A House Remembered, Part II

I can never forget what it felt like to come back to Harvard and Adams House in June of 1983 after nearly a year in the People’s Republic of China where Jana taught European history and French and I taught American literature at Sichuan University in Chengdu.  When China reopened its borders to Americans, a small group of visiting professors came to Harvard in 1981.  One of them audited my course on the novel, became a friend, and during lunch at Adams House (where everything interesting seems to happen), he invited me to come teach at his university.  Knowing that it was a peculiar way for a professor of English to spend a sabbatical, I nonetheless felt a deep curiosity and determination to go. Three of our four children—Maria ‘99 (5), Christina ’91 (13), and Jan, Yale ’88 (17) –went to Chinese schools where American children had never been seen before.  After nine years in Apthorp House, we found ourselves in the foreign faculty guest housing on campus—a cold-water two bedroom flat with no phone, no heat, three chairs, two beds, and a table.  My Chinese students in a graduate seminar and a lecture course on the novel lived ten in a room in unheated dorms with no indoor toilets.  The university library was closed to students.  Most foreign books had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  I had cases of books sent from the COOP which I gave to my students.  Dating was forbidden. (When our oldest daughter Anne, Conn. College ‘86 (19), came for a visit, she stayed a few nights in the women’s dorm and heard what a  young Chinese woman’s life was like.) There were no extra-curricular activities other than sports. Gatherings of more than ten—except for political, academic or athletic purposes—were not permitted.  When we and the other American teachers gave a Halloween party with a spook house, apple dunking, and square dancing, the word spread through an unofficial grape vine.  First our own students flocked in and then truck loads of students appeared from other universities until the police appeared and chased them away.

Some people have wondered why the Kielys stayed on so long at Adams House. 26 years!  There are many reasons.  China is one of them.  As Jana and I sat at the diploma ceremony as guests of Acting Masters Richard and Joanne Kronauer, (I was still in my Mao jacket), I looked out with wonder at Randolph Court filled with well-dressed parents and friends, and around me at the prosperous and happy Adamsians in their black robes.  (My Chinese students had no Commencement ceremony or job interviews.  They found their next assignment posted on a bulletin board when classes were over.)  Despite Spartan conditions and other limitations, our time in China was fantastic.  With no modern technology and absolutely no travel experience, my students had excellent English; they treated books like treasures and proved to be astute and sensitive readers.  Every weekend they and our Chinese colleagues took us on expeditions to mountain shrines, temples, communes, and hiking in areas of great natural beauty.  They had little in the way of material possessions, but they welcomed us with extraordinary warmth and generosity. Having grown up in a time when China was regarded in this country with a combination of fear and ignorance, I was determined to make Adams House—as it had been for gay students, actors, artists, poets, and politicians—an exception.

Jana and Bob Kiely with Han Xu, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, and his wife who painted the calligraphy as a presentation piece, 1985

Of course, I realized that Adams House was a small place to start.  But I also knew that it was a good place to start and that its members and graduates had networks well beyond Harvard and Cambridge.  I began by making sure we always  had a resident tutor in East Asian Studies.  When I look back at the names, I see what a talented group it was.  In 1983, I invited Liu Haiping—then a Harvard-Yenching Fellow, now Professor of American Literature at Nanjing Universty—to join Adams House.  Tim Brook (now teaching  Chinese history at the University of Toronto) and his wife Margaret Taylor covered drama, East Asian Studies, and took care of their new baby.  In 1985, when I interviewed a graduate student named Wu Hung for a tutorship, he told me that he was born in Southwest China, had wanted to be a painter, but during the Cultural Revolution was assigned to guard paintings in the Forbidden City and then sent to a labor camp where he developed “the habit of deciphering ancient hieroglyphics.” During his years as a resident tutor at Adams, Wu Hung invited Chinese painters—including Yuan Yensheng whose murals at Beijing Airport of the Water Festival and Song of Life were boarded up during the Cultural Revolution because of a few scantily clad figures—to spend time and give exhibits in the House.  Yuan gave two of his works to Adams and gave me an ink-brush sketch of myself in Maoist poster-style.  Wu Hung is now Distinguished Professor of Chinese Art History at the University of Chicago.  The effervescent Hugh Shapiro (now Professor at the University of Nevada), John Weinstein ‘93 (Professor at Bard College at Simon’s Rock) and the incomparable Carsey Yee  (who modestly described himself as a “gluten-intolerant Canadian”) complete the picture, but only suggest the years of exhibits, lectures, plays, films, not to mention the celebrations of Chinese New Year and the visits of the Mayor of Beijing and Han Xu, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. , and the generations of Chinese students who lived with us at Apthorp House.

Of course, the main reason that we decided to stay on at Adams was to enjoy the company of the continuing number of original and gifted students who chose to live here.  The mid-‘80’s were not a particularly political time, but spearheaded by Damon Silvers ’86 (now Assistant General Counsel for AFL-CIO and one of two undergraduates invited in 1986 to join the Dining Hall workers’ union in negotiations with Harvard), Adams became the headquarters of the student movement dedicated to persuading Harvard to divest its financial holdings in apartheid South Africa.  I still see them huddling and planning at the long tables along the windows on Arrow Street.  I still see Constance Adams ’86 (now a space architect at NASA), wearing a film strip dangling from one ear, and the mock shanty town that she designed and help set up in the Yard while the police and the administration were sleeping.  I still remember Cathy Schuyler ’85 (now Rev. Schuyler, pastor of Duluth Congregational Church) having her diploma withheld for six months because she was photographed participating in a demonstration.  (The one and only time I was “called on the carpet” by my friend Derek Bok was when someone’s grandmother complained to him that I had praised Cathy at our diploma ceremony and awarded her a “diploma” signed by all her Adams classmates! I confessed.  He smiled and asked me to try to behave myself.  I promised to try, but really Adams House sometimes made that difficult.)

Over the years many of my tutees in English and History and Lit were Adamsians.  I wish I had time and space to list them all, but I can’t forget the brilliance of Mary Bly ’85, Bonnie McDonald ’86, Jeff Rosen ’86 (Professor of Constitutional Law at Washington University), Melissa Weissberg ’86 (one of the great editors-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson), Alex Ross ’90 (whose music criticism in The New Yorker still gets an A+ from his tutor), and Rob Tobin ’93 (now Rev. Robert Tobin living in the rooms of John Henry Newman at Oriel College, Oxford where he is chaplain.) 

I’m sure Gino didn’t design
the one that the House Committee
presented to the wife of the
Chinese ambassador at a formal
dinner that said, “Yale Sucks.” 
She asked me what that meant
and The Crimson
—always on the lookout
for news in Adams
House–took a picture of me
with my face in myhands.

In appointing House Tutors, I had an unashamed prejudice in favor of Adams graduates.  The students and I knew them and their talents.  They knew us and, anyway, most of them didn’t really want to leave Adams after only three years.  In the early and mid ‘80’s Aaron Alter ’79 was our happy Hawaiian law tutor; master sculptor Romolo del Deo ’82, art tutor; learned Hebrew scholar, Dan Frank ’77, tutor in Near Eastern Languages and Literature; brilliant Chris Shibutani, ’85 Science Tutor;  Ceci Rouse ’86 (now Professor of Economics Cecilia Rouse at Princeton) was Economics Tutor while serving as Head Tutor in her department;  Lori Paxton ’86 (who taught my 90 year old mother-in-law how to use a computer) was Business Tutor; multi-talented Inger Tudor ’87 was  Drama and then Law Tutor;   Gino Lee ’86 took over the Bow and Arrow Press, designing some of the most original posters, invitations, and T-shirts in the college.  (I don’t know if it was Gino who designed the Adams T-shirt that said, “We’re all gay and we’re coming to get you.”  I’m sure he didn’t design the one that the House Committee presented to the wife of the Chinese ambassador at a formal dinner that said, “Yale Sucks.”  She asked me what that meant and The Crimson—always on the lookout for news in Adams House–took a picture of me with my face in my hands.)  

