Toggle Menu

Selected Letters from Our Readers

Well, our mailbox was full last issue (and will be again, we think, when you finishing reading this latest batch of letters) but by and large your letters fell into two groups:

Responses to Sean’s wonderful piece on the Adams House pool:

Mac Dewart ’70 writes:
Beautiful and absolutely thorough piece! The unconscious never ages, said Freud……Why do our exploits at twenty, sexual or otherwise, live with such extraordinary luminosity… if cut into bronze, every detail never diminishing, never losing power… yes!

Fred Atherton ’90 writes
Hmm…just VERY much enjoyed Sean Lynn-Jones’s article on the pool and certainly availed myself of it quite happily after-hours in 1989-90. I can attest from personal experience that all that was needed to pop the door latch into the rather dismal little changing room off the steam tunnel/corridor was a bent wire hanger – there was a biggish gap between the metal-clad door and its metal frame, with the latch tongue clearly visible, until that door was put on the deadbolt, which wouldn’t submit to such ministrations.

I wasn’t at the infamous closing night, alas – I think (horrors!) I actually had work to do or something. From the undergrad perspective in ’90, things WERE basically over after that momentous ‘bust’: thereverafter, the deadbolt was on the door that had so easily been popped in prior days. By the following year, it was but a drained performance space. Sigh.

I well recall my roommate’s wonderful story of Janet Viggiani (marvellous fun brilliant woman, who saved my sorry arse more than once: requiescat in pace – she is sorely missed!) – apparently, she came in, and stood, quite regally, at the head of the double stair, surveying the general mayhem of naked undergraduates (et al.)… Tapping her foot suggestively, she noted, in a clear voice: “Alright! You have five minutes before I notice who’s here.” The assembled party vanished like Manhattan cockroaches when the lights come on, of course. [We’re still trying to figure out if this happened at the “pool party to end all pool parties” or on another occasion. Can any alums enlighten us? Eds].

Now that Mother (or is it Big Brother?) Harvard won’t even allow undergraduates to use their own bloody fireplaces, I’m particularly struck with the loss of such freedoms as the Adams Pool provided. It’s a poorer world without ’em.

P.S. You really should (re-)publish the Lampoon’s subscription page ca. 1987, spoofing the Kelly LeBrock Dior ads: Scene: male body, in dinner jacket, floating face-down in Adams pool; poolside, glamorous woman in evening gown and pale makeup plus another man in black tie laughing their heads off, pouring champagne or some such; caption: “The Diors refused to let a little senseless poolside tragedy spoil their fun!” (subscribe to the Lampoon…).

Maiya Williams Verrone ’84 writes:
I read with great interest the article about the Adams House pool.  I remember the day I discovered it; I was exploring the tunnels on a rainy day and sort of stumbled across it, without realizing where the door was leading I just  opened it up and there it was.   A beautifully ornate, dimly lit space;  dank, mysterious, and a bit scary since there was no one else there.  I felt like an explorer discovering a lost city in the Amazon.   I’m sorry the pool is gone, but it sounds like the theater is getting more use, at least more than the pool was getting in the early 80’s. Thanks so much for the online magazine, it’s a pleasure to read to relive and remember my wonderful days living at Adams House!  

Edward G. Stockwell, ’55 writes:
I was especially moved by the article, The Deep End: Tales from the Pool, in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Gold Coaster. I lived in Adams House for three years (1952-55) and frequently used the pool for relaxing after dinner. I particular remember one weekend in the spring of ’55 when the pool was opened for our spring dance weekend and, as a member of the house dance committee, I volunteered to act as lifeguard during the afternoon preceding the dance. As I remember it, only one couple showed up. But it was still a memorable afternoon — even if we did not have nude coeds to share the waters back in those days . . .  at least not openly.

And, responses to the first part of Bob Kiely’s memoir:

Guy Benveniste ’48 writes:
Bob Harmann ’50 confirms again in his letter in the last issue, that in the late forties the food at Adams was the best on campus. Well, probably it was . But that tells us little. It was abominable everywhere on campus. Un point c’est tout. We are unaware today how bad it was because we see the past in rosy colors and we were young and hungry. You have to wait for the seventies to witness the American culinary revolution. Today I can find better bread in Berkeley than I can find in Paris. But in the late forties: No. For us French foreign students it was an additional burden and I am certain that it affected our grades. How else can I explain my Gentleman C average and yet I wrote books , taught and acted as if I had eaten well…. The only nice aspect of the dining hall was that you had to wear a tie. they even supplied some at the door. and today I miss ties. But I do not miss the brown or white mush we were given.

