A jaunt into Manhattan recently let us visit the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. On exhibit is just a portion of this 125-year-old institution’s many treasures. Well worth a visit, the jaw-dropping free exhibition lets you see first-hand a wide selection of amazing artifacts—Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s handwritten farewell address, and the drafts of literary icons like Maya Angelou, manuscripts by musical geniuses Beethoven and Mozart and Dizzy Gillespie.
A small section shows some of the anti-Nazi pamphlets smuggled into Germany cleverly hidden in packages of food and the like. You can see all six of the Library’s copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio. One of the interesting things about that display is that the descriptions enumerate the subtle—and not so subtle—differences among them. You can see the first great printed book, too—Gutenberg’s Bible—but before modern printing, individual copies of a book were not perfectly standardized. The discrepancies created fodder for innumerable dissertations and theories by Shakespeare scholars.
But, it’s not just books. It’s also stuff. The collection of stuffed animals that inspired the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, and Kanga. Five batons made for Arturo Toscanini in their unfinished state. Eventually, the wand would be painted white to look like ivory. The costume of ballerina Alexandra Danilova from a century ago. Cole Porter’s cigarette case. Charles Dickens’s desk and chair, and on and on. Globes, Virginia Woolf’s walking stick. Really, a feast for the mind, and every visitor will find at least one thing to love. You might forget to look up, you’ll be so fixed on the displays, but the ceiling of Gottesman Hall, where the exhibit is, is pretty spectacular too.
A recent Midwest trip involved a brief stayover in Pittsburgh, where my husband and I met as graduate students at Pitt. Whenever we’re in town, we seek vainly for traces of those days!
We drove into town late one afternoon and up to Mt. Washington, the neighborhood overlooking the Golden Triangle where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. We had dinner at a restaurant cantilevered over the steep cliff, which you can reach by funicular (the red car in the photo), as well as by auto.
The meal was great, and we watched the pleasure boats, one big barge, and the Cruisin’ Tikis meandering around the rivers below. Also of interest, but not in a good way, was the swarm of Spotted Lanternflies in that part of town—and all over Pittsburgh, really. I stepped on as many as I could, but they tend to be too fast for me. We have these dangerous pests in New Jersey where we live, but not in numbers like this. We even saw one crawling up the inside of the restaurant window!
Over the years, we’ve visited many of the Pittsburgh’s museums and attractions and used this visit to catch up on two we’d missed. Neil had read David Randall’s The Monster’s Bonesabout the fierce competition between Andrew Carnegie and NYC’s Museum of Natural History to acquire dinosaur bones being discovered in Montana and Wyoming in the late 1800s. Neil wanted to see what Carnegie’s team had found, so we visited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Wow! Dinosaurs obsession skipped me, but the curatorial staff has done a remarkable job of presenting the skeletons and the paleontology. Much else of interest to see there too. Like gemstones—more up my alley.
We stopped for a nourishing lunch at the Milkshake Factory. Exactly what it sounds like, though they sell ice cream sundaes too. Oh, and chocolate candy. The branch we visited was near the Pitt campus, and we strolled around, working off maybe 1% of those milkshake calories and visited the Stephen Foster memorial on campus—who knew?—near the Cathedral of Learning. (The University boffins were very proud of the Cathedral of Learning and showed it off to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose reaction was, “Nice lawn.”) Anyway, the Foster memorial seemed mostly closed, but it’s nice to know the composer of “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races” is honored in his home town.
The visit to the Heinz Memorial Chapel (yes, that Heinz, Mr. 57), dedicated in 1938, was something else again. It’s a beautiful small nonsectarian chapel, also near the CofL, which hosts about 2500 events every year. Its brilliantly colored stained glass windows depict leaders from science, literature, governance, religious, and human aspiration—with an equal number of male and female figures. Thus you find Sir Thomas More just above William Penn (pictured) and Queen Isabella above Florence Nightingale. The windows were designed by Bostonian Charles J. Connick, whose first training was in Pittsburgh, and contain almost 250,000 pieces of glass.
You can’t visit Pittsburgh without traveling over some of its many bridges, most painted an unexpected, bright yellow. We naturally had to cross the Andy Warhol Bridge to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. This was an attraction I enjoyed more than expected to. I was thinking, “I don’t even like canned soup,” but there was much to see, as the artist worked in so many different styles and media.