Film-maker and graphic novelist Yule Caise ’87, VES tutor, commented in his facebook entry (old style print on paper) that he was “proud of the fact that the Adams House Film Society is the only one in which students make films and screen them.”  Later, writer/director/composer Roland Tec ’88 (whose opera Stained Glass Windows was performed in Sanders Theater with audience on stage and singers in the orchestra and balcony) was Drama Tutor;  Renee Cheng ’85 (now Professor and Head of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota) and George Ho ’90 (a prize-winning painter living in Taiwan), were art tutors;  Rhodes Scholar Joel Shin ’90 and  Law student Jamila Jefferson ’94 were Pre-law tutors;  Shirley Thompson ’92 (Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin)  was tutor in Am Civ.  Leo Trasande ’94 (now Co-Director of Children’s Environmental Health at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine) succeeded Jamie Ferrara (Professor of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, University of Michigan), Alan Hartford (Section Chief of Radiation Oncology at Dartmouth-Hitchcok Medical Center), and Samia Mora (Cardiologist at Fish Center for Women’s Health) in a great line of  brilliant and dedicated Pre-medical Tutors who steered generations of Adamsians through the stressful process of applying to medical schools.   It was always good to have a doctor in the House.   They all gave advice and help well beyond the call of duty.  When our nine year old grandson (now 20 and in full remission) was diagnosed with leukemia, our first thought was to telephone Jamie in Michigan.  As always, he gave us and our daughter and son-in-law clear, expert, reassuring advice.

Adams always had a strong musical tradition.  During the early ‘80’s when Beverley Taylor (presently Professor of Choral Conducting and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin School of Music) was Music Tutor, Adams had its own madrigal singers. Bev was conductor of the Radcliffe Choral Society from 1978 to 1995 and was the first woman to conduct the Harvard-Radcliffe combined choirs and orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Sanders Theater.   Later, resident composer and organist James Johnson persuaded me to accept the offer of Philips Brooks House to install its historic  19th century Hook and Hastings pipe organ, a beautiful instrument on loan at Radcliffe, in our Lower Common Room.  Adams cannot take credit for the musical talent of its graduates—notably, Alan Gilbert ’89, Conductor of the New York Philharmonic or China Forbes ‘92 and Thomas Lauderdale ‘92 of Pink Martini—but we can take pride in their accomplishments.   Composer/conductor Ben Loeb ’89 conducted an unforgettable Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at midnight in the Dining Hall to a standing-room only audience from all over the campus.  Pianist Hugh Hinton ’90 (now on the faculty of the Longy School of Music) became Music Tutor in 1991 and was given a key to Apthorp House so that he could practice for hours on the Steinway in our music room.  Hugh generously performed at many events, large and small, but one that I was particularly grateful for was in the Lower Common Room at a dinner for the faculty of the English Department.  My colleagues were not getting along.  One half was not speaking to the other half.  I was chair and was trying to make peace so, of course, I invited them to Adams.  I gave no speech and I did not invite anyone to speak.  I simply introduced Hugh during coffee and dessert.  I still remember the hush in the room when he began to play one of Brahms’ Fantasies.  Hard expressions melted; tentative smiles were attempted; happy days were (almost) here again for the Department of English!

Seamus Heaney Up a Tree at Adams, 1995

The 1980’s saw the arrival of several newcomers who became “pillars” of Adams House.  In 1983 a young Irish poet named Seamus Heaney moved into a modest guest suite in I-entry.  I had discovered and admired his poetry when I was on sabbatical in the other Cambridge, but had never met him.  Seamus and his wife, Marie who came for short visits from Dublin where she was caring for their small children, became our friends and friends of so many in Adams House.  Seamus turned out not only to be a gifted poet, but a good-natured, sociable one, and a grand reader of his own poetry.   Along with Chinese New Year, Soul Night, Drag Night, Cinco de Mayo, the Kielys instituted an annual St. Patrick’s Day Tea during which I paid homage to my Irish ancestors by bar-tending and serving Black-and-Tans (Guinness and Harp).  Seamus always came and read poetry.  Often he brought Irish friends, fiddlers, and penny whistle players.  Sometimes he had to stand on a table or chair in my study in order to be heard amid the throngs.  Students tried the Irish jig and in the late ‘90’s they were actually taught Irish Dancing by Meeghan Piemonte ’99.  (East Apthorp must have turned over in his grave!)  When Seamus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, he telephoned from Dublin during a Friday Tea so we could share the great news with his friends and students at Adams.

In 1984 another member of the Adams House Hall of Fame—Vicki Macy—came to be Assistant to the Master.   I had known Vicki when she was working for the dysfunctional English Department and thought I would do her and Adams House a favor by inviting her to preside over the House office.  I could not have made a better choice.  In the days before computers and email, the House Office was the Command Center of Adams where all student, faculty and outside inquiries were made; appointments arranged; schedules set; rooms reserved; events planned; problems solved.  The phone rang constantly and people were in and out all day long.  Vicki took care of my correspondence and House commitments; kept track of what was going on everywhere in the public spaces of the House; and, perhaps most important of all, was a sympathetic ear to the worries and headaches of the students and tutors who came just to see her.  Every Monday morning, the Senior Tutor and assistant, the director of the Dining Hall, the Superintendent, and I met in her office to go over the successes and failures of the previous week and to plan the week ahead.  I actually looked forward to these meetings.  I now wonder why.  I think it was because Vicki had a calming presence even when the rest of us were stressed over one thing or another.

When the Senior Tutor’s assistant went on half-time in 1988, a bearded artist and novelist named Otto Coontz appeared on the scene (after “canoeing in the Venezuelan jungle”) looking for a job that would give him time to paint and write.  Adams and Otto were a perfect fit.  In a quiet, modest way, Otto managed to keep student records and several generations of Senior Tutors in order while dispensing encouraging advice to gay students and the many budding artists and writers in the House.  Otto soon took over fulltime duties as assistant to the Senior Tutor and turned his office into a mini-museum of Adams memorabilia.  When he announced his retirement this past spring, hundreds of Adamsians, past and present, came to wish him well in his new life in California.

Among other highlights of the 1980’s that come to mind was the appointment in 1989 of Janet Viggiani, the first female Senior Tutor of Adams House.  A graduate of Smith, Janet was Assistant Dean for Co-Education and Coordinator of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Network.  Among the group of exceptional Senior Tutors that I was lucky enough to work with, Janet stood out for her combination of good humor, self-discipline, warmth, and courage.  When she was diagnosed with an advanced form of breast cancer, she asked for a one semester leave of absence to  drive alone across country—something she had always wanted to do—in order to think over her options.  She sent me a postcard from the Grand Canyon saying she had climbed to the bottom and up again and had had the time of her life.  She returned to Adams, served as Senior Tutor for another three years, then went to Law School and practiced law, defending women from discrimination and harassment until her death ten years later.

Women had long been a strong presence in the student body and on the tutorial staff of Adams.  Professor of American Literature Kathryne Lindberg and, later, Rebecca Spang ’85, also served with stamina and dash as Senior Tutors.  Our first woman Physics Tutor, Lisa Randall, was appointed in 1984.  Lisa became the first tenured female Professor of Theoretical Physics at Harvard and has continued to show her Adams colors by writing the libretto of an opera.  Although I was accustomed to being asked interesting and unusual questions and favors by Adamsians, I was particularly surprised and touched when Suzanne Litke ’87 and Lisa Myers ’86 asked if I would preside at their commitment ceremony/wedding at the Hasty Pudding.  At that time, gay marriage was not yet legalized in Massachusetts and they could not find a rabbi willing to officiate.  I suggested an Emily Dickinson poem, but otherwise the ceremony was of their devising.  When the day came, I was probably more nervous than the brides.  It seemed as though half of Adams House was there in front of the big fireplace in the old Hasty Pudding.  My opening lines seemed inevitable and they came from the heart because they expressed what I had been feeling for Adams House for a long time:  “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together to celebrate.”

