The Last Hurrah

by Randy Stebbins | 5/29/01 5:00am

I like that I knew which side of Baker Library's front door to open before a tiny "PULL" sign gave my insider's knowledge away. I like that door and its great brethren at Parkhurst and McNutt. Those massive doors mark my first experience here. (There's a sloth of a metaphor hanging about that last sentence, but I'll not let it see the light of day.) Most of you know those places; the inveterate course shoppers know at least the basement of McNutt, the ruffians know Parkhurst better than nice boys and girls but the slackers need a map to get to Baker. Yes, I know who you are, those of you approaching the Reserve Desk during reading period and asking, "What have the other people in that class been reading?"

I like a few safe places -- Erin calls them haunts -- around campus. Sanborn House library at the table in the middle is one. The Rupert Brooke Room in Sanborn is another. I used it when the library was crowded and I had to privately tear at my remaining hairs because of the unbelievable torture of Latin. Shoot, I liked Latin, even when Professor Bradley said, "You know this is backwards. At Dartmouth usually the smart kids sit in the front row." He wasn't talking about Dana, the exemplary girl who sat beside me in the front row, and Cassandra, the girl with the classical name at the end of the row; it was the anonymous pole-vaulter and me who were backwards. I still like Professor Bradley. Go figure.

Now I avoid Sanborn to sit against the wall in Berry's reference area; no safe room this, it's a spanking new building that a wag said looked "like the inside of a refrigerator" He was right. Let's hope it gets more like the Tower and the 1902 Room as it ages; heck, go find some 1920's tile and dark wainscoting, get those chairs upholstered in that lovely shade of green and we won't have to wait for it to grow old gracefully. However, I do like the new slate stairs in Berry. When they're scooped from the scrape of weary feet they'll be perfect.

Since I spend most of my time in the library, you'd think I don't get out much. I don't, but there are other places that figure strongly in my mind, such as it is. The soaring ceiling in the entrance to Wilder is one, Rauner's mezzanine another. The Berry sculpture outside of Wilder is my favorite piece of public art; a hypnotically weaving, endless, Mobius strip-like brass concoction floating outside Fairchild's hideous glass connecto-box that houses the pendulum proving that the earth spins, which proves the world does revolve around Dartmouth College. If only my brother would believe that. But, he went to a Catholic school and the Pope only recently admitted that Copernicus was right, so what could my brother possibly know about the workings of the universe? He's lost in the wilderness of North Dakota at any rate.

Vox Clamantis in Deserto. Voices crying for recognition and the right to be heard lie at the heart of this place. They helped build the College, giving us Dartmouth Hall, Baker and Sanborn, the Green, Tuck Drive, the swimming dock, the Grant, the Shower, the would-be Greek revival of the Blunt Alumni Center, all that is good and bad. If you listen you'll hear ghostly Dartmouth voices, those stilled by war. If you listen with your imagination you can hear what they heard. Lend an ear to the drums at Gettysburg as you stand beneath the great iron doors of Webster Hall. Hear the Andrews Sisters singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and imagine the cold of a Korean winter as you walk past names carved in granite on the side of the Hanover Inn where "the north wind knows their names." Listen for the slap of helicopter rotor blades in Collis as you look at the fading black and white photos of faces always young. When you use the west-side stairs to the reserve corridor stop a moment. You'll hear the scream of the mortar round that killed Richard Nelville Hall on Christmas morning as he carried the wounded from a WWI battlefield. "He died for France and the Freedom of Nations." Those memorials, along with all the others, remind us of a greater good lying outside a quotidian life. Listen to them. They speak of living beyond ourselves.

Thanks to the generosity of alumni living and dead and the patience and knowledge of professors living and sometimes wishing they were dead, I'll graduate from this June. I'm glad there is such a place as this.