to as Meese – as in a humorous “plural” for Moose. Incoming sophomores are referred to as baby Meese.” (For those who may have happily forgotten, the mascot of Dunster is, inexplicably, a moose.)
Eliot-“Eliotites”  (In the latest Housing Day videos, Eliot House has started referring to itself as “Just Domus” As in Eliot’s Latin motto: Floriat domus Eliot, Let Eliot Flourish. As in “Like, we’re the only house.” As in Nike’s “Like, Just Do It!” OK, fine, gotcha: Sic proposo: “Just Domeheads.”)
Kirkland- “Kirklanders” (Images of marauding Vikings come to mind for some reason, perhaps suggested by this Kirkland House video. Viewer discretion advised.)
Leverett- “Leverites(See ‘Currier’ above)
Lowell- “Lowellians” (Ah, now this is rich: Lowellians have long suffered from a severe case of Adams House envy. However, I give them credit for a recent tee-shirt: “Lowell House – Huge tower, big bells; Adams House, small tower, no bells.”)
Mather-“Matherites” (Who’s talkin’ huge tower?)
PfoHo- “Pfohoites, Pfohosers, or, for the familiar, Pfohomies”  (For obvious reasons Pho-‘hos, never made the cut. But I readily admit their video is a classic, despite the slams to our dear Adams.)
Quincy- “Quincyites” (Penguins forever!)

My favorite response of all, though, came from a harried House Administrator after a long day. “Disregard earlier. I changed my mind: I call them all ‘little b@st@rds!’

To quote the immortal Linda Ellerbee: “And so it goes”

Now, on to YOUR LETTERS:

Jay Hughes ’48 writes: I lived in Adams House for all 8 semesters of my undergraduate study at Harvard, starting in July 1944, when Harvard was on an accelerated wartime schedule and all the dormitories in the Yard were rented to the U.S. Navy to train young officers. I lived the first 2 semesters in a ground floor suite, looking out toward St., Paul’s Church (B-12, I think it was). The other 6 semesters I lived in a top-floor suite in A entry, also overlooking St. Paul’s.

I attach a snippet from the Harvard chapter from my autobiography No Ordinary Fool: A Testamony to Grace to give you some idea of the times.

 “Harvard initiated me into college life at something called the Freshman Smoker – presumably because of the free cigarettes distributed to those attending, though as a non-smoker I have no recollection of this.  I do remember the free flow of beer, however, a talk about what would today be called safe sex – and a story about Abbot Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s President from 1909 to 1933.  Today the tale seems tame.  In 1944, however, it made a deep impression on us neophytes, convincing us when we heard its then scandalous conclusion that we had arrived in the Big World, where men were men and the world was our oyster. 

The story recounted President Lowell’s efforts to prevent the building of a subway station in Harvard Square.  The contest dragged on for weeks, Lowell contending that the proposed structure would disfigure the square, his opponents countering that the space was undistinguished and other sites impractical.  At the height of the battle, we were told, one of the Boston papers appeared with the front page banner headline: PRESIDENT LOWELL FIGHTS ERECTION IN HARVARD SQUARE. The roar of shocked laughter from five hundred beardless throats remains unforgettable.”

Jack Robbins ’90 writes:  I was thrilled to see the photos and read Master Kiely’s recollection of the Adams House tunnel paintings in your inaugural issue.  However, as one of the people responsible for the original painting, I’d like to set the record straight on a few points. 

Natasha Shapiro and I conceived of the idea in the winter of 1987/88.  We were sophomores. I lived in F entry, and she lived in G, and we found the routine of going back and forth to the dining hall through dreary tunnels quite depressing.  We set up a meeting with Master Kiely, expecting all kinds of official resistance (we weren’t very well acquainted with him yet).  Having prepared a number of arguments for why we should be allowed to do the project, we were somewhat stunned when he immediately said he thought it was a great idea and offered to pay for the paint and supplies.  We organized a group of volunteers to run the project, had people sign up for specific times, and came up with the idea that we would trace everyone’s shadow on the wall.  Each person could then fill in the shadow however they liked.  We thought this would unify the overall composition and give anyone who felt artistically intimidated the opportunity to simply paint a color within the lines.  Turned out that no one felt that intimidated.   The House Committee, I’m sorry to say, had no involvement whatsoever.  (I’m sure it is neither the first nor the last time that a government will take credit for something it didn’t do.)  It was a great communal effort, but totally grass roots.