In 1990, Jana and I and our 13 year old daughter Maria drove across the country to Stanford for the first term of a sabbatical year and then flew to Florence where I was Visiting Professor at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti for the spring semester.  When we returned, Adams House of the ‘90’s was beginning to look a little different from the one we had come to in 1973.  By the late ‘80’s the tunnels had been painted with murals by students.  When the House Committee had suggested that students sign up for a space to paint self portraits along the gray tunnels connecting  Adams buildings, the Superintendent said, “No way,”  the deans, Buildings and Grounds, etc., etc. would never allow it.  So we decided, while the Super was away for the weekend, to let students work day and night under the supervision of the House Committee.  I provided the paint; they provided the schedule and clean-up.  On Monday morning  the Super was not happy, but when I brought Deans Fred Jewett and Archie Epps for a tour, they had to admit that it looked fantastic.  “Very Adams!  Very Adams!” 

 While we were in Italy, Senior Tutor Janet phoned to say that the Athletic Department (in charge of maintaining the Adams pool) reported that minor leaks had become major and were undermining the foundation of the nearby kitchen.  The pool was emptied and closed.  There are many legends about the Adams pool, about half of which are probably true.  One that is not true is that the pool was closed because of nude swimming which had been permitted during certain hours for many years.  In the late ‘80’s , the old pumps and filtration system were constantly breaking down and failing to keep the pool clean.  The water level fell, the water became murky, and fewer and fewer people swam with or without suits.  When the pool was closed, it was hoped that the University would repair the problems and reopen it since it was a hugely expensive project well beyond the Adams budget.  After a few years, it became clear that this was not going to happen and that a locked historic space with a 10 foot drop to a hard concrete bottom was both an invitation and a hazard to curious Adamsians.  When the young actor/director Art Shettle became Drama Tutor in 1993, he and I began thinking of other uses for the space.  Finally, Art and Superintendent Billy Long (formerly a carpenter) drew up plans and a modest budget for a theater.  We found seats in storage from an old lecture hall; Billy and friends helped with the building of the stage; and I begged money from Dean Jewett.  In the spring, the Swimming Pool Theater had its official opening with (what else?) La Cage aux Folles and the rest is history (or myth), whichever you prefer.

The Sun and the Moon over the Conservatory.

For years, one of my dreams for Adams House was that the open space outside the Gold Room between the Dining Hall and C-entry could be roofed over so that it could be used as a small dining area/meeting room all year long.  Year after year, deans said it was too expensive and architects said it couldn’t be done.  Then in 1997, I found an ace in my pocket.  I was heading to Stanford again for my last sabbatical as Master when Dean Jeremy Knowles asked if I would fly back for several days to chair what promised to be a tense and important committee meeting concerning the future of the ART.  He made the mistake of promising that he would do me a favor “some day.”  I said that I was about to leave Adams in two years and that the “day” had arrived when my dream for Adams House might be fulfilled.  I told him about crowding in the Dining Hall and the importance of small meeting spaces for seminars, discussions, etc.  He then did something terrific.  He set a budget and told me that I could appoint a small group of students and tutors to interview and select an architectural firm and collaborate with them in the designs of the space.  Several firms came up with bland, unimaginative plans, but one spent a lot of time looking around the dark and intriguing corners of Adams, made a collage of photographs, and genuinely loved the quirky originality of our spaces.  We chose them and worked with them, enjoying every minute.  It was their idea to copy the glass ceilings of Waterloo Station to keep off the rain and let in the light.  It was our idea to have wrought iron sconces and chandeliers in the shapes of oak leaves.  It was their idea to work the letter A into the ceiling struts.  The Dean was so pleased with their work that he assigned the renovation of the kitchen and serving area to the same firm.  Our committee proposed the color of the tiles in the serving area and the stained glass windows with quotes from FDR and Seamus Heaney (although we didn’t expect them to be backwards!)

No year or class at Adams was quite like the one before, but in 1993 there was a particularly wonderful and memorable surprise.  In May of that year, Pre-medical Tutor Jamie Ferrara, his wife Flora and former Senior Tutor John Hildbidle and his wife Niki invited Jana and me to a formal dinner for a birthday or anniversary, I forget which.  They picked us up at 5 and began driving around Cambridge saying they had to go pick up Niki.  After twenty minutes or so, Flora said she had left her purse at Apthorp House and we had to go back.  We all got out of the car and began walking to the front door of Apthorp when there was an eruption of cheers and applause in Randolph Court from hundreds of students, tutors, alumni, President and Mrs. Bok, and the deans of the College.  It was a surprise celebration of our twentieth year at Adams!  Jana and I had begun to suspect something fishy was going on, but not this!  The planning had been amazing and been done by Vicki, the tutors, students, and alumni without our knowing a word of it.  We were doubly touched because we saw the celebration as not only “for us” but for all of Adams House. It was a perfect afternoon in May. Champagne corks popped; Seamus read a poem; speeches were delivered; and as the evening came, there was a splendid banquet in the Dining Hall, dessert in the Gold Room which had been impressively decorated by Sarah Dawidoff  ’87 with an enormous mobile of ping-pong balls suspended from the ceiling;  followed by simultaneous displays of Adams talent: concerts in the Lower Common Room; poetry readings in the Library; an art exhibit, a play, a theatrical event featuring Tanya Selvaratnam ‘93 as Pantherella; all concluding with a dance in the Dining Hall. 

It probably sounds strange to refer to Adamsians as saintly, but two remarkable members of the House who passed away during our time here come to mind.  Ben Teel became a Resident Tutor in Romance Languages in the early ‘80’s.  Ben was a talented, soft-spoken, gentle character who spent hours every week, when not working on his thesis, counseling and teaching English to poor Haitian immigrants.  Fluent in Creole as well as French and Spanish, Ben was a generous and patient friend to all at Adams who knew him.  A Ben Teel Prize was established for an Adams senior who has made a significant contribution to the welfare of minorities in need.  I met Navin Narayan ’99 at our welcoming dinner for sophomores in 1997 and never forgot him.  Somehow we got talking about meditation; he told me about a temple to a snake god near where his grandparents lived in India; and how his favorite season was the monsoon when he could splash around in the rain.  In high school, Navin led Red Cross rescue volunteers to flooded areas in Texas and other states.  During summers, he took a camera to the poorest districts of Indian cities and interviewed children who had been left there by parents who could not afford to feed them.  His dream was to become a physician, return to India, and build clinics and homes for these children.  When he became ill, Navin had to leave school and eventually succumbed to a brain tumor.  In the last months before he died, I phoned him every week to report on doings at Adams.  Although his voice grew fainter and fainter, he always sounded serene and happy to hear from us.  A Navin Narayan Lecture on a theme in the spirit of Navin’s life is given at Adams House each year. 

One of the privileges and responsibilities of Masters is to receive visiting dignitaries, some of whom can be a headache, but most of whom are a pleasure.   Some of my favorites were Isaac Bashevis Singer (who came to lunch at Apthorp House to celebrate Purim with us and a group of Jewish students); resident  playwright Adrienne Kennedy (whose plays were performed in the LCR); conductor Kurt Mazur (who had been the mentor of music tutor Jim Ross ‘81); Norton Lecturers Nadine Gordimer and Umberto Eco (who after dinner drew a map of Italy on a napkin showing that his ancestors and my mother’s from Piemonte were the true Italians); our dear friend Jill Ker Conway (the first woman president of Smith); and Vaclav Havel (who took a long nap in our guest room.) 

Bob Kiely with Tennessee Williams 1982

Although he did not stay with us, it was because of  Adams House that I was asked by the University Marshal to escort Tennessee Williams when he received an honorary degree in 1982. At the Honorary Degree Dinner the night before Commencement, Williams  (a short, shy man) was nervous and a bitoverwhelmed by Harvard formality, but after dessert and a little wine when a student group came in to sing, he smiled, relaxed, and taking my hand and that of the elderly lady next to him, said (like one of his characters): “I just want to be surrounded by beautiful people.”  The next morning when I met him at Johnson Gate for the procession, he seemed anxious again because he was in a sport jacket, had no academic gown, and felt out of place at Harvard.  I tried to reassure him, but he became more tense when we were told to go into Massachusetts Hall where the Honorands were to sign a guestbook.  Inside the reception room there was a whirl of red gowns and “important” people standing and chatting as if at a Cambridge cocktail party.  I thought Williams was about to back out when he and I saw two very small nuns  (ignored by everyone) sitting on a couch across the room saying the rosary.  “My God!” Williams whispered, grabbing my arm, “That’s Mother Teresa!”  I had been on the Honorary Degree Committee  and knew she would be there though she had not come to the dinner.  Tennessee (he had become “Tennessee” by then) said, “Will you introduce me to her?”  I told him that I didn’t know her, but “Yes, of course” that’s what Masters are supposed to do: introduce everybody to everybody else.  So over we went through the milling crowd of crimson and I—in the strangest introduction I have ever made—said respectfully to the tiny, wrinkled nun, “Mother Teresa, this is Tennessee Williams.”   She looked up kindly, obviously having no idea who Tennessee Williams was.   And then something extraordinary happened that I am almost positive no one else in the room saw.  Tennessee fell to his knees and put his head on her lap.  And she patted his head and blessed him.  After that and for the rest of the day, he beamed.  During the procession, he said to me, “Now I know why I came to Harvard.”  (I have always thought that this was a deciding factor in his leaving some of his papers to Houghton.)