He was born on Pittsburgh’s South Side to an Austro-Hungarian family named Warhola. They were poor, had no indoor plumbing, and yet he became one of the most famous celebrities of his era. The exhibits included a how-to video about his method for creating his blotted line works (like those pictured in this article), which was fascinating. Well worth a visit!
Saratoga always brings to mind two things: horse racing and poor Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. She’s desperate for gambler Nathan Detroit to take her to Niagara Falls and tie the knot, but he never makes it that far. “And they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time . . .” See it here!
Our recent upstate New York trip included a stop-off in Saratoga, less than two hours north of New York City, where we watched an afternoon of graded stakes races. Our betting system has a perfect record: we lose every time! But not this time. We won enough on one race to come out ahead. That’s if you don’t count parking, what we paid for the program, and a bag of chips. But a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
If you do go, note that you don’t need to go through the complicated reservation system for the Turf Club and other sit-down restaurants. There are plenty of food vendors. And I’ll bet (this one I won’t lose), you can get a beer or cocktail, too. You can find an online map of parking (including free parking), but parking is not a problem.
The pair of trumpeters who play the iconic call to the post wandered through the reserved seats and entertained a bit—“When the Saints Go Marching In” and the like. There are about forty minutes between races for walking around, finding a snack, and seeing the paddock area.
But the big attraction not to miss is Saratoga’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame “where the history of thoroughbred racing comes to life!” Fascinating permanent exhibits about horse racing in America (which started in the Colonial era with some of my ancestors) up to today. Artworks, replays.
And, at present, a special exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat and his jockey, Ron Turcotte’s, astonishing 31-lengths Belmont victory (see it here). We have a friend who was at that race! It was an amazing performance.
My husband rides every week, and we couldn’t feel more respect for these wonderful animals. I know there are plenty of questions about the ethics of horse-racing, and I won’t convince any anti-racing advocates. Certainly, everything should be done to protect the animals, like adopting some of the European practices that make the sport safer there, and, possibly, my friend Eileen’s idea that major races like the Kentucky Derby shouldn’t be for three-year-olds. Giving them another year might let them gain strength. Various sources say equine skeletal development and bone growth is complete by age two, though the supporting muscles and soft tissue may continue to increase. When you look at that 1500-pound animal and those immensely slender ankles, it’s no wonder the sport is risky.
Still, a well-run horse race is a thing of beauty.
Related Reading:Hyperion’s Fracture by Thomas Kelso about the effort to safe an injured race-horse. The veterinary aspect was fascinating, though the pharmaceutical exec bad-guy a little over-the-top for my taste. You learn a lot while rooting for Hyperion.
A short trip to Upstate New York last week involved a smorgasbord of activities, including getting my thumb stung by a hornet, which I do not recommend as a vacation enhancement.
We used Glens Falls as our base and drove along the west shore of Lake George up to Fort Ticonderoga, site of so many battles in Colonial times. We didn’t visit Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George, because it is already so fixed in my mind by my favorite movie, the 1992 Daniel Day-Lewis Last of the Mohicans.
Instead, we headed to Fort Ticonderoga at the narrow southern end of Lake Champlain. The northern tip of Lake George and the southern portion of Lake Champlain, both north-flowing lakes, are connect via the difficult La Chute River. Although the river is only 3.5 miles long, it drops about 230 feet (more height than Niagara Falls), which made it a key portage point for the military, if not an easily traversable waterway. Fabulous views on this drive!
Fort Ticonderoga was a pivotal point in numerous battles; between French explorer Samuel de Champlain and the Iroquois (1609); during the French and Indian War, when the Colonials fought alongside the British (1758-59); and in the American Revolution when the Patriots fought the British (1775-1777). As you can imagine, it’s easy to get tangled up in this history as the flags flying over the fort were changing with great regularity.
To combat confusion, each year the nonprofit (non-governmental) organization that maintains the Fort and runs its extensive history education program, adopts a particular year and focuses some of its programming on the experiences of a particular set of combatants at that time. When we visited, the program was focused on 1760 and the final British campaign to conquer New France (i.e., Canada).
Another notable year in the Fort’s history was 1775. News traveled slowly in those days, and the fort’s small contingent of British occupiers hadn’t heard about the battles of Lexington and Concord—the start of the American Revolution. In the middle of the night, they were overwhelmed by a small group of Green Mountain Boys, led by Ethan Allen, and Massachusetts militia, led by Benedict Arnold (still on the American side at that point).