Kevin Ward ’75 writes:
As the official Creator/Big-Time-Operator of the Adams Ivy-and -World-Championship Raft Race  (and all of the posters, ridiculous T-Shirts, 100s of cases of cases of beer conned out of distributors for “marketing purposes”, Award creation (i.e. “Last out of Saigon”, “Most Revisionist Bourgeoisie”,  and “Most Likely to have been conceived while on Acid”) and responsible for the fashion-forward thinking that resulted in the Harvard Band wearing fishnet stockings for our first 3 races), I want to set the record straight: Kiely (who I love) may have WISHED he came up with all that stuff, but we just jobbed him in to give this  highly dubious insta-tradition some class. He was preparing awesome lectures while we were consuming the psychedelics necessary to dream up an event of such wit, grandeur, global scope and ultimate irrelevance. As they say, success has many fathers, but this was my baby (for better or worse) 

…which is why I want some column space to tell the TRUE story!

Editors’ note: The gauntlet is thrown! Kevin, we gladly accept your offer for the next issue!

James Gillen ’59 writes:
In his article, A House Remembered, Bob Kiely describes being approached by a group of gay students who tried to have their presence openly acknowledged. There is some suggestion that his introduction to this dimension of Adams House was somewhat a surprise.

I lived in Adams House from 1956-1959 when I graduated. Sometime in 1957-1958, I returned to my room one night and found one of my roommates in flagrante delicto with an unknown male. Later that night, he confessed to me that he was a homosexual. That explained a great deal which has previously been a mystery. I was distressed to learn not to long ago he died in his 40s, presumably from HIV.

He began to educate me about homosexuals at Harvard, especially at Adams House. I was surprised by the large number he identified for me, including some of the resident tutors. It explained to me why I had never been really accepted by this friends and acquaintances as I was not gay. To this day, I believe I can recognize a homosexual simply by his appearance based on my “education”.

The most astonishing thing that occurred involved a course I was talking called “Human Behavior.” It was a kind of group therapy class with extensive reading of various classic psychology studies. We were asked to write a paper for our final grade analyzing some experience we had had.

During that year, I had produced the opera Dido and Aeneas for a performance at Adams House. All of the participants were members of Adams House. I had a very difficult time managing the production and felt it was a bad experience. I decided to use that experience for my study.

When I received my grade the then Professor in charge (the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) I got a C. Having had mostly and A average, I was somewhat dismayed and asked for an opportunity to discuss the paper with the Professor. When we met he said: “You have entirely missed the point in your paper. All these people you describe are homosexual. Their behavior is exactly parallel to a study of Benedictine Monks in Spain. They resent authority, especially from someone who is not gay.”

I was stunned for I knew that he was correct that most of these people I had described in this paper were in fact homosexuals, based on my roommate’s identification.

I said to him. “You are right, but it wasn’t about these people. Furthermore, that study you referred to was not included on any of our reading lists.” He gave me an A.

I was struck by the fact that he could make this kind of identification without direct observation of those involved.

It has also convinced me that homosexuals have personality problems in addition to sexual preference, and are in fact “different.”

Nevertheless, I have not formed any prejudice against them.

From Mr. Kiely’s remarks, I sense that there is still some denial of the existence of homosexuality at Harvard. Based on my experience I am not surprised that they are attracted to Harvard as they have a sensitivity and identification with the intellectual and artistic which would seem to be helpful in obtaining a Harvard education. In any event, it was one aspect of my life at Adams House that was rarely discussed. Perhaps it’s best not to make too much of it as long as these students continue to contribute to the Harvard tradition of scholarship, creativity, and productivity.

Editor’s Note: We’ve published Mr. Gillen’s letter with full knowledge that it will elicit considerable comment, but after much debate amongst my fellow editors, I came to the decision that, whether we agree with the sentiment or not, letters like these are historical documents – part of a shared Adamsian heritage – and that it’s important to chart how our views of sexuality and gender have changed through time. To that end, we encourage others of you to share with us your experiences with sexuality and gender issues at Adams, in the hope of putting together a feature for a future issue. MDW