Adams Drag Night 1998

Our last two years at Adams were bittersweet.  Our youngest daughter Maria ’99, who was born in 1977 and brought up as an Adamsian, was about to graduate.  It was time to let go and let others have the fun.  Music, poetry, soccer (coached by the great Dennis Skiotis), and theatricals (on and off stage) continued to the very end.  At my first Drag Night, I had worn a mask and gone around the Dining Hall sitting on people’s laps, hoping they didn’t know who it was.  At our final Drag Night, I dressed as Mother Superior, several tutors and students dressed as nuns, and we danced and lip-synched “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” There is no simple way to sum up twenty-six years.  I can only say that Adams House became inseparable from my experience as a professor at Harvard.  It was a constant source of my own education, an ever-changing, varied, enlivening flow of  tolerance, good humor, talent, ideas, friendships, and challenges.  I really do believe that during those years there was no place at Harvard—or anywhere—quite like it!  I wish I could mention everyone who enriched our lives, but the best I can do here is to send these few memories and my gratitude and warmest greetings to all Adamsians, past,  present, and yet to come.

How Harvard Invented Modern Football

(FDR was an avid football fan, and FDR Suite-mate Lathrop Brown managed the Varsity Team in 1903, so to celebrate the big Game this Saturday, I thought it fit to do a little digging into the history of the contest. I was pleasantly pleased to find an extended article by Morton Henry Prince, Class of 1875, in something called The H Book of Harvard Athletics, printed in 1923, and donated to the Restoration by the descendants of Chester Robinson ’04. Prince who served as secretary to the first Harvard Football Club and who witnessed events first hand, relates how Harvard’s unwillingness to change its traditional ways led directly to rise of football as we know it. MDW)

An early football game, along the lines of that played at Harvard in the 1860s & 70s. Note the round ball, and complete lack of uniforms or equipment!

By Morton (Henry) Prince ’75

To understand the history of football at Harvard, it is necessary to realize that during the 1850s and 1860s, the College played a game that had been played for many years in the preparatory schools of Massachusetts, particularly those of Boston. The rules were simple and through tradition were well established. Theoretically, any number could play on a side, but practically only ten or fifteen played because not more than twenty or thirty turned out each afternoon for a game. Instead of goal posts, the goal, over which the football had to be kicked on the fly, was only an imaginary line across the whole width of the field at the end. But after the game had become well established in College and match games were introduced a rope was strung across on supports about five feet above the ground.

The players were assigned to positions of “tenders,” “half-tends” (referring to the goal and corresponding to the present “full backs” and “half backs,”) and “rushers.”

The ball was round, and made of a non-elastic rubber fabric material similar to that of which rubber boots are made. The rubber only made it airtight. Kicking was the predominant feature of the game, but under a certain condition a player was allowed to run with the ball, “baby” (dribble) it, or throw it or pass it to another, and these tactics were liberally used. A player holding or running with the ball could be tackled. On the other hand, striking, hacking, tripping and other rough play was forbidden. Of course the ball could be caught or picked up.

The condition which permitted the player to run with, “baby,” throw, and pass the ball was that he be pursued by an adversary. If he ran with the ball he was obliged to stop the moment his opponent ceased the chase, and kick the ball. It may seem curious that this rule worked, but it did. The reason is that the pursuer always called out when he stopped chasing and if the runner did not at once also stop, the cry was taken up by the whole pack of opponents. He was then obliged by tradition to go back to where he was at the crucial moment, before kicking. It is obvious that under this rule there would develop the tactics of a player of the same team running by the side of the player with the ball, who, when tackled, passed the ball to his running mate, who in turn could run if chased, otherwise he must kick or throw the ball. The style of play as developed under these rules and by tradition was remarkably open, and remarkably individual, leaving nearly everything to the skill, initiative and agility of each player….

When winter came the success of the three seasons (two autumns and one spring, 1871) of sport had been so exhilarating that the football enthusiasts felt that the game ought to have wider support and that all the students ought to be invited and encourage to join and learn to play. Accordingly, a mass meeting was called in Holden Chapel, and the Harvard University Football Club was formed on 3 December 1872, and the set of rules that were adopted were essentially those as handed down by tradition…

In October of 1873 a letter was received by the caption of our team from Yale inviting us to send delegates to a convention, to be held in New York, of the five colleges which had shown the most interest in football, namely Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton and Yale. The purpose of the call was to form an Intercollegiate Association and agree upon a code of rules. However, there was an essential problem: one fundamental principle of our game, determining the whole character of the play, was, I may repeat, that a player was permitted to pick up the ball, run with it, throw it, or pass it. He could also seize and hold an adversary to prevent his getting the ball. Quite contrary to this were the Yale rules, which were essentially the same as those of Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers: no picking up, carrying or throwing the ball was allowed, nor was holding or pushing with the hands. The game was all footwork. The styles of game were consequently vitally different, as different as Soccer football is from the present game.

Regretfully, our Captain was instructed to decline Yale’s invitation.

Of course our action drew down upon Harvard considerable adverse criticism, as it was interpreted by Yale as an aloofness at meeting the other colleges in sport. Yet Harvard persevered: “ We must either sacrifice entirely the principle of our game and learn a new one, or abandon all thought of intercollegiate matches. We have chosen the latter alternative.” And with this, the incident was closed, but only for the time being, for the introduction of the Rugby game in the following spring in order to play McGill gave an entirely new aspect to the intercollegiate question and was destined to put American football upon an entirely different basis. But this became possible because of Harvard’s refusal to join the Intercollegiate Association and play the “Association Rules.” If Harvard had not refused it is highly improbably that the modern game played today – the American Rugby – would ever have been evolved. Instead, all universities colleges and schools today would be playing the Association Rules – practically soccer. But as it happened the ancient rivalry between Harvard and Yale with the irresistible desire to play each other finally induced a compromise and acceptance by the two colleges of the Rugby rules with which, as we shall see, Harvard at that epoch had become fortuitously experienced, and for which she had even learned to a acquire a secret taste….

The Momentous Beginning – Harvard at McGill 1874

The Harvard season of 1874, which began in the spring, was destined to be historic for American football because in it occurred the Harvard-McGill game, the first game of intercollegiate Rugby played in this country and the contest which lead directly to the present intercollegiate game. This contest, therefore, and the circumstances attending its inception and the historic event itself deserve to be more fully recorded.

Harvard was surprised and pleased to receive from McGill University in Montreal a proposal for a series of matches. As McGill played under the Rugby rules (slightly modified) it was proposed, in order to overcome the difficulty, that two matches be played, one under the Rugby rules and one under the Harvard rules. Of course we eagerly fell in with the idea of the two matches…

We at once set to work studying the principles of the Rugby game, practicing plays, and working out what could be done under the rules and particularly what tactics under the Harvard rules could be adapted. This gave us, as it turned out, some advantage, for with Yankee shrewdness we discovered that certain of our own plays could be introduced which, though we had not suspected it, had not been thought of by McGill. When in the match we used these plays, the visitors were dumbfounded, and for the moment questioned their propriety, but at once recognized their legality when it was pointed out by the umpire.

In the Magenta [now the Crimson] for May 8, 1874, appeared this notice:

“The McGill University Foot-ball Club will meet the Harvard Club on Jarvis Field, Wednesday and Thursday, the 13th and 14th at 3 o’clock. Admission 50 cents.”