Their purpose in capturing the fort was to seize its cannon and transport them three hundred miles over the snow-covered Berkshire mountains to Boston. The cannon were desperately needed there, in order to end a nearly year-long British siege. Several famous artworks depict the struggle over rough terrain by men and oxen, but it is apocryphal that oxen were used in this way. The cannon were pulled on sleds by horses, no easy feat, either, though the myth persists.
Don’t miss the boat trip out into the lake which provides helpful views of the Patriots’ various military positions on both sides of the lake, including Mount Defiance and Mount Independence. Ticonderoga was uniquely situated to control any forces seeking to travel south from French Canada and thereby, it could protect the entire Hudson Valley, Albany, and New York. Although New York itself was in British hands, it could not be resupplied by this route.
Aside from the costumed tour guides and staff who put on a wide variety of programming, the property includes a really beautiful “king’s garden,” corn maze, hiking trail, colonial crafts demonstrations (tailoring, shoemaking, musket maintenance, and the like), and spectacular scenery. Kids and grownups were having a great time! We did too. Except for the, you know, hornet thing.
Photos: of the fort by Mwanner and of the soldiers by Gin; each used under this Creative Commons license, no changes made.
A few remaining travel tips and sightings from our recent trip to South Georgia and Alabama. We stayed in wonderful hotels. I mentioned already the Plains (Georgia) Historic Inn. In Montgomery, our hotel was the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel, a lovely modern property with a super-convenient location. Check out the photomural behind the bed! Interesting contemporary art throughout. A conference of veterinarians who’d graduated from Tuskegee University was under way when we were there. I’d overhear them discussing their “patients,” and suddenly realize said patient was a farm animal probably weighing 1500-2000 pounds!
In Atlanta we stayed at the historic Candler Hotel on Peachtree Street, an art deco gem (lobby pictured below) now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, that has an excellent restaurant. The only drawback is that it is little awkward to get to, because the entrance is on a short one-way street. Required circling.
We were in Alabama when those awful storms went through the area, causing multiple deaths. We weren’t caught up in that, but when we toured Selma, we saw where a recent tornado there had done massive damage. It was several weeks before our visit, but roof repairs were still under way, trees toppled, and much structural damage to homes.
One Montgomery site that didn’t fit in to the literary, presidents, or civil rights themes of last week’s posts was Old Alabama Town, a square block-plus near downtown (as everything is) where a collection of 1800s buildings has been relocated. Visitors can go inside most of them, including the general store, the “First Presbyterian Colored Church,” a schoolroom, a cotton gin, a shotgun house, and a dogtrot house. The reception building for the attraction is, not surprisingly, a historic tavern. Although the buildings are mostly empty, a fully restored house is also part of Old Alabama Town. The Ordeman-Shaw Townhouse and associated dwelling for the family’s enslaved people are furnished and the subject of a lively tour.
In Gadsden, Alabama, we visited a state park with a notable waterfall (rainbow slightly visible in front of and below it): the Noccalula Falls Park, which has a variety of features, including a miniature train whose short ride provides an overview of the layout.
At the park, I snapped this picture of a hawk and black squirrel. The squirrel must have been climbing the tree when the hawk appeared, from which moment, it had the squirrel’s undivided attention. The hawk would fly from a branch on one side of the tree to the other, and the squirrel quietly circled the tree trunk, taking pains to keep the trunk between the two of them. We left before the final scene of this drama. Some things I’d just rather not know!
The main motivation for our recent trip through south Georgia and Alabama was to visit civil rights sites. To that end, we spent four nights in Montgomery, Alabama, which has them in thought-provoking, overwhelming abundance. The photo is of the marker for Martin Luther King’s church, with the Alabama State capitol only blocks away and visible on the right.
First, we drove an hour west to Selma, to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in 1965 that focused national attention on the civil rights cause. There were three attempts at a Selma to Montgomery march. The first ended with Bloody Sunday when marchers, including the young to-be congressman John Lewis, were attacked with billy clubs, whips, and tear gas. Many were injured. Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King led several thousand protesters back to the bridge. They crossed it then turned around to return to their starting point. It was a symbolic gesture of their determination, as well as a necessity, given a court order prohibiting the march.
Two weeks later, the march was allowed to proceed to Montgomery, with ample protection from military police and US Army troops. Some 25,000 people joined for the last stretch into the city and the Alabama State Capitol. Three months later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (a law Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has dedicated his career to dismantling).