The black blindfold graffiti were painted over the eyes only a few months later.  They were definitely a shock when they first appeared, and after the shock it just seemed sad that someone had spoiled our hard work and fun.  Ultimately we got used to them.  I did eventually find out who had done it – a fellow Adams House classmate – though of course nothing could be proven and I never confronted him.  I only regret that I didn’t get the chance to photograph the paintings before the graffiti appeared.

Today I’m an architect and Natasha is a great artist and art therapist.  We live a few blocks from each other in Tribeca.  I’m thrilled that the tunnel painting became a tradition.  For me the project still symbolizes the power that a creative idea and a lot of community effort has to totally transform our everyday environment.

Please add me to your mailing list.  I would have missed the issue if I hadn’t been wise enough to marry another Adams House alum.  Though we were never in Adams at the same time – she came through 3 years after me – and we didn’t meet until nearly 15 years after I had graduated – it turns out we had lived in two of the same rooms in Adams.  Maybe she recognized me from my tunnel portrait?   

Michael J. Brown ’76 writes: Excellent publication — thanks!  I had a ball in Adams House, graduating in ’76 and coming back as a member of the Senior Common Room for the academic year ’87-’88 to write.  My writing was crappy but my year was great.  I was just back a few months ago, bringing my 18-year-old daughter on our family’s first college tour, and although Madeleine is going to Penn we particularly loved seeing Adams House.  

I think academic generations tend to succeed each other every five years or so, at least in terms of the ambitions and character of the group.  My theory is certainly false, but reflecting on the groups that preceded and followed mine I am struck by how differently they looked at the world and saw their place in it.  Everyone I knew wanted to be an academic.  Five years earlier people seemed to be drifting out of the Vietnam era, wandering and wondering, and the class that graduated five years after mine seemed populated by future business students.  

Now the Adams House pool is gone, and the only things left of it may be a few jokes and the thirty- and forty-years later small grins on the faces of bald guys whose eyes drift up and to the left as they remembered, never mind what I remember.  But Adams House thankfully looks and feels and smells the same, and the pleasures and freshness I experienced in the ’70s seem still alive there. 

Look forward to seeing more issues Thanks again.

(Strangely, it does smell the same. Distinctly, well – Adamsian, right Mr. Nathanson?)

Jim Rice ’60 writes: In the late ‘fifties a dozen or more of us ate all meals at a corner table of Adams dining hall, nearest the back door, with view of Mt. Auburn 47 (then a so-so jazz club). By some chance many had lived as freshmen in one entry of Holworthy, but it was the back door and quick escape that brought us together in the Adams dining room. Scarcely any two had the same major.  Most of those people have remained among my closest friend for life, though in the words of Saadi (twice quoted by Pushkin): “Some are no more, and others – yonder.”  We survivors have reached 72. That table was my social life, along with the HRO, the Bach Society, amateur musicals all over Boston, and Albiani, Waldorf, Bick (coffee house chains now mostly defunct).  In November 2009 I spent a morning in the Pusey Library archives reading one late roommate’s honors thesis on John Henry Newman, then met a couple of friends for a whole Friday afternoon of talk and free coffee in Adams dining room. Great to learn you can still wangle your way in through a door now locked, for that terrific hospitality. Despite the financial meltdown, there are new parquet floors, new tables (oak?), and chairs with much higher backs, not quite adequate for Henry VIII but in that direction.  Otherwise the same old place, with half a dozen savvy residents taking in the quiet leisure.  Ah, yes: where the kitchen used to be (now moved back into the interior), there is a walk-in area with a good dozen gleaming coffee and tea urns with a variety of free beverages.  With restraint that pains a garrulous retiree, I’ll limit myself to one anecdote — in which the Master, Reuben Brower, delivers the punchline.  We had a grand fourth-floor suite with views in every direction — A-43 — with two balconies treacherous with Pigeon-Off yet serviceable. Every Friday afternoon our woodwind quintet rehearsed (for performances and tours) in the living room.  We were all pretty serious players in those days.  One wound up in Stokowski’s orchestra, still active in a distinguished Manhattan chamber group; another is retired after a long career in the Chicago Symphony. One fall day on the street far below there was a ruckus. A paddy wagon came to cart away a moose head someone had placed on the statue of the Virgin in Father Feeney’s yard (a house that became Cafe Pamplona). Father Feeney was a schismatic who had excommunicated the Pope and vice versa, it seem; his entourage of Oldsmobiles drove away routinely in formation to preach on Boston Common.   An unruly crowd gathered, then Harvard and Cambridge cops.  We watched from our balcony that overlooking the Bow & Arrow intersection, and merrily toasted the crowd with champagne, attracting the attention of the police who came charging up to investigate, discovering that one of the musicians was a woman. As new sophomores in the house, we had no idea that because of a House dance that night (which meant nothing to us), “parietal hours” had ended early: we had thus committed an offense that went automatically to the Administrative Board (some such designation).  I wrote a reasonable brief in our defense and we submitted it to the Senior Tutor, Zeph Stewart (Classics, later Master of Lowell), but the hearing loomed. Eventually it suspended us from all extra-curricular activities for a few months, and one scholarship roommate (who had not even been present, such was the old rule!) lost his stipend for the rest of the term.  But on the eve of the hearing we were summoned to Master Brower’s study in Apthorp, and had some coffee and good-humored convivial commiseration from that shrewd and witty gent (best known among students for having created HUM 6, a straight-talking course in literary theory, if you can imagine that).  BUT as he saw us out the back study door, down a few steps and into the snow, he said: “And boys, if this doesn’t turn out as we hope it will, remember that life doesn’t end with Harvard College!”