It’s worth noting that the fifty cents admission was charged for an entertainment fund. There was no athletic fund in those days. We had – noblesse oblige – to entertain our visitors and make their visit enjoyable and one to be remembered. How strange that must sound to modern ears. Think of entertaining Yale, or Princeton, or Cornell! Yet not a bad idea!…

This wonderfully evocative image comes from the 1904 Class book,
part of the collections of Harvard emphemera in the FDR Suite

At last the great day for football arrived.

In those days of early football the Harvard team was not outfitted with uniforms. No one in the memory of man had ever donned a uniform for football in any college. So we always wore our oldest clothes, which consisted of a pair of trousers and any old shirt. But on this occasion we did a bit better to present a respectable appearance and exhibit a semblance of a uniform. Each member of the eleven donned dark trousers, a white undershirt (which some thought had the advantage of ripping when seized) and a magenta handkerchief tied in a traditional fashion upon the head as was customary with the crews. And thus appareled, to our later mortification (we thought it fine at the moment) the Harvard eleven appeared on the field. In the first match under the Harvard rules, which was not a rough game, the clothing stood the wear and tear, but in the Rugby game it was soon reduced to shreds and patches. When the McGill eleven appeared on the field neatly uniformed after the English fashion, the contrast was remarked upon to our discomfiture.

A crowd of about 500 spectators, mostly students, lined the sides of Jarvis field. All were keyed with intense interest. It needed, however, but a few moments of play to relieve whatever anxiety there was and for it to become obvious that our easy going Canadian visitors had not taken the trouble to practice the game and were totally unfamiliar with it. The match (three games) was speedily over. Harvard won all three.

The second match on the next day was a different affair. We now had to meet our opponents at their own game. Instead of the round “rubber” fabric ball used in the Harvard game, the ball was the English oval, leather-covered ball, substantially the same as that used today in the present American game. The match was hard fought and evenly contested for it turned out to be a drawn battle, neither side scoring a goal or a touchdown in the three half-hours. The fact that we held the McGill team to a draw at their own game speaks well for the skill and general excellence of our men at football, considering that they had only a few weeks in which to study and practice the game. With the matches over, we did not feel that our obligations had ended. There were those of hospitality and sportsmanship. During the two-days stay of our visitors, all the Harvard clubs opened their doors to them; we took them to ourselves and did all that we could to give them a good time and make them feel the spirit of good-fellowship. And, indeed, we found them a set of as good fellows and sportsmen as ever punted a football. We had taken in several hundred dollars in admissions to the matches – quite a tidy little sum in those days – and with this, not being responsible to any auditing committee, I as autocrat of the Treasury am thankful to remember, we blew them off a banquet at Parker’s in Boston, and saw to it that the champagne flowed as it will never do again.

Editors Note: Now that’s my kind of post-game party! Harvard meet McGill again the next season in Montreal, and was once more victorious. Harvard’s Canadian hosts, gracious throughout, outdid even the hospitality shown by the College the previous year in Cambridge, so much so that many of the team members elected to stay a few additional days in Montreal. The McGill-Harvard matches were a watershed, and had the result “of creating at Harvard an interest in and a positive liking for the Rugby game,” according to Prince. Based on this experience, Harvard shortly thereafter suggested to Yale that a compromise might be reached in both schools giving up their particular games for a modified set of Rugby rules, and thus the first Harvard-Yale contest was played in 1875, initiating the sport now called American football.

A Tutor’s Tale: When House is Home

The author at the B-entry “Love or Pas de Love” Party in 1992

Choosing (and Being Chosen By) Adams
In the spring of 1984, I was a graduate student in the Department of Government at Harvard. For several years, I had aspired to become a resident tutor in one of Harvard’s houses. I hoped that living in a house would provide a sense of community, which was sorely lacking in the lives of most graduate students, not to mention free food and housing. Although I had been a nonresident tutor at Dudley House and then Currier House, I applied to be a resident tutor in Adams, mainly because Jeff Rosen ‘86 told me that Adams might be looking for a Government tutor and encouraged me to apply.

At that time, Adams House had a very pronounced image as the “artsy-fartsy gay house.” The stereotype oversimplified the character of the house, but there was no doubt that Adams House was more bohemian, fashionable, tolerant, diverse, and creative than any of Harvard’s other houses, even if it lacked a large population of varsity athletes. My friends joked that I didn’t seem to fit the Adams bill at all: I was straight, my artistic, dramatic, and musical talents were extremely well hidden, and the only black items in my wardrobe were socks. Nevertheless, I convinced myself that tutors didn’t have to fit the stereotype of their houses and enthusiastically applied to Adams, met with Master Robert Kiely and several students, and was pleasantly surprised to receive very soon after an offer of a resident tutorship.

And so it began…

I did not respond immediately, however. I had also applied to be a resident tutor in Leverett House. Adams had some clear advantages: the food was reportedly better, I had heard that the rooms were nicer, and the house was conveniently located near the Yard and the heart of Harvard Square. Adams, of course, also had the unique advantage of having its own opulent and notorious swimming pool. (For the most complete and revealing history of the Adams House pool ever published, see HERE. One of the most important perks of being a resident tutor was having a key to the pool.) Leverett had in fact offered me a tutorship first, however, and its masters seemed very eager to have a resident Government tutor, so I remained undecided while I considered both offers.

In the end, I made my decision after thinking about what St. Patrick’s Day tea had been like at Adams House. Master Kiely had invited me to that tea so that I could get to know Adams House while I was applying. In the elegant confines of Apthorp House, Irish coffee, Jameson Irish Whiskey, and Guinness had all flowed freely. Irish step dancers and musicians provided entertainment. To top it off, Seamus Heaney, the greatest living poet in the English language (and sometime Adams House resident) read his poetry. Leverett House simply couldn’t compete. I chose Adams.

G-Entry and Doug Fitch: 1984–85
In the fall of 1984, I moved into G-33. It was a relatively small room, but its bedroom and living room featured darkened oak trim, a fireplace, hardwood floors, and a view of the Lampoon. (I could watch their goings-on through the window; their parties could keep me up all night.) G-entry was not a very large entry, but for some reason it had two resident tutors. Doug Fitch ‘81, the other tutor in G-entry, had lived in Adams as an undergraduate and introduced me to many of the best traditions of the house.

The incredible Doug Fitch

The incredible Doug Fitch Doug first enlisted me to pose as if I were part of various pieces of furniture while he took photographs. He explained that he had a client who wanted furniture that looked like human bodies. Doug’s photographs would be the basis of visualizing what assorted pieces of this furniture would look like. Along with several other people, I lay on the floor in the squash courts and held my arms and legs up as if I were supporting a tabletop and otherwise contorted myself into different positions. It was very much like a game of Twister. I don’t know if Doug ever created any furniture for his client, but his website (www.dougfitch.com) includes plenty of images of similarly outlandish furnishings and interior designs.

Doug also introduced me to the Bow & Arrow Press in the basement of B-entry. We spent most of one night making a linocut of a brain and using it to print posters to promote a concert by a student rock band called the “The Whacked” (or was it “The Wacked”?). I never printed anything else in the Press, but I was proud to see one of those posters hanging on the walls many years later.

On November 5, 1984, Doug knocked on my door in the middle of the afternoon, chanting, “What a day, what a day, for an auto-da-fé.” I was mildly alarmed by this prospect, but before I could inform Doug that I had other plans, he explained that we were going to burn Ronald Reagan in effigy to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day—a British holiday that features fireworks and the burning of Guy Fawkes in effigy on November 5 to commemorate the failure of Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Doug and several co-conspirators had already stuffed a dummy and put a Reagan mask on it. As we generated something akin to music on our kazoos, we marched the effigy to the banks of the Charles, ignited it, and threw it into the water without being apprehended by Harvard’s Republicans, the Cambridge Police, the Fire Department, or the Environmental Protection Agency.

What I Did as a Resident Tutor
I had multiple functions as a resident tutor. Like all resident tutors, I had some responsibilities for the entry where I lived. In addition to hosting entry parties and study breaks, I was supposed to ask students to keep their parties quiet. In my eight years in Adams House, however, I rarely had to do so. As time went on, Harvard and Adams House devised new rules and paperwork for monitoring parties, but my first few years in the house were blissfully free from such burdens.