As of this writing, the Lowndes Interpretive Center, located on US Hwy 80, the route of the march, is temporarily closed due to a water main break, but should reopen soon and be well worth a visit. The National Park Service also maintains a small but powerful National Voting Rights Museum on the Selma side of the Pettus Bridge.
Several days are needed to properly take in the civil rights sites in Montgomery itself. We started with a visit to The Legacy Museum, a project of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. (If, in the unlikely event you are not familiar with this profound thinker about US race relations, start here.)
When you enter the museum, you find yourself in a large space dominated by the sight and sounds of the sea, whose overpowering waves were filmed at surface level. It’s a dramatic and creative opening. It certainly put me in mind of the terrifying experience of Africans wrested from their homes for a perilous journey across a wild ocean. Throughout the museum, the curation is remarkable, from the recreation of the transatlantic slave trade to the domestic slave trade, to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the push for Civil Rights. The museum employs many compelling ways to tell these complex stories.
A second powerful EJI project is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. In words and sculpture, it commemorates the lives of African Americans who were victims of racial terror lynchings, in order to more truthfully and completely reflect the nation’s history. Each of the more than 800 hanging steel monuments represents a county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. Each bears the names of the victims.The accompanying photo is the monument for McLennan County, Texas, whose county seat is Waco, where my mother was born in 1908. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the county during the years when many of these lynchings took place. These events had to be known to them and their children, but the family never spoke of them, at least not in my presence. That’s one reason the Memorial is so vital, to connect us to this past.
While some white Americans oppose exhibits like these, because they believe the experience will make children (and, possibly, themselves) “feel bad about themselves,” I believe the opposite should be true. By not hiding the past, we can see it more clearly and avoid being stuck in its destructive attitudes and behavior. We can see how ideas about right and wrong have evolved, acknowledge how far we have come and the importance of honoring and preserving those gains. At the same time, we can recognize the work that still needs to be done. Deliberate ignorance of the past only perpetuates wrongs.
The tour of the house let us walk the floors Martin and Coretta walked, see the rooms they saw. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide the granddaughter of R.D. Nesbitt, deacon of the church and chairman of the pulpit selection committee, and he recruited Dr. King to Montgomery. She knew everyone in every photograph! Nesbitt said, King’s “major strength, in my opinion, was his ability to get along with people.”
The Rosa Parks Museum, part of Troy University, includes a nice recreation of the famous bus ride in which she refused to give up her seat for a white person. This led to the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott, a key event in ending segregation.
Our swing through the southeast included visits to sites associated with two U.S. Presidents—Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt. It’s refreshing to think about Presidents of the past, on this day especially when a former president will be arraigned on criminal charges. They may have had flaws, but their vision and strength of character brought the country through dark times. Both men valued contact with “ordinary Americans” in rural Georgia and never lost their sincere interest in and connection to them.
We spent a night at the Plains (Georgia) Historic Inn, in Plains, Georgia, which Jimmy and Rosalynn helped refurbish and which was loaded with charm. Each of the seven rooms is decorated in the style of a decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. (It would be a perfect place for a mystery story. The old building’s squeaky floors provide a challenge to anyone trying to sneak up on a victim, and the building’s former use as a funeral home—complete with a special, still-working elevator to move caskets between floors—imparts the right ghostly vibe.) Ellen, the innkeeper, was most welcoming, had breakfast options available, and went above-and-beyond by returning the raincoat I left in the closet. The rooms contained presidential-related memorabilia and some have views of Plains’s Main Street, possibly three blocks long.
The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park includes the visitor’s center, housed in the Carters’ high school (pictured), with numerous displays of their lives and times, plus an excellent video. The Plains Depot museum commemorates its role as Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign headquarters. The boyhood farm, two and a half miles outside town, showed what life was like in 1938, when Carter was 14. Lots of work, starting before dawn and lasting until suppertime. It prepared Jimmy to be hands-on with his aid to Habitat for Humanity. He knows through experience which end of a tool is the working end.