Herbert Cohen ’46 writes: I must be one of the oldest people you contacted- age 86- class ’46.  I attended Harvard as a pre-med student. After only 3 terms, I was drafted into the army in June 1943. After basic training, the army sent me to Wayne University in Detroit as a pre-engineering student. Then, again under the aegis of the army, I went to University of Michigan, finally again as a pre-med student. While there I was interviewed and  accepted to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I graduated med school in 1949, trained in pediatrics in Rochester, NY (my hometown), and was taken back in the army, this time as a medical officer. I was sent to Korea but was stopped in Japan where I spent 2 delightful years in Kyoto as a pediatrician. Finally in 1954, after traveling in Europe on my own for several months, I went into practice in Rochester and stayed there until 1958 when I moved to New York City as a pediatrician at Columbia University. In 1965 I started a 2-year fellowship in Allergy/Immunology at The Roosevelt Hospital after which I started a private practice in NYC. I finally retired in 1996 after 30 years as attending physician at St.Lukes/Roosevelt Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University. I worked a little bit for 5 more years.
Since then I have been very busy taking courses at Columbia to make up for my short student career at Harvard, learning to draw and paint, working on committees and the board of directors of SAGE (Services and Activism for GLBT Elders), and attending aquatics class (I am a diabetic). I have had a marvelous life with the same partner for 49 years. I can wish the same happiness I have enjoyed to all. Good luck in your new enterprise.  I think back on my year at Adams House with great fondness. The only person I have wondered about is John Bosworth-Fling who was not an undergraduate but who lived in Adams House and was very friendly to me.

(How gratifying to hear from you. You are, in fact, one of our oldest alums. But not quite. There are among you, several members of the class of 1936! Perhaps one of our readers can share recollections on John Bosworth-Fling?)

Susan Laster ’84 writes: This is totally wonderful!!!  I loved hearing from someone from Adams House. And I loved the first issue (even though I got tricked into clicking onto previous issues tab! ).  My overarching memory is of the pool.  Of studying until 11:00 and then going for a swim in the pool with my roommates. The fountain was amazing and it was a very relaxing way to end hours of studying.  As you know, it was crazy in the 1980’s there.  Lots of cross dressing.  Lots of theatre.  Great dances in the dining hall.

(Thanks for the kind words, Susan. Yes, we editors all remember the pool very well indeed! Eheu fugaces labuntur anni!)

Matt Gamser ’78 writes:  This is a great initiative!  Keep it up! Perhaps you might be interested in the Adams House Pizza Society, which flourished for a brief moment in the late 1970s…it started by coincidence, when late one night in Harvard Pizza on Mt. Auburn a sizable numbers of Adamsonians all arrived at the same time.  It was declared that this was the formation of a society, which immediately elected a Generalissimo, Spice President and Usurer, and organized regular pizza forays from then on around Cambridge and the greater Boston area.  I honestly cannot remember most of the members, but I believe Anuppam (Nup) Singhal ’79 was Generalissimo, Jeffrey Rothstein ’78 was Usurer, and Barry Posin ’78 was Spice President.   PS.  thanks for the many mentions of the pool in this issue – for those of us that had the good fortune to be at Adams while the pool was still in service, it was a great asset…during my time mandatory suit hours were 6-9pm, at other times it was not a place for the shy and retiring… 

(We blush…!)