As the Government tutor, I taught the department’s sophomore tutorial to Government concentrators, signed study cards, offered general advice, and unofficially advised seniors who felt neglected by their official (faculty) thesis advisors. Despite its reputation as a haven for literati and Visual and Environmental Studies concentrators, Adams had a surprisingly large number of Government concentrators.

I also attempted to run a Politics and Society table with Jeff Herf, a resident Social Studies tutor. Unfortunately, this project was never entirely successful. Jeff and I would invite senior faculty and visitors to Harvard to dinner, only to find that no more than a handful of students had time to join us. Most undergraduates were too busy to set aside an hour or more for these dinners.

My main house-wide duty was to be the housing tutor. Although most houses assigned responsibility for housing to the assistant to the masters, the task was much more complex in Adams and had been delegated to an assistant senior tutor. Many Adamsians tended to have strong and idiosyncratic personalities, which meant that there were lots of roommate conflicts and requests to switch rooms. Adamsians also were likely to study abroad or to take time off, so every January there were many vacant spaces to fill and returning students to assign.

I spent many evenings listening to students tell tales of woe about the outrageous behavior of their roommates and the ample reasons why one or all of them absolutely required a single room—or at least a new roommate. Even if there was a lot of self-serving exaggeration, I was exposed to what would later be called “Way Too Much Information” about the personal habits that made roommates incompatible. All those students can rest assured that I kept no records and time has erased my memories of most of the embarrassing details of those conversations. After hearing all the complaints, I usually found a way to reshuffle roommates in a series of chain-reaction moves that relocated those who wanted to move through a combination of roommate swaps and placing the discontented in vacancies created by students who departed at the end of the first semester. Students who remained dissatisfied glared at me in the hallways and dining hall.

I also ran the annual housing lottery, which was always a spectacle, with a game-show atmosphere and screams of ecstasy (I remember an emphatic “Praise Vishnu!” from a happy student) and groans of despair. The lottery was far more stressful for the students who were picking rooms than it was for me, but I had to spend a lot of time running the lottery and devising rules that would allocate rooms fairly. (As housing tutor, I never forgot the advice my predecessor, Aaron Alter ‘79 gave me: “Whatever you do should be fair, but it’s even more important that it appear to be fair.”) Every year there were a few changes in the rules and room configurations. In the early 1990s, for example, I created what were probably the first “official” coed suites at Harvard. By opening a fire door, two adjacent suites could become one large suite that could be chosen by a coed group. University Hall administrators were none the wiser, because the suite appeared as two single-sex suites on their room lists.

One of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of being housing tutor was having to deal with dozens of requests to transfer into Adams House. Many students felt miserable in other houses and fervently believed that their only road to happiness lay through Adams House. In many cases, they probably were right, although some almost certainly were just hoping to escape the Quad. I met with many transfer applicants and tried to find space for the ones who truly seemed to belong in Adams House, but there was never enough room for all of them.

From time to time, I also served on the Adams House fellowship committee, which interviewed candidates for various major scholarships such as the Rhodes and Marshall and helped Adamsians with their applications. I envied the fellowships tutors, because they generally saw Adams House students at their best, whereas I usually saw them at their worst—when they were whining about their roommates.

I briefly was acting senior tutor (now the resident dean) when Senior Tutor Janet Viggiani was recovering from surgery. During those weeks I sat on Harvard’s Administrative Board as it deliberated the fate of several students—including at least one Adamsian—who had run afoul of Harvard’s rules.

The Dining Hall
In the 1980s, the Adams dining hall was a distinctive and somewhat daunting place. Adamsians of that era will recall the complicated geography of the dining hall and the maps that students drew to designate which groups ate at the various tables. When I moved into Adams, the dining hall was divided by the salad bar into smoking and nonsmoking sections. Black-clad smokers puffed their Gauloises on the half of the dining hall closest to the windows on Arrow Street, while diners closer to the checker’s desk and the entrance from the Gold Room hoped the smoke would not waft their way. Within a few years, the smokers were confined to the tables along those windows. Next, smoking was banned altogether, although the students most likely to smoke still frequented the window tables.

The dining hall was also a scene for various forms of flamboyant display—and not only on the annual Drag Night. A student from another house told me she ate in Adams when she needed new ideas for her wardrobe. Several Adamsians were invariably on the cutting edge of fashion and observers keenly anticipated what they would wear.

As a tutor, I ate most of my meals in the dining hall, where the food was usually delicious and always free. I tried to navigate the intimidating geography of the dining hall and to eat with various groups at their favorite tables, even if some didn’t seem to welcome being joined by a tutor and there were times when interhouse diners packed the dining hall and made it hard to find any Adamsians. Although once in a while I would sit down with a group of students who promptly left, I usually found a place at a table. (This process surely would have been much more intimidating—for me, at least—if I had been an undergraduate.) One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a tutor was the opportunity to have long conversations with students over dinner.

The Vanderbilt Suite: B-22

B-22 in 1899

I had the incredibly good fortune to move from G-33 to B-22 after my first year in Adams House. G-33 was a good room, but B-22 was an extraordinary suite. When Westmorly South (now B-entry) had been built as a private Gold Coast dormitory in 1898, B-22 had been decorated to suit the tastes of its first resident, William Kissam Vanderbilt, Jr. The suite featured darkened oak wainscoting and pilasters, built-in bookcases, carved linenfold doors, and an imitation-beamed ceiling. It had retained antique light fixtures and a chandelier. Its most dramatic element was an arch that led from the living room into the study. Cherubs and vines were carved into the wood on either side of the arch. Like many B-entry suites, B-22 also had diamond pane windows and French doors, a large fireplace, and hardwood floors.

Other tutors coveted B-22 when it became vacant with the departure of Aaron Alter. I was never sure why Bob Kiely assigned it to me, but it seemed appropriate that if I was willing to take over Aaron’s responsibilities as housing tutor I also should succeed him in B-22.

B-22 circa 1990

After moving into B-22, I tried to furnish and decorate the room in the manner that it deserved. A mahogany dining room set and sideboard that I had inherited from my grandmother perfectly complemented the woodwork. A trip to Paine Furniture (where Franklin Roosevelt had shopped for items for his B-entry room) yielded a Chinese Chippendale sofa and a mahogany coffee table. A few antiques, potted plants, and an assortment of framed prints completed my efforts to decorate the room. I never achieved the level of clutter and colorful ornamentation associated with Harvard rooms of the Gold Coast era (see the FDR Suite for an outstanding attempt to replicate the style of undergraduate rooms circa 1900 ), but I felt that I had done justice to the suite.

I also started to think about B-22’s potential as a venue for parties. The privilege of living in the room came with the responsibility of using it for the greater good.

Planning the Perfect Entry Party
One of the duties of resident tutors was to hold a party for the students in each entry at the start of each semester. Shortly after moving into G-entry, I asked Doug Fitch if we should schedule a party and order some pizza and beer. Doug was appalled by my choice of food and drink and insisted that only champagne and caviar would do for an entry party in Adams House. Thus began my quest to hold the most lavish and memorable entry parties possible. Doug and I hosted G-entry parties that invariably featured cheap champagne and low-quality caviar, but these were still an improvement over pizza and beer. Doug had a leather pig that always served as the centerpiece at these parties. We impaled cornichons on toothpicks, inserted them along the pig’s spine, and dubbed it the “cornichon pig.”

Gino Lee

After moving to B-entry, my fellow entry tutors Gino Lee ‘84 and (subsequently) George Ho ’90 enthusiastically joined my efforts to take entry parties to new heights. We planned parties that thematically integrated music, food, video entertainment, and decorations. As the Bow & Arrow Press tutor, Gino designed and printed invitations.