When Carter was a teenager, his uncle in the Navy wrote him letters about his experiences, inspiring Jimmy to attend the Naval Academy. When he first applied, his would-be Senate sponsor said his high school was too small, he’d never make it. So Carter went to Georgia Southwestern College in Americus for a year, excelled, and tried again. Once more, the school was deemed too small, so he went to Georgia Institute of Technology for another year, and again he excelled. More senatorial foot-draggin. After church one Sunday, Carter and his father visited the Senator, unannounced, and talked to him until late that night. Finally, the Senator said, “If you’ll just go home, I’ll put his name in for the next Annapolis opening.” A good lesson in persistence! The news that he has entered hospice care has prompted a lot of reexamination of his career, including how, as a Navy lieutenant, he saved a Canadian nuclear reactor from a catastrophic meltdown.
Warm Springs, Georgia, was a favorite retreat for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the 88-degree spring-fed pools there (now empty and in need of renovation; model pictured–sorry about the reflections!) allowed him some relief from the debilitating effects of polio. In 1927, he founded Roosevelt Warm Springs rehabilitation center to treat polio patients; it continues today as a comprehensive rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. The photographs of him playing with the kids in the water show his love of life, children, and his indomitable spirit.
We also toured the FDR State Historic Site visitors’ center and Little White House. The visitors’ center museum houses a variety of memorabilia, including FDR’s 1938 Ford convertible retrofitted with hand controls, and a large display of canes sent him by supporters. The Warm Springs retreat gave FDR a chance to visit with neighbors in the area’s rural communities and learn about their problems, which inspired some elements of the New Deal. When we were there, in recognition of the concept of service to the country, the museum included an exhibit about military chaplaincy, including commemoration of “The Four Chaplains.”
The Little White House was built in 1932 to make his recuperative stays more feasible, given the demands of the governorship of New York, soon to be superseded by those of the Presidency. The house still displays the chair where he died April 12, 1945, mere weeks before the end of the War in Europe, which he’d worked so hard to bring the country through successfully. That afternoon, he was posing for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff, and the “Unfinished Portrait” is a highlight of the museum.
On a recent 10-day trip to south Georgia and Alabama, we covered a lot of ground. The trip had many profound highlights. These are the literary ones.
Monroeville, Alabama, was the hometown of author Harper Lee (1926-2016) and the setting for her indelible novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s where her long friendship began with Truman Capote (1924-1984), who lived in Monroeville for most of his childhood and became the model for Lee’s character Dill.A fascinating and quirky (in the way of small museums) tribute to Lee and Capote is housed in the Old Courthouse Museum, site of “the most famous courtroom in America” (pictured).
The actual courthouse wasn’t used for the Mockingbird movie, but the set designers arrived from Hollywood to inspect and measure, and their recreation copies the original almost exactly. Apparently Lee thought Gregory Peck was too youthful to play Atticus Finch—that is, until he went into a dressing room to try on his costume: three-piece suit, glasses, and pocket watch. “He came out a middle-aged man,” she said, realizing he’d be perfect.
Montgomery, Alabama, is where Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948) grew up and where, in 1931-1932, she and her husband Scott (1896-1940) lived. That house, in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood, is called a “museum,” but it’s more impactful for knowing you’re walking where this star-crossed literary couple walked, seeing what they saw, knowing he worked on Tender Is the Night in that period and she on her only novel, Save Me the Waltz. Some gilded age clothing (pink suit!) and evening gowns, Gatsby edition memorabilia, and biographical profiles of people they hobnobbed with are on display, along with handwritten pages, and Zelda’s artwork. Is it really 98 years since The Great Gatsby was published?
The house is an Airbnb and a party venue, so it’s enduring quite a bit of wear. We arrived at the same time as a trio of women and were put off by the “closed for private party” sign, but they’d encountered that a few days before. We collectively decided not to take it seriously and all walked in. No problem. No party.
Montgomery is also home to the Hank Williams Museum, a magnet for country music fans. It has a few nice touches: his music plays throughout. On view are his baby blue Cadillac, some of his gorgeous Western-style suits, and a selection of the romance comics he liked to read. “Why do you read that junk?” friends would ask, and he’d say they gave him most of the ideas for his songs. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” comes to mind. Is this stretching the notion of “literary” too far?
Milledgeville, Georgia, was home to one of the greatest Southern Gothic authors, National Book Award-winner Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). We visited Andalusia, the farm where she lived in the last years of her life and where she raised her prized peacocks. There’s now a museum there dedicated to her work. We also saw from the outside the house in Milledgeville where, as a teenager, she lived with her mother’s family while her father’s health declined.
When her letters were published in 1979 (The Habit of Being), I read them and it was painful to see in the museum the kind of typewriter she used. Like her father, O’Connor had lupus, and in the days before word processing, revisions to stories and novels required retyping—a massive chore for her. However, the trials of the disease were integral to her experience. As writer Alice McDermott said, “It was the illness, I think, which made her the writer she is.”
In Atlanta, Georgia, we saw Roundabout Theater’s production of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning (1982) story, A Soldier’s Play, directed by Kenny Leon. The production has a great cast, with Norm Lewis and Eugene Lee in the leads. Some of the themes are a little dated, but the overall message about the effects of racism is not. Even if the play hadn’t been so good, it would have been worth it to see the renovated Fox Theatre, with its fabulous Moorish interior. The picture can’t do it justice!
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Are you interested in crime, policing, food, or colorful roadside attractions? You’ll want to know about Cops & Doughnuts bakery in Clare, Michigan. Yes, it’s for real!
For many years, the bakery was a favorite stop for the members of the Clare Police Department. But, in 2009, after 113 years in business, the bakery was within weeks of shutting down. And it would have closed, if all nine members of the Clare Police Department hadn’t come to the rescue. They saved it, expanding the business to a second store-front, The Cop Shop, and now a third, with outposts in Gaylord, Bay City, Mt. Pleasant, and Midland, Michigan.
Named after Ireland’s County Clare, the town contains Lake Shamrock, as well as a branch of the less salubrious-sounding Tobacco River. The town (population 3,254) is pretty near the geographic center of Michigan’s lower peninsula. The largest nearby city is Mt. Pleasant, 15 miles south. As it’s located on a main route to the popular year-round Michigan vacation spot, Houghton Lake, Clare seems like it would be an attractive stop for a leg-stretch, bathroom break, and chocolate glazed.
Even more to the point, Clare has underworld connections. Reportedly, Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang occasionally hung out there once upon a time. In the Prohibition era, this criminal mob of mostly Jewish bootleggers and gangsters was the principal gang in the city of Detroit. Some 25,000 illegal saloons in the city created a large market for bootleg liquor. Rumor has it, gang members would hide in the bakery’s basement coal bin when the heat was on.
Cops & Doughnuts today? It’s reportedly very safe.
A walking tour of the architecture and sculptures on the Princeton University campus is an enticing event. I’ve taken this kind of tour many times, but this one promised something new. Typically, it began at easy-to-find Nassau Hall, the largest building in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution and briefly, even, the nation’s capital. Some walls on the inside still bear pockmarks from British cannonballs fired during the pivotal Battle of Princeton.
Our guide, Jeanne Johnson, a docent at the Princeton Art Museum (closed temporarily for a construction project that will double its gallery space), is a dedicated gardener. So she was eager to point out the Beatrix Farrand quadrangle, recently renamed in honor the university’s long-time landscape gardener (her preferred term).
While we were there, Jeanne pointed out that two of the dormitory buildings framing the quadrangle are named for alumni who died during The Great War, Howard Houston Henry and Walter L. Foulke. Those buildings and the triple archway that connects them (shown) are considered the apogee of collegiate gothic architecture, a style popularized in the late 1800s and early 1900s when American universities went to great lengths to look as permanent and substantial as their English counterparts. The architect of these dormitories personally oversaw the cutting and placement of every piece of stone, alternating red, grey, buff, and other colors. A completely pleasing effect.
These popular sites dispensed with, Jeanne trotted us to an area of south campus where two new colleges (as Princeton terms sets of dormitories) have sprung up, seemingly overnight—Yeh College and New College West. The 15 or so members of our group all said exactly the same thing, “We’ve never seen this before!” This new area includes several whimsical outdoor sculptures, including the enormous coral-pink concrete sofa.
Finally, we looked at the construction site for the new museum, which will two new floors, doubling the space for exhibitions and study but retaining the same footprint as the original. It’s due to be occupied in March 2024 and open to the public that fall. Fingers crossed. The architect is David Adjaye, whose firm designed the Smithsonian’s museum of African American history and culture and many notable buildings around the world.
All this new construction is being done in the midst of a huge project to make the university environmentally sustainable, with respect to energy consumption, landscape practices, stormwater management, waste reduction, and reduced water use. It’s hard to walk anywhere on campus without encountering the construction of these new environmental systems.
The University may date to 1746 (and one of my ancestors was in its first graduating class), but there’s always something new!
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