Gino and I hosted a series of three “pop icon” themed parties. The first honored Andy Warhol, whom Gino admired, and took place in the Bow & Arrow Press. We covered the walls with silver Mylar to simulate the look of Warhol’s “Factory” in New York and hung a few Warhol posters. The stereo played the Velvet Underground and Nico album that featured Warhol’s painting of a banana on the cover and “Songs for Drella,” which Lou Reed and John Cale recorded as a tribute to Warhol. Cans of Campbell’s soup were stacked around the room. On the television, the VCR played movies such as “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” and “Ciao, Manhattan,” the semi-biography of Edie Sedgwick, a Warhol acolyte who was a habitué of Adams House in the 1960s. We copied and posted the Adams facebook photographs of all the residents of B-entry and provided brushes and paint in various Warholesque shades so that each student could color their photograph to resemble Warhol’s famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe. It was hard to think of thematic food to serve at the party (speed and other illicit substances were suggested), but few complained about champagne and caviar.

The second pop icon party took David Lynch and his works as its theme. We hosted it as the nation was becoming obsessed with Lynch’s 1990–91 “Twin Peaks” television program. Students were asked to dress as a character from “Twin Peaks” or one of Lynch’s movies. At least one “log lady,” a one-armed man, and a murder victim or two wrapped in plastic sheets attended.

Selecting food for the David Lynch party was simple. Taking our cue from “Twin Peaks” we served plenty of coffee (“cup of Joe”) and doughnuts.

The theme music from “Twin Peaks” eerily blared from the stereo and wafted through the Bow & Arrow Press. The television, however, featured Lynch’s horrifying and grotesque “Eraserhead,” with its bizarre characters and disturbing images of a mutant baby. A jaded Adamsian looked at the screen with disdain and declared, “I hate ‘Eraserhead.’”

It was hard to ignore Madonna in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so she was the focus of our third pop icon party. There was no shortage of music and the choice of food seemed obvious: aphrodisiacs. Along with the customary champagne, we served vitamin E, chocolate, and ginseng.

We hosted many other B-entry parties that were not part of the pop icon series. Every year I held a Christmas party in B-22. I lugged home a tree from the now long-defunct Grower’s Market on Memorial Drive and erected it on my dining room table. My large desk served as a buffet that featured cakes, a Linzer Torte, and fresh strawberries for dipping in chocolate fondue. One year Gino and I held a Halloween party in the Bow & Arrow Press. Using a lot of cans of Sterno and several frying pans, I cooked Crêpes Suzette for about four dozen people. Some dry ice in the bottom of the punchbowl created a bubbling cauldron. We had so much dry ice that we used it to fill the Press with fog. The door was open, so tongues of fog eerily crept into the tunnels and spread out under Adams House. Another party took place in the Adams pool, which was drained for repairs. Searching for a new theme, we seized on the Fine Young Cannibals’ album, “The Raw and the Cooked,” and shucked raw oysters and clams in my suite. (The knife often slipped and I can still see the gouges in my coffee table.) A pre-Valentine’s Day “love or pas de love” soirée invited partygoers with mixed emotions to wear red or black as they experienced George Ho’s appropriately themed art.

In the spring of 1992, George Ho and I hosted a “Heaven and Hell” party that turned out to be our last B-entry party. We used both our suites, with mine serving as hell and George’s (B-32—one flight up) serving as heaven. It was easy to assemble a party tape of heavy metal favorites such as “Hell’s Bells” and “Highway to Hell” to play in B-22. (We resisted the temptation to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the stairs from the second to the third floor of B-entry.) I wore a Satan mask and a tuxedo and served devil’s food cake, hellishly spicy dishes, and Devil Dogs. George served angel food cake and used dry ice to create knee-high clouds in “heaven.” It looked beautiful, but it was so cold that guests often fled to the warmth of hell.

All of these parties probably exceeded the budget allotted to each tutor for entry parties. Victoria Macy, assistant to the masters, somehow never failed to find a way to reimburse us fully for our expenses. I’m still not quite sure how she did that—and reimbursed us for the cost of all the alcohol we served—but I thank Vicki for quietly making all of our parties possible. I hope the Adamsians who attended them enjoyed them at least as much as my fellow tutors and I enjoyed hosting them.

Moving Out and Moving On
During 1991–92, my eighth year in Adams House, I decided it was time to leave. Adams had offered a comfortable refuge from the “real world” and a chance to meet a fascinating array of students. It sustained and supported me when a long-term relationship ended and short-term ones fizzled. But I had to move on. With the advent of the assignment of students to houses by a process of non-ordered choice and rumors that full-fledged randomization would be the next step, I realized that the Adams House I had known and loved was on the verge of irrevocable change. At least as important, I had become aware of the disconcerting fact that each year all the students in the House remained the same age (on average) while I grew progressively older. I also had a general sense that it was time to “cut the umbilical cord,” as I think Master Kiely put it, and head out into the adult world beyond Adams House.

At the 1992 Adams House commencement ceremony, I was moved when Bob Kiely marked my departure from the house by reminiscing about my contributions to Adams: “Sean is an institution within an institution. His rooms have the old world patina of an Oxford Don’s suite and his parties the culinary sumptuousness of a Salzburg cafe. Sean has been a source of continuity, stability, dry humor, and wise counsel to many at Adams House.”

John H. Finley, IV ‘92 helped me find a house on the coast in York Harbor, Maine, that I could rent from one of his relatives. I spent almost a year living there in solitude, enjoying the sound of waves crashing against the rocks outside the house. I moved back to Boston in 1993, and within a few short years I got married, had a daughter, and moved into a Victorian brick townhouse in Brookline, Massachusetts that’s both house and home – but this time, with a small H, and that’s just how it should be.

The View from Apthorp

Drag Night

Sean as Little Annie with Judy and Rowan Doren ’07 as the Dragster

Of all the grand old Adams House traditions, perhaps the most famous is Drag Night, and we’re happy to say it still glitters on. After randomization, the number of students who came nightly to the Dining Hall in drag dwindled, and rising sophomores were no longer required to come to the first Tea in drag, but the spirit of the celebration continues unabated.

Each year, elaborately choreographed songs and dances are staged, some of them rising to legendary status. In 2011, a large group of tutors and students from Kirkland came in drag bearing a large paper-mâche heart and gaily joined our celebration. “We are Family” was the festive final song joined by performers and audience alike weaving in a long line around the Dining Hall.

This year’s Drag Night was particularly festive because Jack Cashion, one of Adam’s current HoCo chairs, brought his band, the Nostalgics, to play the whole evening. With our new amp and speaker system booming music across the Dining Hall, performers sang, danced, and lip-synched through some amazing acts. Sean and I had the great fortune of having the band’s excellent vocalists perform “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as they cavorted around the stage and finally climbed tall ladders to end the number in a sweet and heart-felt kiss.

When we think back 45 years to our own undergraduate time at Harvard, what a refreshing change this is. In the old days if you were not on a one-man one-woman couple you were not on a dance floor. Now a group of men and women can dance together, one man, one woman can dance together, two men or two women can dance. And on Drag Night, men in dresses can dance with women in dresses, or pants…it doesn’t matter. We just have fun. After all ….we are family!

The Homogenization of Harvard

There is a part of me – and it would be disingenuous to suggest that it isn’t a prominent part – that finds itself railing against today’s model of the ideal Harvard student.  And though there are many reasons why a conservative such as myself might take exception to many members of the current student body, in this particular case my disappointment is not in some silly protest or inane awareness campaign, but rather an objection to the utter conformity of so many of my fellow Harvardians.

Supposedly homogeneity is antithetical to the modern notion of Harvard – the admissions office will be quick to provide plenty of data on the wide range of backgrounds, races, opinions, socio-economic classes, and, most recently, “genders” represented in each new batch of freshmen.  Yes, we do indeed have a veritable rainbow of diversity – but on closer inspection it’s comprised of students who turn out to be remarkably the same.  For though I may sit down with a corn-fed farmer’s son from Iowa, a minor rap artist from Queens, a Republican Jew from NorCal, or a lesbian minister’s daughter from God-only-knows-where, I can almost be certain before the first sentences are uttered that each took 6-10 AP classes, was president of their high-school’s NHS chapter, and will be taking two tough courses this semester, plus one easier requirement and one “gem” – easy A, little work.  One will have taken a gap year, one will be a varsity athlete, one will be a vegetarian, and one will try to be president of everything in which he or she is involved.  Each will concentrate in Economics, Government, or Science, with a dash of Humanities thrown in for balance. All of them will be obnoxious, and all of them will go on to be very successful, and this is of course the way things are supposed to be.

So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that today’s Harvard students, in attempting to negotiate the politically correct slope to success, have become so boringly standardized, so totally conformist that we are now indistinguishable from our peers at Yale, Stanford or dare I say it, The University of Chicago. The very character of Harvard undergraduate life is in danger of being homogenized out of existence.

We have, in short, lost our eccentricity, our particular blend of seriousness and silliness that once made Harvard Harvard.

Perhaps it is a symptom of the modern age, of faster communication.  Until fairly recently, just what exactly went on “up there at Harvard” was largely the subject of myth and mystery to most people, and Harvard didn’t disappoint. But in the interests of creating an internal “meritocracy” (whatever that may be) and adjusting our lives and schedule to conform to other universities, we risk becoming far more normal than behooves us.

Once upon a time at Harvard, there were people like Arthur Darby Nock, the noted theologian and linguist who was famous for meditating in his Eliot House study – in the nude. (Can you imagine what would be made of that by today’s media?) Or what about Charles Kletzch, who, having decided to pursue a career in the arts, was cut off by his family, and simply moved into a secret compartment the Dunster House library, where he remained for decades? (How likely would that be these days?) Or how about FDR’s famous John the Orangeman, Harvard’s beloved mascot for 40 years, with his donkey, cart and secret stash of bootlegged booze? He happily supplied generations of dry Harvard undergraduates from his ass-drawn cart, and no one, ever, blew his cover. Today poor old John would be subject of a Crimson expose and arrested for selling alcohol to minors before he could shout the name of his donkey,“Annie Radcliffe.”

Nor was it just the faculty. The students too, used to have guts and glory.  Think of it! Hundreds of years ago the Harvard student body held a rebellion over the quality of their butter. A butter rebellion? Outstanding! Give me a musket and let’s duke this thing out!  Public ruckus was de rigueur then.  A young Cambridge woman once decided to seek a very certain sort of attention by removing her crimson garter whilst on the balcony above the Memorial Hall dining room. After a dainty little striptease, she hurled it down to the adoring boys below. The resulting riot was so great that numerous tables, chairs, place settings, oil paintings, and waiters were damaged in the ensuing scramble. Legendary! There seems to be no lack of lewd behavior at Harvard now – in fact it seems encouraged, with “sex week” and other such Babylonian diversions – but we could at least attempt to lend it a distinctly more Harvardian flavor. Even our Final Clubs have somehow slid from roasting pigs in freshman rooms to behaving like ill-mannered garden-variety frats with overly large budgets.

These days, even our streaking has become a scheduled event, with its own entry in Wikipedia.

Ho hum.

Replacing bland acceptance letters with roving bands of chanting students to welcome new House members on Housing day is a step in the right direction, but the very idea of randomization is yet another blow to our beloved eccentricities.  Randomized housing? No, that’s what other universities do!  We are anything but other universities!  I say let’s return to self-selection of House, and then let each House Committee devise some sort of gauntlet-esque task or series of quests or inventive competition to determine who gets to live there.  Something, anything! Just let it be less boring than a computer algorithm designed to ensure randomization with an “appropriate” gender ratio balance.

We Harvard students need to damn the torpedoes and do something absurd, something irresponsible, something outside of our pre-programmed career paths, something for those god-awful Hahvahd tours to scream about in future years just once before we leave these walls, or else risk slipping into the dull pages of deservedly unremembered history.

Rinehart, oh Rinehart, where are you now when we need you?

(Editor’s Note: For those of you whose half-homogenized time at Harvard, like mine, sadly omitted knowledge of the last reference, you may direct yourself here.)

Letter from Cambridge

The Ultimate Final Club

Last Saturday, on the occasion of the FDR Memorial Lecture & Dinner, I spent the evening in the FDR Suite. You might think, as the head of the Suite Foundation, that I would avail myself of this incredible privilege fairly often. But if I spend one or two nights a year there, that’s a lot. The reality is that I have a very comfortable bed of my own just twenty minutes to the west, and obligations of hearth and home usually mandate my return each evening. This time however, the lateness of the hour, combined with a general state of extreme fatigue after a very successful event, meant that I spent the night at Adams.

For those of you who haven’t had the experience of staying in the dorms over a reunion, I can tell you that overnighting at the House as an adult is a slightly strange affair. Now granted, with its gaslight interiors, working fireplace, deep clawfoot tub, and custom bedding, staying in the Suite is nothing akin to roughing it in a bare room on a college mattress. Still, some things come back from your College past: the familiar smells of dust and floor wax, the insane clanking of the old heating system in the middle of the night, the muffled voices of the students next door up to Heaven-knows-what. (Just don’t let me hear you too clearly, please.) It’s at once both oddly familiar and oddly disconcerting. It makes you realize how much you, and the world, have changed since you were eighteen.

And one thing that has really, really, changed, at least since my days in the 1980s, is the amount of activity around the Final Clubs. These entities, made almost irrelevant in the 60s and 70s, have suddenly rebounded in popularity, fueled mostly by their ability as private clubs to flaunt University rules and serve alcohol (illegally) to their underage members. The ugly secret is that while the Houses are now dry, the Clubs are afloat, and raising the legal drinking age to 21 has done nothing but drive college-age drinkers underground to off-campus venues. It’s the new Prohibition of our times, with predictable results. Binge drinking has soared to record heights on campuses across the country, including Harvard, as students seek locations to party freely and drink as much as they can while they can. The FDR Suite is particularly well placed to observe the spectacle: the large French doors front onto Mt. Auburn Street, the historical center of these clubs, and even a few minutes at our second floor perch on a warm weekend night will reveal wandering clusters of oddly jacketed & be-tied young men accompanied by young ladies in tiny, tight “cocktail” dresses – of a length and style my generation would have considered the exclusive domain of street walkers, but which now unfortunately seem quite common – heading off for a night of merriment, liquid or otherwise. (In a perverse twist, the clubs have clung to their outdated dress requirements while entirely tossing out the gentlemanly behavior that once mandated them, thus easily marking their denizens.) What happens behind those club doors? Well, if you’ve seen that famous party scene in the movie Social Network, you’ll have a pretty accurate idea. Trust me. It isn’t pretty.

(And how do I know all this, you may be wondering? Well here’s a cautionary tale that should freeze every undergraduate in their tracks, but often fails to impress until it’s far too late: when friends tag you by name in compromising photos on Facebook and other social media, they are essentially publishing your antics to the web where a whole host of people – like, say, future employers, or say, editors of alumni magazines – can suddenly see you in all your unholy glory, pretty much forever… Caveat studiosus! And yes, of course, these partiers still comprise a minority of our students, but if you spend a Saturday night in the Suite, you’ll realize they are a growing and extremely vocal minority, especially towards 3AM.)

So what, as alumni, can or should we do about all this? Well, aside from seriously reassessing the drinking-age issue at the Statehouse level, we might well consider being more supportive of, and more involved with, our current House members. The twin pillar of the Final Clubs’ appeal – and this goes equally for the new fraternities and sororities that are springing up at Harvard with similar party records – is the social connections they pledge to provide. The “Old boy” alumni of the Clubs provide counsel, advice, even employment opportunities to student members as side-benefits of society, and there is absolutely no reason why we Adams alumni couldn’t do the same for our own “members.” We could easily establish an Adams alumni/student nexus that would allow current students to publish needs and alumni to publish opportunities exclusively for our House members. Such a network would go a long way to stealing the wind from the still-all-male preserve of the Final Clubs – while solidifying the relevancy of the House structure in the post-randomization age. (Not to mention giving my student colleague Antone Martinho ’13 less reason to bemoan the homogenization of Harvard.) The primary purpose of the House system, after all, was to create manageable sub-units of the larger student body, where members could interact and learn from each other in an intimate setting. The Final Clubs are merely smaller units still, with the same purpose, their only distinction being that their alumni are encouraged to remain active and supportive of their mini-alma maters for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps it’s time that we take a page from the same playbook. We Adamsians are six thousand strong, and we could make quite a formidable club, if we tried.

Pledges, care to step forward?